The Sociological Research Process
Not all sociologists conduct research in the same manner. Some researchers primarily engage in quantitative research. whereas others engage in qualitative research. With quantitative research, the goal is scientific objectivity. and the focus is on data that can be measured numerically. Quantitative research typically emphasizes complex statistical techniques. Most sociological studies on suicide have used quantitative research. They have compared rates of suicide with almost every conceivable variable. including age. sex. race/ethnicity. education. and even sports participation (see Lester. 1992). For example. researchers in one study examined the effects of church membership. divorce, and migration on suicide rates in the United States and concluded that suicide rates are typically higher where divorce and migration rates are higher and church membership is lower (Breault. 1986). (The "Understanding Statistical Data Presentations" box explains how to read numerical tables. how to interpret the data and draw conclusions. and how to calculate ratios and rates.) With qualitative research, interpretive description (words) rather than statistics (numbers) is used to analyze underlying meanings and patterns of social relationships. An example of qualitative research is a study in which the researcher systematically analyzed the contents of the notes of suicide victims to determine recurring themes. such as a feeling of despair or failure. Through this study. the researcher hoped to determine if any patterns could be found that would help in understanding why people might kill themselves (Leenaars.1988).