Evaluating Sociological Research

Sources of sociological research—sociology journals and books, national magazine surveys, television, and “tabloids”—vary considerably in the quality of information offered. So properly evaluating research is important when studying sociology. Much accurate information is available, but so is much inaccurate information. Poorly conducted or poorly designed research tends to fuel society's misconceptions about social topics.

Professional journals and periodicals are the most accurate sources of scientific information about sociology. Not only do professional researchers and clinicians contribute the majority of material to these journals, but their peers also review their material. Thus, the quality of the research published tends to be quite high. A few of the many leading sociological journals are Applied Behavioral Science Review, Clinical Sociology Review, Family Life Educator, Family Relations, Feminist Studies, Gender and Society, The Gerontologist, Humanity and Society, Journal of Aging Studies, Journal of Family Violence, Journal of Gerontology, Journal of Marriage and Family, Marriage and Family Review, Practicing Sociologist, Qualitative Sociology, Sex Roles, Sexual Abuse, Social Policy, Sociologist Practice, and Urban Life.

Popular magazines and television generally do not provide accurate or scientific information about sociology; rather, studies initially reported in these media are usually sensationalistic and/or poorly designed.

Ask and answer the following questions when deciding the validity of a piece of social research:

  • Are the sociologists qualified to conduct sociological studies? What are their credentials? Are the sociologists associated with an academic institution, laboratory, or clinic?

  • What research method did the sociologists use? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method? Do the sociologists acknowledge the limitations associated with their particular method(s)?

  • Are the questionnaires or tests used both reliable and valid?

  • Is the sample gender‐biased, consisting of more men than women, or vice versa? Is the sample biased in any other way? Does it include minorities? Is the sample exclusively urban or rural?

  • Do the sociologists make generalizations about a larger population? If so, how representative of the larger population is their sample?

  • If the research is an experiment, do the researchers have a control group not exposed to the experimental conditions to compare with the experimental group?

  • Do the sociologists use the most appropriate statistical tests to analyze data, or do they simply comment on what appear to be patterns?

  • Are the conclusions drawn from the data presented in such a way as to acknowledge other possibilities?

  • Do any other published studies support or contradict the sociologists' methods or findings?

Of course, this list of questions is not exhaustive. But thinking about these questions should provide a general sense of the kinds of issues necessary to evaluate sociological research.