Most Common Method

The survey is the most common method by which sociologists gather their data. The Gallup poll is perhaps the

most well-known example of a survey and, like all surveys, gathers its data with the help of a questionnaire that is

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given to a group of respondents. The Gallup poll is an example of a survey conducted by a private organization,

but sociologists do their own surveys, as does the government and many organizations in addition to Gallup.

Many surveys are administered to respondents who are randomly chosen and thus constitute a random sample.

In a random sample, everyone in the population (whether it be the whole US population or just the population



of a state or city, all the college students in a state or city or all the students at just one college, etc.) has the

same chance of being included in the survey. The beauty of a random sample is that it allows us to generalize the

results of the sample to the population from which the sample comes. This means that we can be fairly sure of

the behavior and attitudes of the whole US population by knowing the behavior and attitudes of just four hundred

people randomly chosen from that population.

Some surveys are face-to-face surveys, in which interviewers meet with respondents to ask them questions. This

type of survey can yield much information, because interviewers typically will spend at least an hour asking their

questions, and a high response rate (the percentage of all people in the sample who agree to be interviewed), which

is important to be able to generalize the survey’s results to the entire population. On the downside, this type of

survey can be very expensive and time consuming to conduct.

Surveys are very useful for gathering various kinds of information relevant to social problems. Advances in technology have made

telephone surveys involving random-digit dialing perhaps the most popular way of conducting a survey.

plantronicsgermany – Encore520 call center man standing – CC BY-ND 2.0.

Because of these drawbacks, sociologists and other researchers have turned to telephone surveys. Most Gallup

polls are conducted over the telephone. Computers do random-digit dialing, which results in a random sample

of all telephone numbers being selected. Although the response rate and the number of questions asked are both

lower than in face-to-face surveys (people can just hang up the phone at the outset or let their answering machine

take the call), the ease and low expense of telephone surveys are making them increasingly popular. Surveys done

over the Internet are also becoming more popular, as they can reach many people at very low expense. A major

problem with web surveys is that their results cannot necessarily be generalized to the entire population because

not everyone has access to the Internet.

Surveys are used in the study of social problems to gather information about the behavior and attitudes of people

regarding one or more problems. For example, many surveys ask people about their use of alcohol, tobacco,

and other drugs or about their experiences of being unemployed or in poor health. Many of the chapters in this

book will present evidence gathered by surveys carried out by sociologists and other social scientists, various


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