Glossary of social research terminology

  • Closed questions – a closed question is one where the respondent selects their answer from a pre-prepared list of potential answers. This might involve a multi-choice question or a scale where the participant is asked if, or how much, they agree or disagree with a statement. The composition of appropriate closed questions requires a clear understanding of the type of answers people are likely to give. Many researchers undertake face to face semi-structured or un-structured interviews to inform surveys.
  • Open questions – an open question is one where the respondent answers the question in their own way with no guidance.  Structured interview –one in which the questions are pre-prepared, asked in the same way each time and in the same order. In order to compose the list of questions a researcher must have a good understanding of the issues.
  • Semi-structured  interview – one where a question list ( or a  general question guide) is prepared but the questions may be asked in different ways and in a different order for each participant.
  • Unstructured interviews –is one where a general idea of the issues and questions to be asked is prepared but the interviewer can ask any relevant question and is completely free to follow up areas of interest. This approach is particularly useful if, a) the project is in an initial scoping stage or b) the aim of the work is to collect individual stories or c) The interviewer is unsure of exactly what the participant can offer However, this method requires a skilled interviewer with a good working knowledge of the areas of discussion.
  • Qualitative data – data generated where participant’s responses to questions are recorded in words.
  • Quantitative data – data generated where participant’s responses to questions are recorded as numerical data.
  • Longitudinal study – where the same people are interviewed at different points in time over the life of a project. It helps record any changes, some of which may be attributable to the project and others that may have other causes.
  • Social Capital - “the ties between and process that make resources and opportunities available to those within a social network”  (Fien & Skoien, 2002). The important elements are the inter-personal relationships (and sense of community and shared values) formed and the resources which become available through forming a social network. Communities or groups may have varying levels of social capital which can be built up as they work together and individuals become more connected.  Fien, J., & Skoien, P. (2002). "I'm Learning … How You Go about Stirring Things Up—in a Consultative Manner": social capital and action competence in two community catchment groups. Local Environment, 7(3), 269-282