Sociological research is used by sociologists to answer questions and in many cases test hypotheses. The research method one uses depends upon the question that is asked.
Sociological research is derived from the scientific method, meaning that it relies on empirical observation and, sometimes, the testing of hypotheses.The research process involves several steps: developing a research question, designing the research, collecting data, analyzing data, and developing conclusions. Different research designs are appropriate to different research questions, but sociologists have to be concerned with the validity, the reliability, and the generalization of their results. Applying one's results obtained from a sample to a broader population is an example of generalization.
Qualitative research is research that is relatively unstructured, does not rely heavily upon statistics, and is closely focused on a question being asked. Quantitative research is research that uses statistical methods. Both kinds of research are used in sociology.
Through research, sociologists are able to make statements of probability, or likelihood. Sociologists use percentages and rates. The mean is the same as an average. The median represents the midpoint in an array of values or scores. The mode is the most common value or score. Correlation and cross-tabulation are statistical procedures that allow sociologists to see how two (or more) different variables are associated. There have been instances of misuse of statistics in the behavioral and social sciences, including sociology, and these have resulted in incorrect conclusions.
The most common tools of sociological research are surveys and interviews, participant observation, controlled experiments, content analysis, comparative and historical research, and evaluation research. Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses. You can better generalize from surveys, for example, than participant observation, but participant observation is better for capturing subtle nuances and depth in social behavior.