Research methods are considered as strategies used to implement the research design through collecting and analyzing data in research. Establishing a research method is an integral part of the research design. The research method depends on the research goal and the type of data that the researcher requires to answer the research questions. This paper will compare and contrast the strengths and limitations of three different research methods used in criminal justice research. The three research methods include participant observation, Interviewing and surveys.
Survey research is one of the most used research methods in the field of criminal justice (Bachmann & Schutt, 2020). Surveys entail the collection of data through a reasonably large group of individuals through the use of questionnaires and interviews (Dantzker, Hunter & Quinn, 2016). Data obtained from surveys is directly obtained from the source by asking questions about the subjects and statistically analyzing to offer meaningful conclusions. The survey method includes a number of close and open-ended questions which make the research method useful. Relying on both open-ended and close-ended is essential since it allows the respondent to offer more information, thus better understanding of the subject or topic. Surveys have several attractive features that make it a popular method of research. They are efficient, versatile, generalizable and inexpensive. Survey research allows one to collect answers regarding specific questions. Relatively, it allows one to ask these questions in multiple formats depending on the target audience as well as the intention of the survey (Queirós, Faria & Almeida, 2017). However, the inconsistency of data collected leads to problems of reliability and validity of results. Survey methods are also limited to problems of measurement, sampling and overall survey design.
Participant observation is a research method where the researcher actively gets involved in activities of the research rather than only observing the research participants (Bachmann & Schutt, 2020). Complete participation takes place when the researcher joins the research participants and begins to manipulate the direction of the participants’ activities. Therefore, the observations made are based on the activities of the people, the roles, relationships, as well as explanations of what they do. Participant observation offers a depth of knowledge of the subject generated from the everyday lives of individuals experiencing them (Queirós, Faria & Almeida, 2017). Additionally, it offers the researcher a better understanding as well as an individual’s interpretation of observations. Participant observation also allows the collection of both qualitative and quantitative data through interviews and surveys. However, this method can affect the behaviour of the participants, thus influencing the validity of the research. Researchers using this method become members of the group and in the process, forget their role as an objective researcher affecting the reliability of the data.
Interviewing entails a conversation between the researcher and the participants to gather information. The researcher coordinates the procedure of asking questions to the respondent who answers the questions. Unlike survey and participant observation which demands a systematic observation of the research participants with their natural setting, interviewing entails conversations to explore the subject and better understand the experiences (Dantzker, Hunter & Quinn, 2016). Interviewing allows the participants to elaborate on their answers properly as compared to other methods. The respondents are offered the ability to honestly and accurately recall details about their circumstances, behaviours or anything they are being asked about. However, interviewing can lead to biases. The respondent’s answers can be influenced by their reaction to the researcher’s race or physical appearance (Queirós, Faria & Almeida, 2017). The presence of the researcher may result in overstimulation of the respondent, which to some extent leads to offering imaginary information and things that they are not sure of only to make the interview interesting.
In conclusion, interviewing, participant observation and survey research methods are effective methods of gathering information in criminal justice research. Each research method comes with its own set of limitations and strengths. Therefore, while conducting research, it is essential to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses to choose a research method that will suit the subject.