Research Methods for Social Epidemiology


In the contemporary world, different sectors as well as people are looking for ways of keeping up or improving their service delivery to their clients. In order to achieve this, they have to carry out research that will inform on what measures to be taken to improve on this. Therefore in the case of a health related issue the concerned parties for example the medical practitioners or the government would engage other qualified personnel to carry out a research that they require.

Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods

The frequently used methods of research are the qualitative as well as the quantitative. Qualitative method zeroes in on collection and understanding of how and why certain things in life are the way they are. As a result of this, a researcher focuses on samples to conclude his or her findings. According to Robertson (2007 p 565) in carrying out a qualitative research, researchers apply various methods that include; case studies, ethnography, philosophical research, phenomenology, interviews, and the grounded theory. He points out that in using ethnography as a method of research, various researchers rely on the study of a peoples’ culture. Punch (2005 p 214) defines ethnography as the study of a people’s culture in their social setting. He therefore says that if a researcher conducts his or her research in such an environment, then he or she will get more accurate results than any researcher who may conduct a research in other places other than their social setting. Participant observation is another method used during a qualitative research. Saks & Allsop (2007 p 231) says that this takes place when a researcher gets involved in the activities of the people he is studying. He says that by actively participating in these activities the researcher makes the group being studied feel at ease and therefore avoids them from behaving in a different way. That way actual and reliable result is likely to be obtained. He adds that researchers also use grounded theory in qualitative research. He says that when using this method researchers use a number of sources that include review of records, observations, and even quantitative data.

Chapman (2005 p 61) argues that philosophical research looks into the clarity of the information and the definitions provided by other researchers. He says that the researcher’s perception on a certain issues while he or she is carrying out the research is looked into. Robertson (2007 p 566) points out that use of philosophical research are a preserve of the experts in their field of specialization. He says this is the case because such people have prior experience accumulated as a result working in that field for many years. According to him this people have the ability to tell when the researcher is being fair or bias in his or her research.

Interview is another method that is used by researchers who are going the qualitative way. According to Michael (2006 p 219) interview involves a one on one conversation between the interviewer and the interviewee. He says that by way of interview a number of people a researcher is able to get the information he or she is looking for. From the information obtained the researcher picks the similar information shared by his or her respondent and from that he or she is able to come up with a comprehensive conclusion. In addition he agrees that case studies are also very useful when using qualitative method. He notes that a case study involves selecting a target group from a wider group so that a comprehensive and a detailed study can be carried out.

Quantitative research method entails the establishment of a relationship between two variables. That is a dependent and an independent variable. When using the quantitative research method the researcher tries to look at what would happen to a dependent variable if an independent variable is removed or stopped from functioning. By repeating that a number of times the researcher is able to establish the kind of relationship those exists between the two variables and hence arrive at his or her conclusion with utmost accuracy. According to Weiss (2006 p 394) quantitative research relies heavily on secondary sources since researchers do not go in the field to get first hand information on the information they are willing to seek. Therefore some of the information used by the researchers when using qualitative method includes surveys. He says that data can be collected and easily analyzed so that they help in building up on the previous collected information. In addition he says that researchers are also using statistics. He says that what the researchers do when using the qualitative depend heavily on the earlier collected information by other researchers. As a result we can say that qualitative differs from quantitative research in the manner in which research is conducted.

Can social epidemiology (prevalence, distribution and social determinants of disease) include both quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches?

Punch (2005 p 321) says that epidemiology is used to develop a deeper understanding of the distribution, incidences, and how to control health related problems amongst the members of the public. According to him this method uses the quantitative method of research. In addition to this he points out that epidemiologic study can be classified into both as observational or experimental. However, according to Kothari (2008 p 343) epidemiologic study can also embrace the use of qualitative method of research. According to him, a researcher using the qualitative research method can arrive into some conclusions that can prove to be very beneficial to the authority in attempts to control the spread of a disease in a particular area or country. He says that if a researcher uses the qualitative method he has pool of other methods to apply and therefore able to carry out a comprehensive research. For example he points out that if a researcher uses interview as his or her method of research, he or she can establish the extent at which a disease has spread of the and therefore make appropriate recommendation to the relevant authority for appropriate measures to curb the spread.

In addition, Chapman (2005 p 65) argues that understanding the culture of a people by studying them in their social setting can help greatly in reducing the spread of a disease. According to him some of the diseases we have today are closely related to the practices of a people. Sherri (2008 p 276) says that when he was carrying out a research on the relationship between the spread of HIV/AIDS he came across a certain community that had been greatly affected by the disease. After conducting his research for a while he realized that the male members of that community had a tradition of not being circumcised. As a medical practitioner he found that the fore skin in their reproductive organs provided a friendly environment for the virus to live and therefore such people became victims easily. After his research he recommended that males should be circumcised to reduce such cases. And true to his findings says that Floyd (2002 p 219) the number of HIV/AIDS cases infection has reduced by a great margin. Therefore without such people going and conducting research Weiss (2006 p 398) notes that philosophical research can help people understand clearly what the researcher had in mind when he or she decided to conduct an investigation on a certain topic. As earlier mentioned this method is not used by any person but rather has been set reserved for the most experienced members of the society. Therefore, looking at what a researcher has arrived at as his or her findings, they can tell whether such findings can be relied upon in achieving a certain goal, for example in preventing the spread of a particular disease. If the experts decide that the researcher was fair and accurate in his research then such work can be adopted to help in understanding the nature of such a disease and thus how to prevent it.

According to Saks, & Allsop (2007 p 543) researchers can also employ participant observation as a way of learning and understanding the nature of a particular disease. They point out that staying together with the affected people can help the researcher understand some of the similar signs exhibited by the patients in order to arrive at his conclusions Baum (2008 p 233) notes that when a person stays close to a group of people for a long time, the people get used to such a person and therefore can share their feelings with him or her easily without any fear that he or she is a stranger. In such a situation carrying out a research becomes an easy affair since nearly all members will have developed confidence and hence share all their knowledge on what the investigator is looking for.

Direct observation has been fronted as a potential method of acquiring reliable and accurate information. According to Michael (2006 p 212) direct observation entails watching the behaviors of a certain targeted group in order to arrive at a conclusion. He says that this method can at times be challenging because the members of a society being studied can change their behaviors the moment they realize some one is watching and recording their behavior. As a result he or she might get some information that might be inaccurate compared to what others who employed other means of research obtained. Kenneth (2008 p 421) recommends that when conducting a research, one should never let the people being studied be aware as this will give the researcher a major blow since people will change their ways of behaving thus providing an inaccurate finding.

Observational epidemiology and experimental studies

Observational epidemiology refers to the way by which medical practitioners and researchers carry out investigations in people to understand the prevalence of a certain disease among them. According to Beaglehole, Bonita, & Kjellstrom (1993 p 231) observational epidemiology is meant to help identify the main agents responsible for causing ailments in people. For example Herbert (2008 p 612) says that in an attempt to look at the causes of cardiovascular diseases researchers look into some of the issues that many people may perceive as not risky but have however been found to be responsible for causing such ailments. For instance he says that smoking, obesity as a result of eating foods with a lot of fats have been found to cause heart related illnesses. Therefore making an observation at such at such incidences may help the researchers develop appropriate measures that can be adopted by others to reduce cases of heart diseases.

In relation to the above discussion we can therefore say that observational epidemiology is mainly applicable in those cases that do not require detailed examination such as family history to arrive at a conclusion. This is because one can easily relate the lifestyle of a patient with a particular disease without doing a thorough search on other issues. According to Herbert (2008 p 605) diseases for instance can be reduced by recommending a change to the peoples’ lifestyle. In the end this will have avoided the costs that may come along as one seeks treatment. In the long run, he notes that the people who stick to the required standards of eating are likely to experience such diseases on condition that all other factors are kept constant. According to McNeil (1996 p 111) cohort is the main methodology used for analytical epidemiologic research.

On the other hand, Scott (2009 p 232) points out that experimental research avails information and other necessary data out of which researchers can make a more reliable finding. He says that in experimental epidemiology, researchers are in a position to change one factor while at the same time controlling the factors or variables. Furthermore, he says that in experimental research, the main research question can be sub divided into other sub questions to allow for more room to make assumptions where necessary. In addition, experimental epidemiology allows the researchers to understand the effect of the extraneous factors that may have an effect on the results expected from the study. He says that this happens through a repeated changing of the independent variable to see how the dependent one reacts to such changes.

According to Golafshani (2003, p 2), some of the information of such extraneous variables is collected in a quantitative way and thus can be easily adjusted, and therefore he contends that findings from observational epidemiological studies are usually by far less conclusive than those from the experimental studies since they are less strict control of the extraneous factors. As a result it is worth noting that experimental studies are better of than the observation ones as they provide a more room for a researcher to try many variables to arrive at his or her conclusions.

Importance of Causation

Rothman (2002 p 121) notes that in order to identify a certain ailment well, it is paramount to establish the origin and the agents that brought about such a disease. He says that most of the human ailments are caused by virus and bacteria. In his discussion he says that it is important to understand these ailments because; at first we are able to learn the disease causing micro organisms. In this he underscores the importance of identifying them as it helps the medical practitioners and other researchers invent proper ways of dealing with them. He says that bacteria and viruses are completely different and therefore the mode of dealing with them is also different.

In addition McNeil (1996 p 111) says that people will know how to avoid coming into contacts with such disease causing micro organisms. To him the moments people become aware of them, they will stay disease free as they will have been enlightened on how fight them. According to him some of these disease causing micro organisms are brought about by poor hygiene. Therefore if people learn the practice of remaining clean at all times, then they will have dealt a blow to these micro organisms. In the long run this will have reduced the family or an individual expense of going to seek for treatment. As they say preventive is better than cure and that way some of the lives lost as a result of people becoming ill of diseases like typhoid and cholera will have reduced greatly.

According to Baum (2008 p 234) causation is important in the field of epidemiology because it helps the relevant authorities to know which areas are prone to certain diseases at a particular time of the year. For example he says that some parts of the coastal region are prone to malaria due to the hot and wet climate. As a result the government and other agencies are able to make proper arrangements to prevent more people from falling sick since malaria is a killer disease. He adds that using the statistics released by other agencies the government as well as other relevant authorities can know the particular group of people that is prone to certain diseases. He says that due to the changing lifestyles heart related illnesses have become a common thing among the young people. Therefore if this is not addressed quickly many more people are likely to become victims of this disease thus more loss of life to potential citizens. Besides that Floyd (2002 p 212) says that lack of properly qualified personnel can be blamed on increased cases of heart illnesses. He says that many medical practitioners in some developing countries are not properly qualified and therefore they do not have sufficient knowledge on how to help with certain problems. Therefore if the government fails to address such issues urgently a large number of people are likely to continue being sick of curable diseases.


Epidemiology has been of great benefit to many people in the country and beyond. This is because medical practitioners have managed to invent better ways of treating people because of advances in technology as well as detailed and a holistic research. Therefore, all people should join hands and ensure that preventable diseases are dealt away with completely.

Reference List

Baum, F., 2008. The new public health (3rd Edition). Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Beaglehole, R., Bonita, R. & Kjellstrom, T., 1993, Basic Epidemiology. Geneva: World Health Organisation.

Chapman, S., 2005. Research methods. London: Routledge.

Floyd, J. F., 2002. Survey research methods. London: Sage.

Golafshani, N., 2003. Understanding Reliability and Validity in Qualitative Research. The Qualitative Report, 8(4), 597-606.

Herbert, J., 2008. Research methods in community medicine: surveys, epidemiological research, programme evaluation, clinical trials. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Kenneth, J., 2008. Modern epidemiology. Maryland: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Kothari, C.R., 2008. Research methodology: methods and techniques. New York: New Age International.

McNeil, D., 1996. Epidemiological research methods. New York: Wiley.

Michael, O., 2006. Methods in social epidemiology. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Punch, K., 2005. Introduction to Social Research: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches. Oxford: Oxford University press.

Robertson, L.S., 2007. Injury epidemiology: research and control strategies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rothman, J.K., 2002. Epidemiology: an introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Saks, M. & Allsop, J., 2007. Researching health: Qualitative, Quantitative and mixed methods. Los Angeles: Sage Publication.

Sana, L., 2002. Case studies in forensic epidemiology. New York: Springer.

Scott, S., 2009. Ethics and epidemiology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sherri, L. J., 2008. Research Methods and Statistics: A Critical Thinking Approach. New York: Cengage Learning.

Weiss, N. O., 2006. Clinical epidemiology: the study of the outcome of illness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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