Criminal justice turns to different strategies of gathering data during investigation process. While estimating their weaknesses and strengths, Frank E. Hagan (2010) uses several characteristics including quantitative measurement, control over possible obstacles, internal/external validity and accuracy, and naturalness/artificiality of the technique.
The list of alternative data-gathering strategies includes experiments, social surveys, participant observation, case studies (also known as life history methods) and unobtrusive measures. Experiment is often considered to be one of the most effective and hence the most popular method of collecting empirical information. In comparison with other techniques listed above, experiment gives more quantitative material, more control offer circumstances that can interfere with the research, stronger internal validity, but at the same time experiment’s weakness is in its artificiality and its results may come into conflict with the real world.
Field and observational strategies thus provide more direct means of data gathering. When they tend to fail in withstanding the interference of unwanted factors, they meanwhile provide more external validity which means that the results obtained through the tests can be applied to larger groups and can be generalized to a greater extent.
Social surveys can be studied in details with less time and money spent. The analysis is flexible and comparative (through between-group study), but serious disadvantage is that the answers of the respondents depend on many individual factors like mood, motivation, memory and level of lies. Low validity is also the weakness. Besides, when there is a list of answers proposed, the respondent may not follow his or her own truth, but just answer under the concern of the “strength of choice”.
Official bodies trust statistics most of all, but in practice this strategy often fails to give truthful knowledge. On the one hand, it is hard to trace the process of getting data for statistics, and on the other hand, political structures can influence the information the way it is profitable for their image.
Participant observation is a research directly inside the group under consideration, in its natural circumstances and real conditions. The situations are not structured and controlled the way they are in experiments. Dangerous condition is when the participant begins to identify himself with the group he studies.
Case studies are either explanatory or descriptive. This method is beneficial as the researcher is concentrated on one situation or instance and thus the case can be studied carefully with in-depth investigation. “The case study is a research approach, situated between concrete data taking techniques and methodologic paradigms,” Lamnek (2005) explains. On the other hand, to conduct a case study, much time is needed. What is more, case study may be abused as the researcher tends to get the information which proves his preconceived notions and ignore information which contradicts to it.
Unobtrusive methods are also helpful in criminological research while they tend to use uncommon sources of information like garbage. But the matter is that this kind of research cannot substitute other strategies. This can be only an effective but additional way to support some knowledge. On the whole, the more methods are applied, the more probable are the truthful results of investigation process.
Nevertheless, if one do needs to choose the most effective strategy, with all points considered experiment as a way to design situation still can be approached as the most advantageous data gathering method which provides most control against errors and rival factors.
Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory: strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine.
Hagan, F. E. (2010). Introduction to Criminology: Theories, Methods, and Criminal Behavior. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Lamnek, S. (2005). Qualitative Sozialforschung. Weihnhein, Basel: Beltz Verlag.