Research Methods in Criminal Justice

Research methodology

The systematic way of solving one’s research problems is defined as one’s research methodology. It denotes the procedures that researchers use to explain, predict, and describe the phenomenon. Therefore, research methodology guides the process of gathering knowledge. Research methods may be identical in two papers but their methodology will differ. Differences in investigators’ interpretation of a certain problem will affect their choice of methodology. The order with which accuracy is determined will also come into play. Further, the efficiency of the research method will affect outcomes (Warren and Karner, 2005).

In criminology, researchers may use observation as one type of methodology. For instance, if a person poses as a visitor in a corrections facility, and takes note of their procedures, then the person is using observation methodology. These may be participant, disguised, non-participant, structured or unstructured. Owing to limitations in practicality, criminologists may use survey methodology. The option is preferable for descriptive information. The ease with which persons collect information has attracted many researchers to the methodology but issues of inaccurate responses must be addressed. Contact methodology is one of the most preferred approaches as it is quick and elicits high response rates. Interviews and questionnaires are the typical approaches but they could be costly and susceptible to judgmental sampling. Experimental methodologies are necessary when proof must be provided. It is revered for its scientific leanings but may be too costly and limited to conduct in criminal justice (Tewksbury, 2009).

Sampling frame and its problems

Sampling frame refers to devices or lists that researchers use to identify their population of interest. If a sampling frame does not cover the whole population, then the part left out is the under coverage. For instance, if a researcher relied on houses with phones for his sampling frame, then the coverage of those without landlines may arise. Overcoverage occurs when the same element of the population is overrepresented. Using the above example, houses with several landlines would cause over coverage. Duplication occurs when elements in the sampling frame can map to a total population element. In the phone number approach, if different names are attached to the same number, then duplication arises. Clustering arises when several elements of the total population can map to one element of the sampling frame. For instance, a house can have several people and will cause clustering (Fricker, 2012).

Strengths and weakness of quantitative field research

Quantitative research is the golden child of criminology research. Berg (2007) and several others think quantitative research is highly scientific. They espouse the predictive abilities of quantitative research. However, these predictions are based on theories, which stem from qualitative work. Opponents of qualitative research also claim that the method largely focuses on issues of marginal interest to the public. They question the analytical facets of qualitative research. Since analysis entails codification and identification of themes, issues of validity and reliability may arise. In fact, these shortcomings explain why only 15% of criminal justice journals use qualitative research (Tewksbury et. al., 2005).

Regardless of the above shortcomings, qualitative research makes valuable contributions to the discipline. Qualitative research is the foundational approach upon which quantitative analysis is based. Therefore, the biases that quantitative researchers have against this method, obscure their reliance on it. Qualitative research provides a rich and informative explanation of a criminological issue. Quantitative research is limited by what the researcher deems to be important. Conversely, qualitative analyses are more accommodative of variable factors and offer a holistic picture. Statistical methods do not highlight experiences and dynamics in social structures.

Advantages and disadvantages of secondary data

Criminal justice academics and researchers are fond of secondary data because it saves them valuable time and resources. Some investigators carry out their research so professionally that it can be advantageous to tap into their expertise. Regardless of this benefit, one must be wary of challenges invalidity. Most researchers will measure data that was quite close to what the researcher had in mind. However, some variables may not have been operationalized. A person may be interested in recidivism rates for sex offenders but the secondary data available may not accommodate age as a variable (Maxfield & Babbie, 2011). One may however deal with this problem by gathering a series of secondary research that have data that the investigator wants. If the person gathers several analyses whose data is close enough to his area of interest, then the investigator can make his own conclusions about the research question. Transferring secondary data to different programs may also be problematic. Lawrence Sherman analyzed domestic violence interventions in a series of US cities. While the data may be useful, it cannot be used for different intervention programs.

Discuss the quasi-experimental designs associated with research

An ideal experimental design is one in which the researcher randomly assigns participants to control and treatment groups then compare their reactions. However, since it is not always possible to manipulate treatment groups, then subjects will not be randomly selected. Instead, statistical methods are used to study relationships between variables. Scientific methods from the natural sciences would be the ideal way of conducting research. However, since criminal justice is a social science, then one cannot apply those methods directly. Quasi-experiments were a way of bending the rules to accommodate these differences. Quasi-experiments play a critical role in overcoming too much reliance on theories and theory development. Additionally, statistical tools have developed over time thus allowing for the use of a quasi-experimental design (Mazerolle & Bennett, 2013).

One example of a quasi-experimental design is the pre-test and post-test design. This approach involves an intervention where one has no control of who falls in the experimental and control group. The method creates serious problems in criminology because the self-selection of the subjects may occur. Threats to internal validity may also be caused by the maturation of one group of the subjects of history. Therefore, one must take caution in selecting the right quasi-experimental design.

Use of tests of statistical significance

Statistical significance is relevant in showing whether the results found are true or whether they were attributable to chance. However, a statistically significant result does not imply that the item under consideration is important. In academics, stakeholders believe that a theory has to exceed the 95% threshold in order to be worth any salt (Dawson, 2002). This implies that there is a 5 in 100 chance that a test is untrue. If one repeated tests, there is no way of knowing if the false positive of 5% has occurred or not. One would be better off just repeating a test once. However, this problem can be overcome by splitting one’s sample into two. If similar significance levels are found, then the test is probably true. The problem with such an approach is that one requires a large difference between variables to establish a relationship. Therefore, researchers must strike a balance between avoiding false positives and establishing the true significance of one’s test.


Berg, B. (2007). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (6thed). Boston: Pearson Education.

Dawson, C. (2002). Practical Research Methods. New York: UBS Publishers.

Fricker, R. (2012). Target populations, sampling frames and coverage error. Web.

Tewksbury, R. (2009). Qualitative versus quantitative methods: Understanding why qualitative methods are superior for criminology and criminal justice. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology, 1(1), 38-59.

Tewksbury, R., DeMichele, M. and Miller, M. (2005). Methodological orientations of articles appearing in criminal justices’ top journals: Who publishes what and where. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 16 (2), 265-279.

Maxfield, M. & Babbie, E. (2011). Basics of research methods for criminal justice and criminology. NY:Cengage Learning

Mazerolle, L. & Bennett, S. (2013). Experimental criminology. Web.

Warren, C. and Karner, T. (2005). Discovering qualitative methods: Field research, interviews, and analysis. Los Angeles: Roxbury.