A summary of the theoretical, practical and ethical strengths and weaknesses of qualitative data sources such as unstructured interviews, participant observation and documents.
Examples of Qualitative Data
- Open question questionnaires
- Unstructured interviews
- Participant observation
- Public and private documents such as newspapers and letters.
- Better validity than for quantitative data
- More insight (Verstehen)
- More in-depth data
- More respondent-led, avoids the imposition problem.
- Good for exploring issues the researcher knows little about.
- Preferred by Interpretivists
- A useful way of accessing groups who don’t like formal methods/ authority
- Useful for sensitive topics
- Allows respondents to ‘speak for themselves’
- Treats respondents as equals
- Difficult to make comparisons
- No useful for finding trends, finding correlations.
- Typically small samples, low representativeness
- Low reliability as difficult to repeat the exact context of research.
- Subjective bias of researcher may influence data (interviewer bias)
- Disliked by Positivists
- Time consuming
- Expensive per person researched compared to qualitative data
- Difficult to gain access (PO)
- Analyzing data can be difficult
- Close contact means more potential for harm
- Close contact means more difficult to guarantee anonymity and confidentiality
- Informed consent can be an issue with PO.
Nature of Topic – When would you use it, when would you avoid using it?
- Useful for complex topics you know little about
- Not necessary for simple topics.
This post has been written as a revision summary for students revising the research methods aspect of A-level sociology.
More in-depth versions of qualitative data topics can be found below…
Covert and Covert Participant Observation
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