Postgraduate Tips III

What type of data collection methods are most common in qualitative research?


What type of data collection methods are most common in qualitative research?

Dr Stephen Whitehead

Probably the most used method in qualitative research is the semi-structured interview.

With this approach the interviewer leads with a select number of questions, all linked to key themes, these themes being subsequently linked to the research aims and objectives.

The questions asked are usually a mix of open and closed but always pointed towards a conversation arising. A good qualitative interviewer will enable and encourage an open narrative to emerge from the interviewee, while ensuring the conversation remains focused on the key themes. This also has the added benefit of encouraging the interviewee to keep talking and thereby provide you with more data.

While there may be some identical questions asked at each interview, designed to test a particular hypothesis, it is usually the case that each interview is unique, albeit within the structure and design of the overall research objectives.

The next two most common qualitative methods are focus group interviews and structured interviews. The former is a very good additional method to deploy when you are conducting a number of individual semi-structured interviews as it allows you to refer back to a larger group (typically 4–6) of those interviewed on a one to one basis, and again test for responses and accuracy of interpretation.

This is a process of triangulation of the data.

The fully structured interview is less often used as it is too limiting and reduces the chance of a flee flowing narrative emerging in the interview, resulting in less insightful and revealing data.

If you are very confident of your subject (both topic and the person you intend to interview) then you could choose a free-flowing interview approach, one which has no set questions but relies totally on the developing ‘story’ being told by the interviewee. Not recommended for inexperienced researchers.

Whatever method you adopt, remember the time restrictions. A typical research interview (for a thesis) would not last longer than 90mins and very likely be only half of that. So you have to be very well prepared from the outset and very clear as to the sorts of answers you are looking for.

And most importantly, don’t forget to record it!

Dr Stephen Whitehead


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