Chapter 12
Indirect Data Collection: Working
with Observations and Existing Text
Zina O’Leary
Indirect Data
Indirect data is data that
exists regardless of a
researcher’s questioning,
prompting and probing.
It is found in social situations,
documents, databases, and
artefacts and is not created
by the researcher for
research processes.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Observation
A systematic method of
data collection that relies
on a researcher’s ability to
gather data through their
senses.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Types of Observation
In conducting observations,
researchers can be anything
from removed to immersed:
• Non-participant - in this role, the
researcher does not become, nor aims
to become, an integral part of the
system or community they are
observing.
• Participant - in this role, the researcher
is, or becomes, a part of the team,
community, or cultural group they are
observing.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Types of Observation
Researchers need to consider
the advantages and
disadvantages of full
disclosure:
• Candid - the researcher offers full
disclosure of the nature of their study
and the role the observations will play in
their research.
• Covert - can be non-participant, i.e.
watching pedestrian behavior at an
intersection, or watching interactions at
a school playground. But they can also
be participatory. This involves
researchers going ‘undercover’ in an
attempt to get a real sense of a
situation, context, or phenomenon.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Types of Observation
Observational techniques can
range from highly structured to
unstructured:
• Structured - highly systematic and often
relies on predetermined criteria related
to the people, events, practices, issues,
behaviors, actions, situations, and
phenomena being observed.
• Semi-structured - observers generally
use some manner of observation
schedule or checklist to organize
observations, but also attempt to
observe and record the unplanned
and/or the unexpected.
• Unstructured - observers attempt to
observe and record data without
predetermined criteria.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
What You See Isn’t Always What You
Get
Observation provides the
opportunity for researchers to
document actual behavior
rather than responses related
to behavior.
However, the observed can
act differently when surveyed;
and researchers’ observations
are likely to be biased by their
own worldviews.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Filtering Observations
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
The Observation Process
Taking the world in through
our senses needs to be
tackled systematically in
order to ensure we can:
• take in a full range of sensory
inputs
• keep biases in check
• aim for saturated
understanding.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
The Observation Process
The collection of credible
data through observation
requires:
•
•
•
•
•
•
thorough planning
careful observation
thoughtful recording
reflexive review
considered refinements
appropriate analysis.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Recording Observations
Recording observations
involves preservation of raw
data through audio
recordings, photographs, and
videos or capturing
impressions through note
taking and journaling.
Observations can be quite
subjective so it is important to
confirm through strategies
that ensure thoroughness and
confirmation.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Existing Text
Existing ‘texts’ are traces of
social activity that include
official data and records,
electronic/internet material,
corporate data, personal
records, the media, the arts,
and social artefacts.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Existing Texts
Working with existing texts
allows researchers to:
•
•
•
•
be neutral
capitalize on existing data
explore what people produce
and eliminate the need for
physical access to research
subjects.
But researchers need to work
through data not expressly
generated for their particular
research question(s).
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Textual Analysis
Textual analysis involves:
• planning for all
contingencies
• gathering ‘texts’
• reviewing credibility
• interrogating witting and
unwitting evidence
• reflecting and refining your
process
• and analyzing data.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Document Analysis
Document analysis sees
researchers working with preproduced written, rather than
generated, texts.
This requires researchers to
consider two potential
sources of bias:
• the original author’s
and
• their own.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Document Types
Authoritative sources - documents that by their
authorship or authority attempt to be unbiased
and objective.
The party line - documents that have an
‘agenda’ or identifiable bias.
Personal communication - letters, e-mails,
memoirs, sketches, drawings, photographs,
diaries, memos, journals etc. that are personal
and subjective.
Multi-media - newspaper or magazine columns/
articles, current affairs shows, news reports, TV
sitcoms, commercials, etc.
Historical documents - records, minutes, and
policy documents, or any other materials that
have been authored or produced within a
particular historical period.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Historical Analysis
Historical analysis refers to the
exploration of various forms of data in
order to better understand the past,
including:
• what happened
• why it happened
• and its implications.
Data includes:
•
•
•
•
testimony
social book keeping
secondary accounts
and social artefacts.
Gathering a full range of credible
evidence can be a challenge.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Cultural Artefact Analysis
Cultural artefact analysis refers to
the exploration of various
human-made objects in order to
ascertain information about the
culture of its creator(s) and users.
Measures include those of
erosion i.e. wear and tear, and
accretion i.e. things people
produce or leave behind.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
Secondary Data Analysis
Secondary data analysis refers to
the exploration of existing data
sets.
While this can save time and
resources, you do not develop
and ‘own’ the data.
Before any statistical analysis is
attempted researchers need to
assess both the relevance and
credibility of their data sources.
Zina O’Leary (2009) The Essential Guide to Doing Your Research Project. London: Sage
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Chapter 12 Indirect Data Collection