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Qualitative Data Collection in a PhD Dissertation/Thesis

Qualitiative data collectonThis section outlines the ways to collect qualitative data and discusses practical considerations that researchers need to take into account as they implement these strategies. Though distinct categories are listed, in reality these categories may seem much more ambiguous to researchers gathering data in the field. Nonetheless, it is useful to divide them here for the purpose of discussion (Byrne-Armstrong, Higgs, & Horsfall, 2001; Maxwell, 1996; Patton & Patton, 2002; Snape & Spencer, 2003; Strauss & Corbin, 1998).

The following material is an excerpt from our first book (James, E. A., Milenkiewicz, M., & Bucknam, A. 2008, p. 69) and answers the question, "How do I use qualitative data as I write my dissertation?" It is provided here as part of the dissertation help series. 

 This section outlines the ways to collect qualitative data and discusses practical considerations that researchers need to take into account as they implement these strategies. Though distinct categories are listed, in reality these categories may seem much more ambiguous to researchers gathering data in the field. Nonetheless, it is useful to divide them here for the purpose of discussion (Byrne-Armstrong, Higgs, & Horsfall, 2001; Maxwell, 1996; Patton & Patton, 2002; Snape & Spencer, 2003; Strauss & Corbin, 1998).

Table 4.1 divides the three general categories of data collection methods discussed in this chapter into separate strategies. As mentioned above, Sample PhD dissertations will show you these groupings and definitions are pliable.

Table 4.1

Data collection strategy       Attributes of strategy         Challenges to researcher    

Interviews: one on one

questions and answer sessions 

where the researcher may use a variety of techniques.

Interviews average 30-45 minutes per person.

Reveal information about

the worldview of a single

individual.  This is a flexible

strategy that (with care) can 

be massaged during data

collection as needed to 

heighten results.

Interviews are a 

time-consuming form

of data collection.  To gather

data from one person, it

requires preparation, the

time of the interview, and

the time of the transcription.

 

 

Focus groups: group

interviews, using the same

variety of techniques and 

taking approximately the 

same length of time as

interviews.

 

More time effective than

interviews but with slightly

less flexibility.  The group

process may encourage

results from shy or hesitant

people when the group 

grings up topics with which 

they agree.

The group dynamic may

interfere with complete or 

accurate data.

Data collected once or throughout a process of change

Reflective journals:

handwritten or verbal

account of an event, or

group of events, over time.

These often unveil how

writers subscribe meaning to

their topics

 

Subjectiv e account of the

event from the point of view 

of the writer, who may be 

the researcher or a subject

of the research.  Can be

collected once or throughout

a process of research.

Similar to interviews, 

reflective journals display

the worldview of single

individuals.  They also

frequently require

transcription.

Field notes: written

explanations or data taken,

often by multiple observers

at a single event,capturing

interactions of interest to the 

larger topic under study.

 May follow a prescribed 

format or be open-ended.

Generally gathered by the 

researcher and therefore

likely to target the topic of

the study.

 Somewhat more objective

than reflective data although

still subject to the biases of 

the researcher.

Data collected during the events(s) being studied...

Anecdotal evidence/logs:

data taken from people often 

outside the research team

that report the facts of the 

interactions as understood

at the time by the writer.

May follow a prescribed

format or be open-ended.

May be more objective about

the topic of study, since not

constrained by the biases of

the researcher.

Somewhat more objective

than reflective data although

still subject to the biases of 

the writer.  Generally not gathered

by the researcher and therefore

may not center on the topic of 

the study.

Observations: stylized note

taking about predetermined

portions of an event or

group of events

under study;e generally

taken by more than

one observer.  Observations

often tally the number of 

times an event takes place.

 Are often collected over a 

period of time.  Can be 

collected by a variety of

people, thereby increasing 

the possibility of reliable

results.  Accuracy may be 

helped by voice or video

recording prior, with

multiple people taking part

in analysis.

 Accuracy may be constrained 

by the point of view of the

person recording these data.

Reference

James, E. A., Milenkiewicz, M., & Bucknam, A. (2008). Participatory action research: Data driven decision making for educational leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications