Qualitative Data Collection in a PhD Dissertation/Thesis

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As you ask, "How to write methodology for my dissertation?", you need dissertation help in understanding qualitative research methods, strategies, attributes of data collection and analysis, and the challenges to you as researcher when you employ quantitative vs qualitative research methods.

Note: this section is an excerpt from our first book (James, Milenkiewicz, & Bucknam,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.

Qualitative data are particularly appropriate because they can help us understand people’s reactions, beliefs, and behavior more clearly. 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


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

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






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





Subjective 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




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.  Generall lnot gethered

by the researcher and therefore

may not center on the topic of 

the study.





Stylized note taking about predetermined

portions of an event or

group of events

under study, 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,

there by 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.


Byrne-Armstrong, H., Higgs, J., & Horsfall, D. (Eds.). (2001). Critical moments in qualitative research. Oxford, Auckland, Boston: Butterworth Heinemann

Higgs, J. (2001). Charting standpoints in qualitative research. In H. Byrne-Armstrong, J. Higgs & D. Horsfall (Eds.), Critical moments in qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.

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

Maxwell, J. A. (1996). Qualitative research design: An interactive approach (Vol. 41). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Patton, M. Q., & Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3 ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications

Snape, D., & Spencer, L. (2003). The foundations of qualitative research. In J. Ritchie & J. Lewis (Eds.), Qualitative research practice (pp. 1-23). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications




1 comment

  • Comment Link Simon Quattlebaum Friday, 26 July 2013 12:30 posted by Simon Quattlebaum

    Thanks for the detailed information on qualitative data collection! I see I have my work cut out for me. It cannot be any more challenging than completing the IRB application! Although my study eliminates data collection over a lengthy period of time and observing a specific event, I look forward to the challenge of analyzing, transcribing, and summarizing!

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