Interviewing and observing are two data collection strategies
designed to gather data that specifically address the research
question. Documents, however, are usually produced for reasons
other than the research at hand and therefore are not subject
to the same limitations. The presence of documents does not
intrude upon or alter the setting in ways that the presence of the
investigator often does. Nor are documents dependent upon
the whims of human beings whose cooperation is essential for
collecting good data through interviews and observations. Docu-
ments are, in fact, a ready-made source of data easily accessible to
the imaginative and resourceful investigator. This chapter exam-
ines the nature of documents. various types of documents, their
use in qualitative research, and their limitations and strengths.
The last section of the chapter presents a look at a relatively new
type of documents and data-that which is obtained online.
A number of terms are used to refer to sources of data in a
study other than inten1ews or observations. I have chosen the
term document as the umbrella term to refer to a wide range of
""Titten. visual, digital. and physical material relevant to the
study at hand. Docum.ents, as the term is used in this chapter. also
include what LeCompte and Preissle (1993) define as artifacts-
"symbolic materials such as writing and signs and nonsymbolic
materials such as tools and furnishings" (p. 216). Artifacts are
"things" or objects in the environment differentiated from doc-
uments that represent some form of communication (e.g., offi-
cial records. newspapers. diaries). Documents include just about
140 Ql•.'\1.11 A 11\'V. Rr '-I· '\IH 11
<mything in cxistcnn: prior to Lhe research at baud. Comnwn
do<:uruenb inclucl<· ollicial n·corch, letters, newspaper accounL'i,
poem'\, song.,, cot potaLc records, gmcrnment documenL<,, hi-.tor-
accoun_l"· diat·ics, and 1\0 on. Photographs,
hlm. and \1deo can also be used a.., data sources, can phy..,i-
cal evidence nt trace-. (Lt•c, Webb, Campbell, Sch\,anz. &
Sechrest, 2000). AlL hough thh chapter concentrates on wriuen
tht> genet at dbcusston applies to all fonm of data
not gathered through tnlct\'iews ot· observations.
Diiferem writer.. catcgmite documents in different wavs. Public
records and personal documents are two common t;pes of doc-
uments used in qualitative research. \Vhat Bogdan and Biklen
(2007) call "popular culture documents" is a third type to be dis-
cussed here, along with a fourth type-visual documems-which
include films, videol>, and photography. VisuaJ documents int<:r-
sect with popular culture, and even public records and personal
doctm1ents can be visual in nature. so in reality the same docu-
ment can be classit1ed in more than one way. Physical ltlatetial
document-. 'iUCh as objt'Ct'l in the environment or changes in
the physical setting arc not quite as common!) used as the orher
bm nevt'rthcless are a potential source of data for the quai-
Ltatl\·e researcher. Moreover, documents can be generated b) the
researcher for the purpose of tlw investig-c1tion.
Public record' are rlw o{fi(ial. ongoing records of a soriet\ \
activities. As Guba and Lincoln (1981) note, "The first and most
important to anyone looking for official record-; is
to presume that if an e\cnl happened, some record of il exists"
(p. 253). Public document.., include actuarial records of births,
deaths, and nmrriages, the U.S. census, police records, court
transcripts, agency record'i, association manuals, program docu-
menL'i. ma. ... s media, govcrnmt·nt documents. and so on. Locating
public record!> is limited only br the researcher's imagination and
Auster ( 19H5), for <·xample, demonstrates how
\h,.,_INt. IJ,\1 \ HHIM [)u( l MI.N'IS 14}
to conduct a study of changing -;ocial e'pcctation ... for lamily.
career, gt•nder roles. and -.cxual behavior through the data
source of Girl SeoUL handbook-.. Youth org-c1nitation handbooks,
o;he points out, "represent the intcr-.cction ol biography and
{p. 359}, prO\iding an excellent data '>ource for studvmg
changing social mores.
for those interested in educational qut.'stions, there are
numerous sources of public clocumcnts-di-.cussiom of educa-
tional is.sues and bilb in the CongTI'HW1WI Rrrord; fedt'ral. state,
and pnvate agencv report<;; individual program record'>; and
the statistical database of the Cenrer for EducationaJ Statistics.
Since many case sntdies arc at [he program level. it is particular!}
important to seek out the paper tratl for what it can reveal about
the program-"things that cannot be obs<.·necl," things "that
have taken place before the evaluation began. They may include
private interchanges to which the educator would not otherwise
be privy. They can reveal goals 01 decisions that might be oth-
erwise unknmvn to Lhe evaluator'' (Patton, 2002. p. 293). ldeally
this paper trail includes "all routine records on client.<,, all cor-
respondence from and to program st.t£1'. financial and budget
records, organizmional rule.,, regulations, memoranda, charts.
and any other official or unofficial dorumcnt!> generated by or
lor the program" (p. 293) Such documents are \'aluable "not
onh because ofwhat can be lc<lrnerl direct!) !rom Lhcm but also
as stimulus for paths ot inquiry that can be pursued onl} through
direct observation and intervicw·ng" (p. 294).
Lf you ,.,.·ere interested in studving the role of parent invoh·e-
ment in a neighborhood school, for <:.'"ample, vou could look for
public record documents 111 the form of the following: notices
sent home to parent!>; memos between anrl among teacht'rs. staff,
and the parents' association; formal policy statt•ment., regarding
parent involvement; sehoul bulletin boards OL other displays
turing aspects of parent involvement; ncwspapet and other medta
coverage of activities featuring parent involvement; and any offi-
cial records of parent attendance or pn•scncc in the school.
Olher sources of public infom1ation that are easily accessible
but often overlooked include previou-. studies and data "'banks''
of information. However, in using thl•se resources the re'iearcher
has to rely on someone else's cle!Kription ann interpretation ul'
142 QtiAIHA II VI. Rt.W.AR! ' II
dat.a rather thau Ll'lt· th(• raw data a,., a basis for anah,..,is. These
as the) atl' C411ed. arc more common quantita-
lJH! althougl! there has bt>cn "orne recent thinking as
to how ttm strategy mtght apply ro qualitative studies. For large-
scale ot research, relying on previous studies may
be the only realtsuc way to conduct the imestigation.
. An example of a data bank that is potentially U!)eful in quali-
tatl\e .research. esp<>ciall} ethnographic (see Chapter
Two), IS the Human Relations Area File (Murdock. 1983). This
file b a compilation of ethnographic .,tudies of more than 350
societies; data arc classified and coded by cultural group and
aho by m.ore than topics. Education is one broad topic
wh1ch subtoptcs c;uch as t:lementary education, educa-
twnal theory and method", students, and vocational education
can be found. The index is organi7ed so that a resca1·cher can
reLJicve documems related to the educational practices of one
pankular cultural group, or documents can be retrieved about
a specific practice -.uch a" ·'student uprisings" across many cul-
Tvpes of found in this file include ethnog-
rapher field notes. dial) entries, reports to \'arious agencies,
books, newspaper article-,, works of fiction about the culture,
and photographs.
In contrast LO public \Omceo; of data, personal document.s "
to anr fir,t-pel"on nancuin: Lhat descdbes an individual's actions
experiences. and beliefs" (Bogdan and Biklen, 2007, p. 133):
Such documents include diaries, letters, home videos. children's
growth records, scrapbook.-. and photo albwns, calendars. auto-
biographies, and travel logs. In some ways documents are like
observat!Ons in that documents gi\'e us a snapshot into what
author thinks is imponam, that is, their personal perspt:ctive.
while observation-. allow us to see O\ert behavior. Such documents
can tell the about the innet meaning of everyday
event'!, or they may ytelcl descriptions of highly unusual or idio-
syncratic human experiences such a'i can be found in Admiral
Byrd'-, 1 eport of his e'\.periences alone at the South Pole or Helen
Keller\ accoum of overcoming multiplt' phystcal handicap'>.
P<:r,onal document." are a reliable source of data conccrmng
a attitudes, beliefs. and view of the world. Bm because
they ate personal doc umcnts. the matt.• rial is highly subjective
in that the writer is the only one to s<'lcct what he or she con-
sider., impmi.ant to record. Obviously these are not
representative or necec;sarily reliable accounts of what actually
mav hme occurred. Thev do, however, reflect the participant's
perspecti\e, which is what most qualitative research io; seeking.
In of and diaries in particular, Bur-
( 1982) notes:
Thl' field researcher needs to consider: l'l material trmtwonhy?
the materiaJ atypical? Has the material been edircd and refined?
Doe'> 1he autobiographical material 011l)' contain highlights of life
th<ll .u-e cotu.idcred interesting? Furthcnnure, it could he argued
that t.he material is automaticall} onlv certain people
produce autobiographies and keep diari(•s: tl1ere is self-selenivil}'
involved in Lhe sampk of material awilable; they do not prO\ ide a
complete historical l'l'Cord. Nevertlwle-,.,, such material doc'
prmide a subjective .trcounL of the situation it records: it i" a
reconstruction of pan oflife Furthennore, it provides an
at.count that i-; ba..'>ecl on the author's exp<.•rience. (p.
An entire stud) can be based on personal documents.
Abratmon 's (1992) ca..,c study of Russian jewish emigration is
based -.olelv on his grAndfather'!) diaties written over a twelve-year
pedod. A well-known earlier -;rudy of Polish immigrant life relied
hea,ih upon personalleuers wntten between immigrants and rela-
tives m Europe (Thomas & Znaniecki. I 927). Mruw o( these letters
were obtained by placing ads in local newspapers asking for them.
In addition to public and personal 1 ecords. society produces
materials de11igned to entertain. intorm. and perhap., persuade
the public. These are ptlblic in natme and so are c;ometimes
catcgorii·ed under publk records. Popular media forms such as
telt'vtsion. film. radio, newspapers, litt.•t-arv works, photography,
c.Lrtoons. and more rt·cently the Internt"t are sources ot "public''
data. communication materiab are especially good sources
J44 QtJAII'I:.HfVJ•. ltcSJ!.ARCH
for dealing with questions about some aspect of society at a given
time, tor comparing groups on a certain dimension, or for track-
ing cultural change and trends. The changing nature of U.S.
presidential political campaigns, for example, could be looked
at through the medium of televised debates, with the 2008 cam-
paign incor-porating YouTube Internet technology. Studies have
been conducted on the roles of minorities in television, the
presence of ageism in cartoons, and teenage culwre in movies.
Hughes (2003) and Hollenbeck (2005) both made use of popu-
lar culture sources for their studies. Hughes asked what mid-life
women learned from watching .soap operas. and Hollenbeck
studied contemporary Internet-based social protest groups (anti-
McDonalcls, anti-Starbucks, and anti-Wai-Mart).
Unlike reco•·d-; that are part of a program's history, or per-
sonal documents that might augment an interview study, there
may be an infinite number of popular cultural documentc; that
might be relevant to a particular study. Bogdan and Biklen (2007)
offer some advice when using popular culture as a data source:
Of alllhe thousands of hours of commercial videos, films, and pop-
ular records a.s well as the millions upon millions of printed words
and pictures that appear each day in lhe media. how do you ever
narrow down the scope to make }'Our task manageable .. . . Think
small. Most people who read research do not expect the researcher
to cover the universe. Pick a particular program. or a panicular
event, and wot-k on it imensely rather lhan spreading yourself too
thin. (p. 65)
Film, video, and photography are visual documents. Of course
these can be found within the categories of document<; just dis-
cussed. That is, public records, personal documents. and popu-
lar cultural materials can all be in visual formats. However, within
the Last decade or so there has been a growing interest in their
use as a data source and as a means of presenting the findings
of a research -study (Stanczak, 2007). Likewise there has been
attention to methods of analyzing visual images (Kress & Van
Leeuwen, 2006; Van Leeuwen &Jewitt. 2001; Pink, 2006).
Although there has been renewed interest in visual materi-als,
film and photography have had a long history in anthropology
dating back to the turn of Lhe twentieth century (Pink. 2006).
Most famous perhaps were the early 1940s film and photography
of Balinese culture by anthropologists Bateson and Mead. How-
ever, despite their ''innovative and landmark text in anthropol-
ogy," ir "failed to achieve its potential to persuade anthropologists
of the time of the value of systematic visual research and analysis"
(Pink, 2006, p. 9). According to Pink, visual, sensory. and applied
anthropology were marginalized until the late twentieth cen-
tury, when in the 1990s they gained popularity: "Between 1999
and 2001 a series of new publications across the social sciences and
humanities revealed a thriving interdisciplinary interest in visual
research methods" (p. 15).
Film has some obvious strengths and limitations. This fom1
of data collection captures activities and events as they happen,
including "nonverbal behavk'r and communication such as facial
expressions, gestures, and emotions" (Marshall & Rossman. 2006,
p. 121). What can be captured on film is only "limited by what
the mind can imagine and the camera can record'' (p. 121 ). Film
has other, more practical limitations such as cost and the need
for the researcher to have some technical expertise, and it can be
intrusive (although as "reality" television shows attest, the camera
is soon forgotten in many situations).
Unlike film, photography is often less expensive and more
easily incorporated into a research study. To begin with. one
can make use of what Bogdan and Biklen (2007) call ''found
photographs" (p. 142). These are photos that already exist,
either in public archives such as historical societies and libraries
or in personal collections such as a participant's photo album of
family events. Photos alone can tell the story of what the photog-
rapher thought was important to capture. what cultural values
might be conveyed by the particular photos, and so on. Photos
have recently been used by rel-learchers in post-colonial, African
American, and women's studies ·'to understand how oppressed
groups were pictured by those subordinating them" (Bogdan &
Biklen, 2007, p. 144).
Photographs can also be generated by the researcher.
Such photographs, often taken in conjLmttion with pankipant

J46 Q.U\1 1 1.\IIH
provide a "means of rcnu:omhering and .,tudying
detail that might be overlooked if' a photogtaphic image Wt.'J e
not a\'ailablc for reflection" (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007. p. 1:11 ).
A.nothet of in qualitative research j.,
caJled "pholo elicitation." in which participants are shown \ari-
ous photos of the topic of interest in order to stimulate di!!tw.-
sion of the l()pic (Harper. 2002). photos could havt• hecn
taken by the researcher, found in public or personal
and so on. They are basically prompts for verbal data.
ln yet another use of photos. tlw participants can lx· prO\·ided
disposable cameras and asked to take pictures of the plu-nom-
enon of interest. Participant-generated photos can then lx: ana-
lyzed by lhe rcseat-cher or used bv tlw with participant:-.
in the photo elicitation method just chscussed. In a studv of' dillcr-
ing percep1jons of white and African American Greek member<;
of their univeNity environment. researchers provided disposable
cameras to participants to take photos exemplif)ring what their
university experience meant (Perka, Matherlv. Fishman. & Ridge.
1992). These photos and interviews asking to imerpret
the photo') provided the data for Taylor's (2002) '>tudy of
teachers' belief., and Daniels' (2003) stud\ of women in a South
MriC'an 'it'ttlement are two other examples of wking
pictures ol the phenomenon being studied. and then these photm.
being references for point\ of discussion in tlte interviews. Harpct
(2003. p. 195) r·cminds us. howevet. tltat ''In all examples of photo-
elicitation research, the photograph loses its claim to objectivity.
Indeed. tlw power of lhe photo lies in its ability to unlock the sub-
jectivity of those who see the image diflercmh from the researcher."
Phvsical material as a form of document. broadly defined, comi"'"
of physical found wilhin the .,tud) setting. Anthropolo-
gists typicall} refer to these oqjecb as arlifacts, which include 1 he
tools, implemems. utensils. and instruments of everyday living ..
Hodder (2003) includes artifacts and Wl"itten texts that have physi-
cally endured over time as "mute evidence" in the smdy of cul-
ture. "Sue h evidence. unlike the word. endures physically
and can be across space and time from w; .unhot,
:\hi' D.\T4\ H(U\1 llm 147
ptodut.ct', or mer" (p. 155). One ofthe mon·Hmwus studies using
physital material b the g-.u bagc stud\ conducted mer a number
ol ye.u-s h\- researchers at the l niversit) of .-\ri1ona (Ratl1je &
2001). By .. orting through peoplt.·'s garbage these
researchers have been able LO tc.:ll a lo1 about the lifestyle choices
ofvatious socioeconomic groups. For example. lower-income peo-
ple tend to buy small conUlincrs of name brand products rather
than less expensive. large-sited genetic brand products.
As part of my observation ot an exercise class at a senior cen-
ter in Korea (see Chapte1 Six, Exhibit 6.1, for the held notes).
I noticed a number of framed plaques on the wall. These "arti-
fac.L<;." which were tnmslatcd lor me. spoke to the Korean view
of older adults and their learning. For example. one plaque srud
"Let's transfer seniors· gond experiences and wisdom to young
people." .\.nother had a lisl of things older Koreans should do:
"I Ielp our society; enjoy our life; be healthy; and participate.
even if you are old." These plaques olfered additional evidence
of the importance of pan ici pat ion and respect for older adults
that I witnessed in obscning the class itsell.
Phvsical u-ace material i., yet another potemial o;ourcc of infor-
mation. Phvsical Uaces consist of changes in the plwsical setting
b1 about b) tht" activitie' ol people in lhat <;ctting. The fo1lm\'-
examples of phy-...icaJ t•viclcnce being used in re')carch stuilies
arc provided by Webb. Campbell. Sch\-\l".trtz. and Sechrest (2000):
• One investigator wanted to learn the level of whisky consump-
tion in a town that was otfkially "dry." He did so bv counting
empt) bottles in trash cans.
• The degree of fear induced hy a ghost storytelling -.cssion can
be measured b} noung the <> diameter of a l ircle of
<,cated children.
• Library ,vithdrawals wen: mcd to demonstrate the cticCL nf
the Introduction of tcle\ ision into a community. Fiction titles
dropped. nonfiction titles were unaffected.
• A child's interest in Chrbtmas was demonstrated by distortions
in 1 he site of Santa Claus drawings.
• Ra<.ial attitudes in two colleges were compared by noting
the degree of clustering of blacks and whitt:" in lecture halls.
Two basic mcaus of studying U<lccs are Lo no1<: t11cir
erosion, '' hich io; the: degree of wear. and to note thei1 accretion,
which is the degree of atctunulation. The wear and tear on floor
tiles in from of a muo;eum exhibit as a sign of public interest is
a well-known example of' erosion (Webb ct al.. 2000); the accu-
mulation of v.h1sk\ in the preceding ltst is a good exam-
ple of accretion . . More: tommonly. the ebb and of phy ... ical
uaces are ll'it'd as data to document a phenomenon. and
McDonald (2004), for example. tt-.ed school records to
re,eal into the reading habits of junior age children.
And Pauon (2002. p. 29:l) give' an interesting example of hem
phvsical trace ... can be used in evaluation: "In a week-Jong stall'
training program for 300 pt'ople, 1 asked the kitchen to SV'item-
atically record how much coflee was consumed in the mo,rning,
afternoon. and <·vening each day. Those sessions that I judged Lo
be particularly bo1 ing had a correspondingly higher lt:•vel of col:
fee consumption. Actiw and involving sessions showed less coirec
consumption, oftlw time ofday. (Participants could gt'l
up and get coffee wht•n<.'vel they wanted.)··
Because physical traces can usuaJiy be measured, the, arc
most oflcn suited for obtaining information on the incidence and
frequency of bcha\ior. They are aL;;o a good check on informa-
Lion obtained from inten·iews or -;uneys. l n quaJitath:e research.
most phvsical tr<tce mcasun·s a1·e used to supplement data gath-
ered rhrough intcn·1ews and observations. A researcher 1mght.
for example, compare tJw weat and tear on computer terminals
in a school program that purports to include computer literacv in
it-. basic curriculum. Other ad\Cuuage'i of using U<lce measure'
are noted ( 1979. pp. 78-79):
• Tr.tce measun.•-; record the results of actual beha,·ior. not
reported or experimental approximations.
• Trace mc<tsurcs are usually nonreactive and unobtrusive. Since
they are applied after b<'havior has occurred they do not mod-
ify the behavior they seek to study.
• Material rraccs arc ubiquiwus and readily available for stud).
• Becaust' material are applied to inanimate objects, they
usuallv rcqUJre minimal cooperation and inconvenience from
• Because the number ofrneasun.•s of traces dep<·nc:b upon tJtc
recorcle•-'s interest rather than informant patience, a \'ariety of
imen elated behaviors can often be -;tudied at onc.e.
• Because of the minimal inconvt·nicnce and expense to infor-
mant.'>. uace can he w.ed ove1 long time periods as
longitudinal monitoring de\ ires.
o Dor.uM l. NT<.,
When documents are included in a ..,tU<h. what is commonh·
bemg referred ro are public records, personal documents, and
physical material alreadv in the re-.earch .,cuing. Because
thev have not been produced for the research purpose, they
oiten contain much that is irrelevant to the study: by the same
token. they can contain clu<.'s, even startling insighLo;. into the
phenomenon under study. Most researchers find them well worth
the effort to locate and examine.
Researcher-generated documents arc documenLs pre-
parcel by the researcher or for the rec;earchcr by participants
after the study has begun. Th<.· sperific purpose for generat-
ing documents is to learn more about the si.tuation. person.
or event being investigated. The researtheJ 1mght request that
someone keep a diary or log of activiticl> during the course of
the investigation. 01 a life hiswrv of an individual or histori-
cal account of a program might be solicited to illuminate the
present siruation. And a.., di'icu-.sed abme, photographs taken
hy the researcher or the participant.., can be a \'aluable source
of data.
Quantjtati\·e data produced b\ mvestigator also fall into
this category of documenL\. auiwdinal measures.
content examinations. statistical data from suneys on any num-
ber of topics-aU can be treated <lS dotuments in support of a
qualitative investigation.
In swumarv. tJ1en, documen£'\ include a broad range of mate-
rials .wailaule to the researcher who b creative in seeking them
out. Literally millions ol public t\lld private documents, as wet!
as physical traces of human behavior, can be used as primary or
secondary source.., or data. Further, documents can be generated
by the researcher once the stud\ has bcgtm.
I 10 Qu" ''"'.'"" RJ..,t..,uc.H
documenLary material as data is not much different
from uc;ing interviews 01 observations. Gla.o;er and Strauss (1967)
cornpan:: fieldw01k \\ith library reo;e<Jrch. "\l\l1en someone -;tancb
in the Jjbrary stacks, ht• is, metaphoricallv. surroundt>d hv mices
begging to be heard. Every book., C\t:f\ magazine article, repre-
at least one person who is LO the anthropologisL's
tnlonnant or the sociologist's interviewee. ln those publi cations,
people converse, a.nnounce positions, argue .,.,ith a range of elo-
qm·nce, dec;cnbe en·nts or o;cencs in ways entirely compara-
hle to what ts and heard during fieldwork" (p. 163)
\1\'hcther m fieldwork. or libra!) wot k, the data collection is
guided bJ queo;tions. _educated huncht's, and emerging findings.
Altl.lOugh the search •s systematic, both settings also allow (or Lhe
• uncovering ol valuable data. Tracking down leads.
bemg open to new insights, and being sensitive w the data are
the whether the researcher ill interviewing. obscning. or
anai}'Lmg Since the investig-ator is the prim,
ment for gathenng data, he or she rehe-. on skillc; and intuition
to find and interpret data from document<;.
materials is the lirst step in the process. As
I meutroned, th1s IS generally a systematic procedure that evolves
from the topic of inquin itself. A qualitative stu dv of cta.,sroorn
instruction would lead to documentc; in the form of inc;tn
ctof'> • les--
son plans. studenr a'>signmentc;, in the classroom. official
grade reports school records, teachet evaluations, and so on.
Besides the setting it-;clt, lhe logical places to look are libraries his--
tmical societies. archi\es. and institutional filec;. haw
person_al doctunenL.., like letters and dituics bv placing acherlise-
mem_s m and new-;Jetten. or on relevant Internet sites.
hus researcher must 1--eep an open mind when it comes
open to any
lead to serend•p•t ous dtscovenes. Tobacco company expo-
ses of the late 1990s were buttressed by the discovery of buried
t.nemos in, which the addictive qual it' of nicotine is discussed; the
wen· literalh .,tumbled upon during rou-
tme questtorung of\\ h1tc House staff.
\11Ni r;<. H AlA rROM Dm 1 151
Once c.locumt.•rH .. ') ha\e been Jocatt:d. their .lllthentictty must
be assessed. "The author. the place and the date of writing all
need to be e ... tablishcd and vedficd" (McCulloch, 2004, p. 42).
In addition. the conditions under which the document was pro-
duced is imponant to ascertain, if possible. A news release to the
general public serves a quite different purpose than an inter-
nal memo on the same issue. 1n evaluating an artifact-that is,
an object used ot produced by a particular cultural group--
LeCompte and Preissle (1993) suggest that the researcher ask
such questions as, What is tJ1e history of its production and use?
How is its use allocated? Is ilS selection biased? How might it be
distorted or falsified?
Determining the authenticity and accuracy of documents is
pan of the re.o;earch process. It is the investigator's responsibil-
Ity to detetmine as much as possible about the document. its
and reasons for being written, its author, and the con-
text in which it was written. Cuba aud Lincoln ( 1981), citing
Clark (1967), list the questions a researcher might ask about the
authenticity of documents:
• What is tJ1e history ol' tht: document?
• How did it come into my hands?
• What guarantee is there that it is what it pretends to be?
• 1s the document complete, as otiginally constructed?
• Has it been tampered \vith or edited?
• (f the document is Renuine, under what circumstances and for
what purposes was it produced?
• "Who was/ is the author?
• 'v\'hat was he trying to accomplish? For whom was the dont-
ment intended?
• What were the maker's sources of infom1ation? Docs the docu-
ment represent an eye\\itness account. a secondhand account,
a reconstruction of an event long prior to the writing, an
• What was orb the maker's bia'i?
• fo what extent was the wTiter likely to want to tell the truth?
• Do other documents exist that might shed additional light on
he same storY. event. project, program. context? If so, are they
..tvailable, accessible? Who holds them? (pp. 23S-239)
\u important distinction for hi,torians that qualitaLi,·e
researcher., might abo attend to is whether documenLs <1re pri-
mal) or sccondaf) sources. Primary sources are those 1n which
of the doCLunent is. recounting firsthand
nence wath the phenomenon of interest. The be-;t primal)
source.., are those recorded in time and place to the phe-
nomenon bv a qualified person. Given rhis definition, moc-,t pt'r-
sonal documents and eyewitness accouru.s of <;ocial phenomena
could be considered primal) resources. Secondary 'otuces arc
of <l phenomenon b) dwsc who have not directh cxpe-
nenced thl' phenomenon of inter<"'ll; these are often compiled
at a later elate. Interestingly. the same documem could bc cla<;-
sified a!'! priman or secondan depending upon the purpose of
the stud\. Tht' di;u-y of a loved one caring for someone with ter-
minal cancer. for example, would be a primary source of data
for a on it would be considered a secondary
of fo: understanding how patients themselves cope
with a terrnanal chscase.
Aftea asscsc;ing l.he authenticit) and nalUre of documents or
artifact:'. the reo;earcher must adopt ')ome S}Stem for coding and
catalogmg them. If at all possible. waittcn documents should he
photographed or \identaped. By establi-.hing
basac descnpuve categories early on for coding. the researcher
wil.l han.· easv access to information in the analpis and inter·prc-
tatlon stage. In il case study of a can·er enhancement award pro-
gram. for example, applications for the award were part of lhe
database (Zeph. 1991). The applications were coded according
to the applicant's type of emplovment, dollar amount of request.
sex, geographic location, and nature ot the project propo-;cd.
In qualitative studies, a fonn of content anaJv:,is is used to
anahze documents. EssentiaHr. content analysis is a sy,tematic
procedure f01 describing the contem of communications. Histo-
rians and litemq critics have long used contenl analysis w ana-
lpe historical documents anci literary works. Modern contem
analysis has most often been applied Lo communications media
(newspaper-;, periodicals. tele,i:sion, film) and has had a stroug
quantitative focus. A major concern has been measuring the
frequetl<:Y and variet'r of message' and confirming hvpothescs.
MoM tCllearch designs using content analvsis are <;equentml in
naturc-"moving lrmn category construction to data
collection, data analY''i' and inlerpretat.inn" 1987,
p. 6H). Data collection and coding are carrwd b\ nov-
ices using prmocols and tmined to countnntts oJ anahsts.
Quantification need not be a component of conl('llt analy-
sis. however. Rather. the 1lflllln' of lhe data can also be
AJthcide (1987) describes how qualitative content analysts chffers
from conventional comenl ''Ethnographic anal-.
ysis is used to document and understand lhc ol
meaning, as well as w 'erify IL-, dtstmc-
tive characteristic is the and htghly tntc·r-acuvt• nature of
the imestigator, concepts. data collection and analysis .. · . The
investigator is continual!\ central. although pro.tocol-; ma} be
ul!ed in later phases of the research .... The atm Ill to be system-
alic and analytic, but not Jigid" (p. 68).
ln judging the value ot a data ;;ource. a re.searchcr can a!;k \\ hether
it conlains infom1ation or ansights relevant to lhe researd.l ques-
tion and whelher it can be acquired in a reasonabh yet
systematic manner. I( thc'e two questions can be an the
affirmative, Lhere is no not to use a sou:ce. of
data. Documents or artifano; have been underu'it:d tn quahtatwe
research, however. Ove1 forty years ago Glaser and Struuss ( 1967)
attributed this undemse to the fact that researchers prefer to
duce their own data, that the use of documents i-. too much
historical research. that re:-;earchers want "tO see llw sll-
uation and informants in per-.on·· (p. and that
thcii own competem'} in usmg documentary matenals. These
barriers o;eem tnte todav as well.
Preferences for othet -.ources of data may reflect a research-
er'!'! uncertainty about the potential of for vielding
knowledge and insight. But the may also
reOect some of the limitations inherent m data
Sevt:ral limitations slem from the basic difference between thts
'><>urce and data gleaned (rom interviews or
most documentary data have not been de,elopcd lor research
purpo'e". The matcr· mav tht·rcfi,rc be incomplete from a
rt.>search perspective. In contrast to field notes, avai lable materi-
als rna> not ·'afford a continuity of unfolding evencs in the kind of
detail that the theorist requires" (Giac;er & Strauss, 19b7, p. 182).
\Vhether personal accounts or nffic.ial documents are involved.
the source may prm ide um epresen tativc c;amples. "Oftl'll no one
on the project keeps ver-y good nott·s 011 processes. few memo-
?enerated. and, even more often, the 011l} wliting that
1s done I S m response to funders' requests for technical reports
or od1er periodic statements about the progress of the pro-
gram or prqject. If no documents exic;t, however, or if the docu-
ments are sparse and uninformative, this ought w tell the
inquirer something about the comext" (C.uba & Lincoln. 1981,
pp. 234-235).
?ocuments are not produced for research purposes,
the mformat1on they offer rna>· not be in a form that is useful (or
unc!erst..<mdable) t? the investigator. Furthermore, such chua may
be mcongruent With emerging findings based on ob'lervationaJ
or interview data. Thic; i-,, of cour-.e, more of a problem when
documents are used as s<>condan· data sources to veri£\· findings
based on other data. ll documents ate used as part of tht• process
of inductively building categvries and theoretical constntcts as in
qualitative case then their "Ci t" with preestablished con-
cepts ot models is lec;s of a concern.
A third major pmblcm wirh documentary materials is deter-
mining their authcnticit} and accuraq. hen public records that
purport to be objective and accurate contain built-in biases that a
researcher may not bt' aware of. F01 example, the incidence: and
frequency of crimes reported in police records may be a function
of how certain crimcs arc defined and a particular department's
procerlures for reporting them. Personal documents are subject
to purposeful or nonpurposeful deception. There is likcl} to be.
for example, an underestimation of income in a per,onal income
tax report versus an overe'itimation of' expenses in a grant pro-
posal. Distortion in personal document..-; may be unintentional in
that the wliter is unaware of his or her biases or simply does not
remember accurately. Sdlliz. Jahoda, Dcul\ch. and Cook ( 1959,
p. 325) quote Augustine. who noted tim problem of authentic-
ity in his famous per'\onal docwnem. Gimft'uions. "And when they
hl'<IJ me tonfc,.,tng of mv.,elf, how do thev know whether J speak
lhl· t1uth?'' Comt-rn abou1 authemicity LO historical docu-
mcnh a.\ well as to <lllOHpnous prqjcct report.<> and sources who
wish 10 remain anonymous. such "Deep Throat" of the 1974
Watergate case (Webb et aJ.,
Oe,pite these limitations. documenLS are a good source of
data fo1 numerous reasons. To bcgrn with. thev ma" be the best
... ource of data on a p<lrticular better than observations or
imc.·rvicws. Mam document!. arc eac;il} accessible. free. and con-
tain information that would take an investigator enormous time
and cfJort to gather otherwise. Fot example. if one were inter-
e'\t(•d in a historical case study of an institution 01 program. doc-
uments would be the bec;t source of data particuladv if persons
associated ''ith the.· institution were not a\-ailable for interviews.
Other situations whert· documenrs .tn· likel} to be the best source
of data would be studies that rdy on technical expertise such as
medical reports, and studies of intimate personal relat ionships
that cannot be obser-ved or that people arc reluctanl to discuss.
The data founrl in documelll!- lan be used in the same man-
ncr as data from nHnviewo; 01 observations. The data can furnish
descnptiH· information, vedF. eml'rging hypotheses. ad\-.mce new
cat('gones and hvpotheses, offer historical understanding. track
ch.mge and dewlopment. aJld :-.o on. Glaser and StrauJ-;s (1967)
poim to the usefulm·"' of documento.; for theorv building-a pro-
that ''begs for compar-ative analysis. The libraf} offers a Jan-
ltntrc range of comparison group,, II onl} the researcher has the
to disCo\CJ them" (p. 179, emphasis in onginal).
One of the gn·mest ad\'antages in using documental} material
is its stability. Unlike interviewing and observation, the presence
of' the investigator does not alter what is being studied. Documen-
tan data are sources of data compared to other forms.
Such data have also been called "unobtrusive." Webb and others'
(1966) classic book on unobuushl' measures in ilS revised fonn
is titled VonrPflCIItlf> Afpasure.\ m the Sorml Sri en cPs ( 1981) because.
I hey wtite. '·we came lo reahlC mer the years that t.hc original title
was· not the best one since it was the nonreacti,ity of the measures
rather than thcit unobtntsiYenes" that wa.." of majm concern''
(p. ix). :-.Jonreactive measure<; tnclude physical trac('s, official
re< ore!<.. priYate do<: uments. and 'iim pie ob-.ervalions.
Thus, like :lll} utll<'r source of <.lata, documents have thdr
limitations and theit advantage<>. Because the)' are produced
for· rea<>on ... other than research, they may be fragmentary, the>
rna} not fit the contcptual framework of the research. and their
authenticin mav be difncult to determine. Howe\'(· r,
they exist indepenclem of a re-.eaJ-ch agenda. thev are nonreac-
th·e. that is. unaffecred b) the research process. The> are a prod-
uct of the comext in which the) were produced and therefore
grounded in the real world. Finally, manv documents or artifacts
cost little 01 noLhing and arc often cas} obtain.
wl.10 n•ads a newspaper has seen the te1m infomw-
lwu Juperlughwfl)l applied to the Internet and heard about the
explosive growth it has und<•rgone in the last few years. From its
humble beginnings as a communication roo! for uni-
versity professors and scientists (initially designed w

the results ora war). the Internt.·t has become a standard resource
for coUege students. businesses, and an)'one else who has access
to a computer with a modem.
In addition to providing a number of reference sources-albeit
of uneven quality-the Internet supports interactions among peo-
ple through various fom1s of computer-mediated communication.
E-mail, listserYs, new'igroups. chat rooms, wikis, blogs. and other
interactive emironments allm' people who have never met to
encounter one another and t•ven e\tablish relationships conducted
primarily through online contacts. These interactions, still some-
ill-defined ''itl1in our 'iOCiery, are of obvious interest to quali-
tatJ\·e researchers. In addition to being a focus for stud> in and of
themselves, these Internet interactions can be sources of data relat-
ing to other studies. \!\'hat factors mtl.':lt be considered when access-
ing and analyzing these data sou1 ces?
In this section I eAplore some of the issues associated with
the use of online data sources. I l ow are these sources similar to
more familiar sources. such as documents, interviews, and obser-
vations? How are they different? What issues and concerns are
raised by the eflccts of the media on the data-gathering process?
\Vhat ethical considerations arise in this new research context?
These .tre not questions easily answet cd. nor are they the
exclusivt' province of qualitative n·<>cclrchcrs. Articles in com-
puter-related magazines and the prt>-;s regularl.v discuss
,·alious effect-. of the Int<.·rnet on soc1cl\ at large, rangmg from
explorations of the "multiple -.elves'' po.,sible online. to men-
tiom of "'online affairs·· between pt'ople who have never seen
one another in person, to organi£ing '\Ocial protests. to buying
and selling consumer goods. and indt·ed. to conducting illegal
acti,;ties. Even standard news magazines highlight issues related
to cyberspace-the ambiguou" destination to which the infor-
mation superhighway leads. Since the changing electronic land-
scape outpaces the publication or specific maps or guides, this
discussion merely outlines a general ntngc of concerns. For any
particular area of study. the specific application of these consid-
erations will vary.
In qualitative research, the basic ways tu collect data have
traditionally been through intcniews, observations, and exami-
nations of documents and artifacL'I. Mam of the references and
data sources available online reflect dl:cu·actcristic:.. of these famil-
iar data sources. Web pages, paper!. available through file trans-
fer protocol. and 'arious form" of "electronic paper" can be
considered documents that are accessed online. Illustra-
tions and game,-available m static form to be
downloaded by the user can be treated .ts artifacts. as can many
of the video formats such as YouTubt.·, and Facebook.
E-mail can be used to question indi,·iduals as in an interview, and
can observe £he online inter.Ktiom among individu-
als in a \'ariety of formats.
To some extent then, online data coll<:ction ollers an electronic
extension offamiliar research techniques, widening the scope ot data
available to the researcher. Certainly. many of the dt•cisions faced
in off-line sin.tations emerge in parallel form in online research:
whether to join an online community as a complete observer, a com-
plete participant, or someLhing in between; how to select a sample
group; how to approach potential participants when initiating a
study; how LO gain tru'lt and so on.
)'i8 Qll.\11 \AII\'1! R• II
I Iowevcr, on lim• data collection has some important
clue to the nature of tlw medium through which iL is conducted.
These havt• a profound influence on tlw study that
must noL be tgnorcd 01 uiviali/ed. F01 example, individuals who do
not han· access to computer'> will be automaticalh excluded from
the study. Is tlw. appropriatl' fm the 'itudy. or will demographic dif:
ferenccs that correlate wah computer access diswrtthe findmgs?
Though the amount of informatjon mcreases to an over-
degree, not all cdtical interactions are necessarily a\ ail-
able tor o;rudv. Students in an online course mav also communicate
through private e-m.til rnes<;agcs that the researcher never sees.
Quantitv of information no guarantee of comprehensiveneo;s.
In each m of computer-mediated communication
has a effect on the information it transmit'>. For exam-
ple, an e-mail interview may have the same verbal conLerlt as
one conducted iu pcrl,on, but it lacks infl ection, body lan-
guage, and the man) other nuances that often commun icate
than word'i. Frequent userl, of e-mail recognize iL.,
hmnatJOns; new arc regularly warned that jokes and sar-
casm do not travel well online, and the) are taught "emoticons"
that attempt to rt•plicat(' tht' emotional richness common in
speech. At the same time that some communication character-
istics are curtailed or modified. others are artificial!) enhanced.
The asynchronous nature of e-mail can add renection time to
an online in ten iew that would be unavailable in a face-to-face
session. lmmediar e reattiom, strong emotional responses, and
unguarded exprt'S!)ion" are all lost to the researcher unless. after
second thought, the participant chooses to make these transient
thought-; available-and i'i capable of articulating them in
!hese coul d completely change the interprt·-
tauon of a re-;pon-.<·. Comcr<;elv, a casual response may ha\'C an
unexpected and unsctthng pennanency; e-mail exchanges long
forgotten can resurfact·, in totally different and e\en
misleading contt.·xL'i.
. as. they become familiar with the evolving conven-
tions of onhnc cxpressi()n, rcse:·archcrs need to remain alert to
the variables of electronic communication. Participants in Jist-
servs_and uscnct group<. have an entire terminology to describe
certam typt'S of exchanges. Funher, most groups expect new
1\ltNJNl· U ;\ 1<\ I ROM 1)()1.1•\lt.NTS 159
participants to read the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) ?f
their group, then lurk. "reading posts lO a newsgroup or
in order to undeNtand rhe wpics and tone of the e>.changes tn
the group before the offers hio; / her input'" (Chen. Hall, &
Johns. 2004, p. 164). . . . .
In terms of group interaction ... wnung sktlls an?
literaC\ stronglv influence how indh1duals are perceJVed onhne.
Often someone will seem to have an entirely different character:
a funny, charming person can -.eem camtic and
the smile accompanying the words disappears. Another mdivtd-
ua1 \'those writing is mature and thoughtful mav prove to ha\'e
limited social skill'> when depriwd of refl ection time and forced
to react spontaneously. . ..
This discrepancy between rl·al and onhne personahues
occurs even when people are trying to be themselves-or at
an idealized version of themselves. It is compounded when mdJ-
viduals purposefull} create different _onliue is
fairly frequent in somt: electronic
tiun can vary widely. from scholarly 111 mdt-
viduals Jist their real names with their unrvcrsny affihatwns and
degrees. to fantasy games in which make up
and descriptions that reflect little of their off-lme
·where role-playing shade into deception? In tbts
.. there is unprecedented capacatv for indi\iduals to mtsrepre-
')ent themselves and their pcrsonalit) mtit.'i in lntemet
tions, to the extent of adopting ahernathc personae for thetr
Internet interactions from their 'reaJ-Iifc' interactions" (Hewson,
Yule, Laurent. & vogel, 2003, p. 115). Under these conditions,
the assumption that the world is composed of multiple, chang-
ing realities-pan of the qualitative paradigm-:--becomes o_nce
a triviallv self-e\ident obscn-ation and a magmfied comphcauon.
Judging,inciividuals by the way they choose to pre'iem _themselves
online is a risk·y business, and verification or tnangulauon may be
far less reliable than in the .. real work!."
Ev<:n online documcnto; and artifacL'i take on new qualities.
The Web page cited today may he gone tomo_rrow or the c?n-
tent changed radically as to be unrccogmzable. Managmg
data assumes a new dimension when iL'> -.tability can no longer
be taken for granted. Version con trol , once only of concern to
160 (.!t Tl'.\ Jl\"1 Rt .. , \KI II
programmer<> and editot·s. cmergt·s a" a nitical issue (OJ ' a.nvunt•
using the Jntcrnet as a rdercnn· or a rc.,ource.
This is JWW tenitmy, with rules that change as
as the} .tre idt>ntified. Mv IJ<:·.,t advice tor researcher' is
to recognize that the of their reo.;earch arc strongh infJu-
enced bv the chat of th(· datA revealed, OJ'
altereci becaust• ot the nature of the medium through which they
pre'ientecl. Anahting. de::.cribing. and discussing rl1e poten-
ual effects of tlw-.c characteristic-. will be an important aspect of
rest>arch conducted from online data.
EFFEcTs oF 1 uE oN Ot\T\
Jn addition to the dif1(·rcnces between online and off-line data,
differences caused by tlw manner in which data are gathered
must be considct·ccl. In quali tative research. the re'iearcher is the
pr·imary instrument for data collection and analysis. This factor
is mually perceived a'i an advantage. because humans are both
responsive and adaptive. At the samt' lime, it canies the rcsponsi-
bilit1' of assessing and reporting researcher biases rl1at might have
an impact on the stuch.
vVhcn collecting data from the Internet, the researcher ts no
longer the pdmarv instrument for data collection; a v<uiet' of
software tools nl\l!>l he u..,cd to loc·ace, select. and process it;for-
mation. Like the n·.,catcher, these tools have inherent bJase ...
that rna} affect the study. but thetr biases mav be \'en subtle-
and often much mort· difficult for a to detect and
describe. As Norman (1993) obsenes. "different
afl'ord different operation.,. That is, the\ make some things easy
to do, orhers diffiwh or impos'iible. It "hould come as no sur-
prise that those thing.;; that the .tlfordanccs make easy are apt to
get done, those things that the afl'ordances make difficult are not
apt to get done" (p. 106).
These passage., raise critical concern!'! for qualitative research-
ers accessing data from th<' fnternet: How are their tools shaping
the task? In a study of how people with disabilities engage \-vith
and use computet for example, Seymour (2001)
found that bv using au interYicw "ite on the Internet, she could
n.: lea
e -th e intervte\\' from iLs imptisonment in time and place''
(p. 158). She explains:
Accessible discussion opt·n lot an extenclt-d period of time,
prmide access to issues and ideas as thev arise rather than a!> thev are
recalled in retrospect. Participants-rc'iearchct and
mav revisit the data. ask fut elm ifkation, t'xtend a poml or redirect
-esearch. In comrast to th<: c-.scntialh quc-;tion-re..,pome nature
of the face-to-face intcrvte\\ and the qttc"tioonairc. technologr facili-
tates lhe development of ongoing communi{ational interaction
between lhe participants and \\illthtL<; mak<: a contribu-
tion to more egalitarian re!>earch. (p. 159)
Seymour also noted that "the long duration and open nature
of the interview raised a number of significant issues such as sus-
taining a commitment to the pt ojcct, interpreting gaps in com-
munication, and so on" (p. 15:3). Again thb is a rapidly evolving
area; the researcher's responsibility must be to dcKribe tools and
methods, as well as their potential ciT eeL-. on the work.
In any qualitative studv, ethical relating to protection of
the participani.S are of concern. In an online these
-.sue.; overlap the public debate abom ownero.;htp of mtellectual
propertv, cop)righ!, and hee 'ipet·ch. The abilit)' to
copv, archive, and easil} edit huge volumes of matenal wnuen
bv faceless masses can lead a to forget that these are
the words of indh·iduals. E'en the names are changed.
some people are easih identiftetl bv the details their_ messages.
The highly public nature of some of the elcctromc
in which people exchange ideas can lull researcher., mto forget-
ting the right to privacy 1hat thc<>c ha\'e, as_
seeming anonymity of electronic lull tndiVld-
uals into revealing highly intimate detmls of thct r hves to anyone
who happens to be reading their messages. .
vVith the increased use of the lutcrnet [or research. more
writers are attending to the ethical issues involved in working in
this new medium. Hewson. Yule, Laurent, and Vogel (2003) iden-
tify four issues in particular that nt·ed lO be thought through in
lnwmct research. The fir t i'> obtaining mfonned consent; tracti-
tionall}.' !Jarticipams sign a statement indicating their \.,.iiJingness
to. paruCJpate and .nc>cd to be eighteen year<; old or ovet· lO give
th1s consent \v-.tys have to be established for giving con-
sent and panicipant is an adult. Ensuring
and of information is a second isstw; again.
can be put m place to enable confidemiall> but in
thts mc:dlllm thev are not as effective as in person-to-per-;on data
garhedng. A third ethical issue is determining what is public and
what is private: 'The cmcial question is whether the rese<ucher is
ethically justified in using publ icly availahle information as data
for a research study. Or, more specifically, in which context is this
ethical!) acceptable or not acceptable?" (p. 53). The fourth ethi-
cal isc;ue is how to develop debriefing procedures so th<H partici-
pants may make comments or ask que ·tions, and to ensure that
no ham1 has occurred.
The term particijmnls is commonly used by qualitative
researchers to describe the individuals being studied. Il is a care-
fully chosen identifier, with connotatiom of inclusion and will-
ing cooperation. This single word captures a number of attitudes
research from the qualitative paradigm. It also o;cnes a-. a
litmus .test ethics. If this t<'nn cannot be accurately
used-1f subjects more appropdately describes the inclusion of
unwilling or uniniormed individuals undc1 the researcher's scru-
tiny-then the researcher honestly reevaluate the meth-
ods and procedures of the study.
The growing imponance of online interaction makes it a nat-
ural arena for qualitative research. Three critical areas that the
qualitative researcher mus1 consider are the effects of the context
on the data, the effects of software functionalilies on UH:' data-
gathering process. and the effects the medium tends to have on
ethical Explicitly considering and dec;cribing the impact
of these tactors 1s a new re...,ponsibility of the qualitative rc-.ea
a third rnajo1· source of data in qualitative rec;earch,
Is broadl) defined to include public r<'cords, personal papers.
popular culture ,;sual documents. and phvsicaJ
material and a•·tifacts. Although som(! documenL'> might be
prcpan:tl at the investigator's requc...,t (such as a re:-pnncicnt
keeping a diary or wliting a life history). most are pruduc_ed
indt:pcndently of thC' research study. fht·y are thus •
and in the context Lmder '\tudy. Because ate
duced (br reasons other than the study at hand. some mgenUJty
is needed in locating documents that bear on the problem and
then in analyzing their content. Congruenct- between
and the research problem depends on the flexibil-
ity in construing the problem and the related quesLJ.ons. Such .a
stance is particularly fitting in qualitative studies, by
verv nature, are emergent in design anti inducuve m analysis.
of all can help the uncover mean-
ing. develop understanding. and discover insights relevant to the
research problem. .
Data gathering onlmc is an emerging area tnterest. for
qualitative researchers. However. a of bC: con-
sidered when using data from an onltnc InteractiOn; I 1 ev1ewed
some of these issues in this chapter.

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