Filing cabinet with a folder labelled 'Data' in focus
Qualitative research will generate a lot of raw data. The key is to work with a system and stay organised!

Process and record keeping

Don’t jeopardise the integrity of your research. Maintain high standards each step of the way.

As well as making sure your study is well-designed, your data must also be legitimate, trustworthy and verifiable. You will be required to establish your own credibility as a researcher, and the integrity of your data collection processes, data and data sources.

How can I promote my credibility as a researcher?

Apart from describing the methods you have used to obtain data, your research must:

  • explain your background and interest in the research topic
  • describe the ‘field’ or context where data was collected
  • describe the processes used to collect data
  • demonstrate the credibility of participants to provide information about the research topic
  • present thick, rich and complex data

Case Study: Choosing the most effective methods

In a recent study, Griffith University Researchers, Professor Robyn Jorgensen and Dr Kevin Larkin investigated primary school children’s experience of mathematics. They used tents to create what they referred to as ‘mathematical thinking spaces’ to collect data. This established a cozy and private environment, where students could record video diaries on a shared iPad.

The iPads were selected for their potential to collect rich data and were used in three schools. However, different protocols were used to retrieve the footage to ensure integrity of the data and protect student privacy. For example, in one school, student recordings were transmitted directly to the researchers and immediately deleted from the device. In another school, the use of the internet was not permitted, which meant footage needed to be physically retrieved from the iPad every few days. The researchers noted the potential security risks associated with this and in their article, described how they managed ethical considerations to ensure the integrity of data was maintained.

Read the article Analysing the relationships between students and mathematics: a tale of two paradigms. You may wish to scroll down to the ‘Method/Approach’ section, which relates directly to this step.

Managing the raw data

Qualitative research produces a great deal of material, such as interview and video transcripts, documents, field notes, etc. The sheer volume of materials produced will require you to be systematic in the way you manage your data, documents and notes.

All data needs to be ‘cleaned’, by checking and removing errors or inaccurate information. It also has to be transcribed or otherwise prepared for analysis. In addition to ensuring accuracy and completeness, there is a need to ensure that confidentiality is maintained, labelling of files and records is systematic, and storage of records is appropriate. Keep in mind, you need to be prepared to have your data independently verified.

The organization process may seem tedious, or even boring. However, I encourage you to revel in its mindlessness. Organizing can be done sporadically throughout the day, with a baby in your lap or the tunes blaring. Just do it. Without a well-organized data set, analyzing and writing will feel about as inviting as trekking through an overgrown jungle (Tracy, 2013, p. 186).

Lynn Jamieson, a qualitative researcher in family studies, provides a quick overview of some of the considerations in managing large amounts of qualitative data in the following video.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Paper or electronic records?

While either format is fine, digital has many advantages. Regardless of the format of your data, it’s vital you have a reliable system for securely storing it. All electronic records need to be password protected and backed up regularly. Paper documents need to be kept in a lockable filing cabinet and treated respectfully to preserve their condition. Ideally, scan and carefully store all paper based documents electronically. Above all else, maintain your participants’ right to privacy.

Practically, qualitative researchers need good organisational skills to keep the identifiable information separate from the data. You will need a process to ensure your transcripts are de-identified. Also be sensitive to any misunderstandings in translation. It’s important to be confident you have captured the true intent of each participant’s contribution.

Your task

Imagine you are conducting a study that includes the following data collection:

  • 2 interviews with 15 participants
  • A completed questionnaire, detailing demographic data for each participant
  • 2-3 documents from each participant’s workplace
  • Observational notes made at the time of each interview
  • 3 focus groups
  • Reflective notes made following each interview, focus group, and while analysing each interview transcript.

Develop a plan for managing this data systematically including: how data will be stored, whether or not you will use a computer, file names, and how you will maintain confidentiality. Provide a rationale for your decisions.

Reference

Tracy, S.J. (2013). Qualitative Research Methods: Collecting evidence, crafting analysis, communicating impact. UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

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This article is from the free online course:

Why Experience Matters: Qualitative Research

Griffith University