You may not realize it but you have already been doing simple research almost every day. If you want to know the price of a particular canned good, for example, you may decide to go to the store to get your answer or simply ask someone you think has the answer. This activity per se is an example of simple undocumented everyday research.
The research that is being taught in school, however, is a more complex methodological documented process of inquiry. Since the focus of this inquiry is far more complicated than your everyday exploration, there is a need for an appropriate and strategized set of tools in collecting the answers (called as data) for the questions that you pose (Dawson, 2007). The process is documented as a contribution to the extant set of knowledge as confirmation, negation or addition.
The following are the methods or sets of tools that you could use in qualitative research.
This is a common method wherein the researcher/interviewer arranges a meeting with the interviewee/participant for a dialogue about a topic that is the subject of the inquiry. In here, personal and social interactions occur wherein the interviewee serves as the source of data (Jupp, 2006). This could be done one-on-one or by group and could be face-to-face, by phone or computer mediated. This is analogical to asking someone (say one-on-one) about the price of canned sardines.
As opposed to documents, the researcher gathers the data firsthand. He/She does the recording process personally using notes and/or audio/video. There are two ways of conducting observation, i.e., naturalistic and participant. If the researcher wants to retain the natural setting of the data source field so as to minimize the researcher influence, she or he may conduct a naturalistic observation without disturbing the participants in the field. In everyday research, if the individual wants to know how to fish, she may just observe others do it; otherwise she may join them and experience the activity herself. Participating in the setting is known as participant observation. Being a researcher-participant would further enrich the data as the researcher himself has additional point of comparison for analysis as long as he retains reflexivity. Reflexivity is a careful monitoring of the researcher’s biases, assumptions, and own perceptions regarding the experience.
While observation and interview involve social and personal interaction, and firsthand data collection, these are not available in documents. Documents as extant records of information; e.g., text, voice, sound and images are rich source of second-hand data which are still useful especially as supporting information for triangulation as such. Triangulation is a combination of data from at least two different sources to strengthen the findings. They could be journal entries, pictures, videos, audios, archives and other written (soft or hard) records like affidavits and legal papers.
Facebook statuses or comments on its walls are documents which could be used as data. Analogically, if you want to know the lyrics of a particular song, you may just surf on the net and read on the site.
This method does not require personal interaction and/or dialogue as the participant called as respondent may just fill out a set of items or answer a series of questions written on a paper or posted on the internet. This could be self-administered or guided by the prompts of the researcher. It is just like giving someone a piece of paper asking for her name and contact number.
Dawson, C. (2007). A practical guide to qualitative research: A user friendly manual in mastering research techniques and projects. Oxford: How To Content
Jupp, V. (2006). The Sage dictionary of Social Science research methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications
©2014 December 3 J G Pizarro