Approaches to collecting qualitative data can be divided into two very broad groups:
* Naturally occurring data
• Participant observation in which the researcher joins the constituent study population or its organisational or community setting to record actions, interactions or events that occur. This not only allows phenomena to be studied as they arise, but also offers the researcher the opportunity to gain additional insights through experiencing the phenomena for themselves.
• Observation offers the opportunity to record and analyse behaviour and interactions as they occur, although not as a member of the study population. This allows events, actions and experiences and so on, to be 'seen' through the eyes of the researcher, often without any construction on the part of those involved.
* Generate data through the interventions of the research
• Documentary analysis involves the study of existing documents, either to understand their substantive content or to illuminate deeper meanings which may be revealed by their style and coverage. These may be public documents like media reports, government papers or publicity materials; procedural documents like minutes of meetings, formal letters or financial accounts; or personal documents like diaries, letters or photographs.
• Discourse analysis examines the construction of texts and verbal accounts to explore 'systems of social meaning' (Tonkiss, 2000). It examines ways in which 'versions of the world, of society, events and inner psychological worlds are produced in discourse' (Potter, 1997:146) with an interest in both their cognitive conception and their interpretation for social action. The analysis may be based on a variety of different sources containing discourse including written documents, speeches, media reports, interviews and conversation.
• Conversation analysis involves a detailed examination of 'talk in interaction' to determine how conversation is constructed and enacted. The aim is to investigate social intercourse, as it occurs in natural settings, in 'an attempt to describe people's methods for producing orderly social interaction' (Silverman, 2001: 167).
• Biographical methods which use life stories, narratives and recounted biographies to understand the phenomena under study. In certain respects these are the most 'naturalistic' of the generated methods in that they allow participants a high degree of freedom to shape and order the reconstructions in their own way. The term encompasses study of a range of different types of material, both written and spoken, including life and oral histories, biographical and autobiographical accounts and 'documents of life' (Plummer, 2001).
• Individual interviews are probably the most widely used method in qualitative research. They take different forms but a key feature is their ability to provide an undiluted focus on the individual. They provide an opportunity for detailed investigation of people's personal perspectives, for in-depth understanding of the personal context within which the research phenomena are located, and for very detailed subject coverage.
• Paired (or triad) interviews are in-depth interviews but carried out with two (sometimes three) people at the same time. They provide an opportunity for individual depth of focus but also allow participants to reflect on, and draw comparisons with, what they hear from others. This can be of particular value when investigating subjects in which dialogue with others may play an important part, or where two people form a naturally occurring unit (for example, partners, colleagues, friends etc.).
• Focus groups or group discussions involve several - usually somewhere between four and ten - respondents brought together to discuss the research topic as a group. They are used where the group process will itself illuminate the research issue. They are sometimes described as a more naturalistic research setting than in-depth interviews but as the setting will generally have been engineered solely for the purposes of the study, the degree of naturalism should not be exaggerated.
Ritchie, J., Lewis, J., Nicholls, C. M., & Ormston, R. (Eds.). (2013). Qualitative research practice: A guide for social science students and researchers. Sage.