Recording Descriptive Data

  1. Data Gathering and the Research Process
  2. Selecting the Method
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Data Gathering and the Research Process

Before starting to gather data from empiria it is advisable to spend a minute in considering whether the information that you need could be reachable with other methods than the often relatively arduous empirical work. Such methods might include:

Empirical operations are usually the most expensive phase in a research project and they deserve to be planned carefully. Remember, too, that they are in many ways related with operations that come before and after in the research process. If there are weaknesses in the preceding operations, it heralds difficulties in the empirical work, and if data collecting is haphazard there will be problems in their later analysis.

Below is a checklist of some important things that you should have done before launching empirical operations in a large scale. If they, however, seem too difficult it can be expedient first to do some tentative empirical research in a small scale before completing these tasks and starting to collect the main bulk of empirical material.

The list above contains tasks that you should do before the empirical phase. On the other hand, it can be advisable to speculate what is to happen afterwards, i.e. in the analysis phase. Many procedures of analysis (notably the statistical ones) require data in exactly the right format which is usually easy to achieve if you take it into account when planning the method of registering your empirical data.

Selecting the Method

Many researchers are inclined to see a contrast between qualitative and quantitative methods, see Two Cultures of Research. However, when studying products or their use, you will often want to record data of both these types, so this dichotomy will not provide a good ground for selecting the empirical data gathering method. Instead, there are two other questions that you should consider when planning your study:

  1. The strength of your theory. Will you base your work on a model developed in earlier research? How strongly structured your research design is? There are three alternatives (which are more fully explained under the title Theoretical Input):
  2. The nature of the object of study, and how you deal with it. Typical approaches are:

Once you have answered these two questions, you will have good chances of finding an appropriate method in the following table.

  Exploratory research and documentation Research as Revision of a Model Hypothesis based Study
Study of static objects: Intensive study of products Extensive study of products (Seldom applicable)
Methods for observing a process: Non systematic observation Systematic observation Simulated incident observation
Methods for asking questions: Focused interview Questionnaire Role-playing method
Study of secondary material: Study of letters and other documents, their Hermeneutic analysis Indirect study of deposits or wearing etc. Ex post facto -study

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August 3, 2007.
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