Methods of data collection and analysis
Questionnaires are used to stimulate responses to set items (Pollard). They require a certain level of writing skills because they are given to respondents. They can be used to collect factual information and personal opinions. The format of the questionnaire may consist of closed (yes/no answers) and open (general answers) questions. Appendix 4 is an example of close questions; appendix 5 is an example of open questions. Open forms of questionnaires enable respondents to express their points of view more efficiently but demand time and writing ability. They are useful in providing information for school records; finding out how students are feeling about certain aspects of school life or in evaluating lessons.
According to Cohen, Manion and Morrison, interviews are flexible tools for data collection. Many types of channels can be used such as; verbal, non-verbal, spoken and heard. There are certain aspects which can be controlled for example, the order of the interview questions. However, the responses are complex and uncontrollable. If the interviewer is amiable, the interview will be typically more successful, only if the subject is expansive and to interviewer bias, however. Furthermore, the respondents’ emotions may influence the result of the interview, if the timing is inconvenient of the meeting is inconvenient, for instance. Additionally, keeping subject anonymity may prove difficult if the interviewer is uninformed of the ethics necessary.
Focus group interviews
When interviews involve two or more people (either subjects or interviewers) they are referred to as ‘focus groups’ (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight).
There are numerous advantages of focus groups. The group members can define the interviewer’s agenda with their experience. The group members may be diverse, so that different views may be generated. The discussion between the members will allow for an analysis of process in negotiating the meanings and challenge the interviewer. Group members may feel safer having their friends around to discuss the important issues. As a result of discussion, the interviewer may come across with some surprising findings. However, there are also disadvantages to focus groups. For example, it is difficult to document the data in order to find out who said what during the interview. What is more, depending on group dynamics, there may be silence or exaggeration of issues. The interviewer should be careful about fair amount of participation in the group even for those who are shy or quiet. It is also important to consider confidentiality and ethics (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight).
Observation is looking systematically at people, events, behaviours, settings, artefacts, routines etc. (Marshall & Rossman).
It enables the observer to directly gather data from its natural setting, like in ethnographic research. The observer can focus on a number of books or students in a class, number of visitors in a library, the behaviour of students in a class, the amount of teacher-student talk and so on. Observing allows the spectator to see more detailed accounts of the events. However, the clarity of evidence depends on the number of observers and the amount of time they observe as well as how they observe (Cohen, Manion and Morrison ).
There are also some issues to this data collection method. The observer requires choosing the time relevantly and deciding if s/he needs to devise an observational schedule or determine pre-coded categories. It would be wise to form a pilot group first to test these. If there is no need for a schedule, it would be wise to decide how to organize the data. Is it important to record absolutely everything or is it ok to record the events partly? The observer needs to select his/her focus group well and try to make sure s/he blends with the observed group (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight)
Surveys are systematic observation or interviewing where the questions are dictated by the researcher. The biggest distinction in surveys is to standardize the research and get consistent answers for their questions. In order to standardize the questionnaire as a measuring instrument, the questions are always structured in the same way.
The advantage of a survey is that with a suitable sample, it can aim at representation and provide generalized results. Surveys are relatively easier to administer and they don’t require fieldwork. They can be repeated in the future to compare the results. A good response rate will provide a lot of data rapidly. There are also disadvantages of surveys. The data may not address the more important issues and may get lost in pie charts, tables and statistics. The survey- provided data allows us to see snapshots of points in time rather than in-depth issues. The researcher cannot check the data himself/herself. The survey relies on extent rather than intensity. (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight)
My research will consist of observations, one-to-one interviews and focus group interviews. Therefore, I will be looking at different approaches to qualitative data analysis. My other sources will be field notes, documents and reports, memos, diaries and website data. I will decide if I would like to have the interviews transcribed or not. The results will be presented as narrative accounts. Cohen, Manion and Morrison explain that the narrative account may be in the form of chronology, a logical analysis, a thematic analysis or a series of stories about the research findings. I aim to present my findings as a series of stories structured by chronology, causal relations, key participants, key themes, key behaviours, and actions, turning points in a life history, key decisions and with collective analysis of the unfolding events for the participants (Cohen, Manion and Morrison).
Two significant issues for researchers are access and ethics. These are also the key issues throughout data collection. Access means to locate and identify suitable participants who would be willing to take part in the research (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight). The questions to consider during access are identifying key people for the subject that is to be researched and the general rules about recording informed consent which needs to be complied (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight).
There are many different rules and regulations for informed consent depending on the type of establishment. For example, the Informed consent in health and social care research of Royal College of Nursing is different than Bera (British Educational Research Association). To increase the chance of access, it is really important to ask advice for negotiation, to be modest in requests, making effective use of existing contacts, to base research within the establishments which one has access to, to offer something back such as a report or feedback, to know when to ask, to be as clear as possible and to explain the reasons for one’s research (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight).
The main goal of all researchers should be to carry out an ethically approved research. Most ethical issues rise from the nature of relationships between the researcher and the subject. (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight). Common ethical issues are confidentiality, anonymity, legality, professionalism and participation (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight).
In the matter of confidentiality, it may be tempting to share some unwanted information with others but this may be damaging for the participant. Linking to confidentiality, anonymity may not be protected due to giving away too much information about the institutions. The researcher should make sure that s/he is not involved in concealing any criminal activities. In addition, s/he needs to make sure to keep the professionalism at all times, even though it may be difficult if the research takes place among fellow professionals. It is quite important to understand the nature of the participants who may be the same people required the research, particularly in mental health and disability.
Some of the websites which include the ethical guidelines of different institutions may be found listed under “references”.