If the focus of your study is the examination of documents, than you should have access to such material which may include letters, memos, notes, diaries, photographs, audiotapes, videotapes, films, articles, books, manuscripts, e-mails, online discussions and so forth. In general documents are any preserved recording of a person’s thoughts, actions or creations (Potter, 1996). The examination of documents is especially important to historians who investigate patterns and trends from the past. Documents may be examined to investigate patterns and trends of the past as is commonly done by historians. If no humans remain alive to provide primary evidence, then documents are the in only source of data (Potter, 1996). Documents are also examined by researchers who are investigating subjects who are available. The examination of documents may also provide confirmatory evidence of the information obtained from interviews and observations. For example, Bodroghkozy (1985) examined 42 letters written to her from viewers on their reaction to the TV series “Dallas”.
Imagine that you want to find out what goes on in the teachers’ lounge or staff room. You could interview those involved, or maybe even send out a questionnaire. Using the interview or the questionnaire, you would be getting what people thought about what was going on. Sometimes, the best way to gain a ‘rich picture’ of a setting such as the staff room, the school canteen, a staff meeting, the playground or the classroom is to see for yourself what is happening, rather than depending on your respondents.
Observation is the technique of obtaining data through direct contact with a persons or group of persons. Since, the main focus of qualitative research is naturalism, the researcher has to observe person or persons in their natural state as undisturbed as possible. The role of the researcher may be viewed as a continuum (se Figure 2.1). On one extreme, the researcher is a passive observer and on the other extreme the researcher is a participant observer. In between these two extremes, the researcher may be an active observer (Potter, 1996).
Passive Observer Active Observer Participant Observer
Figure 2.1 Continuum of Observation Techniques
• Passive observer: The best way to be not involved and keep you distance from your subjects is to be a passive observer. As a passive observer, you simply gather documents and observe the individual or individuals without doing anything to disturb the situation. The researcher is unobtrusive and watches the group from the outside; i.e. the ethic or outsider’s perspective. To do so, the researcher must gain access and be accepted by the individual or individuals being observed. For example, in collecting e-mails or essays written by subjects or learning journals of students, the researcher examines them without being involved. Similarly, when a researcher interested in studying children interacting in school canteens or the playground, merely observes them without being involved. A certain amount of distance is maintained between the researcher and the person or persons being observed.
• Participant Observation: As the name ‘participant’ suggests, the researcher participates in the activities of the persons being observed rather than being an observer. The researcher has two role – as observer and as participant. The researcher participates as much as possible in the daily life of the subjects while also carefully observing everything he or she can about it. Through this, the researcher is seeking to gain what is called an ‘emic’ perspective or the native’s point of view or the insider’s perspective. The researcher records detailed field notes, conduct interview based on open-ended questions and gather whatever site documents might be available in...