Qualitative Data and Interviews

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Qualitative Data and Interviews

By | October 2010
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SOCIOLOGICAL METHODS

TYPES OF DATA

Sociologists have two types of data available to them: information they have self-generated for their own research purposes (primary data), and already existing data that was not specifically created for sociological purposes (secondary data). Primary data can result from, the employment of questionnaires, structured, semi-structured and unstructured interviews, and observation techniques. Secondary data is more or less, anything else: statistics produced by the state, and private companies, and also letters, books and television. Secondary data has the advantage of being cheaply, quickly and easily obtained, but has the serious disadvantage of not being produced by sociologists. Both primary and secondary data can be quantitative or qualitative in form.

Qualitative data

Any data used for sociological purposes, whether derived from primary or secondary sources, can be described as qualitative or quantitative in form. Qualitative data deals directly with people’s experiences, as well as their feelings about, and interpretations of, the situations they find themselves in. Interpretive, interactionist sociologists who believe that individuals create society through their joint activities, needs to understand individual interpretations, in order to explain social behavior.

Qualitative data is the data rich in ‘quality’ and depth of meaning. This data is generated from in-depth contact with sociologists, interviews or through observation, and will normally appear in prose from or in the form of transcripts or conversation. The term ‘ethnography’ is used to refer to studies that generate an in-depth understanding of the way of life of an individual or group. Interactionist sociologists may see greater validity in qualitative data than quantitative data, since it allows them a more detailed understanding of the small groups and individuals they study.

Interviews

An interview can either be a series of questions...