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Ethnographic data collection


Explanations > Social ResearchMeasurement > Ethnographic data collection

Data types | Data collection | See also


Collecting data in qualitative research needs to be a carefully managed process.

Data types

There are four types of data collection used in ethnographic research.


Research type Data collection
Participant and non-participant observation Watching or being part of a social context
Semi-structured interviews Open and closed questions that  cover identified topics
Unstructured interviews Open questions that enable a free development of conversation
Collected material Anything from artefacts to letters, books or reports


Data collection

Data in observer research is often largely based on observer notes, logs, diaries, etc. Additional data may also be found in items such as published and unpublished documents, papers, books, public records, letters, photographs, videos and assorted artefacts.

The problem with such data is that the more you have the more effort it required to analyse, and with time increasing sharply with the amount of data. Yet more data leads to better codes, categories, theories and conclusions. What is 'enough' data is subject to debate and may well be constrained by the time and resource the researcher has available.

Deciding when and where to collect data can be a critical decision. A deep analysis at one point may miss others, whilst a broad brush may miss critical minutiae. Several deep dives can be a useful method.

Social data can be difficult to access, for example when political forces oppose potentially critical investigations or where rituals are considered secret. Ethics, confidentiality and determination can all play a part here.

There is often less division of activity phases in qualitative research, and the researcher may be memoing and coding as they go.

Theoretical sampling

Theoretical sampling is an approach to identifying what data is required next, based on the analytical findings so far. In this way, data collection is managed and controlled by the emerging theory.

Selective sampling

Selective sampling occurs where the researcher decides to sample in a particular locale or seek particular types of people. Again, this is driven by rational thought rather than convenience or bias.

See also

Principles of Qualitative Analysis, Coding in qualitative research

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