Qualitative Document Analysis.
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In this session, I adopt a rather eclectic view of `document’. In addition to typical sources (e.g. media reports, government papers, minutes of meetings, company reports), I include documents that are read as part of the literature review and also the working documents that become your thesis. My rationale for this is that similar issues and skills are involved in the `analysis’ of all of them.
Research Professor in Organizational Analysis
Cardiff Business School
Home Page : http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/close/hr22/hcwhome
Textual Analysis. `Textual analysis involves mediation between the frame of reference of the researcher and those who produced the text. The aim of this dialogue is to move within the “hermeneutic circle” in which we comprehend a text by understanding that frame of reference from which it was produced, and appreciate that frame of reference by understanding the text. The researcher’s frame of reference becomes the spring board from which the circle is entered, and so the circle reaches back to encompass the dialogue between the researcher and the text’ (J. Scott (1990), A Matter of Record: Documentary Sources in Social Research, Cambridge: Polity cited in Mason, 2002, p. 110)
Exercise: Consider how reading a journal article on your research topic illustrates the idea of `mediation’ and `dialogue’
`Quantitative Researchers try to analyse written material in a way that will produce reliable evidence about a large sample. Their favoured method is content analysis in which the researcher establishes a set of categories and then counts the number of instances that fall into each category. The crucial requirement is that the categories are sufficiently precise to enable different coders to arrive at the same results when the same body of material (e.g. newspaper headlines) is examined’
`Qualitative Researchers analyse small numbers of texts and documents for a very different purpose. The aim is to understand the participants’ categories and see how these are used in concrete activities like telling stories, assembling files or describing “family life”. The constructionist orientation of many qualitative researchers thus means that they are more concerned with the process through which texts depict “reality” than with whether such texts contain true of false statements’
D. Silverman (2005), 2nd ed., Doing Qualitative Research; A Practical Handbook, London: Sage, p 160
Organizational documents may include company reports, memoranda, manuals, policy proposals, website information, accounting records, strategy documents, sales brochures, , etc
Government documents may include departmental reports, parliamentary reports, etc. Much of this is becoming more readily accessible through websites and freedom of information act.
Source: J.Mason (2002), 2nd ed. Qualitative Researching, London: Sage, Ch 6Characteristics of Documents
See Alan Thomas, Research Skills for Management Studies, London: Sage, 2004, pp 197 et seqCriteria for Evaluating Documentary Sources (1)
The contents of the statements of corporate leaders (e.g. CEOs, Vice-Chancellors) that appear in annual reports might be analysed as part of a study of their communication styles. But can it be assumed that the leader, rather than a member of the PR office, has drafted the statement? Does it matter?
Is the author of the document an impartial and/or expert witness? Consider the annual report example given above. When the statement is optimistic, is the organization doing well, or is the statement intended to reassure nervous investors or current and potential stakeholders with an attempt to instil confidence? See next slide
See Alan Thomas, Research Skills for Management Studies, London: Sage, 2004, pp 197 et seqCriteria for Evaluating Documentary Sources (2)
Has there been selectivity in what is recorded (e.g. successful ventures) in the documents, and what is preserved (e.g. minutes of meetings)? How much confidence can be placed upon the integrity of the data set? What about corroboration?
What does the document’s content mean to its author and/or its intended reader? To what extent, for example, is it an articulation of current conventions? Are these questions any less relevant for other documents, such as journal articles and thesis chapter drafts? See next slide
…it is important to realize that documentary reality does not consist of descriptions of the social world that can be used directly as evidence about it. One certainly cannot assume that documentary accounts are “accurate” portrayals in that sense. Rather, they construct their own kinds of reality. It is, therefore, important to approach them as texts. Texts are constructed according to conventions that are themselves part of a documentary reality. Hence, rather than ask whether an account is true, or whether it can be uses as “valid” evidence about a setting, it is more fruitful to ask ourselves questions about the form and function of texts themselves’
(P. Atkinson and A. Coffey, `Analysing Documentary Realities’ in D. Silverman (2004), 2nd ed., Qualitative Research: Theory, Method and Practice’, p. 73
See also extract from Atkinson and Coffey’s article. Click here or see next slide
Exercise: Can you summarise Atkinson and Coffrey’s stance in your own words? Can you provide a brief illustration, using a document that is to hand? Does the same argument apply to their text?
See Alan Thomas, Research Skills for Management Studies, London: Sage, 2004, pp 72 et seqReviewing Literature: What is the Point? Three Views
`The purpose of a literature review is to establish the current state of knowledge in the field. It will therefore be a significant contribution to the dissertation or thesis and will usually be included in it as a prelude to the report of the empirical work’ Thomas, 2004, p. 73, emphasis added
[The purpose of the literature review is] to demonstrate skills in literature searching; to show command of the subject area and understanding of the problem; to justify the research topic, design and methodology’ C. Hart (1998), Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Imagination, London: Sage, p13, emphasis added
`I object to the practice of simply backing up with a truckload of stuff and dumping it on unsuspecting readers, which seems to me what most traditional reviews accomplish. That is more likely to create an obstacle that gets in the way, rather than paves the way, to reporting what your have to contribute…By all means, flag important citations to the work of others. But do so sparingly and only as the references are critical to helping you to analyse and to situate your problem and your research within some broader context’ H. Wolcott (2001), 2nd ed., Writing Up Qualitative Research, London: Sage, p 74 and 75, emphasis added
Tip. It may be beneficial initially to undertake rapid scanning of all sources, even when your intention is to undertake a close reading
Arguing Evidentially – supported by evidence; how do you justify the relevance and credibility of the evidence presented?Arguing Interpretively – shown to be meaningful and reasonable; what standards of meaningfulness or reasonableness are you invoking?Arguing Illustratively – demonstrate the case through an appealing or persuasive exampleArguing Reflexively – acknowledging the problems of argumentation but commending a particular interpretation on the basis of the value of its particular contribution
Adapted from J. Mason (2002), 2nd ed., Qualitative Researching, London: Sage, Ch 9
`Hear this. You cannot begin writing early enough. And yes I really mean it. Would that mean that someone might write a first draft before venturing into the field to begin observations or interviews? Absolutely.’ H. Wolcott (2001), p. 21
`Writers who indulge themselves by waiting until their thoughts are clear runt the risk of never beginning at all…Writing is not only a great way to discover what we are thinking, it is also a way to uncover lacunae in our thinking’ (ibid: 22)
Questions for discussion:
T.Bridgman and H.Willmott (2006), `Institutions and Technology; Frameworks for Understanding Organizational Change – The Case of a Major ICT Outsourcing Contract’, The Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, 42, 1 : 110-126 Click here for access to the article.
`It is not unusual to begin in a fog. A certain amount of wandering around is inevitable before it is possible to find one’s bearings and gain a sense of direction. It is necessary to tolerate uncertainty at the beginning of a project, starting out with a broad view, scanning for a range of possibilities and then narrowing down to a specific focus’ (Thomas, 2004, p. 70)