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Qualitative Methods
Currently selected section: Data Techniques
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Chapter 7: Selected Qualitative Methods: Data Gathering Techniques
Photo of a data collector 

There are many qualitative data gathering techniques, only some are suited to symptom research. I will describe three particularly suited to clinical symptom research: interviews, focus groups and narratives. The bibliography includes a list of some "how-to" books on data gathering techniques.



Well-designed interviews with clinicians, patients, and family caregivers can provide illuminating data. The important aspects of good interviews are:

  • To sample the correct population;
  • To ask questions that give you the specific data you need;
  • To ask questions which the respondents understand as having the same meaning as you (the researcher) understand in these questions;
  • To have well-trained and appropriate interviewers; and
  • To conduct the interviews at a time and place where both the interviewer and the respondent can concentrate.

Closed item interviews usually can be analyzed using quantitative techniques. Semi-structured, open ended and the instrument cognitive testing technique discussed in this chapter require qualitative techniques. Semi-structured interviews ask questions which suggest short answers, but the instrument does not provide a set of choices of answers. Sometimes semi-structured interviews can be pre-coded and entered into quantitative databases. If not, content analysis is the preferred technique for understanding your data. Winters, 1997 is an example of research using semi-structured interviews.

Open-ended interviews invite long answers. Pre-coding loses the rich detail in the data. Open-ended interviews always require qualitative analysis techniques. (For a summary table of data analysis techniques click here). Any recent edition of Social Research Update is always a good source of interview techniques.

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