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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: June 2018

5 - Laying the foundations for fieldwork

Summary

FOCUS QUESTIONS

• What is fieldwork, and how does it fit into the overall framework of qualitative research and the case study approach?

• What is the researcher's role, and to what extent do experience-near and experience-distant concepts help define it?

• How do I lay the foundations for fieldwork?

• How should I go about choosing a research topic?

• How should I formulate and test research questions?

• What is the purpose of a literature review?

• What is the role of theory in preparing to conduct fieldwork?

This chapter describes the preparation for fieldwork in information agencies. To help you prepare, each step is discussed in turn. First, however, we introduce the concept of fieldwork, discuss the role of the researcher, the value of ‘experience-near’ and ‘experience-distant’ concepts, and help lay the foundations for fieldwork.

Overview of fieldwork in information organizations Definition of fieldwork

In Chapter 1 we noted that qualitative research embodies five characteristics (context, description, process, participant perspective and induction). All of these characteristics, except perhaps induction, can be fulfilled by only one method of data collection – fieldwork. That is, researchers collect data within the natural setting of the data, and the key data collection instruments are the researchers themselves. This use of the natural setting has led to the fieldwork stage in qualitative research, and indeed to the whole qualitative process, being termed ‘naturalistic enquiry’.

Fieldwork is the interface between researcher and data in the case study approach characteristic of qualitative research; it involves collecting data ‘in the field’, being out among the subjects of one's research, becoming immersed in their milieu and seeing events and activities as they see them.

Because the qualitative researcher wants to know what subjects think and how they act in their natural setting, the only way to do this thoroughly is by being alongside them to the extent that this is feasible.

The role of the researcher

In a way, then, the researcher ‘inserts’ his or her presence into the natural setting of the subjects. At the start of a project this can be most disconcerting to all involved. But a competent and sensitive researcher soon learns how to become just part of the everyday fabric and thus less noticeable.