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

11 - Recording fieldwork data

Summary

FOCUS QUESTIONS

• What are the goals and objectives of recording fieldwork data?

• What are some of the options for recording fieldwork data?

• What are the characteristics of field notes, reflexive notes and expanded notes?

‘The primary purpose of gathering data in naturalistic inquiry is to gain the ability to construct reality in ways that are consistent and compatible with the constructions of a setting's inhabitants.’ In information service settings, most information professionals develop skills to observe and assimilate their users’ behaviour. This chapter presents an overview of specific techniques to formalize these skills. Particular emphasis is given to providing examples of fieldwork methods for collecting data in information organizations or settings.

Overview of data recording

Qualitative research seeks to understand a particular social phenomenon in its natural setting. For our purposes, the social phenomena to be studied are those occurring within the context of information services. The objectives of qualitative research are to discover, describe and analyse the complexities of common phenomena through observation and involvement in a research setting. It is the role of the qualitative researcher to scrutinize commonplace occurrences because, when observed for prolonged periods, common phenomena can reveal remarkable levels of complexity. For example, in an archive a user is seated at a terminal but gazing out the window – a common enough phenomenon. Is he thinking through the significance of the records he has just retrieved, or is he planning a more detailed search strategy? Is he perhaps wondering why he has so far failed to retrieve anything of value, and what he can be doing wrong? Perhaps he is waiting for assistance from one of the archivists, or he may be simply bored with his research, and thinking about taking a break.

In other words, fieldwork is the disciplined study of a particular social world where the fieldworker learns from the participants themselves, seeing the world through the eyes of its inhabitants. From the perspective of a learner, the qualitative researcher collects field data through careful observation, prolonged engagement, documentation of observations and, finally, data analysis. This chapter explores techniques of data collection in fieldwork.