Research Methods - Documents

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  • Documents
    • Refers to any written text
      • Includes: personal diaries, gov reports, medical reports, novels, newspapers, letters, emails, blogs etc.
      • Includes 'texts' such as: paintings, drawings, photographs etc.
      • Includes sounds and images: film, television, radio etc.
    • Public Documents
      • Produced by organisations (such as government departments, schools, welfare agencies, businesses and charities)
      • Output may be available for researchers to use
      • Includes official reports of public enquries
    • Personal Documents
      • Includes items such as letters, diaries, photo albums and autobiographies
      • First-person accounts of social events and personal experiences
      • Often include the writer's feelings and attitudes
    • Historical Documents
      • A personal or public documents created in the past
      • Usually the only source of information
    • Authencitiy
      • Is the document what it claims to be?
      • Are there any missing pages?
      • Is it error free?
      • Who actually wrote the document?
    • Credibility
      • Is the document believable?
      • Was the author sincere?
      • Is the document accurate?
    • Representativeness
      • Is the evidence in the document typical?
        • If this cannot be answered - is it safe to generalise?
      • Not all documents survive - are the surviving ones typical of those destroyed?
      • Not all documents are available to use - e.g. the 30 year rule prevents access to some official documents
      • Certain groups may be unrepresented
    • Meaning
      • Researchers may need special skills to understand the document
      • May have to be translated from foreign languages
      • Words may change their meaning over time
      • Researchers have to interpret what the document actually means to the writer and the intended audience
    • Advantages
      • Personal documents - get close to reality - insight through richly, detailed qualitative data
      • May be the only source of available information
      • Cheap and quick source of data - information is already gathered


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