Systematic Data Collection (Qualitative Research Methods Series 10)
Susan C. Weller
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Data collection in the field, whether by interviewing or other methods, can be carried out in a structured, systematic and scientific way. This volume compels field researchers to take very seriously not only what they hear, but what they ask. Ethnographers have often discovered too late that the value of their interview information is discounted as a consequence of poor sampling (of both questions and informants) and poor elicitation techniques.
The authors focus on the importance of establishing the right questions to ask through the use of free listing techniques; then they describe in practical terms the administration of an impressive array of alternative kinds of informant task. They conclude with a discussion of reliability and validity of various methods which can be used to generate more systematic, culturally meaningful data.
informants. Rank order data can be collected in a variety of ways. The most straightforward way is to simply have all n items ranked from 1 to n. Literate respondents can be presented with a written form, with the items in random order, and asked to order the items from "most" to "least" by putting numbers next to each item, so that 1 = the most, 2, 3 ... and n = the least. For example, Romney et al. (1986) had undergraduates order 34 possible causes of death from most to least frequent
have been used most widely by anthropologists. Stefflre (1972) collected data regarding the beliefs about when to take medicines. Typical over-the-counter medicines and their possible uses were elicited in structured interviews. Fifty medicines and fifty uses were selected for further study. Descriptive sentence frames were created for each potential use and data were collected by systematically substituting each of the fifty medicines into each of the fifty sentence frames (50 X 50 = 2,500
assumptions assuring us that when we are interviewing about culture patterns or items with high agreement, reliable and valid answers can be obtained with small numbers of informants. When interest is primarily focused upon how well items with known answers classify individuals as to ability levels, then traditional item reliability is appropriate. When interest focuses on how well informants are reporting on cultural or social information and on estimating what that information is, then
others. The boundaries are somewhat arbitrary and may be defined differently for different purposes. We turn now to more formal data collection methods that are appropriate when study items have been selected. We begin with sorting tasks. In a pile sort task informants are asked to sort cards, each containing the name of an item, into piles so that items in a pile are more similar to each other than they are to items in separate piles. In the unconstrained version of the task, subjects can
of their severity. Hierarchical clustering and multidimensional scaling were used to uncover the categories and dimensions of error. In another application of the pile sort, Freeman et al. (1981) and Romney et al. (1979) compared concepts of success and failure in the United States with those in Guatemala. They selected representative statements of characteristics of success and failure. Examples of some of the U.S. success statements were the following: "He's ambitious," "Everything works out