Chapter Summary

Chapter Objectives

8.1: Identify different types of data collection techniques.
8.2: Discuss factors affecting choice of data collection methods.
8.3: Discuss ethical considerations of data collection and obligations of researchers.
8.4: Discuss data collection methods used in qualitative studies.
8.5: Discuss the ethical issues associated with data collection.
8.6: Discuss the implications of calls for data accessibility and research transparency for qualitative research.

  • Interview data refer to data that are collected from responses to questions posed by the researcher to a respondent.
  • Document analysis refers to the use of audio, visual, or written materials as a source of data.
    • This source of data relies heavily on the record-keeping activities of government agencies, private institutions, interest groups, media organizations, and even private citizens.
      • Documents and statistical data that exist in various archival records are referred to as the written record.
      • The running record on the other hand refers to materials that are collected systematically across time.
      • Records that are not party of an ongoing systematic record-keeping program but are produced and preserved in a more casual, personal, and accidental manner are called episodic records.
  • There are advantages and disadvantages to using running records.
  • Firsthand observation refers to data that may be collected by making observations in a field study or in a laboratory setting.
    • Researchers collect data on political behavior by observing either the behavior itself (direct observation) or some physical trace of the behavior (indirect observation).
    • Physical trace measures may be accretion measures (ones that measure the accumulation of material) or erosion measures (ones that measure wear or depletion of material).
    • Observation can also be structured observation, where the investigator looks for and systematically records the incidence of specific behaviors, or unstructured observation, where all behavior is considered relevant, at least at first, and recorded.
    • Observation is generally an example of primary data--data recorded and used by the researcher making the observations. Secondary data are data used by a researcher who did not personally collect the data.
  • The choice of a data collection method depends on many factors including, but not limited to, the validity of the measurements that a particular method will permit, the effect of the data collection itself on the phenomena being measured (reactivity), the population covered by a data collection method, resources, and the cost of a method, the public availability of data, and ethical implications.
    • Federal regulations require faculty and students to submit research proposals involving human subjects for review to an institutional review board to protect participants from harm.
    • Informed consent means that subjects are to be given information about the research, including the research procedure, its purposes, risks, and anticipated benefits; alternative procedures (where therapy is involved); how subjects are selected; and the person responsible for the research.
    • Three ethical principles form the foundation for assessing the ethical dimensions of research involving human subjects: respect for persons, beneficence, and justice.
  • Ethnography is firsthand observation that is generally used to go beyond description of events or actions to reveal the “cultural constructions, in which we live.”
  • Observations may be classified in at least four different ways: (1) direct or indirect, (2) participant or nonparticipant, (3) overt or covert, and (4) structured or unstructured.
  • The vast majority of observation studies conducted by political scientists involve direct observation in which the researcher observes actual behavior, with the observation more likely to occur in a natural setting (a field study) than in a laboratory.
    • One advantage of observing people in a natural setting rather than in the artificiality of a laboratory setting is that generally people behave as they would ordinarily. Participant observation offers the advantages of a natural setting, the opportunity to observe people for lengthy periods of time so that interaction and changes in behavior may be studied, and a degree of accuracy or completeness impossible with documents or recall data such as that obtained in surveys.
    • An essential aspect of field study is note-taking, because the researcher is relying on remembering events accurately for data. Notes can be divided into three types: mental notes, jotted notes, and field notes.
    • Observation in a laboratory setting allows control over the environment of the observed including a more rigorous experimental design than is possible in a natural, uncontrolled setting, and observation may be easier and more convenient to record and preserve. A disadvantage of laboratory observation is that subjects usually know they are being observed and therefore may alter their behavior, raising questions about the validity of the data collected.
  • Ethical concerns arise primarily when there is a potential for harm to the observed. They include (1) negative repercussions from associating with the researcher because of the researcher’s sponsors, nationality, or outsider status; (2) invasion of privacy; (3) stress during the research interaction; and (4) disclosure of behavior or information to the researcher resulting in harm to the observed during or after the study.
  • Elite interviewing refers to interviewing individuals who possess specialized knowledge about a political phenomenon. 
    • There are various practicalities to interviewing:
      • Be fully prepared before conducting any interviews.
      • Design an appropriate method of initial contact.
      • Think about how you want to present yourself.
      • Record interviews.
      • Build up some rapport first.
      • Do not schedule too many interviews in a day.
  • A lot of political science research relies on documents as a source of data.
  • Researchers have to rely on the system of peer review of articles published in professional journals.