Dissertating in the Open: Beginning to Set Up a Data Collection Structure

I’ve been trying to establish my data collection/analysis workflow and I’m running into the age-old problem with qualitative research: you don’t really know what you need until you’re in the middle of it.

One of the things I heard repeatedly from professors was that the difference between quantitative and qualitative research wasn’t how much work you would do, but at which end of the process you would do it. Quantitative research requires a lot of up-front work, designing surveys or experiments, etc. , but analysis can go pretty quickly as long as you already know which statistical tests you need. Qualitative research requires a lot of work in the analysis stage, and the beginning of the design process is a little more free-flowing and improvisational.

(She said, thinking about her detailed interview and observation protocols and meticulous research design…)

I’m the kind of person who likes to have structures in place ahead of time so that when I’m in a thing I can just do it. If I don’t get those structures in place, I can be a bit of a mess. For example - life example, not work example - if I don’t do all of my pill-sorting at the beginning of the week, there is an almost 0% chance that I will take anything besides my prescription medications. (I take 24 pills a day, when prescriptions and supplements are added together.)

So I wanted to have a data collection structure in place, so that my data would not become a mess.

I realized, though, that creating an elaborate data collection structure was a form of productive procrastination. After all of the complaining I’ve done about being ready to start on my own research, though, I really ought to get down to it.

I settled on only setting up the data collection structure for the first phase of my research, sustained, systematic observation. I gave myself permission to work exclusively on that for a couple of weeks before I design the next set of structures.

I’m going to start on that tomorrow, and my plan is to write a blog post about that process in hopes of helping future scholars who might use connective and affinity space ethnography.

Kimberly Hirsh @kimberlyhirsh