2. STRUCTURE OF THE CHAPTER
• What is a document?
• Primary documents
• In the archive
• Documentary analysis
• Ethical and legal issues
3. WHAT IS A DOCUMENT?
• A record of an event or process, which may be produced
by individuals or groups.
• Types of documents:
– Created by private individuals and family groups in their
everyday lives or records produced by local, national and
international authorities and small or large organizations.
– Based on written text or produced through other means.
– Produced independently of the researcher or produced by
researchers themselves as data for their research.
– Primary documents (produced as a direct record of an event or
process by a witness or subject involved in it) and secondary
documents (formed through an analysis of primary documents to
provide an account of the event or process in question).
– Documents which combine primary and secondary sources.
– Hybrid documents (edited and collected versions of diaries,
letters and autobiographies).
– Virtual documents (from internet).
4. WRITTEN SOURCES OF DATA
• Some social worlds, cultures and events are
literate (documents are part of their everyday world
and activities); others are non-literate; others are
mixed. This affects the status of documents and
• Some written data are deliberately written for
research; others (the majority) are not;
• Data deliberately written for research can be by the
researcher and/or the researched (e.g. diaries) –
insiders and outsiders;
• If data were written for a purpose, agenda and
audience other than research(ers) then there are
problems of validity and reliability;
5. WRITTEN SOURCES OF DATA
• Documents are ‘social products; they must be
examined not simply used as a resource. . . . To
treat them as a resource and not a topic’ betrays
‘the interpretive and interactional work that went
into their production’;
• Documents do not often record everything about
literal events; they are selective;
• Records are ‘contractual’ rather than ‘actuarial’,
e.g. police records may record that an officer was
present rather than what took place.
6. PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SOURCES
• Books, textbooks, articles;
• Contemporary reports and
• Minutes of meetings;
• Census data;
• Newspapers/media sources;
• Works of fiction;
• Personal documents, e.g.:
diaries, journals, letters;
• Field notes;
• Records (formal and
• Technical documents;
• Memos and e-mails;
• Reports and statistics;
• Stories (oral);
• Annals and chronicles;
• Photographs & artifacts;
• Conversations & speeches;
• Policy documents;
• Newspaper articles;
• Public records and archives.
7. ARCHIVE DOCUMENTS
• Public records (public record offices)
• Census data and cabinet minutes
• National and local archives
• Special collections in libraries
• Government papers, laws and acts of parliament
8. WRITTEN SOURCES OF DATA
• The original intention of the document;
• The reasons for/causes of the documents;
• The intended outcomes of the document;
• The interests of the writer;
• The original agenda of the document;
• The original audience(s) of the document;
• The status of the document;
• The original context of the document;
• The style/register of the document;
9. WRITTEN SOURCES OF DATA
• How reliable/biased is the record?
• The ownership of the document (e.g. the
• Does the researcher personally know the author(s)
of the document (i.e. relationships)?;
• Was the researcher present in the events reported
(i.e. researcher effects)?
• How close to/detached from the participants is the
• What do we need to know in order to make fullest
sense of the document?
• How to analyze and use the document.
10. WRITTEN SOURCES OF DATA
(Hammersley and Atkinson, 1983)
• What does the document say about the writer?
• How are the documents written?
• How are they read?
• Who writes them?
• What is included?
• What is omitted?
• What is taken for granted about the readership?
• What do readers need to know to make sense of
• Validity and reliability are significant problems in
11. CONSIDERATIONS IN WRITTEN
SOURCES OF DATA
• Formal/official → informal/lay documents;
• Published → unpublished documents;
• Public domain → private papers;
• Anonymous → authored;
• Anonymity ≠ objectivity;
• Facts → beliefs or opinions;
• Lay → professional;
• For circulation → not for circulation.
12. WRITTEN SOURCES OF DATA
• Biographies and autobiographies risk over-
presenting the story of successes, the famous,
the unusual, and the views of the powerful;
• Is a biography or autobiography ‘research’?
• Is a newspaper report/journalism ‘research’?
• Is a piece of fiction ‘research’?
• Documents are maybe to be used as
background data or to provide ‘sensitizing
13. THE DOUBLE HERMENEUTIC
• Documents record live events, so written data on social
events by definition become second hand because they
interpret the world; the researcher then interprets the
already-interpreted world, i.e. there is a ‘double
• Social actors interpret social research and social behaviour,
i.e. they act in a pre-interpreted world; this is a form of
• ‘Sociology deals with a universe which is already
constituted within frames of meaning by social actors
themselves, and reinterprets these within its own theoretical
• the human subject is always involved in self-interpretation,
and this interpretation is then subjected to a second-level
interpretation by the ‘professional’ interpreter (researcher).
14. THE TRIPLE AND QUADRUPLE
• A research report is written, not live, i.e. it is a
written – interpreted – record of the writer’s
interpretation of the actors’ interpretations – a triply
• The reader then puts her/his own interpretation on
the report – a quadruply interpreted world.
15. THREE GENERAL TRADITIONS IN
– objective, systematic, rational and quantitative
nature of the study
– Regards social phenomena such as documents
as having been socially constructed
– emphasize social conflict, power, control and
ideology, with ideology critique such as Marxist,
feminist or critical discourse theory
16. ANALYZING DOCUMENTS
• Locate the document in its contextual setting;
• Address the preceding questions;
• Decide whether to opt for pre-ordinate or responsive
• Decide how to ‘read’ the document, e.g. as objective
text, as subjective representation, as signification;
• Consider the facts, themes, patterns, beliefs, opinions,
statements in the documents;
• Consider similarities/differences between documents
which comment on the same issues;
• What are the readers’/researchers’ roles in producing
and analyzing the document?
• Is it possible to ‘factorize’ the document(s)?
17. NARRATIVE ENQUIRY
(Connelly and Clandinin, 1997)
• Involves field, texts on field experience, research
texts (which incorporate field and text);
• Converting field text to research text is a process
of increasing interpretation;
• ‘Field texts tend to be close to experience,
descriptive and shaped around particular events.
Research texts . . . tend to be at a distance from
the field and from field texts . . . . Research texts
tend to be patterned. Field texts are shaped into
research texts by the underlying narrative threads
and themes that constitute the driving force of the
18. NARRATIVE ENQUIRY
(Connelly and Clandinin, 1997)
• ‘The researcher’s presence needs to be
• Discovering the researcher’s presence is no
grounds for dismissing the research text as
subjective; on the contrary, not to declare this is
• The researcher has to set out the criteria that
govern the study and by which it might be judged.
19. QUESTIONS IN USING DOCUMENTS
1. Where has the document come from?
2. What is the document?
3. What kind of document is it?
4. What is the document about?
5. What are the intentions/purposes of the document?
6. What are the reasons for/causes of the document?
7. What were the intended outcomes of the document?
8. What were the focuses of the document?
9. Who was/were the writer(s)?
10. What was the agenda for the document?
11. How are documents similar to/different from other relevant
12. Who were the audiences of the document? For whom
was it written?
20. QUESTIONS IN USING DOCUMENTS
13. What is the status of the document?
14. What is the context of the document?
15. What else do you need to know in order to make sense of
16. Was the researcher present when the data were collected?
17. How close to/detached from the participants was the writer
of the document?
18. How can you analyze the document?
19. What can you infer about the writer of the document?
20. In reading the document what does it tell you about yourself
as a reader of it?
21. What are you doing in trying to make sense of the
document? What are you bringing to the analysis?
22. What are the problems of reliability and validity in the
document itself and in your reading of the document?
21. ETHICAL AND LEGAL MATTERS
• Insider research based on documentary sources
where the material appears likely to cast an
unfavourable light upon the institution which may
have commissioned it in the first place.
• Laws of copyright, freedom of information and
data protection as they operate in different