Data Collection Techniques I: Content Analysis, Interviews, and Observations
This chapter introduces three techniques often used in educational research-- content analysis, interviews, and observations. The purpose of the chapter is not to analyze each technique in detail but, rather, to describe each type's basic nature, to illustrate typical occasions for which that type is well suited, and to suggest guidelines for each technique's efficient use. Two further data-collection devices--tests and questionnaires--are inspected in Chapter 7.
As explained in Chapter 1, the process of content analysis entails searching through one or more communications to answer questions that an investigator brings to the search. Content analyses are not limited to written or printed documents but extend as well to audio recordings, still photographs, motion- picture films, video recordings, and the like. In comparative versions of educational research, content analysis involves (a) focusing on educational institutions and their relationships to individuals' lives or to society in general and (b) inspecting not just a single communication but, rather, studying two or more so as to identify likenesses and differences among them. Comparisons can involve documents from different times, different places, different authors, and more.
Investigators typically analyze communications in order to answer two levels of questions--the descriptive and the interpretive. Descriptive questions focus on what a communication contains. Interpretative questions focus on what those contents likely mean. Our concern in the present chapters is limited to techniques of descriptive analysis. Ways of interpreting the content of communications are addressed in Chapter 11.