Discussion- Qualitative Methods: Observing, Participating, Listening

Unit 7: Discussion- Qualitative Methods: Observing, Participating, Listening


Welcome to Unit 7. This unit continues the portion of the course that addresses qualitative research designs. This week we will be going over unobtrusive methods. Unobtrusive methods are “nonreactive” and so do not alert the people that they study. Such methods, then, do not suffer from problems of modified behavior or answers that the reactive methods of survey and interviews can have. The chapter discusses four sources used in unobtrusive methods: physical traces of human activity, archives of human records, observation, and contrived observation. Next, the chapter examines three types of research that take advantage of these sources. Content analysis is the systematic analysis of human communication. Historical methods compare historical eras using event-structure analysis or oral histories. Comparative methods compare different human populations and may be cross-sectional or longitudinal.

More specifically, the methods we are addressing this week are:

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  • Physical Traces
  • Data Archives
  • Content Analysis
  • Historical-Analysis
  • Comparative Analysis

Similar to Unit 6, your Discussion activity will be to conduct a mini-qualitative study (better if related to your topic, but not a requirement).

Note: For your research proposal, you will be asked to identify a specific method. Continuing from Unit 4, you will learn more about the various methods in detail. As you formulate your research proposal, use the activities during these weeks to determine whether the method used that week will be the best fit for your proposal. As you determine fit, bear in mind the trade-offs for sampling, measurement, and determining cause-and-effect relationships.

To set the stage for this, check out the following videos featuring the human body farmThe Farm of Rotting Corpses in Tennessee (11:46) (Links to an external site.)The Farm of Rotting Corpses in Tennessee
TOP BEST Documentary National Geographic Secrets of the body farm (45:44) (Links to an external site.)Body farms such as the one featured in the videos give important insights into decay processes of the body and helpful forensic scientists in their investigations.


For this discussion, you won’t have to go to the body farm, but you get to engage in data gathering to get a sense of the methods of this unit.

Choose one of the following methods to complete your discussion assignment and present a Summary PowerPoint presentation to capture your ideas.

Note: you are not expected to formulate, collect data, analyze it, and write it up for this week! There’s simply not enough time especially if this course is taken in an 8-week term. Instead, I would like to introduce to you various methods to conduct research. Perhaps one of these methods will inspire what you plan to do for your research proposal.

Physical Traces

To utilize this method you will need to:

  1. Select or gather your artifacts – there are so many physical aspects to measure. Some examples:
    • Grafitti– on buildings, fences, railway cars, etc.
    • GIS – Geographic Information Systems – information – could be used to understand parking lot volume or parking patterns
    • Skid marks at intersections to identify dangerous ones
    • Wear patterns in grass from parking lots to suggest new paved walkways.
    • Smear patterns and amount or wear patterns in museum displays to measure amount of interest.
    • Wear patterns on:
      1. ATM or gas station number keys
      2. TV remote controls or phones from thrift stores
      3. Clothing to get a sense of areas that need to be reinforced
      4. Cemetery grass paths to get a sense of traffic patterns
      5. Books to determine amount of reading
  2. Develop a code sheet to record analysis.
  3. Note any patterns in the data

In the Discussion area

  • Present the following in the discussion thread:
    • A brief statement of your method, research questions, and your sources of data (be as specific as possible)
    • A brief statement of the strengths and weaknesses of your inquiry.
    • A summary PPT to support your qualitative proposal.

Due Dates

  • First post due by 11:59 p.m., Wednesday CT
  • Respond to two or more classmates by 11:59 p.m., Sunday, CT.
  • Response possibilities:
    • A link that brings in new information or helps the student you’re responding to
    • A substantial question (not, “what do you think?”)
    • A politely worded critique that shows either a flaw in your classmate’s logic, misunderstanding of the data, or a failure to fully answer the questions
    • A politely worded reply to any of the above.

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