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Qualitative researchers usually rely on three methods for collecting primary data: participating in the process/observing directly, undertaking interviews, and studying documents and materials (Dipasquale & Wheaton, 1994). These primary research methods form the core of inquiry and are sometimes supplemented by secondary research.
This process involves the methodical noting and recording of proceedings, behaviors, and objects in the social setting that the researcher selects for the study. The observational record is regularly known as field notes—detailed, impartial, but hard-evidenced reports of what has been observed in the study area. Observation can range from a highly designed, comprehensive notation of behavior structured by checklists to a more all-inclusive report of observations depending on the complexity of the study. The disadvantage of this method is that it is limited to measuring behavior, is time consuming, and is subject to partiality.
Qualitative researchers rely quite extensively on various forms of interviewing to obtain first-hand information. These methods include personal interviews, telephone interviews, and self-administered questionnaires. Interviews enable a researcher to explore a few general topics to help uncover the participant’s views and still ask questions outside the prepared questionnaire, partly guided by the participant’s responses (Ortalo-Magné and Sven, 1999). The advantage of interviews is that it allows the researcher to have detailed and in-depth questions and responses and minimizes non-response. However, it can be costly over large areas, can result into erroneous responses due to investigator bias, and may lead to incorrect answers since the respondent may give answers to please the investigator.
Errors associated with interviews and use of questionnaires may be reduced by using open-ended questions where respondents are given complete freedom to answer in their own words without following the questionnaire format. Besides, this method significantly reduces “forced choice” bias and leads to an unlimited response varieties.
Studying documents and materials
This method involves analyzing original documents pertaining to the research topic (Clayton, 1996). For instance, in the study of the influence of distance from the city on house prices, a researcher could look at documents used in the purchase transactions from banks, mortgage firms, or from actual owners of the homes (Case & Shiller, 1989). The researcher could also obtain records from various government agencies for analysis and inference.
One advantage of the method is that it eliminates the weaknesses associated with the above mentioned methods of primary research and improves the accuracy of the research findings. However, the method can be very expensive as the investigator has to make travel arrangements and sometimes be forced to pay the information he/she requires. However, the benefits of this method outweigh the costs.
Case, K., and R. Shiller. (1989). The efficiency of the market for single-family homes. American Economic Review, 79, pp. 125-137. Web.
Clayton, J. (1996). Rational expectations, market fundamentals and housing price volatility. Real Estate Economics, 24, pp. 441-470. Web.
Dipasquale, D., and Wheaton, W. C. (1994). Housing market dynamics and the future of housing prices. Journal of Urban Economics, 35, pp. 1-27. Web.
Ortalo-Magné, F., and Sven R. (1999). Boom in, bust out: young households and the housing price cycle. European Economic Review, Vol. 43, pp. 755-66. Web.