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Qualitative Case Study Data Collection Methods In Action

Technical competence is needed in organizing interviews. You need to find participants, make arrangements for the interview, explain matters of confidentiality, prepare consent forms, make your interview participant feel comfortable, and find the right words to open the interview situation.

Interactive competence refers to paying attention to your interview partner and steering the interview into the desired direction. Your job is to open up the stage so that the interviewee feels comfortable talking. The roles need to be clarified: you ask a few questions, but mostly, you listen and the interviewee talks. This violates the rules of everyday talk as the balance shifts. You need to be an active listener, showing interest and encourage the interviewee to speak. You need to find the right moment to ask the next question, to find the right way and form in asking it and you need to keep the conversation going. This entails dealing with silence, reading non-verbal signals and sending appropriate signals. You need to be self-reflexive all the time, controlling your reactions and showing the right level of empathy. This requires some practice, but we all need to start somewhere. When you have the chance, take part in interview training. A good way to check how good or bad you were as an interviewer is when you transcribe the data.

Knowledge about communication theory helps you in recognizing certain dialog signals and strategies of talk. Further, it will help you in mediating roles to generate the right power balance and level of cooperation in the interview. Within the communication literature, you will also find some advice on how to deal with difficult interview situations and participants.

In dealing with previous knowledge and personal bias resulting from it, you need to train holding back or working with your own thoughts, feelings, convictions and expectations. A prerequisite is that you are aware of your biases and that you can explicit them. This is a requirement for overcoming selective attention. During the process of conducting the study, you need to be prepared for the effects that this may have on you. You need to be prepared for having to revise your previous knowledge.

Understanding your research participant is another issue. Based on your personal bias, you may not understand what he or she is talking about or do not find it logical or meaningful. Within seconds during the interview, you have to decide whether it is ok to ask a clarifying question or leaving it to the interpretation phase to gain a better comprehension. The following is a quote from an interview with a person addicted to shopping:

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Interviewer: How would you feel if you were to go out without any money?

“I just cannot get out of the door. I can’t get out of the door. I’ve tried it. I had my purse, I lost my purse or I had it stolen I don’t remember and I reported my credit cards missing. This is probably one of the worst things I can remember. And it would take some time to have them replaced, the credit cards. So this particular three days I had no income, no money at all. And, erm, I thought I’ll just stay in for the three days and every time I came to the front door to go to pick my daughter up or take her to school, I couldn’t do it and for the three days.”

I did not interrupt to clarify what she meant by equating credit cards with income. It may also sound puzzling that it is impossible for someone to leave the house because the purse was lost. I continued to listen and let her tell me her story.

In planning an interview study, the first consideration should be what type of interview to conduct. There are a number of different forms and they yield different kinds of data (see for example Helfferich, 2009).

The interview form should fit your research goals. A dialogue produces other forms of data than a monologue. Depending on your subject of research, you may want to find out about subjective concepts or unconscious motives; or you may be interested in biographical self-description or simply in information from an expert. Interviews differ in the degree of steering and structure; you may go into an interview knowing already a lot about the subject matter or you go into it as a stranger; the interview may take place as part of an everyday activity as in an ethnographic setting or in a more artificial context. The focus may be on listening to a long narrative or on working towards mutual understanding and everything in between.
Examples of various interview forms that can be arranged on a continuum of the above mentioned dimensions are ethnographic interviews, narrative interviews, guided interviews, biographic interviews, problem-centered interviews, episodic interviews, in-depth interviews, semi-structured open ended interviews, group interview or focus groups.  In recent years, online interviews have also become a possibility. In order to conduct such interviews, you need to be comfortable with the technical requirements. You may only hear but not see the person. Thus, non-verbal signals are lost and important context information may be missing. Advantages are that it is easier to overcome space, location and time constraints. When you have a small budget, you cannot travel all over the place, but you may be able to reach the persons you want to talk with online.

In sum, there are a large number of options to choose from. Your task is to make an informed decision and to be able to explain your choice in research methodology chapter of your report. You find a list of interview forms including references at the end of this chapter for further information.

When considering observation as your mode of data collection, similar issues need to be considered. What is the best form of observation in relation to your research question? Do you want to be an external, a passive, a balanced, an active or a total participant? There are advantages and limitations for each of these observation types (see for example Creswell, 2009). As mentioned above, writing field notes is also a skill that needs to be learned.

Other forms of data to be considered for a qualitative research project include printed documents, online documents, web pages, images, audio and video materials or geographic data. This also needs to be taken into account when designing your research project.


Внутренний голос подсказывал ей, что лучше всего было бы дождаться звонка Дэвида использовать его ключ, но она понимала, что он может его и не найти. Сьюзан задумалась о том, почему он задерживается так долго, но ей пришлось забыть о тревоге за него и двигаться вслед за шефом. Стратмор бесшумно спускался по ступенькам. Незачем настораживать Хейла, давать ему знать, что они идут. Почти уже спустившись, Стратмор остановился, нащупывая последнюю ступеньку.

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