Although they are widely employed by qualitative researchers, documents are rarely used on their own, they are an excellent mechanism for supporting additional data collection mechanisms. In most cases documents are used to provide additional data and to check on the findings deriving from other sources of data. Document analysis are normally used as a method in addition to clear specific data sources, and for many Qualitative researchers can be vital in the data collection process.
Document analysis as an approach is recommended by numerous authors, for example; Bryman (2003) c suggests that analysing documents can bring multiple advantages to the qualitative research study. In his view they can provide information on issues that cannot readily be addressed through other methods; they can check the validity of information deriving from other methods; and they can contribute a different level of analysis from other methods (p.150)
This is complicated by the fact that in many cases documents already exist and govern how individuals and organisations should behave. This makes them different from other sources of data such as interviews and observational attitudes. So think of for example Policy documents, procedural elements, organisational strategies etc. Each of these documents can help you to develop a clear data collection policy, especially if you require justification,
However, while the process of document analysis can bring advantages to the research process through additional validity and information it still has a few drawbacks which should be considered at all times. One limitation identified by Hodder (2000) is the issue of how the reader interprets the data, in the view of Hodder (2000) as the gap between the reader and the author widens there is a possibility of multiple perceptions on the purpose and the context of the document. This view is also supported by Miller & Alvarado (2005) who argue that through the use of documents the researcher is at some distance from the real people and the original situation. This opens up different interpretations and different viewpoints in relation to these documents.
In response to these limitations, document analysis is usually utilised to supplement already collected data, for example it can be used to justify a sample or provide depth about your ideas and goals. They should not be used as a replacement for more detailed data collection methods such as interviews or focus groups.
- Bryman, A. (2003). Research Methods and Organization Studies. Routledge. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=jMqIAgAAQBAJ&pgis=1
- Hodder, I. (2000). The interpretation of documents and material culture. California, USA: Sage Publications. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=DwOIAwAAQBAJ&pgis=1
- Miller, F. A., & Alvarado, K. (2005). Incorporating Documents Into Qualitative Nursing Research. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 37(4), 348–353. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1547-5069.2005.00060.x