Schoolboy errors in research design, part 2

In designing a data collection instrument one needs to consider how one is going to record the data. This involves some very basic considerations, for example, in the case of interviews one needs to consider whether one is going to record the interview and transcribe it later or make notes and then type these up. If one is recording a conversation it is important that one can understand everything that is said, sometimes snippets of conversation which seemed perfectly ordinary at the time, can sound muffled or unintelligible  on tape. Similarly if one is making notes then one needs to be able to read one’s own handwriting later – not always an easy task.

The question of legibility may be even more problematic if one is working with documents such as handwritten correspondence and papers in an archive, in which one has to decipher someone else’s handwriting. This may also be a problem if you have asked individuals to complete a survey themselves in which they have been asked an open-ended question to which they were required to write a response, such as ‘what do you hope to gain from this module?’  In a recent survey I conducted, whilst most of the responses to this question were legible, I did struggle with one handwritten response which appeared to say: ‘advice on bags of cheese with pics’. After considerable scrutiny, and not entirely helpful suggestions from others (my wife, a primary school teacher and therefore accustomed to deciphering handwriting, thought it said ‘advice on logs and cheese’), I finally concluded that it probably says ‘advice on ways to choose possible topics.’

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