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Manage Your Research Data: About Qualitative Data

Resources to help you prepare your data for open access and archiving

What is Qualitative Data?

If you’re working with:

  • audio or text files from interviews, focus groups, surveys, oral histories
  • image or video files of people, animals, or scenes
  • direct observations, such as field notes
  • written documents, such as books, news articles and webpages

you are working with qualitative data. 

“Research data is collected, observed, or created for purposes of analysis to produce original research results,” as the University of Edinburgh says. If you have gathered materials for the purpose of textual, conceptual, or qualitative study, you are working with qualitative data.

Qualitative data is not reproducible. 

Which Qualitative Data Should be Kept & Shared?

The value of your data comes from 1) its usefulness for other researchers to explore and 2) its archival or historical value for future generations. When deciding what to keep, ask yourself:

  • Are there other copies?
  • Could someone approximate your conclusions based on what you’ve written or recorded?
  • What ethical or legal guidelines has your funding agency, IRB, or discipline provided?

But what about confidentiality?

It’s a big deal. Science is moving towards full sharing of data, but there are exceptions for:

  • Sensitive data: names, dates, locations, and sensitive topics can all be obscured or removed.
  • Ethics: what did you promise in an IRB application, or directly to your participants?
  • Disclosure risk: the risk of a break-in goes up the more you store or share files digitally.

More Discussion on Qualitative Data


Content for this page has been adapted from Managing and Sharing Qualitative Research Data 101, with permission from Celia Emmelhainz, Anthropology and Qualitative Research Librarian, UC Berkeley.