Doing Excellent Social Research with Documents: Practical Examples and Guidance for Qualitative Researchers, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Doing Excellent Social Research with Documents

Practical Examples and Guidance for Qualitative Researchers, 1st Edition

By Aimee Grant


194 pages | 8 B/W Illus.

Book Content Available Open Access*
Read Chapter 8 - Open Access

*Open Access content has been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND) license

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In today’s society we increasingly create and consume written content and images. This includes a range of sources, from social media posts to records held within organisations, and everything in between, including news articles, blogs, shopping lists and official government documents. Critically reading these ‘documents’ can help us to understand a huge amount about society. Doing Excellent Social Research with Documentsincludes guidance on how to ‘read between the lines’, and provides an overview of six research projects which use documents as data.

The substantive chapters are organised in two sections, with each chapter focused on a specific type of data. Section one focuses on documents that are found in isolation from their authors, including official and historical documents, traditional media, diaries and online content. Section two focuses on using documents in addition to existing data from primary research, including the role of documents in ethnography and visual research methods. In each chapter, you will be guided through the process of:

  • Developing research questions, and how this impacts on which documents are selected;
  • Considering aspects of bias and quality within the documentary sources;
  • Undertaking analysis using six different strategies including thematic analysis, framework analysis, content analysis, discourse analysis and narrative analysis.

Drawing on research projects which reflect real world situations, you will be methodically guided through the research process in detail, enabling you to examine and understand the practices and value of a range of documentary analysis approaches. Doing Excellent Social Research with Documentsis a practical how-to guide for students (final year undergraduates onwards) and researchers using documents as data.


'Grant’s text offers an excellent overview of the practicalities attendant on the use of documents in social research. It will no doubt prove to be an indispensable guide for both novice and practiced researchers, and is worthy of a prime slot on the bookshelf.'

- Lindsay Prior, Emeritus Professor of Sociology & Honorary Professor, School of Public Health, Queen’s University of Belfast

'This truly is an excellent resource for both students and fully-fledged academics seeking to get their teeth into documentary research. Aimee Grant's style is clear and accessible, whilst also unflinching in its approach to dealing with the nitty-gritty of the practicalities of accessing, sampling and analysing documents for effective scholarship. The 'how' of documentary research is clearly underpinned by the 'why', tutoring the reader in the theoretical and ethical context of research with documents. The practical approach, complete with hands-on activities and detailed examples, makes this an essential resource for anyone looking for a step-by-step guide to doing documentary research.'

- Nadia von Benzon, Lecturer in Human Geography, Lancaster University

'Documents, be they digital or paper, are central to our social life, yet they often receive little attention. Aimee Grant’s excellent book really helps us think about the practical and conceptual issues we can face when working with documents. She shows us, through a range of really useful examples, the wonderful possibilities of doing social research with documents.'

- Tim Rapley, Professor of Applied Health Care Research, Northumbria University

"This book makes a compelling case for why documents make great data for social science research. Doing EXCELLENT social research with documents is an accessible guide and a very welcome addition to the methods literature."

- Amanda Coffey, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Student Experience and Academic Standards, Cardiff University

'This is essential reading for anyone using documentary analysis in their research – I only wish it had been available during my doctoral studies! It is interdisciplinary in nature and, as a socio-legal scholar using documentary analysis in researching the influence of non-governmental organisations in international human rights law, I found much of the content to be really valuable. The author notes that many researchers may have been improvising up until now. Improvise no more, the handbook for documentary analysis has arrived.'

- Fiona McGaughey, Director of Higher Degrees (Coursework), University of Western Australia Law School

"This fantastic text will support those conducting research with documentary sources, especially through its practical examples and guidance. The author skilfully discusses both historical and contemporary documents in this lively, engaging and accessible text for researchers and students."

- Sarah Mills, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, Loughborough University

'This is a well written and highly useful book. It covers theoretical and empirical issues in an accessible way, and enables researchers to improve the quality and impact of their work.'

- Kirstein Rummery, Professor of Social Policy and Co-Director of Centre for Gender and Feminist Studies, University of Stirling

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Documents, Documents Everywhere

2. How to Do EXCELLENT Research with Documents: General Principles

Section I: Documents Found in Isolation from Their Authors

3. Traditional Media: Investigating the Construction of Societal Norms

4. Historical and Official Documents: Moving Beyond Simple Interpretations

5. Documents Created by Individuals: Collection and Analysis of Multi-Modal Content

Section II: Documents as An Addition to Existing Qualitative Research Methods

6. Triangulation of Findings from Primary Research: Things We Might Not Have Otherwise Been Able to Establish

7. Documents in Ethnographic Research: Things We Might Not Have Been Able to Observe

8. Participant Created Documents as An Elicitation Tool: Things We Might Not Have Otherwise Been Told

9. Reviewing and Applying Concepts to Your Research Project

About the Author

Aimee Grant is a Qualitative Researcher at the Centre for Trials Research, Cardiff University. She undertakes research on health, pregnancy and motherhood, drawing on a range of disciplinary fields including critical public health, sociology, human geography and cultural studies.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General