ARTICLE 101: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: The Layout of the Thesis or Dissertation Part 5 of 9 Parts: Ethics Part 3 of 3 Parts

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

I discuss the following issues on ethics in this article:

  1. Trust.
  2. Deception.
  3. Analysis, reporting and publishing.
  4. Plagiarism.
  5. Legality.
  6. Professionalism.
  7. Research ethics and society.
  8. Copyright and intellectual property right.
  9. The originality of your research.
  10. Promulgation of results.

Trust. Trust is the classic key to good research relations. Even so, trust is a constant challenge in any research process. All participants and stakeholders in a research project must have a healthy trust relationship. This includes knowing that you, as the researcher, can be trusted not to erode the relationship between participants to the extent that they would be reluctant or unwilling to co-operate. Trust also applies to the report or the discursive practices defining the standards for presenting both you and the work as trustworthy.

Deception. We have seen that the handling of subjects’ identities is an important ethical consideration. Handling your own identity as a researcher can also be tricky. You must have a good reason for not revealing yourself as a researcher to those you want to study. Most of the time, however, you will benefit from conducting transparent research. Even when you must conceal your research identity you need to keep in mind that, because deceiving people is unethical, deception within research needs to be justified by compelling scientific or administrative concerns. Even then, the justification will probably be arguable.

There is no excuse for providing members of your target group any false information about your own identity, whom you represent, what the purpose of your research is or what the research findings will be used for. It is, therefore, advisable to promise to send the participants copies of your research report before you submit it or use it. If time allows you should also provide the respondents time to appeal against the contents or findings of your report. Some people will set this as a precondition for their participation.

Analysis, reporting and publishing. In addition to your ethical obligations to subjects, you also have ethical obligations to your colleagues in the scientific community. In any rigorous research, you as the researcher should be more familiar than anyone else with the technical shortcomings and failures of the study. You have an obligation to make such shortcomings and failures known to your readers. Even though you may feel foolish admitting mistakes, you should do it anyway.

Negative findings should be reported if your respondents point them out, provided you can confirm them, of course. In science it is often as important to know that two variables are not related as to know that they are. Similarly, you must avoid the temptation to gain recognition and praise by describing your findings as the product of a carefully pre-planned analytical strategy when that is not the case. Findings are sometimes unexpected, even though they may seem obvious in retrospect.

You should always strive to maintain objectivity and integrity in the conduct of scientific research. This implies the following:

  1. You should always adhere to the highest possible technical standards in your research.
  2. You should always indicate – at the conclusion of a research study – the limits of your findings and the methodological constraints that determine the validity of such findings.
  3. You should not under any circumstances manipulate your data or observations.
  4. You must adhere to the public nature of scientific practice. One implication of this is that you should always be prepared to disclose your methodology and techniques of analysis.

In addition to the ethics of analysis and reporting, it is also imperative that you must maintain the same standard of ethical work when publishing your findings. The ethics of publishing involve the following issues:

  1. Appropriate ascription of authorship to a publication.
  2. Rejection of any form of plagiarism.
  3. No simultaneous submission of manuscripts.

Plagiarism. Somebody once wrote that nothing that is now written has not been written before. I would have given credit to the original writer of this insightful statement if I knew who it was. No doubt there are many who claimed credit for being the first. It might be true, but you should not use it as an excuse for claiming authorship of someone else’s work. You will know when you are plagiarising someone else’s work. For example, if you are rewriting what is written in a book that is open right next to you on your desk, then you know that you should acknowledge your source. It is even worse if your readers can see that what you wrote is not your own because of subtle tell-tale signs, for example a sudden change in writing style, a cliché, switching from first to third person, etc.

It takes a good measure of honesty, maturity and a healthy self-image to always give credit for good work by others. It is, furthermore, not necessary to be paranoid about being honest. You will have ample opportunity to show your cognitive thinking and creative writing skills in a thesis or dissertation of more than a hundred pages. Besides, giving credit where credit is due lends validity, authenticity and quality to your work.

While examining the research literature, particularly when photocopying and taking notes, you may copy extracts from sources verbatim (exactly as it was written in the original document) with the intention of incorporating these extracts into your final written report. Although it is common practice to accumulate an abundance of quotations in the initial information collection stage, it is essential when writing the final report that quotations be selected judiciously and used sparingly. Over-quoting can damage the flow of your arguments. The essential selection criterion to follow is relevance, whereas the basic mechanical consideration is the length of quotation. Long quotations are rarely justified and may cause readers to wonder whose ideas they are assessing.

The ability to cite the work of others appropriately is a major indication of your ability to interpret data and to generate your own ideas and arguments on a particular topic from the data that you collected.

You commit plagiarism in your thesis, dissertation, or any other document that you write, when you use words, ideas or opinions that you obtained from the written work of somebody else without giving credit to the original writer. Strictly speaking it is still plagiarism even if you break the original argument down into its component parts (deconstruct) or change the original meaning or level of the original message or argument (reconstruct). This can become confusing when doing research because, after all, you must consult other sources of information. Furthermore, most research is to some extent a reconstruction or deconstruction of existing knowledge with the aim of adding value or providing a new perspective on existing knowledge and philosophy.

The obvious solution would be to acknowledge your sources. You must provide references whenever you quote (use the exact words), paraphrase (use the ideas of another person, in your own words) or summarise (use the main points of another’s opinions, theories or data).

The number of sentences or pages of somebody else’s work that you use are not relevant. Whether it is one sentence, a whole section or perhaps even an entire chapter or assignment, it is still plagiarism. You will know when you are guilty of plagiarism, therefore you cannot argue that you did it accidently or unintentionally. If you use somebody else’s work as if it is your own, you are guilty of plagiarism.

Plagiarism can lead to you failing your studies and perhaps even being expelled from the university.

Legality. You must always ensure that your conduct of the research and reporting your research findings are done within the boundaries of legislation. Legality relates strongly to ‘informed consent’. Although you should guarantee confidentiality, participants in your research need to understand and accept the potential risks of participating. Cruelty to animals, damage to the environment, etc. may be illegal and you need to avoid such transgressions.

Professionalism. Regardless of whether you belong to a professional body or not, you are always expected to conduct your research in a professional manner. This includes making use of scientific methodology and acknowledging any sources that you consult and use. It also implies accuracy in collecting data and reporting analysis of data collected. Research must always be of benefit to the research participants and society at large.

Research ethics and society. The most important principle that guides the relationship between science and the rest of society is that of accountability. Although we sometimes refer to the scientific community as a distinct and relatively autonomous sector of society, this does not mean that the scientific community can do what it wants without regard for the rights of the rest of society. This accountability refers to a general obligation to conduct research in a socially responsive and responsible manner. Accountability in research is manifested in the following:

  1. A rejection of secret and clandestine research.
  2. An obligation to the free and open dissemination of research results.
  3. A responsibility to funders and sponsors of the research.

Coypright and intellectual property right. In the academic context, copyright is primarily about getting the most from your hard work rather than legal complications and plagiarism. Legislation largely protects your copyright. However, some universities have a precondition for embarking on master’s or doctoral studies that the copyright belongs to them. This is mostly specified in your enrolment application, but you need to make sure what the regulations are and that they are acceptable to you.

Intellectual property right describes a class of several different legal regimes that generally concern creations of the human mind. Copyright can be regarded as a subsection of intellectual property right (together with trademarks and patent laws).

The originality of your research. It is not only the identity of individuals that needs to be protected. Especially in online research the challenge to protect data is rather daunting. There is so much information available on the internet that it is almost impossible to protect and ensure the validity of information. Computer programs can store information passively or incidentally. It is almost impossible to book a hotel room without the hotel or accommodation service provider capturing substantial personal information belonging to you. Some electronic watches not only tell you the time and date, they also measure and store your heart rate, blood pressure, weight gain or loss, running times, etc.

The ease with which electronic devices can collect and store personal information is becoming a challenge and opportunity for researchers. Because of this, ethical issues continue to grow more complicated as new technologies and capacities develop.

Electronics make it increasingly difficult to protect and prove the originality of your research. It is already difficult to create original ideas, philosophies and theories – to prove that the results of your research are your own and original is even more difficult. Acknowledging the sources that you consulted is a good start – at least you will show that you respect the intellectual property of others. With such literature and field study as foundation, you should demonstrate sound arguing and thinking skills. This will already count in your favour when your work is evaluated for originality.

Promulgation of results. The worst scenario imaginable for an individual who completed a thesis or dissertation is the report becoming a dust-collector on a library shelf. To avoid this, you should make the results of your research available in a format usable by people who may benefit from it (with prior permission, of course). You can, for example, have all or some of your findings published, act as a speaker for symposiums, etc.


Trust is the foundation of cooperation.

Even though research on master’s and doctoral level is mostly an individual project, you will need the assistance of many other role players.

Therefore, the success of your study largely depends on mutual trust between you and others who are involved in your work.

You should not deceive people about your identity, whom you represent, what the purpose of your research is or what your research findings will be used for.

You owe it to the academic fraternity and society to make any shortcomings and failures of your study known.

Transparency is key.

Always give credit for writing and other forms of research by others that you use in your thesis or dissertation.

Do not transgress legislation, rules, regulations on any level when conducting research. However, it is possible that legislation might obstruct progress or be wrong for a variety of reasons. Therefore, it might sometimes be necessary to follow you own good judgement. Just keep in mind that we are all subjective.

You must always conduct your research in a professional manner.

Keep in mind that you are accountable to society for the research that you deliver. Therefore, your research should be to the benefit of society or at least part of society.

And preferably not at the expense of other sections of society.

Make sure what national legislation and the university’s policy regarding copyright and intellectual property right are before you enrol for post-graduate studies.

Obviously, you must be willing to accept and abide by such legislation and policies.

Proving the originality of your research is difficult to achieve.

It would be impossible to check the internet and other sources of information to ensure that your ideas and arguments are your own.

The best you can do is to acknowledge the sources that you use.

Do not use this situation as an excuse for committing plagiarism.

Share the result of your research by writing books and articles, making videos, acting as a speaker at conferences and lecturing.


In my 98th article, dealing with deconstruction and empirical generalisation, I asked if deconstruction is not just a euphemism for plagiarism.

The answer is captured in my discussion of plagiarism in this video.

Almost all researchers need to use the work of others in their research.

Such work can serve as the foundation for your research and to corroborate and enrich your arguments.

However, you must always acknowledge the work of others that you use.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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ARTICLE 87: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Data Analysis Through Coding

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


Hello, I am Hannes Nel and I introduce the data analysis process and ways in which to analyse data in this article. 

You need to know what the different data analysis methods mean if you are to conduct professional academic research. There are a range of approaches to data analysis and they share a common focus. Initially most of them focus on a close reading and description of the collected data. Over time, they seek to explore, discover, and generate connections and patterns underlying the data.

You would probably need to code the data that you collect before you will be able to link it to the problem statement, problem question or hypothesis for your research. Making use of dedicated computer software would be the most efficient way to do this. However, even if you arrange and structure your data by means of more basic computer software, such as Microsoft Excel or, even more previous century, cards on which you write information, you will still be coding the data.

The fundamentals of data analysis

The way you collect, code and analyse data would largely depend on the purpose of your research. Quantitative and qualitative data analysis are different in many ways. However, the fundamentals of data analysis can mostly be applied to both. In the case of quantitative research, the principles of natural science and the tenets of mathematics can often be added to the fundamentals. Therefore, the fundamentals that I discuss here refer mostly to qualitative research and the narrative parts of quantitative research reports. For our purposes a research report can be a thesis or dissertation.

You should “instinctively” recognise possible codes and groupings by just focusing on the research problem statement or hypothesis. Even so, the following hints, or fundamentals on collecting and analysing data remain more or less the same, regardless of which data analysis method and dedicated computer software you may use:

  1. Always start by engaging in close, detailed reading of a sample of your data. Close, detailed reading means looking for key, essential, striking, odd, interesting, repetitive things people or texts say or do. Try to identify a pattern, make notes, jot down remarks, etc.
  2. Always read and systematically code your collection of data. Code key, essential, striking, odd, linked or related and interesting things that are relevant to your research topic. You should use the same code for events, concepts or phenomena that are repeated many times or are similar in terms of one or more characteristics. These codes can be drawn from ideas emerging from your close, detailed reading of your collection of data, as well as from your prior reading of empirical and theoretical works. Review your prior coding practices with each new application of a code and see if what you want to code fits what has gone before. Use the code if it is still relevant or create a new code if the old one is no longer of value for your purposes. You may want to modify your understanding of a code if it can still be of value, even if the original reason why you adopted it changed or has diminished in significance.
  3. Always reflect on why you have done what you have done. Prepare a document that lists your codes. It might be useful to give some key examples, explain what you are trying to get at, what sort of things should go together under specific codes. Dedicated computer software offers you a multitude of additional functions with which you can sort, arrange, and manipulate objects, concepts, events or phenomena, for example memoranda, quotations, super codes, families, images, etc.

Memoranda can be separate “objects” in their own right that can be linked to any other object.

Quotations are passages of text which have been selected to become free quotations.

Super codes can be queries that typically consists of several combined codes.

And families are clusters of primary documents (PDs)), images that belong together, etc.

  • Always review and refine your codes and coding practices. For each code, accumulate all the data to which you gave the code. Ask yourself whether the data and ideas collected under this code are coherent. Also ask yourself what the key properties and dimensions of all the data collected under the code are. Try to combine your initial codes, look for links between them, look for repetitions, exceptions and try to reduce them to key ones. This will often mean shifting from verbatim, descriptive codes to more conceptual, abstract and analytical codes. Keep evaluating, adjusting, altering and modifying your codes and coding practices. Go back over what you have already done and recode it with your new arguments or ideas.
  • Always focus on what you feel are the key codes and the relationship between them. Key codes should have a direct bearing on the purpose of your research. Make some judgements about what you feel are the central codes and focus on them. Try to look for links, patterns, associations, arrangements, relationships, sequences, etc.
  • Always make notes of the thinking behind why you have done what you have done. Make notes on ideas that emerge before or while you are engaged in coding or reading work related to your research project. Make some diagrams, tables, maps, models that enable you to conceptualise, witness, generate and show connections and relationships between codes.
  • Always return to the field with the knowledge you have already gained in mind and let this knowledge modify, guide or shape the data you want to collect next. This should enable you to analyse the data that you collected and sorted, to do some deconstruction and create new knowledge. Creating new knowledge requires deep thinking and thorough background knowledge of the topic of your research.

How data analysis should be approached

When undertaking data analysis, you need to be prepared to be led down novel and unexpected paths, to be open to new interpretations and to be fascinated. Potential ideas can emerge from any quarter – from your reading, your knowledge of the field, engagements with your data, conversations with colleagues or people whom you interview. You need to be open-minded enough to change your preconceived ideas and to let the information change your mind. You also need to listen to and value your intuition. Most importantly, you need to develop the ability to come to logical conclusions from the information at your disposal.

Do not try to twist conclusions on the data that you gather to suit your opinion or preferences. Your computer allows you to return to what you previously wrote and to change it. This will often be necessary if you are to develop scientifically founded new knowledge. Your conclusions and ideas might change repeatedly as you collect new information.       

Do not be frustrated if, as you progress with your research, you find that the codes on which you decided initially no longer work. Again, you can easily change your codes on computer or cards. You must do this in the interests of conducting scientific research. You will typically allocate primary codes to the issues that you regard as important and sub-codes to less important data or further elaborations on your main arguments. You can change this and change your coding structure if necessary.

The process of coding requires skill, confidence and a measure of diligence. Pre-coding is advisable, but you still need to accept that the codes that you decided upon in advance will probably change as you work through the data that you collect.

At some point you need to start engaging in a more systematic style of coding. You can work on paper when starting with the coding, although there is no reason why you can’t start to work on computer from the word go, seeing that you can change your codes on computer at any time with relative ease. Besides, you can make backups of your coding on computer. This can be valuable if, at some stage, you discover that your initial or earlier codes work better than the new ones after all. You can then return to a previous backup without having to redo all the work that you already did.

You need to understand how the computer software that you are using works and what it can provide you with. Different software has different purposes and ways in which codes can be used. It serves no purpose claiming to have used a particular software if you do not really understand how it works, how you should use it and what it can offer you. Previous students will not always be able to teach you the software because most of the software is rewritten all the time. Rather do a formal course on the latest version of the software that you wish to use.


Most data analysis methods share a common focus.

Data analysis is simplified by coding the data and making use of dedicated computer software.

You can also use coding with simple data analysis methods, for example Microsoft Excel or a card system.

The fundamentals of data analysis apply to qualitative and quantitative research.

You should code data by focusing on the purpose of your research and the research problem statement, question or hypothesis.

The following are the fundamentals of data analysis through coding: Always:

  1. Start by engaging in close, detailed reading of a sample of your data.
  2. Read and systematically code your collection of data.
  3. Reflect on why you have done what you have done.
  4. Review and refine your codes and coding practices.
  5. Focus on what you feel are the key codes and the relationship between them.
  6. Make notes of the thinking behind why you have done what you have done.
  7. And always return to the field with the knowledge you have already gained in mind and let this knowledge modify, guide or shape the data you want to collect next.

In addition to the fundamentals, you should also adhere to the following requirements for the analysis and coding of data:

  1. Be flexible and keep an open mind.
    1. Learn how to come to objective and logical conclusions from the data that you analyse.
    1. Change your codes at any stage during your research if it becomes necessary.
    1. Develop your data analysis coding skills, confidence and diligence.
    1. Acquire a good understanding of the computer software that you will use for data analysis.
    1. Work systematically.


You will use the fundamentals of data analysis and coding with most data analysis methods.

Almost all recent dedicated data analysis software use coding.

I will discuss the following analysis methods in my next seven or eight videos:

  1. Analytical induction.
  2. Biographical analysis.
  3. Comparative analysis.
  4. Content analysis.
  5. Conversation and discourse analysis.
  6. Elementary analysis.
  7. Ethnographic analysis.
  8. Inductive thematic analysis (ITA).
  9. Narrative analysis.
  10. Retrospective analysis.
  11. Schema analysis.
  12. Situational analysis.
  13. Textual analysis.
  14. Thematic analysis.
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ARTICLE 83: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Data Collection Methods: Online Data Sources Part 1 of 2 Parts

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Should you steer clear from using data found on the internet for your research?

Are the possibilities that such data will be false or tainted too high to justify its use?

Is information in books more authentic, accurate and valid than data on the internet?

How does your study leader feel about this?

I discuss the internet as a source of data in this article and the article following on this one.

Written documents, oral interviews, demonstrations and many other data sources can be found on the internet. The internet can be used to gather data as well as to actively construct meaning through participation in social media networks.  It is true that many internet sources of information are of poor quality, not well-researched and unreliable. However, internet data is often much more recent than what is written in books and old information is often no longer relevant and, therefore, worth less than information on the internet. What is needed when consulting and using internet data is a good measure of logical thinking and corroboration. Triangulation is the obvious way in which to ensure that the data that you find on the internet is valid, although, as many of you probably already noticed, surprisingly many internet articles contain much the same, sometimes even identical information. This is probably because people obtain information on the internet and use it in their own articles without acknowledging their sources or making any effort to rephrase what they copied.

The internet is an umbrella term for innumerable technologies, capacities, uses, and social spaces. Because the types of social interaction made possible by the internet vary so widely, qualitative researchers find it necessary to define the concept more narrowly within individual studies. This is complicated by the fact that the study of the internet cuts across all academic disciplines. There are no central methodological or theoretical guidelines, and research findings are widely distributed and decentralised.

Internet technologies are ubiquitous and mobile. You have access to more books, articles and other data sources via your cell phone than what can be found in the books in university libraries (although university libraries now also offer access to the internet).

The internet is often regarded as a tool for collecting information because of how easily researchers can gain access to groups, download texts, capture conversations, observe individual and group behaviour, or interact with participants at a distance. A researcher might also utilise various capacities and interfaces available via the internet to augment or replace traditional qualitative methods of collecting, storing, sorting and analysing information. The internet is also associated with the use of data analysis software, even if it is not strictly necessary to enable the functioning of such analytical tools.

The internet can also be experienced as a place. Therefore, you might conceptualise it as a field site.  The internet facilitates the formation of relationships and communities. If these cultural formations rely on the internet for their composition or function, they are considered ‘internet-mediated’ or ‘digitally saturated’. Researchers of such cultural formations or network sociality might take their methods from a wide range of disciplines.

You will find that your emphasis in the use of the internet will shift depending on your ontological and epistemological premise, research goals and the specific form of the research question, hypothesis or problem statement. Rigorously analysing the connections between your questions, the subject of inquiry and the possible methods of collection, analysis and interpretation is an essential part of all good qualitative research. As the purpose of your research is identified and your study unfolds, certain characteristics of the internet will become more meaningful to you and those who will read your research report.

The following characteristics portray the internet much like a two-edged sword – it offers valuable facilities but also some flaws and threats:

1.         Communicating and connecting.

2.         Presence and location.

3.         Flexible time.

4.         Contexts of social construction.

Communicating and connecting. As a communication medium, the internet provides multiple means and modes of interaction, offering many choices and platforms for finding self-identity, building relationships and developing communities. We use the internet to help with many communicative activities.

For the most part, researchers focus less on the actual platforms for performance or networks of connections, than the communities made possible by the networks or the texts, still and moving images, and sounds facilitated by these networks. Researchers use the internet in ways that parallel but depart from or extend earlier communication media, such as letters, telephone, bulletin-boards, etc. Keep in mind, though, that the internet does not fully replace, but rather augments earlier communication media, at least for the time being.

A deficiency of the internet as a means of communication is that people easily misinterpret messages if they can’t see the speaker or writer. This is because social media, such as emails and Facebook, do not show the communicator’s body language, tone of voice or facial expressions. Even when using media where the communicator can be seen, for example in some visual media, the communicator can interfere with the clarity or meaning of the message, for example by wearing a mask and masking the voice.

If used as a research tool, the internet and its capabilities should be matched to the goals, topics and participants of the research project. There are many creative possibilities. Examples are not given here because the internet changes rapidly and new tools become available while old ones change all the time. Besides, students use social media not only for academic research but also in everyday social communication, with the result that most of them can think of better and more recent examples than what are written in a book, which might be a year or more old.

Presence and location. The internet brings many people who are geographically dispersed into contact with one another regardless of the distance between them. In this manner people can establish interactive contact globally through sight and hearing. In other words, the internet extends our senses, allowing us to see, listen and reach well beyond our local sensory limits. Many decades ago, we could communicate over long distances by telephone and two-way radio, telegraph and facsimile. Electronics, specifically the improvement of digital and networked quality of communication and information-sharing, substantially improved our ability to communicate while geographically dispersed.

Thanks to the internet, the meaning of “presence” has changed to include being able to communicate via the internet rather than just proximity to one another. We can communicate while seeing one another on our computer or cell phone screens.

The internet facilitates the development of varied cultural forms. Researchers might study communities that exist solely online in immersive environments. These ‘virtual worlds’ can have defined boundaries and stable cultural patterns. Alternatively, researchers might study how location or presence is more a temporary gathering of several people. We have witnessed how students in many countries rally to air their frustration with high university tuition fees. They extensively use the internet to start and grow the campaign and to gain international support for their plight.

Flexible time. The internet is not time bound. You can read something on the internet, stop halfway through the document and continue from where you stopped later. This enable us to manipulate time to suit our own schedule and the time that we have available for doing research.

Interaction on the internet occurs in multiple modes, alternately or simultaneously. This multi-modality is meaningful when designing or capturing interactions in the research context.  We normally employ more than one internet-modality at the same time. You can send status updates to your social network, play interactive games with friends, download music, update your blog and watch videos simultaneously. Even more, your computer can warn you when a message is received, and you can check the message without closing any of the other modalities on which you are working. These functions can be studied as phenomena or used as tools to augment the ways in which you engage and communicate with the target group for your research.

You can also use the facilities that your computer offers to conduct interviews. Creative researchers can even use technologies in ways unintended by the designers. Also, what you are doing on your computer is mostly invisible to other people (unless you intentionally involve them in your work), which gives you a good measure of confidentiality.

Contexts of social construction. Computers and smart phones can filter our worlds to bring only information that we are interested in, to our attention. Different applications allow you to access and use many different sources of information and electronic tools. Some of the applications might be interactive, allowing you to participate in certain activities or communication while others allow you access but not to manipulate the information or services provided.

We often use different applications to communicate with different audiences. Some tools allow us to select the participants with whom we wish to communicate. This is especially useful for interviewing and communicating with focus groups.

The internet comprises expansive forms of presentation and interaction that can be observed immediately and archived. This capacity facilitates our ability to witness and analyse the structure of talk, the negotiation of meaning and identity, the development of relationships and communities, and the construction of social structures. Linguistic and social structures emerging through social interaction via the internet provide us with an opportunity to track and analyse how language builds and sustains social reality.

The internet is unique in that it leaves visible traces of actions, movements and interactions. Internet technologies allow us to see the visible artefacts of this negotiation process in forms divorced from both the source and the intended or actual audience. This can give you, as a researcher, a means of studying the way social realities are displayed or how these might be negotiated over time.


The internet:

  1. Is an umbrella term for innumerable technologies, capacities, uses and social spaces.
  2. Is associated with the use of data analysis software.
  3. Facilitates the formation of relationships and communities.
  4. Is a communication medium.
  5. Is dynamic and continually expands and improves.
  6. Brings many people who are geographically dispersed into contact with one another.
  7. Offers us different applications to communicate with different audiences.
  8. Facilitates the development of varied cultural forms.
  9. Is not time bound.
  10. Can filter out events and phenomena to bring only information that we are interested in, to our attention.
  11. Leaves visible traces of actions, movements and interactions.

Not only can you find data on the internet; you can also use it to construct meaning.

Internet presentation and interactions can be observed and archived.

Data found on the internet must be checked for validity and accuracy.

You must give recognition to internet data sources that you use in your research.

Both researchers using qualitative and quantitative research approaches can use the internet as a source of information and for many other purposes.


The internet has become so rich and flexible in the data and research facilities that it offers that we can no longer ignore it.

Even so, you still need to accept information that you find on the internet with great circumspection.

Because some of the information on the internet is false.

Some people deliberately post information with deviant motives in mind.

But this also applies to books and articles that people write.

Even things that people say are not always true.

Therefore, you need to corroborate all the data that you gather, regardless of the source where you found it.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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ARTICLE 77: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree studies: Data Collection Methods: Interviewing Part 1 of 4 Parts

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Interviewing is one of the most popular data collection methods in almost any research, therefore it deserves special attention. It involves questioning and discussing issues with people and can be a useful technique for collecting data which would likely not be accessible using techniques such as observation.

I discuss the following types of interviewing in this article:

  1. One-to-one interviewing.
  2. Structured interviewing.
  3. Unstructured interviewing.
  4. Non-directive interviewing.
  5. Focused interviewing.
  6. In-depth interviewing.

One-to-one interviewing. One-to-one interviewing should be treated as a narrative between two individuals. According to Holstein and Gubrium this can be achieved by approaching the interview as follows:

1.         The interviewee and interviewer should co-operate to obtain relevant and current information.

2.         Utilise open communication to gather logical information that will contribute to the achievement of the research purpose. This will require communicating in the context of the research environment.

3.         Carefully consider what is communicated to ensure that the information provided by the interviewee is relevant to the research context and problem statement, question or hypothesis.

4.         Guard against cognitive dissonance. Be objective and make sure that you interpret what the interviewee communicates correctly.

5.         Listen and observe more widely than just the interviewee. Take note of external cues that might influence the meanings of what is communicated, for example body language, tone of voice, the venue where the interview takes place, etc.

6.         Be alert to differences in interpretation of what is communicated between you and the interviewee. Ask questions to ensure that you understand what the interviewee means.

7.         Keep the environment in which the interview takes place in mind. External factors can also cloud the true meaning of the communication between the interviewer and the interviewee, and these should be eliminated if possible.

Structured interviewing. The structured interview is one in which the content and procedures are organised in advance. Organising the content and procedures in advance implies proper planning and includes determining the sequence and wording of the questions by means of a schedule. You, as the interviewer, should not modify your questions or schedule unnecessarily. This should not be necessary if you planned well. There will be direct verbal interaction between you and the subject. You should provide for a measure of flexibility even though the interviewing plan is structured and, by implication, relatively rigid. A structured interview is, therefore, a closed situation.

A structured interview is, thus an oral, in-person asking of a standard set of questions that is prepared in advance. The questions usually invite selected- or semi-structured responses. When asked a selected-response question, the subject selects the response from alternatives provided by the interviewer. Semi-structured questions are phrased to allow unique responses for each subject. Regardless of the type of question, the responses are coded, tabulated and summarised numerically.

Unstructured interviewing. The unstructured interview is an open situation, allowing greater freedom and more flexibility than in the case of the structured interview. You will need to plan and develop the questions to be asked, their content, sequence and wording, keeping the purpose of the interview in mind. Although relatively casual, the unstructured interview needs to be carefully planned.

The unstructured interview has been variously described as naturalistic, autobiographical, in-depth, narrative or non-directive. Whatever the label used, the informal interview is modelled on the conversation and, like the conversation, is a social event with, in this instance, two participants. The interactional rules may be explicit and easy to recognise by the two participants in the interview, namely you and the subject. In addition to its generally social character, there are several ways in which the interview constitutes a learning process. At the level of its process, participants can discover, uncover or generate the rules by which they are involved in the research process, be it as researcher or target group. You, as the interviewer, can become more adept at interviewing, in general, in terms of the strategies which are appropriate for eliciting responses, and in enabling people to talk about the sensitive issues.

Non-directive interviewing. According to Cohen, Manion and Morrison, the non-directive interview derives from the therapeutic or psychiatric interview. The non-directive interview will typically be free flowing with little, if any direction by you. The respondent must express his or her subjective feelings as fully and as spontaneously as he or she chooses or is able to. The respondent should, furthermore, be encouraged to talk about the subject being researched and to be free to guide the interview, with few set questions or pre-figured framework. You should prompt and probe, pressing for clarity and elucidation, rephrasing and summarising where necessary and checking for confirmation of this, particularly if the issues are complex or vague.

Focused interviewing. The focused interview is characterised by more interviewer control than in the case of a non-directive situation. This will enable you to use the data from the interview to substantiate or reject previously formulated hypotheses. You can place explicit verbal cues to the stimulus pattern or even represent it, thereby encouraging more concrete responses by interviewees.             

In-depth interviewing. An in-depth interview is mostly also a structured interview. In an in-depth interview you will fully explain the nature of the research project and the potential risks and benefits at the beginning of the interview. Once the interviewee has been briefed, you should ask him or her if he or she understands the information and is still willing to take part in the interview.

An in-depth interview is often characterised as a conversation with a goal. You may use a general interview guide or protocol but not a set of specific questions worded precisely the same for every interview. Rather, there are a few general questions, with considerable latitude to pursue a wide range of topics. The interviewee can shape the content of the interview by focusing on topics of importance or interest. In fact, you should encourage the interviewee to talk in detail about areas of interest. In-depth interviews typically last an hour or more. You will probably make an electronic recording of the interview to analyse common themes from descriptions of experiences. The benefit of this form of implied consent is the elimination of any record of the interviewee’s name. Confidentiality, however, is necessary for most types of interviews.

Interviewing can be used to collect data for most research methods and topics.

One-to-one interviewing is like a narrative between two people with the intention of collecting data for research.

It requires:

  1. Co-operation.
  2. Open communication.
  3. Careful consideration for relevance.
  4. Avoidance of cognitive dissonance.
  5. Taking note of external cues.
  6. Alertness.
  7. Taking external factors into consideration.

In structured interviewing the content of and procedure for the interview are organised in advance.

Although a structured interview is a closed situation, a measure of flexibility should be allowed.

The unstructured interview allows greater freedom and flexibility than the structured interview.

Although the unstructured interview is modelled on the conversation, it needs to be carefully planned.

The non-directive interview will be free flowing with little, if any, direction by the researcher.

The respondent can express his or her personal feelings spontaneously.

In the case of a focused interview the researcher will have more control over the process than in a non-directive situation.

The data gathered through a focused interview can be used to test a hypothesis.

An in-depth interview is mostly also a structured interview.

In an in-depth interview the interviewee is briefed in advance about the procedure, purpose and possible consequences of the interview.

You should introduce the in-depth interview with some general questions followed by impromptu questions on a wider range of topics.

The questions must still be relevant to your research, though.


Interviewing is an interesting way to collect data.

Most people are open and honest when they are interviewed about academic topics.

Even so, you should corroborate the data that you collect through interviewing.

Natural scientists are sometimes sceptical about data collected through interviewing.

However, they are often eager to discuss their research projects with other scientists who are experts in the same field.

And that is also a form of interviewing.

You should rather not use interviewing to collect data if you follow an ethnomethodological paradigmatic approach.

Ethnomethodology rejects interviewing as a data collection method.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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ARTICLE 76: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Qualitative Data Collection Methods

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

This is the most exciting part of academic research.

Collecting data is an adventure.

It is an opportunity for you to discover things that you never knew or saw before.

The more you set your imagination and creative spirit free, the more original will your research findings be.

And this applies to natural scientists making use of quantitative research approaches as well.

All the data collection methods that I will discuss in the next three videos can also be used as quantitative methods.

It all depends on your imagination and creativity.

I discuss qualitative data collection methods, that can also be used in quantitative research, in this article.

Qualitative research means any type of research that produces findings not arrived at by statistical procedures or other means of quantification. It, therefore, implies qualitative data collection methods. Qualitative techniques collect data primarily in the form of words rather than numbers. The study provides a detailed narrative description, analysis, and interpretation of phenomena. Most interactive qualitative researchers employ several techniques in a study but usually select one as the central method.

To some extent participant observation, observation from the outside and interviewing are part of all interactive research. Other methods are used to supplement or to increase the credibility of the findings. Non-interactive research primarily depends on documents. Qualitative techniques provide verbal descriptions to portray the richness and complexity of events that occur in natural settings from the participants’ perspectives. Once collected, the data are analysed inductively to generate findings. The following are examples of qualitative data collection methods.

1.         Artefacts.

2.         Graphics and drawings.

3.         Interviewing.

4.         Observation.

5.         Online data sources.

6.         Written documents.

Artefacts. Artefacts are material objects and symbols of a current or past event, group, person, or organisation. These objects are tangible entities that reveal social processes, meanings, and values. Examples of symbols are logos and mascots of school teams; some examples of objects are diplomas, award plaques, and student products such as art work, papers, posters, models, etc. The meaning assigned to an artefact and the social processes that produced the artefact are often more important than the artefact itself.

Graphics and drawings. Graphics include any kind of visual data. Researchers tend not to use visual data to the full in qualitative research. Participants in the research can all be encouraged to collect and generate visual data. However, it is you, the researcher, who should use your imagination to illustrate data visually. Visual aids such as diagrams and photos are two dimensional and can be used with good effect. However, in some instances three dimensional visual artefacts, such as models, can also be used. Electronics offer good opportunities to collect and generate visual data, including human-computer interaction.

Visual representations. Not only can you use visual representations to communicate your research data in a report, you can also gather substantial data and obtain comprehension by consulting such representations. Visual representations can be figures, matrices, integrative diagrams, flow charts, graphs, and many more.

As clear as visual representations can be, so can they also mislead you to come to false interpretations and conclusions. It is not always easy to illustrate concepts graphically, with the result that such representations should as far as possible be augmented with clarifying narratives.

Visual data collection and the generation of visual material can include visual material generated by you or other participants in the research and visual material obtained from other sources. Both categories can include photographs, paintings, illustrations, models, clipart, demonstrations and many more.

Visual material can be used to invite responses from readers, to summarise, explain, inform, demonstrate, simplify or add to text or to illustrate systems, processes, etc. An important trend in the use of visual material is what is popularly called ‘participatory’ approaches.  Especially electronic devices, such as desk top computers, cell phones, iPads, etc. enable you to capture discussions, demonstrations, presentations, events, and other images which can be used as sources of data or as additional information supporting a research report.

Visual material can, of course, also be the subject of investigation, for example the effect of erosion on farmland, student riots at universities, the daily routine in a correctional facility, oral presentations by lecturers, and many more. Simple observation can offer a way to answer diverse questions about the topic of the research. Video recordings are mostly used for this purpose. Electronic material, however, changes so rapidly that even the term ‘video recording’ is regarded as archaic by some. Videos are no longer used – even CDs are already outdated. People now record moving images on their cell phones, desktop computers, tablets, I Pads, etc. Chances are good that even more modern devices and processes might be in vogue by the time this article is published. Even so, the term ‘video’ seems to be still in use when referring to any recording of moving objects, including people.

Video recordings. Video can be used with good effect to capture and analyse action and interaction. A substantial range of insights and findings have been captured concerning the social organisation of activities within a broad range of everyday environments including the workplace, the home and more public settings such as universities, sport fields, classrooms, etc. In different ways, these studies have built on and developed the rich and diverse range of research concerned with language use and speech that arose over the last three decades or so, and have powerfully demonstrated the ways in which social actions and activities are accomplished in and through the visible, the material as well as the spoken word.

The growing interest in embodied action and multi-modal communication is reflected in the growing commitment to using video in naturalistic research throughout a range of disciplines, including sociology, organisation studies, applied linguistics, education, management and many more.

Video is well-suited to analyse naturally occurring activities. One of the most important contributions of video-based research has been to improve our understanding of education and training and the ways in which learning is accomplished. Lessons and demonstrations are captured on video, thereby substantially multiplying the number of students who benefit from the lectures and demonstrations. Furthermore, researchers can watch the videos any time they want in their offices or homes, which gives them substantial freedom of movement, which, in turn, renders the research process much more effective and efficient.

The use of graphics to clarify spatial relationships is a powerful source of data that can often be used in visual format to report on events, processes and phenomena. A suitable map of a study area may orient readers better than any narrative description of the area. Maps are especially valuable when a qualitative study focuses on a geographic area, such as a place where a natural disaster occurred, a riot took place, and many more.

Maps. Maps can be used even where the focus of your study is not on a geographic area. For example, maps can be used in studies of immigrant movement, including where they come from, the routes that they follow and where they settle. The three types of maps that are often used in research are situational maps, social world/arena maps and positional maps.

Situational maps show the layout of major human, nonhuman, discursive and other elements in the research situation of inquiry and provoke analysis of relations among them.

Social world/arena maps show the layout of the collective role players, key nonhuman elements and the arena(s) of commitment and discourse within which they are engaged in ongoing negotiations, i.e. the meso level interpretations of a situation.

Positional maps show the layout of the major positions taken and not taken in the data, compared to particular variables in terms of which they may differ, including concern and controversy around issues in the situation of enquiry.

Photographs and reproductions. Photographs can be anything of which one can take a photo that is relevant to your research. It may be a place of interest to your study, an event, an individual, even yourself. Thanks to electronics you can take as many photos as you like and then use only the best and most relevant ones in your research. You can often take photos on the spur of the moment with your cell phone.

Reproductions collected during your fieldwork can be reproductions of photographs, but also of works of art, drawings, artefacts, etc. Photographs are often taken by you while reproductions are mostly the work of other people.


Qualitative data collection methods imply that the collected data will be processes and analysed without making use of statistics or other numerical procedures.

Both etic and emic observation are used in qualitative data collection.

Findings gained from data collected through observation can be corroborated and supplemented by other methods, for example literature study and interviews.

Collected data are analysed inductively to generate findings.

Artefacts are used to reveal historical or current social processes, meaning and values of events and phenomena.

Graphics include any kind of visual data other than artefacts.

You, as the researcher, can and should create visual data.

Visual data include visual representations, visual recordings, maps, etc.

Visual material can be used for the collection of a vast variety of purposes, for example to summarise, explain, illustrate, etc.

Visual material can also be the subject of investigation.

Video recordings and more recent electronic recordings of movement can be used to capture and analyse action and interaction.

Maps can be used in studies of immigrant movements, historical developments, military operations, the spread or contraction of disease, etc.

Photographs can facilitate the research on any visual objects, events or phenomena.


I hope you can now already see the exciting and endless opportunities for research that data collection methods offer.

It is all about imagination, innovation and creativity.

This is where you can make your research an adventure full of surprises and fun.

You can even provide your study leader with a thesis or dissertation that will blow them away.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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ARTICLE 74: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Applying Techniques for Collecting Data

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Data collection is at the same time a simple and complex task.

The data that is available on most topics is often vast.

And because there is so much data available, students sometimes spoil their research at this early stage already.

Because they tend to accept any books that they find in the library by searching for key words on computer and in the library referencing system.

And they would accept what people who claim to be experts or people with master’s degrees or Ph. D’s tell them.

It does not matter what the topic of the interviewee’s thesis or dissertation dealt with.

If they have the qualifications their opinions are jam-packed with wisdom and truth.

I discuss applying data collection techniques in this article.

The different research methods provide alternative, though not necessarily mutually exclusive, frameworks for thinking about and planning research projects. In addition to this there are four main data collection methods that can be used with all the main approaches, namely documents, interviews, observation and questionnaires. In this respect four characteristics of documentary evidence are important, namely content, social construction, how recent the documents are, and documents in networks.

The study of content. Documents are used as sources of information when content is studied. Diaries, written life histories and letters can be significant sources of data. In everyday life documents are often records of naturally occurring social events. In addition to this, bureaucratic offices routinely produce rich textual data in the form of medical reports, minutes of meetings, planning documents, memoranda, emails, etc.

When reading the contents of a document, you need to interpret and evaluate the written words. Interpretation will invariably be subjective and different researchers can interpret the same document differently. That is why you need to validate the interpretation of data. This can be done by calling upon many other sources of information, often through a process of triangulation. 

The social construction of documents and records. You can also approach research material as data to be drawn and used as facts. The analysis of statistical reports in the form of tables or graphs or both is an example of using records as facts from which we can come to certain conclusions. The production of ‘realities’ from data requires a source, for example statistical reports, rules and technical instructions according to which the data can be analysed and interpreted and grouped. A simple example would be a group of students (the data source) that are grouped into those who are good at athletics, music, mathematics, etc. (according to certain rules for grouping, which can be as simple as asking student what their interests are).  

Documents in use. Studying documents that are in use have the advantages that they are recent and mostly provide data in a context that is relevant to the purpose of the research. Such documents are often used to manage projects, for example building plans for a bridge, and as a means of communication between role players in a project.

Documents in networks. Documents often make a big difference to social arrangements and interaction. We have all experienced how a speech can influence the way in which people behave. Documents can also make a difference to the way in which people behave. Marketing, for example, utilise this ability of documents to influence people to establish or increase the demand for a product or service.

Documents can enable us to perform better and safer. Aircraft pilots use documents to check if they are taking off and landing safely. Educators use evaluation check lists to ensure that they offer quality learning. Exam papers are used to check if students meet the requirements for promotion or certification.

Actor-network theory (ANT) supports the idea that documents can function as actors.  ANT theory claims that data plays an important role in almost all human activities, including politics, economics, technology, sociology, etc.


Most researchers use reading documents, interviews, observation and questionnaires to collect data for research.

All data that we collect must be validated.

Documents are mostly used to obtain and study context.

Records can be used as facts from which conclusions can be gathered.

Documents that are still in use provide recent data in a context that is relevant to the purpose of the research.

Documents can influence people’s behaviour and they can enable people to perform better and safer.

Data plays an important role in most human activities.

Interviews, observation and questionnaires deserve special attention.

Therefore, I will discuss them in a series of videos dedicated to each separately.


I hope that, having watched this video, you at least realise that you need to plan and execute data collection for research with great care.

You must plan your data collection carefully.

You must know what you are looking for.

You must have a good reason or reasons why you accept every data source that you use in your thesis or dissertation.

You must know what you are hoping to achieve with every piece of data that you use.

False or irrelevant data can do serious damage to your research.

Don’t even accept what I share in my videos without corroborating my advice.

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ARTICLE 72: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Data Collection

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Here is a hint that will save you lots of time, energy and money on the research that you will do towards your master’s degree or Ph. D.

In fact, your thesis or dissertation will probably not be accepted by the university if you do what I am advising you not to do.

The hint is simply this – avoid doing unnecessary work as far as you possibly can.

To achieve this, you must steer clear of three bad practices:

Do not pad.

Do not confuse volume with quality.

And do not confuse motion with action.

I introduce my series of videos on data collection for research purposes in this article.

Both qualitative and quantitative research covers a wide spectrum but share one important feature – the collection and organisation of research data to enable analysis. Most importantly, though, the data that you collect must satisfy the purpose of your research. Students sometimes complete a research report without producing any significant findings. 

When collecting and analysing data you need to interpret the data creatively to develop insights that will lead to new knowledge or at least add value to existing knowledge. In the case of especially action research your work should also produce new ways of doing things. To achieve this, you need to have the ability to analyse data, be sensitive to theoretical arguments and have sufficient writing abilities to write a professional report. All of this, however, would be worthless and perhaps even damaging to the current knowledge if you collect inaccurate, superficial, irrelevant or simply poor-quality data.

In research, questions of relevance, specificity and scope with which you will be able to cope, bearing the available time, cost and philosophical level in mind, are central to the process of subject analysis, offering strategies for effective information organisation and retrieval. The principles of data collection and organising are important for enhancing the thoroughness of research and any researcher should be aware of them.

In organising data for analysis, the ideal is to turn the raw data into a logical narrative, where emergent themes will be distinct and clearly identified, and will fit into an overall structure that makes sense, given the research questions. However, few research projects fit this ideal, and categories more commonly resemble a bag of puzzle pieces, with one or two pieces missing and a few others belonging to a different puzzle. Here, themes are identified, like the colours and shapes of the puzzles, but need to be picked and sorted carefully from the pile during the analysis process.

In a worst-case scenario, data are splattered all over like the colours when some of the puzzle pieces have been cut in two or three. Potential themes may be identifiable, but overall, the data gives little direction for rigorous analysis.

All research involves the collection and analysis of data, whether through reading, observation, measurement, questions, or a combination of these or other procedures. The data collected during and for research may, however, vary considerably in their characteristics. For example:

  1. Data may be numerical, or may consist of words, or may be a combination of the two.
  2. Data may be neither numbers nor words, but consist of, for example, pictures and artefacts.
  3. Data may be ‘original’, in the sense that you have collected information never before collected; or may be ‘secondary’, already put together by somebody else, but reused, probably in a different way, by you.
  4. Data may consist of responses to a questionnaire or interview transcriptions, notes or other records of observations or experiments, documents and material, or all of these things.

Collecting and using qualitative data are both important parts of qualitative research. Data collection methods tie up closely with the research approach that you choose, i.e. quantitative or qualitative.


All academic research requires the collection and analysis of data.

On doctoral level you will need to interpret the data that you collect in such a manner that it will lead to new knowledge or at least add to existing knowledge.

On master’s degree level you will need to show that you understand and can apply the data that you collected.

For the sake of efficient and effective research, the data that you collect must be relevant, specific and articulated to the scope for your research.

The ideal is to turn the raw data that you collected into a logical narrative.

You will probably collect many different types of data making use of different data collection methods.

Collecting and using data are equally important for the success of your research project.

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ARTICLE 71: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Symbolic Interactionism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

What do you think is the one single concept that can save the world?

It is a concept that can solve all conflicts between individuals, communities and even countries.

It can solve corruption, prevent wars, heal physical and psychological illnesses.

And one day, when the aliens arrive, it is the concept that will decide if we will receive them as friends or enemies.

Sadly, our inability to utilise that concept to the full is responsible for most, if not all the things that it is supposed to solve.

I introduce you to the concept that can save the world in this video.

‘Symbolic interactionism’ emphasises the understanding and interpretation of interactions between human beings. Human interaction in the social world is mediated using symbols like language, which helps people to give meaning to objects. Symbolic interactionists, therefore, claim that by only focusing attention on individuals’ capacity to create symbolically meaningful objects in the world, human interaction and resulting patterns of social organisations can be understood. As a result, not only individuals change themselves through interaction, but also societies.

According to symbolic interactionism, human behaviour depends on learning rather than biological instinct. People communicate what they learn through symbols, the most common system of symbols being language. Linguistic symbols amount to arbitrary sounds or physical gestures to which people, by mutual agreement over time, have attached significance or meaning.

Symbolic interactionism also emphasises the role that the inner mental processes play in people’s subjective experiences. The mental processes are regarded as the key to understanding the link between individuals and the society to which they belong. Individuals and society are intrinsically linked. The individual is born into an already formed society and thus he or she emerges from, and is defined, in terms of an ongoing flux of social activity. Words of habit, fads, jargon, etc. lose their meaning, or the meaning is changed, if it is used in different contexts and different societies.

The emphasis on meaning and its influence on social behaviour are the key features of symbolic interactionism. There are three aspects to this.  Firstly, people act towards things based on the meanings that these things have for them. An example is how some, probably most, people react to how athletes from their own country or rival countries perform at the Olympic Games.

The second premise of symbolic interactionism is that meaning arises out of social interaction. For example, students who would otherwise not have acted aggressively might well do so under group pressure during advocacy campaigns.

The third premise of symbolic interactionism is that meaning is handled in, and modified through, an interpretive process. Meaning is not permanently fixed or unchanged. For example, an inexperienced soldier might be highly upset the first time he sees the body of a comrade or even an enemy killed in action. As he gains experience in war and as he sees more bodies, he loses his sensitivity towards other people and, to an extent, his respect for life. The meaning of a message, regardless of the medium though which it is conveyed, requires time to be absorbed and reflected on before it will make sense to the receiver.

The core task of research following a symbolic interactionist philosophical perspective is to capture the essence of the process for interpreting or attaching meaning to various symbols.

Strictly speaking, symbolic interactionism is utilised in all research, be it quantitative or qualitative in nature. Logically a quantitative research approach will rely more heavily on the use of symbols to convey and interpret messages that require counting, measuring or statistical analysis. Data collection methods need to be selected with the value that symbols have to offer as an important deciding factor. Written questionnaires, for example, do not convey idiosyncratic expressions, such as irony, mocking, sarcasm, etc. as well as a face-to-face interview would. Written documents cannot have the same intonation value as spoken words.

Symbolic interactionism adopts a measure of romantic philosophy by accepting fiction and art as sources of information for research purposes. However, some qualitative researchers regard these sources as less rigorous, less useful, inaccurate, and even wrong while a second group considers such information as insightful and significant.

Symbolic interactionism can be used in conjunction with constructivism, ethnomethodology, hermeneutics, interpretivism, romanticism and phenomenology.

Symbolic interactionism does not agree with the preference of the technicist paradigms in favour of quantitative research methods. They include rationalism, scientism, positivism and modernism.

The peculiarity of this approach is that human beings interpret and define each other’s actions instead of merely reacting to each other’s actions.

Some researchers regard symbolic interactionism as too unfocused in the research methods that it supports, while at the same time being unsystematic in their philosophies. This loose approach to the research results in the findings of the research being difficult to motivate or prove and, therefore, also difficult to test for validity and accuracy.


Symbolic interactionism emphasises the understanding and interpretation of interactions between human beings.

Human behaviour depends on learning.

The role of inner mental processes is emphasised.

Individuals and society are intrinsically linked.

The emphasis on meanings and its influence on social behaviour are key.


  1. Can change in different contexts and societies.
  2. Is handled in and modified through interpretation.
  3. Is mediated using symbols.
  4. Is not permanently fixed or unchanged.
  5. Arises out of social interaction.
  6. Influences the actions and behaviour of people.

Symbolic interactionism can be used with quantitative or qualitative research.

Data collection methods are an important consideration in research.

The core task of research making use of symbolic interactionism is to capture the essence of processes.

Symbolic interactionism can be associated with all the interpretive paradigms.

And is opposed to all the technicist paradigms.

Points of criticism against symbolic interaction include:

  1. That it lacks focus.
  2. That findings are not based on testable evidence.
  3. That data is interpreted but not reacted upon.

In closing,

I hope you noticed that the concept that can save the world is meaning.

And meaning is what symbolic interactionism is all about.

How we act on the meanings that things have for us determine if our lives will be good or bad.

I hope you will inject some positive meanings to the world through your research.

Thank you for watching my videos.

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ARTICLE 69: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Scientism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Why do academics write less about scientism than about most other paradigms?

Is it because paradigms deal with philosophy while natural scientists are more interested in cause and effect, exact data and timeless facts?

If this is the case, is research in natural science always more objective, accurate and valid than research in social science?

Or do natural scientists keep the philosophy about their research methods divorced from philosophical arguments?

I discuss the nature and elements of scientism in this article.

Scientism is the belief that science and its method of sceptical inquiry is the most reliable path to the truth. As such it represents the technicist group of paradigms.

Scientific researchers tend to believe that the methods normally used to investigate natural sciences are the only true way in which to investigate any academic problem or topic. Some even believe that any research that is not “scientifically” conducted is not true science at all. This is often called scientific imperialism because of the exaggerated trust in the validity and accuracy of the quantitative methods as opposed to qualitative research methods.    

Supporters of the scientism paradigm claim that it is based on the “rule of law” of science.  The “rule of law” of science refers to the prescription of a domain, a set of practices and an attitude to the world, which should match the development of new knowledge. This implies that the truth can only be known through scientific proof.

Scientism believes that scientific research can be applied to almost any field of research, not only natural sciences. Although a quantitative research approach is more suitable, some scientists believe that the methods of science are not only appropriate for discovering physical truth, but also all other truths, including those traditionally utilised in philosophy, ethics and morality, political and cultural philosophy, and the rights and wrongs of human interaction. This often leads to a mixed approach.

Scientism developed from empiricism. By extending the scope of scientism, it tends to overlap with other technicist paradigms, for example positivism, modernism and rationalism.

Constructivism and post-positivism reject scientism because of its etic approach, which is regarded as divorced from reality and not providing for qualitative arguments, such as morality and philosophy in general. Scientism, in turn, rejects the former two paradigms because of their emic (participatory) approach, which is regarded as unscientific.

Scientism, furthermore, creates a closed system of knowing, that certifies itself by scientific discoveries or evidence that fits its own closed system of paradigm understanding. If the new knowledge does not fit the paradigm, it is usually assumed that there was something wrong with the methodology that produced it, rarely with the paradigm understanding itself. In terms of the nature of research this is a rather risky point of view.

Research should always provide for the possibility that a hypothesis can be disproven, which does not mean that there is anything wrong with the research process, gathered information or conclusions made. It might be possible that not sufficient information was gathered or that the information was not sufficiently corroborated. However, questioning the methodology because you do not agree with the research findings may well be subjective and unscientific.


Scientism belongs to the group of technicist paradigms.

Many natural scientists regard it as the most reliable path to the truth.

They also regard natural science as the only true science.

Social scientists regard the attitude of the natural scientists as scientific imperialism.

Scientism is mostly used with quantitative research methods.

Scientism can be associated with empiricism, positivism, rationalism and modernism.

Scientism is opposed to constructivism and post-positivism.

Points of criticism against scientism include:

  1. That it is a closed system of knowing.
  2. It ignores qualitative arguments.
  3. And natural scientists tend to blame the research process if the project fails.
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ARTICLE 68: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Romanticism

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

What can be better than a philosophy that encourages you to follow your dreams?

Imagine how great it will be if you could create your own space in life.

To do the things that you enjoy doing and that makes you happy.

Don’t you think that life would be so much better if you could live your personality, be your own unique self?

Perhaps you can have such freedom by paying more attention to romanticism as your philosophical perspective of life.

I discuss romanticism as a paradigm in this article.

Romanticism originally dealt with art, culture and literature on an intellectual level, starting as a revolt against social and political norms and a reaction against the scientific explanation of nature. It strives towards an understanding of people and nature.

Romanticism, however, no longer deals with art only. It is also not always historical in nature. Many recent phenomena, such as nationalism, existentialism, leadership, interpersonal relationships, democracy, politics and many more are affected by romanticism.

Romanticism focuses on imagination, creativity, uniqueness, emotion, and freedom. Even though appearing to be a rigid and intolerant stance, romanticism promotes tolerance and acceptance of the irrationality of human behaviour. This means that romanticism acknowledges and accepts liberalism, decency and a measure of increased rational self-understanding.

Romanticism accepts as fact that human conclusions and the structuring of knowledge are ubiquitous, though not always accurate. This means that the absence of truth is regarded as truth and the absence of values is regarded as a value. Rejection is regarded as a form of creativity which rejects cause and effect and even logic. Reason is regarded as a kind of confinement, and freedom a triumph of will. Training and culture are regarded as synonymous.

Romanticist researchers believe in naturalness, freedom from boundaries and rules, and living a solitary life free from communal restrictions. Imagination is regarded as superior to reason. Romanticism is individual rather than group oriented, even though some of the romantic values, such as social solidarity, lean towards group cohesion. The mysterious, occult and satanic are often researched following a romanticist paradigm.

Romantic nationalism developed as an extension of romanticism. It can include the manner of government practice, language, race, culture, religion and customs in a country and nation. Romantic nationalism would typically oppose autocratic, discriminatory and corrupt government. Self-determination is often a key issue. The use of a command and control hierarchy is frowned upon.

Romanticism draws a measure of parallelism with liberalism and relativism by claiming that there are many compatible values. It is enlightening and supports values such as striving for justice, the power of science, love of truth, happiness and a focus on wisdom.

In terms of its view of especially power relations, romanticism is the opposite of structuralism, with the former challenging it and the latter embracing it as the foundation for the development of knowledge. Unwittingly romanticism erodes itself by promoting new ideas and creativity which, it seems, is not what romanticists originally had in mind.

Conducting research in topics such as the occult and satanism may invite the disapproval of some people, especially if the purpose of the research is to erode integrity and ethics. This may be regarded as misuse and unprofessional conduct.



  1. No longer deals with art and culture only.
  2. Can manifest as a revolt against social and political norms.
  3. Opposes the scientific explanation of nature.
  4. Strives towards the understanding of people and nature.
  5. Promotes tolerance and acceptance.
  6. Focusses on imagination, creativity, uniqueness, emotion and freedom.
  7. Acknowledges liberalism, decency and some rational self-understanding.
  8. Frowns upon the use of a command and control hierarchy.
  9. Researches the mysterious, occult and satanic.
  10. Believes in naturalness, freedom from boundaries and rules and living a solitary life.
  11. Is associated with liberalism and relativism and opposed to structuralism.

Freedom is regarded as a triumph of will.

Rejection is creativity.

The absence of value is value.

The absence of truth is truth.

Reason is a confinement.

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