Qualitative data

Data does not have to be in numeric form - it can also be in words and descriptions.

Qualitative data can take many forms. Some common types are:

  • questionnaires and interviews – this is when people are asked what they think. Questionnaires are good at finding out opinions, and interviews are used for obtaining detailed answers to questions. However, both questionnaires and interviews may be less accurate when looking for facts.
  • field sketches and photographs – this is when a snapshot of a landscape is taken, either with a camera or by drawing. Field sketches and photographs provide a good reminder of what a place is like.
  • maps – these can be hand-drawn or sourced from the internet. Maps give spatial information about places. Satellite images e.g. from Google maps and GIS maps e.g. Digimaps are types of map that can be used for fieldwork. Ordnance Survey maps are easily obtained from bookshops or the internet and are a useful source of information e.g. studying urban change or land use in an area.

A rough sketch of a valley landscape, with mountains, forest, farm house, river, river cliff and rapids visible.Field sketch

When undertaking fieldwork, collect any information that will be useful, and from alternative methods, e.g. counts, scoring systems and bipolar surveys.

Person holding a survey paper on a clipboard whilst standing on a busy street

Data collection sheets should have a simple design so that the results are clear to read. The collection of data should also avoid bias and this is done through sampling techniques. There are three main types of sampling:

  • random sampling – selecting a person to interview or site to measure, at random. Random sampling is unbiased as particular people or places are not specifically selected
  • systematic sampling – collecting data in an ordered or regular way, eg every 5 metres or every fifth person
  • stratified sampling – dividing sampling into groups, eg three sites from each section of coastline, or five people from each age range

It is possible to combine stratified sampling with random and systematic sampling:

  • stratified random sampling – where random samples are taken from within certain categories
  • stratified systematic sampling – where regular samples are taken from within certain categories