Qualitative data collection has the potential to cause issues, such as interviewer bias and misguided questions. Since qualitative data collection methods include focus groups, interviews, and observations, the information can be difficult to interpret. Some degree of training is important for data collectors as well as participants. Case studies, personal documents and interviewing highly-specialized individuals can be additional ways to gather qualitative data.
One of the primary concerns with qualitative data collection is the inability of the collector to remain unbiased. Even if the collector is just observing a focus group, it can be difficult for him to view the group objectively or from a perspective other than his own. The fact that questions may be open-ended can add to the ambiguity of the data. Participants may also misinterpret the intent of questions or answer them from a slightly skewed understanding.
When asking individuals to participate in surveys, behavioral observations or focus groups, it is important that the participants feel comfortable. Responses have been known to be incomplete or inaccurate when participants feel that there is a possibility of retribution for honesty. Survey respondents should be well informed about the process and understand they are giving their voluntary permission. Many qualitative research studies obtain the signatures of respondents, while informing them of possible video or audio tape recording.
A way to cut down on qualitative data collection errors is to record the responses of survey participants. Sometimes it is helpful to have more than one collector go over the responses to reduce individual bias and interpretation. Questions given to participants should be phrased with wording that is not confusing, leading or overwhelming. Even though the qualitative approach tends to be open-ended and somewhat unstructured, asking specific, universal questions can help ensure more accurate and quantifiable responses.
Interviews should be conducted by those that can maintain a neutral approach and perspective. It may be necessary to train interviewers in how to maintain neutral tactics. Even those who observe participants in a study may need to be trained to simply record the responses as is, without injecting personal opinion. It may be helpful to screen potential interviewers prior to a study for extreme biases.
One of the factors in qualitative data collection is cost. Observational studies and interviews tend to be more expensive than examining case studies or personal documents. At times it is more efficient to gather public records and scour through previously written first-person accounts. The primary advantage is that these types of sources have already been compiled and the only thing needed is interpretation.