Overview

Document analysis is a very common method of collecting data because it relies on the compilation and analysis of existing organisational records, documents and information. This information is often already collected for internal management uses.

You may be able to compile ongoing monitoring information and other sources of information (client databases, memos, meeting minutes, financial information, etc.).

This information can be supplemented with information and documentation from local, regional, and national agencies to help put the work of your organisation in context.

Selected methods and techniques

Document analysis can be either quantitative or qualitative depending on the source of information, for example:

  • Written document
  • Photograph
  • Poster
  • Map
  • Database
  • Video
  • Audio recording

Tips for analysis

When analysing documents (in whatever format), always remember to ask yourself:

  • “Who wrote/created this? What biases/assumptions may have come from him/her?”
  •  “When was it written/created?”
  • “Why was it written/created? What was its original purpose?”
  •  “Who was the original audience?”

It is tempting to accept official documents as fact, but always challenge yourself to remember that they too were created by a person or people with a particular audience and purpose. Even something as benign as minutes of a meeting may reflect one particular experience of that meeting at the expense of others’ experiences.

Benefits

  • Using existing information is typically cheap and often free
  •  Disruption to daily routines is limited
  • Information is usually captured at the time, not retrospectively

 Challenges

  • Can be inflexible, incomplete, and inconsistent
  • May be subject to hidden bias with regard to the recording of information
  • Information is limited to what already exists
  • Information may be out of date
  • May be ethical issues or confidentiality restrictions
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Resources

  • Colin Robson provides a reasonable short description of how to conduct content analysis of a document on p. 348-358 of his work Real World Research (2011).
  • Chapter 23 of Alan Bryman's Social Research Methods (2012) gives a detailed and thorough description of how to use documents as a source of data.

One of the key challenges is finding a system such as a database that can help to collect, store, retrieve and analyse the monitoring information for your project.

  • The Inspiring Impact Hub has brought together a searchable directory of Database & Case Management Systems  that are typically used by the community and voluntary sector.
  • Further information on buying and using Customer Relationship Management Systems can be found here.