Finding your way in the foggy road of data collection…

This week Coralie Acheson, a 2nd year PhD Researcher in the Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage, shares her experience of collecting data for her research…

Iron Bridge Blog

My research is on how tourists encounter and negotiate the values of Ironbridge Gorge, a World Heritage Site in Shropshire; part of a collaborative AHRC-funded project looking at the communication of value to different communities of interest at the site. This was my first serious foray into the academic world of cultural heritage following years of studying and working commercially in archaeology. When I started, I knew I had a steep climb in terms of raising my knowledge base in terms of thinking about tourism theory but I hadn’t realised how much I also needed to learn about the actual practicalities of carrying out the research.

I am using a mixed-methods approach – my research involves trying to pin down something both intangible and ephemeral, the ‘communication of value’ to a difficult to define, constantly changing and incredibly varied group of people – so I needed to form a sort of research ‘pincer’! I am using:

  • Interviews – semi-structured, with both those working with tourists, and the tourists themselves;
  • Observation – both remote and participant;
  • Qualitative media analysis of materials produced for and by tourists – think Instagram, guidebooks, signage etc;
  • Visual field notes – a developing collection of imagery which tells a story about my site.

I am currently right in the middle of collecting all of this data and feeling rather swamped. It is like a juggling act trying to process already collected data into initial analysis of some form, carry out more research and preparing for things happening over the next few months. A complex and colour coded diary has become essential! I have found that writing things down has helped me get my head around where I am with my research – not so much for the output but the process of doing it helps me organise my thoughts and get control of the stress!

I have massively benefitted from research training from lots of different sources including an ‘interview for researchers’ course (AHRC), free online courses in social media analytics, one-to-one skill sharing with other PhDs as well as courses available through the university on Endnote and data management. This was all absolutely essential, particularly as I am effectively a social science researcher with an arts background and who is based in the College of Arts and Law. Ultimately, though, the best way to figure out how to do things is just to try them out – go to conferences and present, try different analysis methods you’ve only read about in books – just go for it (within the remit of your ethical approval!) and it will get easier!

Do you want to share your PhD experiences with other postgraduate researchers on this blog? Get in touch with Dr. Eren Bilgen to become one of our guest bloggers.

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