Documents as Forms of Data for Social Researchers

This week’s readings focused on documents as sources of data. Documents can include:


There are two types of official documents. The first is official documents from the state. This comprises of official reports or findings from the government or state and can provide great statistics for those looking for official documents. Though these reports are usually deemed credible, we must remember that these reports could be biased as research is not always objective, so being aware of where these reports originate is important. The second type of official document comes from private sources. This includes documents in the public domain, such as newsletters for various organizations and companies, organizational charts, etc. Though some of these are public domain, some of these materials are not accessible to the public, so researchers interested in these documents may have to request permission or only rely on public domain documents available.

Mass-media outputs are another form of documentation for data, and are more common. These include newspapers, movies, tv shows, magazines, etc. The way in which to interpret these forms of media for data would be to search for themes, or patterns, that emerge from these documents and then analyze your findings.

Virtual documents are just what it sounds like, documents that are virtual. They include:

Interpreting these various forms of documents for data can include qualitative content analysis and semiotics. Qualitative content analysis is simply finding patterns or themes that emerge from analyzing specific documents and using those patterns or themes to use as data. Once you find your emerging themes, the next step is to interpret those findings and then conclude your findings. Semiotics comprises of analyzing symbols in the social world, or your every day life, and then taking your analysis and trying to find the underlying (hidden) meaning to the specific symbols being analyzed.

This week’s readings really highlighted the various ways in which documents can provide data and how social researchers can use these documents to further enhance their research.

Questions to consider:

  1. How can we use visual objects as data in relation to our collaboration with Washington Park?
  2. In your opinion, what source of documents (virtual data included) would you prefer to use and why?
  3. What do we as social researchers have to be cautious of when looking to social media as a source of data?


  • Arieanna Morris

    As the saying goes, just because something is seen on the internet, doesn’t make it true. Researchers must be aware of the credibility of an online source or their research will be deemed invalid. Whether the author meant to post false information or whether the research was done incorrectly, it is up to the person browsing the internet to sift through the data for credible sources. Therefore, when looking to social media as a source of data, I’m not sure there is any way to make the source is credible.

  • Amy Yates

    I think that visual objects such as pictures will be a good way to show the before and after of the area. This can be used to show others what is capable of being done when you are dedicated.
    What I like to use would depend on what I was doing. Digital resources are great for doing research because there is a plethora of knowledge in one area. However, the private sources are very interesting and helpful for doing things like asset mapping and trying to get a feel for how the residents of an area really feel about the community.

  • Hayley Winker

    When looking at data, I like to use both state and private data. I think that it is important to cover and compare multiple aspects. When looking at social media as a source there is many things to be cautious of. One of the main problems with social media is that it can be hard to establish a credible source as anybody can write about anything online and it does not have to be factual. However, studies of social media platforms can be important to look at and conduct.

  • Rachel Green

    I think that it is very important that, as researchers, we are aware that data that comes from social media is not always credible. This form of data also is probably going to be more subject to bias as individuals posting it usually have agendas they are trying to push rather than raw facts. While this form of data can offer us insight that other forms of data can’t, we just have to be aware that there may be false facts and bias included. But I believe that as social media is such a prominent part of society these days, that not using it as a form of data would be a mistake.

  • liaguir

    I think that visuals are important when presenting a research topic or data; it helps the audience form a connection and understanding what you are speaking about. For instance, whenever I use visual objects like charts, it helps unjumble my mind and helps me form connections of what I am learning at the moment. Visual objects like pictures can also help get people’s attention and get their curiosity going enough to continue to learn about the researcher’s project. They’re like eye candy and we the researchers are feeding them these visual objects so that we can raise awareness of our topic/issue.
    Researchers and people in general always have to be aware of where they get their information and sources from. As Arieanna and Rachel have said, not everything on social media can be true and a lot of visual objects are used to provoke certain (wanted or unwanted) emotions. Some visual objects can be full of bias and may be only created to benefit a certain group. So, always double check the information you saw on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and look who published it to see if they are a reliable source.

  • Danielle Kulina

    What do we as social researchers have to be cautious of when looking to social media as a source of data?

    I think a large thing we have to be cautious about when looking into social media as a source of data is its credibility. There is a lot of stuff on the internet alone that is not true, and social media is a large breeding ground for this kind of not credible data sources. I know a lot of times people will just share articles and such without even reading to see if it is a legit source of news.

  • Razan Mansour M

    I also agree that pictures such as before and after photos of the Washington Park community garden could help influence other communities to start their own garden. Likewise, pictures with community participation in the garden could also motive other community members to participate and make people excited to see themselves in the TTCG social media accounts.
    Another way to use visual data is by encouraging the community members to engage in blogs or in social media by sharing and posting their own community garden pictures.