Collecting Texts and Artifacts

When studying a culture, social setting or phenomenon collecting and analyzing the texts and artifacts produced and used by members can foster understanding.

There are many different types of documents researchers may be interested in collecting:

  • Documents in the public sphere (e.g. pictures, articles, documentaries, educational material, books) that may have been produced by or used by members of a culture or social setting
  • Files
  • Statistical records
  • Meeting minutes
  • Emails
  • Documents used in daily work (e.g. internal manuals, written procedures, wall posters and other public postings in a work place, chart flow sheets)
  • Memos

When analyzing texts and artifacts, the researcher may focus on how and for whom the artifact is created, what is included and not included in the document, and how the document is used. 

Documents or artifacts should be analyzed in tandem with other data collected.

An example

One artifact that might be collected from a healthcare settings is a blank chart.  Charts are almost like finger prints.  They are organized in particular ways, include different kinds of problem, medication and flow sheets, intake forms, etc.  Charts are personalized to a clinical setting (and sometimes to a clinician) and can be taken to reflect and represent that clinical setting or person. 

Analyzing what a flow sheet emphasizes, for example, can provide important insight into the type of care provided and valued by members of a clinic.  For example, a flow sheet can be designed to gather only problem information.  Alternatively, a flow sheet can include a table to track informaton about preventive care.  These differences, taken in concert with findings from other data collected in a clinic, can be very telling.

Observing an artifact in use is also very important.

  • How are charts used (do patients, clinicians, clinical staff use chart, if so, when)
  • Who writes in the chart 
  • When and how are charts used during patient encounters
  • Is the chart paper-based or computer-based

These are just a few examples to suggest how understanding the way different artifacts are used in a field setting.  In healthcare settings, understanding how artifacts and tools are used can provide insight into care processes, the social organization of the clinic, and the meaning of health. 


This topic is not developed in many qualitative research resources.  One resource we found useful was:

Silverman, D. (2001). Interpreting Qualitative Data. (2nd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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