Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education
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Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education

Edited by Sara Delamont

The Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education offers both basic and advanced discussions of data collection, analysis and representation of all the best qualitative methods used in educational research.
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Chapter 36: Analysing Fieldnotes: A Practical Guide

Zoë B. Corwin and Randall F. Clemens


Zoë B. Corwin and Randall F. Clemens Fieldnotes are a critical yet often underemphasized component of the research and writing process. In qualitative research, fieldnotes have long held a significant role in data collection and analysis. Seldom, however, are fieldnotes the focus of research methods sections or ‘how to’ guides. Perhaps this is because researchers view fieldnotes as of minor importance compared to the overall research methodology or methods (Shank, 2006). Lederman (1990), highlighting the difficulty of categorizing fieldnotes, writes, ‘It is no wonder that fieldnotes are hard to think and write about: they are a bizarre genre. Simultaneously part of the “doing” of fieldwork and of the “writing” of ethnography, fieldnotes are shaped by two movements: a turning away from academic discourse to join conversations in unfamiliar settings, and a turning back again’ (p. 72). Fieldnotes at the same time represent the research process and product. And yet, despite the use of fieldnotes as an essential part of qualitative research, few texts exist in which the authors fully explore the role and mechanics of fieldnotes, specifically within the field of education research. Notable exceptions include Emerson et al.’s (1995) comprehensive overview Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes and Sanjek’s (1990) edited volume Fieldnotes: The Making of Anthropology. In this chapter, we present a synthesis of pertinent literature regarding fieldnotes and then offer a detailed description of how to analyse fieldnotes. The first section summarizes the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of fieldnotes in qualitative research and is intended to highlight the interrelated nuances...

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