Qualitative data

Giving a voice to the lived experience

Qualitative data is non-numeric information, such as in-depth interview transcripts, diaries, anthropological field notes, answers to open-ended survey questions, audio-visual recordings and images.

The value of qualitative research is that it gives a voice to the lived experience, offering researchers a deeper insight into a topic or individuals’ experiences. Qualitative data can be combined with quantitative to enhance understanding around a policy or topic in a way that quantitative data by itself often cannot.

Reusing qualitative data

Secondary analysis of qualitative data entails reusing data created from previous research projects for new purposes. Reuse provides a unique opportunity to study the raw materials of the recent or more distant past to gain insights for both methodological and substantive purposes.

Traditionally, secondary analysis has been less common and more contested for qualitative data than for quantitative data. However, secondary analysis of qualitative data has become more widely practised and accepted. This growth is explained by many factors such as the open data movement, research funders’ policies supporting data sharing, and researchers seeing benefits of sharing all manner of resources through social media.

Another factor enabling qualitative data reuse has been improved services and infrastructure, such as the UK Data Service, which provides access to hundreds of data collections. We dedicated to supporting quality research and education by documenting, disseminating and providing advice on using qualitative research data for secondary analysis. We want to ensure that access to qualitative data is as free, open, and as easy to access as possible, while upholding all ethical and legal standards.

Pioneers of qualitative research

The Pioneers of Social Research resource is a rich and dynamic resource for the social sciences.

It includes in-depth life story interviews with pioneers of British social research – many of whom are eminent scholars in the areas of community studies, anthropology survey and qualitative research – undertaken by Professor Paul Thompson as part of British Academy and Leverhulme funded projects from 2009-2018. The resource provides a short biography, links to full interviews, interview summaries, thematic extracts and a selective playlist on YouTube, and to any archived research data (Collections) they created. Each interview covers the researcher’s family and social background and key influences with detailed accounts of major projects.

Original interviews with the Pioneers are available as open data to download as a collection, Pioneers of Social Research, 1996-2018, through the UK Data Service.

Using the interviews

The resource can be used to support historical research on the development of research methods in key social science disciplines, and is a rich resource for teaching. Interviews can not only be viewed as individual biographical accounts, to understand the influences, fieldwork methods, feelings and experiences of a major and admired earlier researcher, but we can also trace, through their notably acute social observation, how researchers’ lives were shaped by family and society. We can see how their own experience, for example of social class or the extended family, generated their key research concerns.

Coming to better understand an earlier generation of researchers can be an inspiration to younger researchers, offering models and encouragement to help them develop new ideas from their own social observations and experiences.

We can also track significant themes which run across whole sets of interviews, and which are still very much relevant today. Examples include: gender and kinship; the pleasures of research, or how ideas develop; research design; fieldwork methods; ethics; and methods of analysis. By tracing these themes we can tap into some of the long experience of earlier social researchers on issues which still concern us today.

Find out more about the Pioneers of Social Research:

Introducing QualiBank

QualiBank is an online tool for searching and browsing the contents of a selection of qualitative data collections held by the UK Data Service.

QualiBank guide (PDF).

Teaching resources: qualitative data

Teaching resources: qualitative data includes a range of rich and valuable resources.

Qualitative thematic guides

The UK Data Service has the largest collection of qualitative secondary data in the world, so finding the right kind of qualitative data for a project can take time.

To help with this, the UK Data Service has put together a list of qualitative collections by themes. These guides provide a short summary of the theme, keywords which can be used to help search for the theme within our datasets, and quick access to some of our most well-known, well-used, and rigorous data sets.

Qualitative dataset guides

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918, 1870-1973

This dataset guide for Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918 (PDF) overviews one of the most reused qualitative datasets in our collection, The Edwardians, and details the collection and teaching and learning resources that have been created from its data.

Archived resources

The interview transcripts are available from the UK Data Service as SN 2000, and through QualiBank, an online tool for browsing, searching and citing the content of selected qualitative data collections held at the UK Data Service.

This qualitative data collection comprises 453 life story interviews originally collected as part of the study, The Edwardians: Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918. The interviews were undertaken in the late 1960s and early 1970s and formed the basis of the first national oral history project in the United Kingdom.

A total of 537 interviews were recorded on reel-to-reel audio tape and 453 later transcribed as typed, paper documents. The interviews were open-ended (guided by a schedule) and of between one and six hours duration. The original sound recordings are deposited at the British Library National Sound Archive.

Teaching resources

Publications and other resources

Health and Social Consequences of the Foot and Mouth Disease Epidemic in North Cumbria, 2001-2003

This dataset guide for Health and Social Consequences of the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease Epidemic (PDF) overviews the resources, documentation and publications available for a rich, in-depth qualitative study which has been reused for a diverse range of projects, including interviewing training, teaching resources, and data reanalysis.

Publications and other resources

Lancaster University resources on the Health and Social Consequences of the Foot and Mouth Epidemic in North Cumbria.

Retail Competition and Consumer Choice, 2002-2004

This dataset guide for Retail Competition and Consumer Choice (PDF) overviews the resources, documentation and publications available for a mixed methods study detailing the change from small food stores to large supermarkets in the UK.

Families, Social Mobility and Ageing, an Intergenerational Approach, 1900-1988

This dataset guide for Families, Social Mobility and Ageing (PDF) overviews the resources, documentation and publications available for 100 Families, an in-depth qualitative collection which provides a good example of a life story interview approach.

Archived resources

Interview transcripts have been fully digitised and are available through QualiBank, our online tool for searching, browsing, and citing qualitative data. You can search transcripts using key words or filter interviews based on set facets, including interviewee’s gender, date of birth, geographical region and/or occupational class.

Teaching resources

Interview extracts from the study have been used in our teaching resources. Teaching resource: Interview methods (PDF) provides instructors and students with materials designed to assist in teaching qualitative interviewing. This study has been used as an example of the life story approach to interviewing. Guidance is provided on how it can be used in teaching activities.

Webinars relating to qualitative data

Webinars you may find helpful

Recordings of UK Data Service webinars are made available on our UK Data Service YouTube channel and presentation slides are added to our past event pages soon after the webinar has taken place.

Helpful webinars relating to qualitative data include the following.

Webinar: Data in the spotlight: Qualitative and mixed methods data

We provide access to a range of qualitative and mixed methods data, including ethnographic data and field notes, images, oral history transcripts and essay responses. This webinar will help you get started searching for qualitative and mixed methods data with new search tools like QualiBank and help you quickly navigate through datasets to see if it’s the right data for your project.

This free introductory webinar is intended for anyone who wants to learn about the qualitative or mixed-methods data available from the UK Data Service.

The webinar covers:

  • The types of qualitative data held at the UK Data Service data available from the UK Data Service.
  • A short case study exemplifying how qualitative data has been used.
  • Three key issues to consider when using searching for qualitative data.
  • How to access the data and getting further help.

This webinar consists of a 30 minute presentation followed by 20 minutes of questions and answers.

Presenter: Maureen Haaker

Level: Introductory
Experience/knowledge required: None
Target audience: Researchers/anyone interested in qualitative or mixed methods data

Broadcast date: October 2020


Webinar: Dissertation projects: Introduction to secondary analysis for qualitative and quantitative data

Secondary analysis is a great way to get experience working with data without having to go into the field. This webinar takes you through the research process of a secondary analysis project, which includes an overview of the methodological, ethical, and procedural issues.

If you are a postgraduate looking for a project that doesn’t involve face-to-face contact or an undergraduate student trying to evaluate options for next year’s dissertation, this webinar will give you options to ensure you get valuable research experience during your degree.

This is an introductory webinar which assumes no prior experience of using archived data.

Presenter: Maureen Haaker

Level: Introductory
Experience/knowledge required: None
Target audience: Postgraduate or undergraduate

Broadcast date: May 2020


Webinar: Key Issues in Reusing Data

Participants will hear about the key issues in secondary analysis as a method. The introductory session will briefly cover the pros and cons of reusing data and the importance of learning about the origins of your data. Quantitative and qualitative secondary analysis will be discussed with examples and issues of context, sampling and ethics will be raised.

Presenter: Patty Doran

Level: Introductory
Experience/knowledge required: None
Target audience: Postgraduate or undergraduate

Broadcast date: May 2020


Webinar: Using Qualitative Data for Postgraduate Research

This introductory webinar is intended for postgraduate students who want to learn about how they can re-use qualitative data within their research projects. Participants will get a brief overview of what kind of qualitative data is available through the UK Data Service, ways data can be reused, and tools available to help find appropriate data. The webinar also highlights student resources available through the UK Data Service website which can serve as good examples of how to do research and help advance methodological knowledge. Finally, a case study of one PhD student is used to demonstrate how archived, qualitative data can inspire and shape an achievable research project for students.

Presenter: Maureen Haaker

Level: Introductory
Experience/knowledge required: None
Target audience: Postgraduate or undergraduate

Broadcast date: April 2017