Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Complex Matrix of Data

View from Upper Campus, where I spend most of my time these days. At least it's scenic!

I'm pretty new to social science research, though I've done my fair share of transcribing interviews through my studies in Journalism. My task for this break is to present the findings I collected in the eight interviews I conducted this semester. I've had to learn an entirely new system for organizing and presenting this data.

As a J student, I gained familiarity with the Inverted Pyramid--a more intuitive, though not perfect system. You ask yourself while you're writing, How timely is this info? What do people most want to know at first? (Because we're taught to assume that readers usually skim headlines and stop reading after the first paragraph. So that first graph has to pack a punch.) (Also, I graduated college just before Twitter was a thing, so we didn't talk about micro-blogging, facebook status updates, or all the other ways news consumers have of getting the most information out of the fewest characters.)

I am now writing a 40-page research report, and it's allowed to be a little more dense. The structure isn't based on the eye-catching quality of a headline/deck, and I have to report all findings, even if they are contradictory, unclear, or less-than-riveting.

As a one-time copy editor, I'm not exactly brand new to the concept of verifying qualitative data. Even in writing e-mails to friends, I'm still in the habit of Googling a name, place or event to make sure I have my facts straight before I hit SEND.

But these interviews were not about gathering facts, they are about perceptions, experiences and aspirations. How do I verify that?

Apparently a social scientist does so by reviewing all transcripts and creating a complex matrix of data (9 pages and counting...) and comparing all interviewee's responses to one another. The goal is not to find uniformity,  but to see links and patterns, and to get the fullest possible picture of life (in this case) for a marginalized youth population.

And that's my story. Verify THAT.

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