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What is the guide about?

This guide addresses a new and burgeoning area in qualitative research methodology: the sharing of others’ archived data for the purposes of re-analysis. As Heaton (2004:2) defines it in her monograph on the subject: ‘the first and rudimentary principle of secondary analysis is that it involves the use of pre-existing data’. The terms ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ analysis have been subject to some debate in the literature (see Moore 2005). There is also considerable controversy over whether qualitative data re-use is possible or desirable. This means the whole topic, as well as being a relatively new one, is fairly contested and uncharted. In addition, there are many different kinds of uses to which stored data can be put from systematic reviews to interrogations of existing findings: Corti and Thompson (2004) also mention description, reanalysis of various kinds, research design, verification and teaching and learning.

In this guide we try to keep things simple. We do not concern ourselves with definitions of secondary analysis or indeed procedures for doing it. Our main concern here is with preparing datasets that will be re-used for in-depth analysis of the data; this is the most potentially challenging kind of re-use and one requiring the most careful preparation. Hence we are concerned with the methodological decisions we make when assembling a dataset that will be archived and/or shared for potential reanalysis.

Importantly, we draw attention to the new and innovative techniques for data representation that are increasingly be used by researchers: including still images, sound, and audio-visual recording devices. Data archiving so far has been dominated by the assumption that deposited data equals interview transcripts. This will increasingly no longer be the case. It is important, therefore, to think through carefully some of the issues and problems posed by the storing and sharing of multimedia data.

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