Boring but essential: good recording keeping in fieldwork / data collection

Fieldwork is a messy, complex, unpredictable process. All the more important, then, that your record keeping and approach to managing your data is clean, systematic, and enables cross-referencing and a clear audit trail.

I have made a videos, available in small file size (86MB) and one full file size (500MB) which explains one approach to doing this using Excel. I illustrate some important points and offer a range of tips by showing what I did in my recent project in Karitane, which involved multiple observations, documents and photographs.

My point is not that others should replicate my approach. But that it is helpful to replicate the thinking and the outcomes in terms of asking: what information do I need to keep track of relating to each piece of data? What indexing and file naming practices do I need to make cross referencing later on?

I have developed a pdf guide to accompany the videos, which you should be able to download by saving the link below.

I hope this is useful. I would really like it if people can add comments as to how they approach this dull, but crucial aspect of social science research!


Data database guide


4 thoughts on “Boring but essential: good recording keeping in fieldwork / data collection

  1. katyleighkennedy

    Gosh, not boring at all, I found this very useful! I’m visiting a number of groups on a number of different occasions and could do with a way of systematising my visits. Right now I use a very messy colour-coded spreadsheet to keep track of all contacts and emails and arranged visits (not all my contacts are current and some people aren’t interested or have suitable groups so I know not to keep contacting them), which then go to Google Calendar. Then my questionnaire results and quantitative results go into another spreadsheet, one for each group. I keep field notes in dated notebooks (good idea about numbering them if you have more than one project on the go) and then my audio and transcripts are saved as dates and pseudonyms but I should probably link them up in a similar way to how you’ve done it. Any photos of the venues (no participants or anything identifying them, they are just public places) I store in Evernote. I’m completely new to fieldwork so it’s interesting to get some good ideas on the nuts and bolts of keeping an audit trail, thank you very much!

    1. nickhopwood Post author

      Hi Katy
      Thanks for your comment! It’s nice too to have the details you provided about your study – all for the greater good of sharing what it means to do research!

  2. vicki

    Thank you both. You have provided some great tips and it has got me thinking about categorising and tracking my work which will be across three different sites with different people. So it will be messy and I do need to think about how I can report on it more effectively and I particularly liked the way you select specific categories to allow for focus in different ways too.

    Thanks so much for sharing.


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