Geography Fieldwork

A Level

Qualitative methods

3. Qualitative methods


Observational data is commonly recorded as notes, sketches or audio/video recordings. There are three types of observation method:

  • Naturalistic Observing people in their natural environment.
  • Participant Observing behaviour as a participant in a group.
  • Controlled Observing behaviour(s) under certain conditions and/or time parameters.

Consider validity (does your presence influence behaviour?) and ethics (do you have consent?).


Questioning (used in questionnaires and interviews) can be quantitative or qualitative.

Closed questions. Answers are limited to single words, numbers or listed options. The collated data is quantitative.
Example: ‘Do you feel safe in High Street at 11pm?‘ Answers: Yes / No / Don’t know

Statements. There are two ways of presenting statements:

(a) Semantic differential scale – use 8-12 pairs of words and a scale from negative to positive.


Threatening -2 -1 0 +1 +2 Friendly
Dangerous -2 -1 0 +1 +2 Safe
Isolated -2 -1 0 +1 +2 Surveilled

(b) Likert scale - ask participants whether they agree or disagree with a series of statements. Use 8-12 statements with a balance of positive and negative.

Example statement: ‘High Street is safe at 11pm.‘ Answers: Strongly agree / Agree / Don’t know / Disagree / Strongly disagree

Open questions. Answers are detailed text. The data is qualitative. If the results are categorised, the number of responses per category (i.e. frequencies) can be treated as quantitative data. Example: ‘Is High Street safe?‘

Questionnaires can cover a large sample population. They are useful for gathering data on people’s perceptions and experiences of place.

Interviews often involve a smaller sample than questionnaires. They can gather more in-depth data. Focus groups are a type of interview involving multiple interviewees in a focused discussion.

Non-probability sampling

For some qualitative methods like interviews, it may be impractical to select a representative sample. In non-probability sampling, the sample is selected through the subjective judgment of the reseacher. There are three techniques:

Convenience sampling

Select people who are easy to reach, e.g. giving out a questionnaire to the first 100 people you see in the High Street on a particular morning.

Snowball sampling

Select at least two people. Ask each person to help you find more interviewees. Continue finding new people until you have achieved your desired sample size.

Quota sampling

Deliberately select a proportionate number of people from each part of the population.