Archiving qualitative data

There has been a good deal of debate about the merits of archiving qualitative data from social sciences projects (Camfield & Palmer-Jones, 2013; Corti, 2000; Corti, Witzel, & Bishop, 2005; Hammersley, 1997; Kuula, 2010/2011; Mauthner, Parry, & Backett-Milburn, 1998; Moore, 2007; Schubotz, Melaugh, & McLoughlin, 2011; van den Berg, 2008). While some argue (e.g., Chauvette, Schick-Makaroff, & Molzahn, 2019) that providing other researchers access to qualitative data increases the rigor of research through providing transparency into the research process and data analysis which in turn encourages accountability and promotes dialogue among scholars about interpretations, others have argued that re-use of data sets by other researchers is problematic because of the varied epistemologies used by qualitative researchers, the challenges posed to the preservation of confidentiality of participants, and because scholars conducting secondary analyses of data sets simply do not share the experience of “being there” with the original researchers (Corti, 2000).

Corti (2007, p. 45) asserts that the key difficulties with re-using and sharing data are those of “ethical and consent considerations; representation, coverage, and context of the research and fieldwork; unfamiliarity with the methods; lack of infrastructure for data-sharing; misinterpretation of data; [and] threat to intellectual property rights” (p. 45). Hammersley (1997) points out that data archiving potentially exposes the messiness of qualitative inquiry to an audit culture, in which idealized versions of research conduct are found wanting: “the work of even the most competent researcher would look poor if documentation of the research process were compared to some idealized, overly rationalistic model” (p. 136).

A decade ago, Broom, Cheshire, and Emmison (2009) examined researchers’ perspectives of archiving qualitative data as part of a national data repository via six focus groups with 37 researchers in Australia. Focus groups were structured around the following topics (p. 1168):

1) the character of contemporary qualitative practice;

2) the perceived advantages and disadvantages of qualitative data archiving and sharing;

3) barriers to, and appropriate conditions for, depositing qualitative data on an archive;

4) attitudes toward using qualitative data from secondary sources.

Broom et al (2009) reported that the researchers that they spoke with contrasted qualitative research with quantitative research, which they perceived to be more easily archivable for “disengaged” secondary research, due to its more abstract nature. Qualitative research, in contrast, was viewed as involving “art” and “relationship” (p. 1169); hence if archived, could open up data to misinterpretation by other researchers (p. 1170). Broom et al (2009) also found that researchers tended to present the view that “no-one else can understand my data” (p. 1172). This issue highlighted the tensions of collaborative team-based approaches to research in which interpretations of data were developed by groups, and individual approaches to analysis. Other issues that participants discussed involved research ethics and data ownership (p. 1173). Whereas some researchers saw their fieldnotes as private and personal, others wanted to make data publicly available to others for the sake of transparency. These sorts of issues surface repeatedly when archiving of qualitative data sets are discussed by social sciences researchers.

Hammersley (1997) discusses the value of archiving data sets for secondary analyses – both for supplementing primary data sources and for historical or comparative studies. As one example, making a case for archiving data in the field of development research, Camfield and Palmer-Jones (2013) describe a range of benefits and limitations of secondary analysis, noting that

differences in perceptions [to the merit of data archiving for the purpose of secondary of analysis] may relate to the extent to which researchers rely on interviews rather than other forms of data collection and the ‘special relationship’ between researcher and research participant that is associated with this method (p. 328).

Scholars who have conducted secondary analyses of qualitative data sets made available through archives include Myers and Lampropoulou (2012, 2013, 2015), who have conducted a number of studies examining the interaction and transcription practices in archived interviews. For more examples of secondary data analysis of qualitative studies, see a special issue on the topic edited by Corti et al. (2005); and for tips on working with archived qualitative data, see Fielding (2004) and Corti (2007).

Of course, here, I have not discussed how qualitative researchers have used archival data sets for research studies that have resulted in methodological articles (Tamboukou, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2016; Tesar, 2015). And of course in history as well as other disciplines, scholars have conducted historical studies that rely on archival data as primary sources. For more on how to examine archival data sets, see Hill (1993); Moore, Salter, Stanley, and Tamboukou (2017).

If one wants to examine archived qualitative data, where are places to start? In the United Kingdom, Corti (2000) reports that the Qualidata Archive, established in 1994, was the first initiative to preserve qualitative social science data sets on a national scale. Since 2012, the Qualidata Archive has been administered by the UK Data Service

In the U.S., The Qualitative Data Repository is housed in The Center for Qualitative and Multi-Method Inquiry at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

The Australian Data Archive is housed at the ANU Center for Social Research and Methods at the Australian National University. and includes information about quantitative qualitative, and mixed-methods studies.

In Europe, there is a Consortium of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA)

Archived data sets can also be used  in teaching, e.g.,

As one example, materials related to Stan Cohen’s study of youth culture in the U.K., “Folk devils and moral panics” see

In Canada, Ping-Chun Hsiung has archived data from a study, “Lives and Legacies” that includes transcripts of interviews of Italian, Tamil, Caribbean, and Chinese immigrants to Canada (Hsiung, 2016).

As can be seen from this short review, whether using data from archived qualitative research projects, there is a range of debates, as well as many resources to consult. What are your thoughts on data archiving of qualitative studies? How would you respond to the topics discussed in the focus groups conducted by Broom et al. (2009)?

Kathy Roulston


Broom, A., Cheshire, L., & Emmison, M. (2009). Qualitative Researchers’ Understandings of Their Practice and the Implications for Data Archiving and Sharing. Sociology, 43(6), 1163-1180. Retrieved from doi:10.1177/0038038509345704

Camfield, L., & Palmer-Jones, R. (2013). Improving the quality of development research: What could archiving qualitative data for reanalysis and revisiting research sites contribute? Progress in Development Studies, 13(4), 323-338. Retrieved from doi:10.1177/1464993413490481

Chauvette, A., Schick-Makaroff, K., & Molzahn, A. E. (2019). Open Data in Qualitative Research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 18, 1609406918823863. Retrieved from doi:10.1177/1609406918823863

Corti, L. (2000). Progress and Problems of Preserving and Providing Access to Qualitative Data for Social Research—The International Picture of an Emerging Culture. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 1(3). doi:

Corti, L. (2007). Re-using archived qualitative data – where, how, why? Archival Science, 7(1), 37-54. Retrieved from doi:10.1007/s10502-006-9038-y

Corti, L., Witzel, A., & Bishop, L. (2005). On the Potentials and Problems of Secondary Analysis. An Introduction to the FQS Special Issue on Secondary Analysis of Qualitative Data. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 6(1). doi:

Fielding, N. (2004). Getting the most from archived qualitative data: epistemological, practical and professional obstacles. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 7(1), 97-104. Retrieved from doi:10.1080/13645570310001640699

Hammersley, M. (1997). Qualitative Data Archiving: Some Reflections on its Prospects and Problems. Sociology, 31(1), 131-142. Retrieved from doi:10.1177/0038038597031001010

Hill, M. R. (1993). Archival strategies and techniques. Newbury Park: Sage.

Hsiung, P.-C. (2016). Lives & Legacies: A digital courseware for the teaching and learning of qualitative interviewing. 22(2), 132-139. Retrieved from doi:10.1177/1077800415617205

Kuula, A. (2010/2011). Methodological and ethical dilemmas of archiving qualitative data. IASSIST Quarterly, 34(3&4), 12-17.

Mauthner, N. S., Parry, O., & Backett-Milburn, K. (1998). The data are out there, or are they? Implications for archiving and revisiting qualitative data. Sociology, 32(4), 733-745. Retrieved from doi:undefined

Moore, N. (2007). (Re)Using Qualitative Data? Sociological Research Online, 12(3), 1-13. Retrieved from doi:10.5153/sro.1496

Moore, N., Salter, A., Stanley, L., & Tamboukou, M. (2017). The archive project: Archival research in the social sciences. London & New York: Routledge.

Myers, G., & Lampropoulou, S. (2012). Impersonal you and stance-taking in social research interviews. Journal of Pragmatics, 44(10), 1206-1218. Retrieved from doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2012.05.005

Myers, G., & Lampropoulou, S. (2013). What place references can do in social research interviews. Discourse Studies, 15(3), 333-351. Retrieved from doi:10.1177/1461445613480589

Myers, G., & Lampropoulou, S. (2015). Laughter, non-seriousness and transitions in social research interview transcripts. Qualitative Research, 16(1), 78-94. Retrieved from doi:10.1177/1468794114561346

Schubotz, D., Melaugh, M., & McLoughlin, P. (2011). Archiving Qualitative Data in the Context of a Society Coming out of Conflict: Some Lessons from Northern Ireland. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(3). doi:

Tamboukou, M. (2008). Re-imagining the narratable subject. 8(3), 283-292. Retrieved from doi:10.1177/1468794106093623

Tamboukou, M. (2011). Interfaces in narrative research: letters as technologies of the self and as traces of social forces. Qualitative Research, 11(5), 625-641. Retrieved from doi:10.1177/1468794111413493

Tamboukou, M. (2014). Archival research: unravelling space/time/matter entanglements and fragments. Qualitative Research, 14(5), 617-633. Retrieved from doi:10.1177/1468794113490719

Tamboukou, M. (2016). Feeling narrative in the archive: the question of serendipity. Qualitative Research, 16(2), 151-166. Retrieved from doi:10.1177/1468794115569563

Tesar, M. (2015). Ethics and truth in archival research. History of Education, 44(1), 101-114. Retrieved from doi:10.1080/0046760X.2014.918185

van den Berg, H. (2008). Reanalyzing Qualitative Interviews from Different Angles: The Risk of Decontextualization and Other Problems of Sharing Qualitative Data. Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung, 33(3 (125)), 179-192. Retrieved from




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