1.3.3 Stage 1: Preparation
The task here is very different from our task when faced with numbers, where we need to deal with a high level of abstraction. Writing is often dense and multi-layered, and usually gives us, if anything, too much surface information about our subject. We need to make a mental effort this time in selecting and abstracting information ourselves. In order to do this effectively we need to be aware of the context of the writing. We need to check if we can, for instance, the political and social intentions of the researcher, author and publisher, and the conventions of the genre of writing. (Different sorts of fiction are written according to different conventions, so soap-opera and psychological drama are different not just in content but in form. Genre describes this mix of form and content, as in ‘the genre of tabloid journalism’.) We also need to consider the size and scope of the sample from which qualitative evidence is drawn. How representative is the sample? We also need to ask ourselves what our own instant reaction to the piece is, and what preconceptions and political beliefs we bring to the topic which might influence our understanding of what the piece is about. Is it a topic on which you hold strong opinions? Do you assume that it's more likely to be true if it's a report in The Times than if its from the Sun, and would this necessarily make it less useful as evidence?