of recorded images and sound
One of the potential influences that preparation for later
re-use may have on data-originators is the awareness that
others may encounter difficulty in understanding one’s
image and sound records. As they are more intrinsically ambiguous
than written records, researchers may be quite wary of depositing
them (quite aside from the considerable ethical
One of the potential dangers here is that originators may
be too aware of aesthetics when producing a video record,
so that the quality of the image assumes greater importance
than what is actually being represented. The originator may
select shots on the basis that they ‘work visually’
rather than purely on the basis of the study’s methodological
needs. Once a dataset is already constructed, the originator
may feel the need subsequently to ‘tidy up’ or
edit these records so that they become more ‘readable’.
Technique and technology
There is a purely practical issue here. In order for image
and sound based records to be usable by others, the quality
does indeed have to be sufficiently high to allow later re-users
to decode the archived information. Poorly produced sound
recordings, incompetent photographs and wobbly video footage
may be decodable by originators due to their field-recollections
and experience-derived insights. But they may be frustratingly
opaque to re-users. Written records, by contrast, do not involve
such a potential range in quality.
This issue involves questions both of technique and technology.
On the one hand, we would advise that anyone intending to
use audio-visual media in the field undergoes some preliminary
training in how to use a camera effectively. There are short
courses available at a range of organisations and institutions.
On the other hand, we would also recommend that he or she
obtains professional advice about what kind of equipment to
purchase. One of the perennial problems is ensuring sufficiently
high and consistent sound quality, so equipping oneself with
good microphones is essential. This usually means buying a
video camera that can have external mics attached, which is
likely to increase the price accordingly. We advocate using
semi professional models rather than consumer-level ones,
as they enable settings to be customised, sound to be monitored
and more than one external microphone to be attached.
There is a set of guidelines on choosing good audio recording
equipment on the Qualidata
Viewability and when to use the
The other issue is more of a methodological one: how to decide
which recording medium to use: when to use a visual recording
medium? When to use only writing? When to use fieldnotes?
• How should we deal with the demands of aesthetic
‘viewability’ in deciding how to record diverse
For example, in a complex and fast-moving fieldwork setting
(such as a school, a hospital or a science museum), one might
well have to choose between observing one event over another.
If one event is more amenable to the camera, i.e. more ‘visual’,
does this mean we should make our choice based on a ‘viewability’
criterion? This would clearly be problematic. Choosing what
to film should be decided on methodological/theoretical grounds,
not on grounds of its visuality.
• How should we judge the merit of using visual recording
media in the context of re-use?
In our own work we decided to select the recording medium
that best suited the diverse kinds of data we were dealing
with. For example, for live interactions between users and
exhibits, cameras were ideal. But in sit-down interviews with
the science museum staff, we most frequently used audio recordings
alone, and decided not to use video. In terms of our particular
research questions, there was little to be gained in terms
of qualitatively important supplementary information by the
use of video in interviews. This may not, however, be the
case with other studies, and – crucially - studies that
re-use existing data, where the nuances of participants’
gesture, facial expression, posture, and so forth might be
of greater significance.