Chapter 13: Unobtrusive Research: Qualitative And Quantitative Approaches

13.4 Analyzing Others’ Data

One advantage (or disadvantage, depending on which parts of the research process you most enjoy) of unobtrusive research is that you may be able to skip the data collection phase altogether. Whether you wish to analyze qualitative or quantitative data sources, there are a number of free data sets available to social researchers. This section introduces you to several of those sources.

Many sources of quantitative data are publicly available in Canada from Statistics Canada (Stats Can) (see: For example, the General Social Survey (GSS) covers a broad range of topics. The website for the GSS can be found at Stats Can also provides workshops, training, webinars, and conferences across Canada, that are available to interested Canadians for a fee.

Unfortunately for qualitative researchers, far fewer sources of free, publicly available qualitative data exist. This is slowly changing, however, as technical sophistication grows and it becomes easier to digitize and share qualitative data. Despite comparatively fewer sources than for quantitative data, there are still a number of data sources available to qualitative researchers whose interests or resources limit their ability to collect data on their own.

The Murray Research Archive Harvard, housed at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University, offers case histories and qualitative interview data ( The Global Feminisms project at the University of Michigan offers interview transcripts and videotaped oral histories focused on feminist activism; women’s movements; and academic women’s studies in Brazil, China, India, Nicaragua, Poland, Russia and the United States (see

Keep in mind that the resources mentioned here represent just a snapshot of the many sources of publicly available data that can be accessed easily via the web. Table 13.1 “Sources of Publicly Available Data” summarizes the data sources discussed in this section.

Table 13.1 Sources of publicly available data

Organization Focus/topic Data type Web address
Statistics Canada National Household Survey complements census data and provides information on Canadian demographics, including social & economic characteristics and household unit information. Quantitative
National Opinion Research Center General Social Survey; demographic, behavioural, attitudinal, and special interest questions; national sample. Quantitative
Add Health Longitudinal social, economic, psychological, and physical well-being of cohort in grades 7–12 in 1994, next data collection to occur in 2010. Quantitative
Center for Demography of Health and Aging Wisconsin Longitudinal Study; life course study of cohorts who graduated from high school in 1957. Quantitative
Institute for Social & Economic Research British Household Panel Survey; longitudinal study of British lives and well-being. Quantitative
International Social Survey Program International data similar to GSS. Quantitative
The Institute for  Quantitative Social Science a Harvard Large archive of written data, audio, and video focused on. Quantitative and Qualitative