Verbatim quotations in applied social research: theory, practice and impact

Project: Research project (funded)Research

Project Details


Less attention has been paid to the way qualitative researchers write and present data than to data collection and analysis. One technique, in presenting findings, is to include verbatim quotations from respondents within or alongside the author's written text.

Aims of the study:
* to review conceptual and theoretical arguments for using verbatim quotations
* to explore current beliefs and practice among social researchers
* to investigate the views of those who speak the words presented
* to test accessibility, acceptability and impact of different ways of including quotations in written outputs

Layman's description

Often in research people are interviewed about some aspect of their lives and this is analysed by the researcher in order to understand the subject. The researcher will often use direct quotes from these conversations to illustrate a point in their analysis. This project looked at the ideas behind using direct quotes and the power that they can have when included in a narrative about a subject. It looked at different ways of including direct quotes in research and discussed how these worked and differed from one another.

Key findings

Experienced researchers:

• influenced by experiences of reading other authors’ work; practices prevailing within the research groups; response of research funders and users; expectations of publishers, and reviewers’ comments.

• general commitment to presenting transcript material with as little editing as possible. However, this was balanced against the need for a report which was easy to read, maintained participants’ anonymity and met ethical requirements.

• researchers’ practices in editing transcript material varied considerably

• The way in which quotations were attributed to speakers was influenced by the focus of the research, the topic area, the purpose in using the quotation, readability and the need to maintain anonymity.

• Some researchers found that funders were asking for increasingly detailed ‘labels’ and descriptors at the end of quotations, and care was needed to ensure anonymity. Some researchers liked the use of pseudonyms.

Research users:

• senior policy makers, research managers from government departments; senior managers from key UK organisations which fund and disseminate social research; senior personnel in independent and voluntary organisations; and senior practitioners/academics

• They expected to find verbatim quotations in output based on qualitative approaches such as interviews and group discussions.

• Their approach to reading was usually selective, skimming or scanning a document to get an impression of content and importance, and then dipping into parts which seemed useful.

• Senior policy makers who had time only to read abstract, introduction, summary and conclusions often never got as far as reading verbatim quotations.

• People who had no experience themselves of writing up qualitative research said it was often very hard to assess how researchers were using the quotations. Doubts about the researchers’ objectivity could easily arise.

• What some people liked and recognised as making a positive impact on their reading and understanding was, among others, disliked and a source of irritation. Some said this use of quotations could suggest a researcher’s defensive need to reassure readers that the research had been done, or lack of confidence that readers would trust their analysis.

• Research users felt that using verbatim quotations gave researchers a powerful tool for getting across their own personal or political message, or using emotional influence to enhance findings.

Views of research participants and report readers

• Those who took part in the interviews liked having quotations in the report. They made the report easier to read and more interesting, and provided evidence that the researchers really had spoken to people.

• Some liked the way in which the quotations gave people a chance to have their say

• Anonymity was very important to the service users, and those who saw the report perceived themselves there as anonymous.

• However, the service manager and some members of staff said they probably did recognise some of the clients whose words were used, from the ways in which individual people talked about their experiences. This was an important lesson about the power of textual representation of spoken words.

Effective start/end date1/11/0231/07/05




  • H Social Sciences (General)