Unlike quantitative researchers, ethnographers are more concerned with the processes through which texts depict 'reality' rather than with whether such texts contain true or false statements. As Atkinson and Coffey (2004) put it:

“In paying due attention to such materials, however, one must be quite clear about what they can and cannot be used for. Documents are 'social facts', in that they are produced, shared and used in socially organized ways. They are not, however, transparent representations of organizational routines, decision-making processes, or professional diagnoses. They construct particular kinds of representations using their own conventions.”

While quantitative researchers, like legal practitioners, are concerned with the accuracy of documents, the concern here shifts to how documents represent reality. This generates a specific set of research questions, as follows:

Research Questions about Documents

  1. How are documents written?
  2. How are they read?
  3. Who writes them?
  4. Who reads them?
  5. For what purposes?
  6. On what occasions?
  7. With what outcomes?
  8. What is recorded?
  9. What is omitted?
  10. What is taken for granted?
  11. What does the writer seem to take for granted about the reader(s)?
  12. What do readers need to know in order to make sense of them?

Source: Hammersley and Atkinson,1983:142-143.

Atkinson, P. and Coffey, A. (2004). Analysing documentary realities. In D. Silverman (Ed.), Qualitative research, London: Sage: 45-62.
Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. (1983) Ethnography: Principles in practice, Tavistock: London.