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Using Material from Item C and Elsewhere Assess the Strengths and Limitations of Using Qualitative Documents as a Means of Investigating Suicide. (15 Marks)

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Using material from Item C and elsewhere assess the strengths and limitations of using qualitative documents as a means of investigating suicide. (15 marks)
There is very important debate over the investigation of suicide, and which methods are best suited to do so. As said in Item C “suicide is a difficult topic to study because those who commit suicide are not available to research” and therefore some research methods are ruled out, for example observation. Qualitative documents include written texts such as diaries, letters and medical records; they can often include the writers’ feelings and attitudes and therefore can often provide rich, detailed information that Interpretivists can use to gather evidence. However there are both strengths and limitations to using this research method as a means of investigating suicide.
One practical issue to using qualitative documents is gaining access to them. As said in Item C “many friends and relatives will be in a state of shock and grief” and so may be reluctant to allow researcher’s access to personal things to the victim such as their diary or suicide note, which could be key to discovering the real reasons behind the suicide. However a practical strength is that a lot of people who do commit suicide do leave a note which often gives an insight into the reasons why they did it, and so although it may be difficult to access; extremely useful qualitative data is there.
An ethical issue when investigating suicide using qualitative documents is as said in item C “it can be very stressful for bereaved relatives and friends.” Those left behind by the victim will already be suffering from grief, sadness and shock and so any investigation done by researchers into the situation may cause further psychological harm and stress. Those grieving need to be treated and spoken to sensitively, as do any personal qualitative documents belonging to the victim that may have sentimental meaning for friends or family; such as diaries. Although an ethical strength is that there are no issues such as deceit which there would be if researchers were to use other methods, such as covert observation.
A theoretical issue of applying this research method to the investigation of suicide is the reliability of the documents. Positivists regard documents as unreliable sources of data. For example a common and useful qualitative document when investigating suicide is a diary and every persons diary is unique and compiled in its own way according to the writers own meanings and concerns, and so this uniqueness undermines the documents representativeness, and makes it difficult to draw generalisations from them. However a theoretical strength is why Interpretivists prefer documents; because they believe that they can provide a valid picture of the suicide victim’s reasons and meanings. For example the rich qualitative data from suicide notes and diaries gives researchers an insight into the victim’s worldview by enabling them to get close to their reality.
Overall there are many strengths and limitations to using qualitative documents to investigate suicide. As said in Item C “the loss of someone through suicide often results in strong responses and emotions, many friends and relatives will be in a state of shock and grief” which poses both practical and ethical limitations for this research method. However despite the numerous weaknesses, due to the desire to learn the true reasoning behind a victims desire to commit suicide, and the need to correctly establish whether or not the death was a suicide; using qualitative documents appears to be the best research method when examining this issue, because of the rich, valid data gained from it.

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