Visual Research methods

Visual Research

(Please note that this section is not about the type of ‘visual research’ that is a central part of most art and design courses, where students are encouraged to use museum visits and other image-related searches to inspire and inform their own practice. Instead it addresses the potential use of visual research methods in other subjects.)

Qualitative research in most disciplines still relies heavily on written or spoken language, with questionnaires, interviews and focus groups dominating most students’ assumptions about research methods. However, the researcher’s toolkit should also include a variety of visual approaches, which can be effective in helping respondents to access areas and levels of experience that might not easily surface in verbal form. In particular, it is often the move back and forth between visual and verbal modes of communication that generates key insights.

Some disciplines, particularly in the fields of sociology, anthropology and ethnography, do make use of qualitative visual research methods and have generated a rich literature on practical and methodological issues. However, these often focus on photographic approaches, so students may need extra help and confidence-building to use more hands-on methods where these might suit their research.

Here are the slides from two versions of a half-day workshop designed to offer practical experience and ideas for using drawing and collage for research purposes. Either could be adapted for other subjects, using some of the examples and activities in the Drawing to Learn section.

Further resources:

Some examples of visually oriented research projects
Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software
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