I've been wanting to write this post for a while now, and like many things, it had to be put off. However, I feel that I need to write this now, mostly to make myself feel a little bit better.
Everyone knows that qualitative research has its advantages and disadvantages. However, in all my moments of discouragement and fishing around for articles/blogs online, I rarely see frustrations with the data collection phase discussed.
Some points, framed a bit like giving advice [but also in a way to communicate some of my experiences]:
If a substantial amount of your data is going to come from interviews, even if you have strong contacts with your target population, the recruitment process can be slow. People are busy. If you teach or work another job, your work schedule might conflict with the time(s) that people are available to schedule the interview(s). Some people will prefer an in-person interview; they might live far enough away to make you have to put off the interview indefinitely until you have a big enough window in your work schedule. You might have to send several follow up e-mails before a potential interviewee responds; they might be traveling or might have just missed your e-mail because they get so many others (like so many of us these days!). As previously mentioned, even if you have connections with your target population, you might need to meet a number of people in person and conduct those interviews before people are comfortable enough to help you in the process of "snowball sampling." This whole initial "start up" process can take months, especially, as mentioned above, if your population is scattered geographically.
You will have ups and downs. You might have several people express interest in a short amount of time. You might think, "Yes! I am going to have at least a half dozen interviews within the next few weeks." Well, half of the people who agreed to be interviewed might not get back to repeated follow up e-mails or even phone messages (again, see above comment about people being busy). Your project is definitely not high on everyone's list of priorities. You might even schedule an interview with someone and they will be a "no show" and not respond to follow up contacts. It happens, and you need to move on (ok, I am really speaking to myself here, but I am *hoping* others can relate). On the other hand, you will definitely be inspired by your interviewees as they share their viewpoints and experiences, especially if your project has more of a phenomenological focus.
You might either be encouraged or frustrated if you speak with other dissertating individuals who have done this type of research. Some might tell you that they reached the magic number of 40 interviews within two semesters. You might fret because it might just take you two full semesters and a summer or more to get that far. No two projects are the same; you have to consider some of the issues mentioned above as well as the topic of your dissertation. Some topics are more sensitive than others and thus require the building of more trust with key members of the community.
To those of you who read this blog (first, thanks so much for reading!)- if you have done qualitative, interview-based research in the past, have you faced similar issues with the recruitment process? I ask this as I continue to send out letters. Also, have you tried doing follow-up phone calls if you had a phone number for the person/organization? I have tried to avoid this unless the person gave me their number directly or told me to call, but I am thinking that I will have to do this more in the future.