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Documents in a Field of Action: Using Documents to Address Research Questions About Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations

Abstract

In this article we show the potential of using documents to answer research questions pertinent to nonprofit and voluntary sector studies. We start by introducing what the methodological literature has to say about how documents are employed as a data source, along with their strengths and weaknesses. Then, we review 178 articles in three main nonprofit journals to analyze how researchers have used documents to understand nonprofit and voluntary sector organizations. We also provide a case example of document analysis to reveal the processes involved in using documents as a source of evidence. We emphasize that situating documents in a field of action invites researchers to pay attention not only to the information they contain but also what their production and consumption reveal about organizational life. Finally, we conclude with the implications and considerations for using documents in nonprofit and voluntary sector research.

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Meng-Han Ho, Barbara Duffy, and Lehn M. Benjamin have contributed equally to this paper.

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Correspondence to Lehn M. Benjamin.

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Ho, MH., Duffy, B. & Benjamin, L.M. Documents in a Field of Action: Using Documents to Address Research Questions About Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations. Voluntas (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-021-00413-y

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Keywords

  • Document analysis
  • Nonprofit and voluntary organizations
  • Qualitative methodology