The emotional impacts of working with sensitive secondary data

Sharon Jackson, Kathryn Backett-Milburn, Elinor Newall

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Whilst ethnographic and qualitative accounts regularly contain reflexive narratives, relatively little consideration is given to the researcher’s emotional self. The impact on researchers of working with sensitive secondary data has received practically no attention. This account draws on two collaborative projects with ChildLine Scotland (CLS) exploring their unique caller data base. The first investigated children and young people’s concerns about the health and well-being of their parents and significant others, the second children and young people’s sexual health and well-being concerns, including sexual abuse. Narrative summaries of notes taken by ChildLine counsellors were also analysed. The calls and the various levels of written records accessed can be seen as raw accounts unmediated by researcher interaction. Our team’s experiences of analysing and presenting data that comprised immediate accounts from children resonates with Moran-Ellis’s (1995) reflections on reading accounts of child sexual abuse and her observation that she felt ‘much pain by proxy’. We reflect on the various and sometimes unexpected ways in which working with such data impacted emotionally on all members of the research team and the particular challenges working with written or secondary accounts poses for researchers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearching families and relationships: reflections on process
EditorsLynn Jamieson, Roona Simpson, Ruth Lewis
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages4
ISBN (Print)9780230252448
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Publication series

NamePalgrave Macmillan Studies in Family and Intimate Life
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan


  • families
  • relationships
  • research methodology
  • intimacy
  • reflections


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