Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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Thick description

core definition

Thick description is a term used by some ethnographers to refer to the process of drawing out broad conclusions from close inspection of small sets of very dense information.

explanatory context

The term is one developed by Clifford Geertz who essentially proposed an anti-positivistic, anti-reductionist ethnography in which the context of behaviour should be explored in order to assess its meaning. He advocated a kind of shuttling back and forth between basic questions about culture and lengthy aquaintance with minute details of everyday activity.

This approach has similarities with ethnomethodology.

A more general and rather misleading usage of the term 'thick description' is that of the-more-data-the-better.

analytical review

Mann and Richards (undated) write:

This expression was originally used by Clifford Geertz but is now common currency. It is used to refer to an account of a particular setting which is rich in detail and embraces different perspectives. The idea behind it is that it is possible to learn a great deal from narrowly focused observation, provided that the observation is sufficiently penetrating and comprehensive.

associated issues


related areas

See also



Mann, S. and Richards, K, undated, Research Methods: Introduction to Qualitative Research , available at, accessed 24 June 2013, page not available 29 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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