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Qualitative Research

Approach of Qualitative Research
• Qualitative research – different assumptions/
approach than quantitative research
• Emphasis on seeing the world from the eyes
of the participants
• Strive to make sense of phenomena in terms
of the meanings people bring to them
• Holistic emphasis – studying the person,
group, culture in the natural setting

© 2007 Pearson Education

Why Qualitative Research?
• Qualitative research is often used when:

– The research is focused on aspects of

behavior and feelings that are not easily
reduced to numbers.

– Useful when the research is focused on an

area that not much is known about (an
“exploratory” study)

– There is a need to explain a topic in-depth 3

Qualitative vs. Quantitative
• Qualitative research is a reaction against positivism in
favor of relativism

• Positivism = objective reality exists and the scientific

method (deductive methods) can be used to know that
objective reality

• Relativism = subjectivism, constructivism, etc.. which

embrace the notion that reality is self-and culturally

• Is truth relative or absolute?

History of Qualitative Research

• Qualitative research approaches began to

gain recognition in the 1970s.

• The phrase 'qualitative research' was until

then marginalized as a discipline of
anthropology or sociology, and terms like
ethnography, fieldwork, participant
observation and the Chicago school
(sociology) were used instead.
Fields Using Qualitative Research
During the 1970s and 1980s qualitative research began to be used in
other disciplines, and became a dominant - or at least significant -
type of research in the fields of
• women's studies,
• disability studies,
• education studies,
• social work studies,
• information studies,
• management studies,
• nursing services studies,
• human services studies,
• psychology, and others. 6
Characteristics of Qualitative Research
• Sampling is non-random; subjects are
recruited; studies cannot be easily
replicated; findings cannot be
• The researcher – is the instrument of
data collection.
• Data is non-numerical –field notes,
audio tapes. video tapes, photographs,
Data Collection in
Qualitative Research
• Observation
• Participant Observation
• Key Informant Interviews
• Open-ended Interview
• Focus Group Discussions
Qualitative Research Designs
 Narrative Research (aka: biography)

 Phenomenology

 Grounded theory

 Ethnography

 Case Study

 There are overlaps between these designs

Narrative Research
(AKA Biography)
• Researcher tells the story of one or two
individuals—especially what has been defined as
“turning point moments” that help to illustrate a
larger construct or phenomenon

• Analysis of data focuses on restorying, which is a

process of re-organizing the person’s narrative into
a framework that illustrates larger themes (i.e. life
transitions, resilience, struggles for social justice,
– Describes the meaning of experiences
– The goal is to seek the central underlying
meaning, or the
– Universal essence of some experience
– and to describe the commonalities between
individuals in their experiences.
– The focus is on the description of the
experiences of people, rather than an
explanation or analysis of the experiences.
Grounded Theory
– The goal of grounded theory research is to
generate a theory that relates to a particular
– Focus is on going beyond description to an
explanation of something—e.g. a theory for why
something is occurring.

– The theory is developed inductively—e.g. it

“emerges” from the data.
Ethnographic Research
– A description or interpretation of a cultural or social
group or system.
– Focus is on describing and interpreting the shared
groups’ behavior, customs and ways of life.
– Overall intent is to understand how a culture works.
– Data sources often involve participant observation—
researcher is immersed in the day-to-day lives of the
people being studied and/or interviewed—this is
described as fieldwork.

Case Study
– Exploration of a case (or multiple cases) over time. By
case, we are referring to a “bounded system”—which
is bounded by time and place.
– A case can be a program, an event, an activity, or an
– Emphasis is on in-depth understanding of the case, or a
comparison of several cases.
– Most commonly case studies are used to describe
clients within social service systems and circumstances
related to the client’s condition.
Your research topic
• Consider your research topic
• Develop 1 or 2 overall qualitative research questions to
guide your study

1) What type of participant would you seek if using a
narrative approach for this topic?
2) What aspects of their life narrative would you focus on in
your interviews?
3) Develop 3 to 5 possible questions for a narrative
Your research topic
• Ethnographic approach
• 1) What type of cultural or social group would
you see if using an ethnographic approach for
your research?
• 2) What aspects of the cultural or social group
would you want to observe (think about
cultural, social and group norms)
• 3) What type of observer would you want to be?
• Develop topics or research questions as many
as you can.
• Identify whether or not the topic or research
questions lead you to do a qualitative