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What is Qualitative Research?. A holistic approach to questions--a recognition that human realities are complex. Broad questions. The focus is on human experience

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What is qualitative research
What is Qualitative Research?

  • A holistic approach to questions--a recognition that human realities are complex. Broad questions.

  • The focus is on human experience

  • The research strategies used generally feature sustained contact with people in settings where those people normally spend their time. Contexts of Human Behavior.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Qualitative research cont
Qualitative Research cont.

  • There is typically a high level of researcher involvement with subjects; strategies of participant observation and in-depth, unstructured interviews are often used.

  • The data produced provide a description, usually narrative, of people living through events in situations.

    Cited from Boyd, pp. 67-68 in Munhall, 2001

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Types of qualitative data
Types of Qualitative Data

  • 1. Interviews

  • 2. Observations

  • 3. Documents

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Types of qualitative data1
Types of Qualitative Data

  • 1. Interviews

    • Open-ended questions and probes yield in-depth responses about people’s experiences, opinions, perceptions, feelings and knowledge.

    • Data consist of verbatim quotations with sufficient context to be interpretable.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Types of qualitative data cont
Types of Qualitative Data cont.

  • 2. Observations

    • Fieldwork descriptions of activities, behaviors, actions, conversations, interpersonal interactions, organizational or community processes, or any other aspect of observable human experience.

    • Data consist of field notes: rich detailed descriptions, including the context within which the observations were made.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Types of qualitative data cont1
Types of Qualitative Data cont.

  • 3. Documents

    • Written materials and other documents, programs records; memoranda and correspondence; official publications and reports; personal diaries, letters, artistic works, photographs, and memorabilia; and written responses to open-ended surveys.

    • Data consists of excerpts from documents captured in a way that records and preserves context.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Qualitative traditions of inquiry
Qualitative Traditions of Inquiry

  • 1. Biography--Life history, oral


  • 2. Phenomenology--The lived experience

  • 3. Grounded theory

  • 4. Ethnography

  • 5. Case Study

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Biographical study
Biographical Study

  • The study of an individual and her or his experiences as told to the researcher or found in documents and archival material.

  • Life history--The study of an individual’s life and how it reflects cultural themes of the society.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Biographical study cont
Biographical Study cont.

  • Oral history--The researcher gathers personal recollections of events, their causes, and their effects from and individual or several individuals.

  • The researcher needs to collect extensive information about the subject of the biography

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Biographical study cont1
Biographical Study cont.

  • The writer, using an interpretive approach, needs to be able to bring himself or herself into the narrative and acknowledge his or her standpoint.

Qualitative Research--Simpson


  • Describes the meaning of the lived experience about a concept or a phenomenon for several individuals.

  • It has roots in the philosophical perspectives of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, etc.

    --Max Van Manen, Munhall (Nursing)

Qualitative Research--Simpson


  • Moustakas, 1994, p. 13: “to determine what an experience means for the persons who have had the experience and are able to provide a comprehensive description of it. From the individual descriptions, general or universal meanings are derived, in other words, the essences of structures of the experience.”

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Grounded theory
Grounded Theory

  • Based on Symbolic Interactionism which posits that humans act and interact on the basis of symbols, which have meaning and value for the actors.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Grounded theory cont
Grounded Theory cont.

  • The intent of grounded theory is to generate or discover a theory that relates to a particular situation. If little is known about a topic, grounded theory is especially useful

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Grounded theory cont1
Grounded Theory cont.

  • Usually have a question, don’t do

    a literature review in the beginning.

  • Usually do 20-30 interviews

    (maybe more than one time for each person)

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Grounded theory cont2
Grounded Theory cont.

  • Data collection and analysis occur simultaneously, until “saturation” is reached.

  • Data reviewed and coded for categories and themes.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Grounded theory cont3
Grounded Theory cont.

  • Data analysis generates a visual picture, a narrative statement or a series of hypotheses with a central phenomenon, causal conditions, context and consequences.

  • The researcher needs to set aside theoretical ideas or notions so that analytical or substantive theories can emerge from the data.

  • Systematic approach

Qualitative Research--Simpson


  • A description and interpretation of a cultural or social group or system. The researcher examines the group’s observable and learned patterns of behavior, customs, and ways of life.

  • Involves prolonged observation of the group, typically through participant observation.

Qualitative Research--Simpson


  • Field Work

  • Key Informants

  • Thick description

  • Emic (insider group perspective) and Etic (researcher’s interpretation of social life).

  • Context important, need holistic view.

  • Need grounding in anthropology.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Ethnography cont
Ethnography cont.

  • Need extensive time to collect data

  • Many ethnographies may be written in a narrative or story telling approach which may be difficult for the audience accustomed to usual social science writing.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Ethnography cont1
Ethnography cont.

  • May incorporate quantitative data and archival documents.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Case study
Case Study

  • A case study is an exploration of a “bounded system” or a case (or multiple cases) over time through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information rich in context.

  • The context of the case involves situating the case within its setting. which may be physical, social, historical and/or economic.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Case study cont
Case Study cont.

  • Data collection strategies include direct observation, interviews, documents, archival records, participant observation, physical artifacts and audiovisual materials.

  • Analysis of themes, or issues and an interpretation of the case by the researcher.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Designing a qualitative study
Designing a Qualitative Study

  • Problem Statement or Statement of Need for the Study

  • No hypothesis; Research questions which you want to answer instead.

  • Opinions differ about the extent of literature needed before a study begins.

  • Need to identify the gaps in knowledge about the topic.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Qualitative study design cont
Qualitative Study Design cont.

  • Research questions that are too broad:

    • Does Buddhism account for the patience that seems to dominate the Thai world view?

    • How do leaders make their decisions?

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Qualitative study design cont1
Qualitative Study Design cont.

  • Research questions better answered

    by quicker means:

    • What television programs do Brazilians watch most?

    • Where can you buy postage stamps in


Qualitative Research--Simpson

Qualitative study design cont2
Qualitative Study Design cont.

  • Examples of Qualitative Questions

    • What do people in this setting have to know in order to do what they are doing?

    • What is the story that can be told from these experiences?

    • What are the underlying themes and contexts that account for the experience?

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Qualitative sampling strategies
Qualitative Sampling Strategies

  • No probability sampling

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Sampling strategies cont
Sampling Strategies cont.

  • Decisions about sampling and sampling strategies depend on the unit of analysis which has been determined.

    • individual people

    • program, group organization or community

    • genders, ethnic groups, older and younger

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Sampling strategies cont1
Sampling Strategies cont.

  • Purposeful or Judgment Sampling

    • “In judgment sampling, you decide the purpose you want informants (or communities) to serve, and you go out to find some” Bernard, 2000:176

    • “Key Informants” are people who are particularly knowledgeable about the inquiry setting and articulate about their knowledge.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Sampling strategies cont2
Sampling Strategies cont.

  • Purposeful Sampling Strategies

    • Maximum variation

    • Homogeneous

    • Critical case

    • Theory based

    • Confirming and disconfirming cases

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Sampling strategies cont3
Sampling Strategies cont.

  • Snowball or chain

  • Extreme or deviant case

  • Typical case

  • Intensity

  • Politically important cases

  • Random purposeful

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Sampling strategies cont4
Sampling Strategies cont.

  • Stratified purposeful

  • Criterion

  • Opportunistic

  • Combination or mixed

  • Convenience

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Qualitative data collection
Qualitative Data Collection

  • Rather than developing an instrument to use, the qualitative researcher is the instrument.

  • Recording data: Field notes, tape recorders, video and photographic data

  • Interviews must be transcribed.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Fieldwork strategies and observations
Fieldwork Strategies and Observations

  • “In the fields of observation, chance favors the prepared mind.” Louis Pasteur

  • “People only see what they are prepared to see.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Fieldwork observations
Fieldwork Observations

  • Learn to pay attention, see what there is to see, and hear what there is to hear.

  • Practice writing descriptively

  • Acquiring discipline in recording field notes

  • Knowing how to separate detail from trivia to achieve the former without being overwhelmed by the latter.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Fieldwork observations cont
Fieldwork Observations cont.

  • Use rigorous methods to validate and triangulate observations.

  • Reporting strengths and limitations of one’s own perspective, which requires both self-knowledge and self-disclosure.

  • Participant observer or onlooker or both

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Qualitative interviewing
Qualitative Interviewing

1. Informal conversational interview

2. Interview guide approach

3. Standardized open-ended interview

4. Closed, fixed-response interview

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Qualitative interviewing cont
Qualitative Interviewing cont.

  • Sequencing questions

  • Use words that make sense to the people being interviewed.

  • Ask truly open-ended questions

  • Avoid questions which can be answered with a yes or no.

  • One idea per question.

  • Be careful with Why questions.

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Qualitative data analysis
Qualitative Data Analysis

  • When does analysis begin? During data collection.

  • Thick description is the foundation for qualitative analysis and reporting.

  • Organize the data. Read all the data and get a sense of the whole.

  • Coding for recurring themes and categories

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Qualitative data analysis1
Qualitative Data Analysis

  • Computer-assisted qualitative data management and analysis

    • Ethnograph

    • NUD*IST (Non-numerical Unstructured Data With Indexing, Searching and Theorizing) QSR N6 and QSR NVivo

    • ATLAS.ti

Qualitative Research--Simpson

Qualitative data analysis2
Qualitative Data Analysis

  • Coding data

  • Finding Patterns

  • Labeling Themes

  • Developing Category Systems

  • Looking for emergent patterns in the data

Qualitative Research--Simpson


Bernard, H.R. (2000). Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Creswell, J.W. (1998). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Traditions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Munhall, P.L. (2001). Nursing Research: A Qualitative Perspective, 3rd Edition. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett

Patton, M.Q. (2002). Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods, 3rd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Qualitative Research--Simpson