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Research Approaches 1: Qualitative Research. Ian Grigor. Aims of session. To describe and begin to discuss:- Research Approaches and Definitions Qualitative Research and… Its characteristics Suitable questions Methods Strengths Limitations Examples. What is research?.

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aims of session
Aims of session

To describe and begin to discuss:-

  • Research Approaches and Definitions
  • Qualitative Research and…
    • Its characteristics
    • Suitable questions
    • Methods
    • Strengths
    • Limitations
    • Examples
what is research
What is research?

‘An attempt to increase the sum of what is known, usually referred to as a body of knowledge, by the discovery of new facts or relationships through a process of systematic scientific enquiry, the research process’ (Hockey 1996)

Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods research are based upon systematic and scientific enquiry

why research in healthcare
Why research in healthcare?
  • To provide an evidence-based rationale for actions/care
  • To provide healthcare workers with an increasing number of evidence-based care/intervention options
  • To increase our understanding of the concerns of service users
  • To stimulate further critical enquiry into effective healthcare
  • To provide clinically effective and cost-effective care
the research continuum
The research continuum…

Different questions require different approaches.

Qualitative implies…

Quantitative implies…

…but what if they overlap?

qualitative research some characteristics
Qualitative Research: Some characteristics
  • Based on a view that, to understand the (social) world, we need to
    • Study people in natural settings- look at their everyday lives
    • Study the ways in which people understand and give meaning to the social world they live and work in
    • Focus not only on identification and explanations of facts BUT on understanding how people interpret those facts
    • e.g. We may know that 11% of children under 12 provide care for a disabled parent (facts). We may want to know how some of those children make sense of their experience as a carer (interpretations)
some examples of issues related to qualitative research
Some examples of issues related to qualitative research …
  • Its origins…
    • Philosophy
    • Anthropology
    • Sociology
  • Key points of focus…
    • Understanding the nature of social reality
    • How do people perceive and interpret the world?
    • Why do people interact with each other in the way they do?
    • What is culture and how are we influenced by our culture?
qualitative research related to mmr
Qualitative research related to MMR…

Answers to questions such as:

  • How did the concern over possible links between MMR and autism affect parents whose child was called for MMR vaccine?
  • What sources of information and advice might parents have sought and considered before deciding whether to let their child have the MMR vaccine?
  • What challenges did primary healthcare professionals face in working with parents who were concerned about the MMR vaccine?
how might qualitative researchers address these questions
How might qualitative researchers address these questions?


  • Focus groups of parents and healthcare professionals
  • Interviews with parents and healthcare professionals
  • Non-participant observation of immunisation clinic consultations (could include audio and video recording. Any ethical issues for consideration here?)
  • Documentary analysis (this can be textual or discourse analysis) e.g. of newspaper reports, TV and radio reports, examination of online sources, information leaflets, policies, especially in their development etc
  • A mixture of all of these sources of data
methods of data collection in qualitative research
Methods of data collection in qualitative research
  • Interview
  • Observation/Fieldwork (participant to non- participant)
  • Documentary analysis (personal diaries to formal records)
  • Personal narratives or stories/life histories
  • Film or photography
    • Almost all involve the researcher entering into the ‘natural or real world setting, seeking the insider’s viewpoint’
    • Most involve more than simple description
    • Description, explanation and theory come from the ‘field’ (not imposed on it)
analysis of qualitative data will involve
Analysis of qualitative data will involve

Constantly revisiting the data to look for common codes, themes & trends and comparing or adjusting these in the light of new evidence

strengths of qualitative research
Strengths of qualitative research
  • Making a contribution to knowledge in areas where little is currently known
  • Providing, depth and detailed understanding
  • Giving voice to people’s concerns and experiences that traditional scientific research may not capture
  • Focusing on people in social contexts not simply disease-intervention-outcome
some limitations of qualitative research
Some limitations of qualitative research
  • Specific focus and sometimes small sample size usually mean that findings are not easily transferable to other people and settings i.e. not generalisable
  • The data gathered are almost always interpreted by the researcher prior to its presentation to others. Some may claim this interpretation could be flawed by being subjective
  • Concerns therefore with validity of findings - (but options to address this)
  • The skills needed to plan, gather and analyse data in this tradition are not always fully addressed
reading for you
Reading for you…
  • Greenhalgh & Taylor (1997) How to read a paper: papers that go beyond numbers. British Medical Journal 315:740-743.
    • This is a paper from the “How to read a paper” series/book from the British Medical Journal. It is available as part of an online book (viahttp://www.bmj.com/publications) . The whole paper/book is of value although you can skip over the sections which detail the process for reviewing specific sections of a research paper.
  • Hek G, Judd M and Moule P (2002) 

Making sense of research: an introduction for health and social care practitioners (2nd edition)

London: Continuum.

Chapter 5 is particularly relevant to this session and to next week’s

  • Trochim WMK (2006) Qualitative Measures. Available at http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/qual.htm
  • There is also an online journal “Qualitative Research”, Sage Publications, which you can access via the University library
aims of session1
Aims of session

To describe and begin to discuss

  • Research Approaches and Definitions
  • Qualitative Research
  • Characteristics
  • Suitable Questions
  • Methods
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Examples