Qualitative Research..

March 6, 2012 5:16 am



Qualitative research aims  to illuminate the research participants’ subjective meanings, actions and social contexts, as understood by them. In recent times, researchers especially in the fields of psychology, management and occupational health psychology are turning to qualitative research methods to tackle numerous issues and find solutions. .” A variety of conceptions of qualitative research exist, with competing claims as to what counts as good quality work. Rather than opting for the criteria promoted by one variety, “paradigm,” “moment,” or school within qualitative research, practicing researchers can learn valuable lessons from each one.” (Seal, C. 1999, p.465) .Throughout an ongoing  research project, qualitative research emphasizes on the importance of reflection  on self by a researcher . A researcher is expected to ponder over issues pertaining to choice of topics, methodology, approaches among others. Some researchers have aptly called  a qualitative researcher a  ” Jack-Of-All-Trades or a kind of do-it-yourself person [who deploys]whatever strategies, methods, or empirical materials are at hand. . . . If new tools or techniques have to be invented, or pieced together, then the researcher will do this.” Denzin and Lincoln,( 2000b, p.4)


The nature of qualitative research


Qualitative research focuses on finding  explanations for anything, which happens to us . That is to say, it aims to help us to understand the world in which we live and what makes things the way they are. It delves on the social aspects of our world and seeks answers to open ended  questions like:

What makes  people behave the way they do, how do people perceive a situation, does their culture play a role in the development of their thought process and to what extent, what is the impact of gender, race and other differences ?


Most questions for Qualitative research tend to begin with: why? how? in what way? Quantitative research, on the other hand, tends to focus on precise answers, quantity or set figures. Most  questions begin with :how much? how many? how often? to what extent?


Methods popular in qualitative research are diary studies, observations, interviews: personal and group; and focus group study(Please refer to Taris,2010 for details on each). Emphasis is laid on personal contact with all . Data are used to develop concepts and theories that help us to understand the social world. Focus groups and interviews are often used at the onset or before a quantitative study to pinpoint the topics that are deemed important enough to be included in this research.(Taris,2010) This is an inductive approach to the development of theory. Quantitative research is deductive in that it tests theories which have already been proposed .(Trent Focus Group,1988)


Qualitative Research Design :It is important for researchers to keep in mind that their study must ultimately proves heir hypothesis. For example, If a researcher is doing a study to show that “Stress leads to less productivity”,it is important that at the end of his research he manages to give empirical evidence for this hypothesis.So, his research design will be such that it provides evidence supporting this fact.

A few  major types of qualitative research design are :


1) phenomenology


2) ethnography


3) grounded theory


4) case study


1)     Phenomenology: Phenomenology literally means the study of phenomena. It is a way of describing something that exists as part of the world in which we live .For example,One person may view a  financial raise as success while another may view a promotion at work as success.

As pointed out by Poppleton et al (2008, p. 283), qualitative approaches present alternative views of phenomena, which, in turn, might shed light on fresh implications for theory and practice.A case study by Poppleton,2008 effectively elucidates how qualitative research might tackle the issue of relevance of context. Another  example is a study by  Nippert-Eng (1995) which  suggests  that role conflict literature neglects the ‘mental,experiential dimension of roles’ (p. 209), drawing attention away from its ‘invisible roots’ (p. 209).

2)Ethnography: The ethnographic approach to qualitative research  loosely relies on anthropology. The basic tenet  in ethnography is  focus on the study of  an entire culture. Originally, the idea of a culture was tied to the notion of ethnicity and geographic location (e.g., the culture of the Andaman Islands), but  now it has expanded to encompass  practically any group, club ,community or organization. For example, a researcher can study the “culture” of a company or any group like Young Entrepreneur’s Organization.

3)Grounded Theory: : Theory, although understated (or even unstated) is what guides all clinical practice and every research inquiry: informing what

we believe should be done in various situations (Hammell and Carpenter 2000, p10). Grounded theory has been characterized as the “market leader” in qualitative research (McLeod, 2001, p. 70) and is credited with being in the “front of the qualitative revolution”.(Charmaz, 2000, p. 509)..


4) Case Study: When the research design is such that in depth analysis of a single unit  or small group of participants or parameters is required, case study is deemed to be a popular choice. It is a versatile method ,used both in qualitative as well as quantitative studies. Case study research is used to describe  a situation or event or organization from various angles.Sometimes, an entity (eg.  Person,organization, structure)has to be viewed from many facets,all of which are important for the true picture to emerge.

As a research design, the case study is deemed to offer a richness and depth of data which are not usually feasible by other methods. It strives to highlight as many variables as possible.It  enables viewing a situation from various dimensions .


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