Qualitative Research Methods and Designs
Qualitative research is more concerned with description and the subjective nature of lived experiences than with the quantification of experience for the purpose of applying statistical procedures. Their methods differ, but both qualitative and quantitative approaches attempt to understand social and behavioral phenomena by systematically collecting, organizing, analyzing, and interpreting data. As forms of disciplined inquiry, adherence to standards of rigor in the use of both qualitative and quantitative research methods reduces the likelihood of unwanted bias, thereby increasing the overall validity or credibility of findings from any given study. Sampling procedures in qualitative studies are designed to bring the researcher in contact with the participants who are most likely to provide rich data. Qualitative studies do not sample in order to provide generalizations to a larger population, so securing a sample that is representative of the larger population is not a rele vant concern.
Qualitative research, in contrast to quantitative, is more emergent in that research questions are likely to evolve over the course of the study as the researcher gains insight into the nature of the phenomena being observed through several phases of data collection (Creswell, 2014, p. 4). The investigator may begin by formulating a general research question from professional experiences or observations, and as the study progresses, refine these questions. In contrast to most quantitative studies, where the bulk of the relevant literature is reviewed prior to conducting the study, a qualitative researcher may not begin reading the literature until after the first round of data collection. Qualitative research aims for a holistic view of the participant’s experiences by using observation and open-ended questions in in-depth interviews.
Qualitative research methodology uses an inductive reasoning process. It is based on philosophical assumptions that are very different from those that support quantitative research. Epistemologically, knowledge comes from understanding what meanings have been given to experiences and processes from first-hand accounts of people. The nature of reality, which falls under the branch of philosophy called ontology, is socially constructed by individuals and groups of people, and thus multiple realities exist due to the different interpretative lenses people bring to their experiences. Unlike quantitative research, which some view as being value-free, the role of values (the axiological assumptions), intuition, bias, and subjective experience are an important component of what the researcher consciously and purposefully examines.
More recent philosophic traditions that have informed qualitative approaches to research include those that address the perspective of people from socially or politically marginalized populations, such as feminist, critical theory, hermeneutic, and multicultural perspectives. From these perspectives, one embraces the role of disciplined inquiry as a means of advocacy for people whose voice and worldviews tend to be less prominent. An approach to research from these perspectives, called action research, was first developed by the social psychologist Kurt Lewin in examining the perspective of minority status individuals in resolving community conflict. Action research is a macro-level framework for conducting applied research focused on solving problems in a local setting, that can utilize either qualitative or quantitative methods.
There are many specific qualitative designs. Some of the major qualitative designs are:
• Case study.
• Grounded theory.
• Narrative analysis.
• Content analysis.
Your Counseling Research: Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Methods text describes several of the major qualitative designs. There are several commercially-available software packages for helping researchers analyze qualitative data. In general, these tools help the researcher organize large amounts of text so that they can immerse into the data, determining what themes are present. Qualitative researchers can analyze their data without qualitative data analysis software, but it would require keeping track of many bits of paper, such as individual lines of narrative from interviews, which is unwieldy.
Case study focuses on one or a few cases in their natural setting. The purpose is to understand the one person, situation, or organization in great depth. It involves data collection by observation, interview, and written documents. Data is analyzed by organization into themes or stories to portray the case.
Ethnography is used to understand the culture of a group or organization, such as a prison population, school campus, or management team. Ethnography methods are borrowed from the field of anthropology and involve participant observation and interviews, while the researcher is immersed in the culture being studied. Culture or climate surveys used within a survey-feedback process are commonly used in organizational settings and are frequently part of a mixed-methods approach.
Phenomenology seeks to understand the subjective, internal lived experience of another human being. There are several distinct traditions within phenomenology which are sometimes covered in advanced qualitative research courses. Data are collected by in-depth, semi-structured, or unstructured interviews.
Grounded theory seeks to build a theory to explain something, starting with the data gathered from interviews, observations and analysis of documents. The theory comes from the data, in contrast to quantitative designs in which researchers start with theory and examine how well the data support the theory.
Content analysis, which is both a type of research design and a method for data analysis, is conducted to identify a specific characteristic from information using any form of communication (such as verbal or written) to obtain the data.
Three Research Traditions
Qualitative research historically was viewed as the starting point for observing phenomena in the social sciences, serving as the spawning ground for building theory. Quantitative research, with its sophisticated kinds of statistical procedures, was viewed as the best strategy for testing theories, many of which originally emerged through direct observation in field settings. Today, qualitative research is enjoying resurgence in the social and behavioral sciences, not only because of more sophisticated strategies and software for data collection and analysis, but also due to an expanded appreciation for how knowledge is created and the need to understand human experience holistically as it occurs within complex systems. This is one reason why mixed methods studies, which benefit from the strengths of both quantitative and qualitative approaches, are increasing in popularity. Mixed methods research is the topic of the next unit.
Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
To successfully complete this learning unit, you will be expected to:
1. Identify qualitative research characteristics and methods.
2. Analyze a qualitative research article by focusing on the methodological components.
3. Analyze quantitative research methods applied in a quantitative study.
Unit 6 Study 1
Qualitative Research Methods and Designs
Use your Counseling Research: Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Methods text to read the following:
• Chapter 9, “Grounded Theory Methodology,” pages 115–134.
• Chapter 10, “Phenomenological Designs,” pages 135–150.
• Chapter 11, “Narrative Designs,” pages 151–172.
Use the library to read the following:
• Keats’s 2009 article, “Multiple Text Analysis in Narrative Research: Visual, Written, and Spoken Stories of Experience,” from Qualitative Research, volume 9, issue 2, pages 181–195.
• Moss, Gibson, and Dollarhide’s 2014 article, “Professional Identity Development: A Grounded Theory of Transformational Tasks of Counselors,” from Journal of Counseling and Development, volume 92, issue 1, pages 3–12.
Use the Library to locate one recent (no older than five years) peer-reviewed counseling research study that uses a qualitative design. You may use this article for Unit 7 Qualitative Study Evaluation assignment, as well as this unit’s discussion, if you wish. Use the Search by Methodology guide from the Library to learn how to find qualitative and quantitative research articles.
Unit 6 Discussion 1: 1 page needed with 350 words and 2 references.
Qualitative Research Article Summary
After studying the introduction to this unit and completing the study activities, briefly compare the use of the research design employed in the study you selected to that of another qualitative design. In other words, what type of questions is each research design used to explore (for example, questions about the lived experience of a person experiencing a phenomenon, how to build a theory that is grounded in the data)? Summarize how the sampling, data collection, and data analysis procedures worked together to address the study’s research question or questions. The post should be written in your own words, not direct quotes from the articles. Incorporate material from the course text in a meaningful way. The suggested length for this post is 350 words.