Qualitative research is an approach to scientific research that involves using observation to gather and analyze non-numerical, in-depth, and well-contextualized datasets.
It serves as an integral part of academic, professional, and even daily decision-making processes (Baxter & Jack, 2008).
Methods of qualitative research encompass a wide range of techniques, from in-depth personal encounters, like ethnographies (studying cultures in-depth) and autoethnographies (examining one’s own cultural experiences), to collection of diverse perspectives on topics through methods like interviewing focus groups (gatherings of individuals to discuss specific topics).
Qualitative Research Examples
Definition: Ethnography is a qualitative research design aimed at exploring cultural phenomena. Rooted in the discipline of anthropology, this research approach investigates the social interactions, behaviors, and perceptions within groups, communities, or organizations.
Ethnographic research is characterized by extended observation of the group, often through direct participation, in the participants’ environment. An ethnographer typically lives with the study group for extended periods, intricately observing their everyday lives (Khan, 2014).
It aims to present a complete, detailed and accurate picture of the observed social life, rituals, symbols, and values from the perspective of the study group.
|Strengths of Ethnographic Research||Weaknesses of Ethnographic Research|
|The key advantage of ethnography is its depth; it provides an in-depth understanding of the group’s behaviour, lifestyle, culture, and context. It also allows for flexibility, as researchers can adapt their approach based on their observations (Bryman, 2015)||There are issues regarding the subjective interpretation of data, and it’s time-consuming. It also requires the researchers to immerse themselves in the study environment, which might not always be feasible.|
Example of Ethnographic Research
Citation: Evans, J. (2010). The Everyday Lives of Men: An Ethnographic Investigation of Young Adult Male Identity. Peter Lang.
Overview: This study by Evans (2010) provides a rich narrative of young adult male identity as experienced in everyday life. The author immersed himself among a group of young men, participating in their activities and cultivating a deep understanding of their lifestyle, values, and motivations. This research exemplified the ethnographic approach, revealing complexities of the subjects’ identities and societal roles, which could hardly be accessed through other qualitative research designs.
Definition: Autoethnography is an approach to qualitative research where the researcher uses their own personal experiences to extend the understanding of a certain group, culture, or setting. Essentially, it allows for the exploration of self within the context of social phenomena.
Unlike traditional ethnography, which focuses on the study of others, autoethnography turns the ethnographic gaze inward, allowing the researcher to use their personal experiences within a culture as rich qualitative data (Durham, 2019).
The objective is to critically appraise one’s personal experiences as they navigate and negotiate cultural, political, and social meanings. The researcher becomes both the observer and the participant, intertwining personal and cultural experiences in the research.
|Strengths of Autoethnographic Research||Weaknesses of Autoethnographic Research|
|One of the chief benefits of autoethnography is its ability to bridge the gap between researchers and audiences by using relatable experiences. It can also provide unique and profound insights unaccessible through traditional ethnographic approaches (Heinonen, 2012).||The subjective nature of this method can introduce bias. Critics also argue that the singular focus on personal experience may limit the contributions to broader cultural or social understanding.|
Example of Autoethnographic Research
Title: “A Day In The Life Of An NHS Nurse“
Citation: Osben, J. (2019). A day in the life of a NHS nurse in 21st Century Britain: An auto-ethnography. The Journal of Autoethnography for Health & Social Care. 1(1).
Overview: This study presents an autoethnography of a day in the life of an NHS nurse (who, of course, is also the researcher). The author uses the research to achieve reflexivity, with the researcher concluding: “Scrutinising my practice and situating it within a wider contextual backdrop has compelled me to significantly increase my level of scrutiny into the driving forces that influence my practice.”
3. Semi-Structured Interviews
Definition: Semi-structured interviews stand as one of the most frequently used methods in qualitative research. These interviews are planned and utilize a set of pre-established questions, but also allow for the interviewer to steer the conversation in other directions based on the responses given by the interviewee.
In semi-structured interviews, the interviewer prepares a guide that outlines the focal points of the discussion. However, the interview is flexible, allowing for more in-depth probing if the interviewer deems it necessary (Qu, & Dumay, 2011). This style of interviewing strikes a balance between structured ones which might limit the discussion, and unstructured ones, which could lack focus.
|Strengths of Semi-Structured Interview Research||Weaknesses of Semi-Structured Interview Research|
|The main advantage of semi-structured interviews is their flexibility, allowing for exploration of unexpected topics that arise during the interview. It also facilitates the collection of robust, detailed data from participants’ perspectives (Smith, 2015).||Potential downsides include the possibility of data overload, periodic difficulties in analysis due to varied responses, and the fact they are time-consuming to conduct and analyze.|
Example of Semi-Structured Interview Research
Citation: Puts, M., et al. (2014). Factors influencing adherence to cancer treatment in older adults with cancer: a systematic review. Annals of oncology, 25(3), 564-577.
Overview: Puts et al. (2014) executed an extensive systematic review in which they conducted semi-structured interviews with older adults suffering from cancer to examine the factors influencing their adherence to cancer treatment. The findings suggested that various factors, including side effects, faith in healthcare professionals, and social support have substantial impacts on treatment adherence. This research demonstrates how semi-structured interviews can provide rich and profound insights into the subjective experiences of patients.
4. Focus Groups
Definition: Focus groups are a qualitative research method that involves organized discussion with a selected group of individuals to gain their perspectives on a specific concept, product, or phenomenon. Typically, these discussions are guided by a moderator.
During a focus group session, the moderator has a list of questions or topics to discuss, and participants are encouraged to interact with each other (Morgan, 2010). This interactivity can stimulate more information and provide a broader understanding of the issue under scrutiny. The open format allows participants to ask questions and respond freely, offering invaluable insights into attitudes, experiences, and group norms.
|Strengths of Focus Group Research||Weaknesses of Focus Group Research|
|One of the key advantages of focus groups is their ability to deliver a rich understanding of participants’ experiences and beliefs. They can be particularly beneficial in providing a diverse range of perspectives and opening up new areas for exploration (Doody, Slevin, & Taggart, 2013).||Potential disadvantages include possible domination by a single participant, groupthink, or issues with confidentiality. Additionally, the results are not easily generalizable to a larger population due to the small sample size.|
Citation: Halaweh, H., Dahlin-Ivanoff, S., Svantesson, U., & Willén, C. (2018). Perspectives of older adults on aging well: a focus group study. Journal of aging research.
Overview: This study aimed to explore what older adults (aged 60 years and older) perceived to be ‘aging well’. The researchers identified three major themes from their focus group interviews: a sense of well-being, having good physical health, and preserving good mental health. The findings highlight the importance of factors such as positive emotions, social engagement, physical activity, healthy eating habits, and maintaining independence in promoting aging well among older adults.
Definition: Phenomenology, a qualitative research method, involves the examination of lived experiences to gain an in-depth understanding of the essence or underlying meanings of a phenomenon.
The focus of phenomenology lies in meticulously describing participants’ conscious experiences related to the chosen phenomenon (Padilla-Díaz, 2015).
In a phenomenological study, the researcher collects detailed, first-hand perspectives of the participants, typically via in-depth interviews, and then uses various strategies to interpret and structure these experiences, ultimately revealing essential themes (Creswell, 2013). This approach focuses on the perspective of individuals experiencing the phenomenon, seeking to explore, clarify, and understand the meanings they attach to those experiences.
|Strengths of Phenomenology||Weaknesses of Phenomenology|
|An advantage of phenomenology is its potential to reveal rich, complex, and detailed understandings of human experiences in a way other research methods cannot. It encourages explorations of deep, often abstract or intangible aspects of human experiences (Bevan, 2014).||Phenomenology might be criticized for its subjectivity, the intense effort required during data collection and analysis, and difficulties in replicating the study.|
Example of Phenomenology Research
Citation: Cilesiz, S. (2011). A phenomenological approach to experiences with technology: Current state, promise, and future directions for research. Educational Technology Research and Development, 59, 487-510.
Overview: A phenomenological approach to experiences with technology by Sebnem Cilesiz represents a good starting point for formulating a phenomenological study. With its focus on the ‘essence of experience’, this piece presents methodological, reliability, validity, and data analysis techniques that phenomenologists use to explain how people experience technology in their everyday lives.
6. Grounded Theory
Definition: Grounded theory is a systematic methodology in qualitative research that typically applies inductive reasoning. The primary aim is to develop a theoretical explanation or framework for a process, action, or interaction grounded in, and arising from, empirical data (Birks & Mills, 2015).
In grounded theory, data collection and analysis work together in a recursive process. The researcher collects data, analyses it, and then collects more data based on the evolving understanding of the research context. This ongoing process continues until a comprehensive theory that represents the data and the associated phenomenon emerges – a point known as theoretical saturation (Charmaz, 2014).
|Strengths of Grounded Theory||Weaknesses of Grounded Theory|
|An advantage of grounded theory is its ability to generate a theory that is closely related to the reality of the persons involved. It permits flexibility and can facilitate a deep understanding of complex processes in their natural contexts (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).||Critics note that it can be a lengthy and complicated process; others critique the emphasis on theory development over descriptive detail.|
Citation: Shernoff, D. J., Csikszentmihalyi, M., Shneider, B., & Shernoff, E. S. (2003). Student engagement in high school classrooms from the perspective of flow theory. School Psychology Quarterly, 18(2), 158–176.
Overview: Shernoff and colleagues (2003) used grounded theory to explore student engagement in high school classrooms. The researchers collected data through student self-reports, interviews, and observations. Key findings revealed that academic challenge, student autonomy, and teacher support emerged as the most significant factors influencing students’ engagement, demonstrating how grounded theory can illuminate complex dynamics within real-world contexts.
7. Narrative Research
Definition: Narrative research is a qualitative research method dedicated to storytelling and understanding how individuals experience the world. It focuses on studying an individual’s life and experiences as narrated by that individual (Polkinghorne, 2013).
In narrative research, the researcher collects data through methods such as interviews, observations, and document analysis. The emphasis is on the stories told by participants – narratives that reflect their experiences, thoughts, and feelings.
These stories are then interpreted by the researcher, who attempts to understand the meaning the participant attributes to these experiences (Josselson, 2011).
|Strengths of Narrative Research||Weaknesses of Narrative Research|
|The strength of narrative research is its ability to provide a deep, holistic, and rich understanding of an individual’s experiences over time. It is well-suited to capturing the complexities and intricacies of human lives and their contexts (Leiblich, Tuval-Mashiach, & Zilber, 2008).||Narrative research may be criticized for its highly interpretive nature, the potential challenges of ensuring reliability and validity, and the complexity of narrative analysis.|
Example of Narrative Research
Title: “Narrative Structures and the Language of the Self”
Citation: McAdams, D. P., Josselson, R., & Lieblich, A. (2006). Identity and story: Creating self in narrative. American Psychological Association.
Overview: In this innovative study, McAdams et al. (2006) employed narrative research to explore how individuals construct their identities through the stories they tell about themselves. By examining personal narratives, the researchers discerned patterns associated with characters, motivations, conflicts, and resolutions, contributing valuable insights about the relationship between narrative and individual identity.
8. Case Study Research
Definition: Case study research is a qualitative research method that involves an in-depth investigation of a single instance or event: a case. These ‘cases’ can range from individuals, groups, or entities to specific projects, programs, or strategies (Creswell, 2013).
The case study method typically uses multiple sources of information for comprehensive contextual analysis. It aims to explore and understand the complexity and uniqueness of a particular case in a real-world context (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015). This investigation could result in a detailed description of the case, a process for its development, or an exploration of a related issue or problem.
|Strengths of Case Study Research||Weaknesses of Case Study Research|
|Case study research is ideal for a holistic, in-depth investigation, making complex phenomena understandable and allowing for the exploration of contexts and activities where it is not feasible to use other research methods (Crowe et al., 2011).||Critics of case study research often cite concerns about the representativeness of a single case, the limited ability to generalize findings, and potential bias in data collection and interpretation.|
Example of Case Study Research
Citation: Wang, X. C., Choi, Y., Benson, K., Eggleston, C., & Weber, D. (2021). Teacher’s role in fostering preschoolers’ computational thinking: An exploratory case study. Early Education and Development, 32(1), 26-48.
Overview: This study investigates the role of teachers in promoting computational thinking skills in preschoolers. The study utilized a qualitative case study methodology to examine the computational thinking scaffolding strategies employed by a teacher interacting with three preschoolers in a small group setting. The findings highlight the importance of teachers’ guidance in fostering computational thinking practices such as problem reformulation/decomposition, systematic testing, and debugging.
9. Participant Observation
Definition: Participant observation has the researcher immerse themselves in a group or community setting to observe the behavior of its members. It is similar to ethnography, but generally, the researcher isn’t embedded for a long period of time.
The researcher, being a participant, engages in daily activities, interactions, and events as a way of conducting a detailed study of a particular social phenomenon (Kawulich, 2005).
The method involves long-term engagement in the field, maintaining detailed records of observed events, informal interviews, direct participation, and reflexivity. This approach allows for a holistic view of the participants’ lived experiences, behaviours, and interactions within their everyday environment (Dewalt, 2011).
|Strengths of Participant Observation||Weaknesses of Participant Observation|
|A key strength of participant observation is its capacity to offer intimate, nuanced insights into social realities and practices directly from the field. It allows for broader context understanding, emotional insights, and a constant iterative process (Mulhall, 2003).||The method may present challenges including potential observer bias, the difficulty in ensuring ethical standards, and the risk of ‘going native’, where the boundary between being a participant and researcher blurs.|
Citation: Heemskerk, E. M., Heemskerk, K., & Wats, M. M. (2017). Conflict in the boardroom: a participant observation study of supervisory board dynamics. Journal of Management & Governance, 21, 233-263.
Overview: This study examined how conflicts within corporate boards affect their performance. The researchers used a participant observation method, where they actively engaged with 11 supervisory boards and observed their dynamics. They found that having a shared understanding of the board’s role called a common framework, improved performance by reducing relationship conflicts, encouraging task conflicts, and minimizing conflicts between the board and CEO.
10. Non-Participant Observation
Definition: Non-participant observation is a qualitative research method in which the researcher observes the phenomena of interest without actively participating in the situation, setting, or community being studied.
This method allows the researcher to maintain a position of distance, as they are solely an observer and not a participant in the activities being observed (Kawulich, 2005).
During non-participant observation, the researcher typically records field notes on the actions, interactions, and behaviors observed, focusing on specific aspects of the situation deemed relevant to the research question.
This could include verbal and nonverbal communication, activities, interactions, and environmental contexts (Angrosino, 2007). They could also use video or audio recordings or other methods to collect data.
|Strengths of Non-Participant Observation||Weaknesses of Non-Participant Observation|
|Non-participant observation can increase distance from the participants and decrease researcher bias, as the observer does not become involved in the community or situation under study (Jorgensen, 2015). This method allows for a more detached and impartial view of practices, behaviors, and interactions.||Criticisms of this method include potential observer effects, where individuals may change their behavior if they know they are being observed, and limited contextual understanding, as observers do not participate in the setting’s activities.|
Example of Non-Participant Observation Research
Citation: Sreeram, A., Cross, W. M., & Townsin, L. (2023). Mental Health Nurses’ attitudes towards mental illness and recovery‐oriented practice in acute inpatient psychiatric units: A non‐participant observation study. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing.
Overview: This study investigated the attitudes of mental health nurses towards mental illness and recovery-oriented practice in acute inpatient psychiatric units. The researchers used a non-participant observation method, meaning they observed the nurses without directly participating in their activities. The findings shed light on the nurses’ perspectives and behaviors, providing valuable insights into their attitudes toward mental health and recovery-focused care in these settings.
11. Content Analysis
Definition: Content Analysis involves scrutinizing textual, visual, or spoken content to categorize and quantify information. The goal is to identify patterns, themes, biases, or other characteristics (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005).
Content Analysis is widely used in various disciplines for a multitude of purposes. Researchers typically use this method to distill large amounts of unstructured data, like interview transcripts, newspaper articles, or social media posts, into manageable and meaningful chunks.
When wielded appropriately, Content Analysis can illuminate the density and frequency of certain themes within a dataset, provide insights into how specific terms or concepts are applied contextually, and offer inferences about the meanings of their content and use (Duriau, Reger, & Pfarrer, 2007).
|Strengths of Content Analysis||Weaknesses of Content Analysis|
|The application of Content Analysis offers several strengths, chief among them being the ability to gain an in-depth, contextualized, understanding of a range of texts – both written and multimodal (Gray, Grove, & Sutherland, 2017) – see also: textual analysis.||Content analysis is dependent on the descriptors that the researcher selects to examine the data, potentially leading to bias. Moreover, this method may also lose sight of the wider social context, which can limit the depth of the analysis (Krippendorff, 2013).|
Example of Content Analysis
Citation: Semetko, H. A., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2000). Framing European politics: A content analysis of press and television news. Journal of Communication, 50(2), 93-109.
Overview: This study analyzed press and television news articles about European politics using a method called content analysis. The researchers examined the prevalence of different “frames” in the news, which are ways of presenting information to shape audience perceptions. They found that the most common frames were attribution of responsibility, conflict, economic consequences, human interest, and morality.
12. Discourse Analysis
Definition: Discourse Analysis, a qualitative research method, interprets the meanings, functions, and coherence of certain languages in context.
Discourse analysis is typically understood through social constructionism, critical theory, and poststructuralism and used for understanding how language constructs social concepts (Cheek, 2004).
Discourse Analysis offers great breadth, providing tools to examine spoken or written language, often beyond the level of the sentence. It enables researchers to scrutinize how text and talk articulate social and political interactions and hierarchies.
Insight can be garnered from different conversations, institutional text, and media coverage to understand how topics are addressed or framed within a specific social context (Jorgensen & Phillips, 2002).
|Strengths of Discourse Analysis||Weaknesses of Discourse Analysis|
|Discourse Analysis presents as its strength the ability to explore the intricate relationship between language and society. It goes beyond mere interpretation of content and scrutinizes the power dynamics underlying discourse. Furthermore, it can also be beneficial in discovering hidden meanings and uncovering marginalized voices (Wodak & Meyer, 2015).||Despite its strengths, Discourse Analysis possesses specific weaknesses. This approach may be open to allegations of subjectivity due to its interpretive nature. Furthermore, it can be quite time-consuming and requires the researcher to be familiar with a wide variety of theoretical and analytical frameworks (Parker, 2014).|
Example of Discourse Analysis
Citation: Thomas, S. (2005). The construction of teacher identities in educational policy documents: A critical discourse analysis. Critical Studies in Education, 46(2), 25-44.
Overview: The author examines how an education policy in one state of Australia positions teacher professionalism and teacher identities. While there are competing discourses about professional identity, the policy framework privileges a narrative that frames the ‘good’ teacher as one that accepts ever-tightening control and regulation over their professional practice.
13. Action Research
Definition: Action Research is a qualitative research technique that is employed to bring about change while simultaneously studying the process and results of that change.
This method involves a cyclical process of fact-finding, action, evaluation, and reflection (Greenwood & Levin, 2016).
Typically, Action Research is used in the fields of education, social sciences, and community development. The process isn’t just about resolving an issue but also developing knowledge that can be used in the future to address similar or related problems.
The researcher plays an active role in the research process, which is normally broken down into four steps:
- developing a plan to improve what is currently being done
- implementing the plan
- observing the effects of the plan, and
- reflecting upon these effects (Smith, 2010).
|Strengths of Action Research||Weaknesses of Action Research|
|Action Research has the immense strength of enabling practitioners to address complex situations in their professional context. By fostering reflective practice, it ignites individual and organizational learning. Furthermore, it provides a robust way to bridge the theory-practice divide and can lead to the development of best practices (Zuber-Skerritt, 2019).||Action Research requires a substantial commitment of time and effort. Also, the participatory nature of this research can potentially introduce bias, and its iterative nature can blur the line between where the research process ends and where the implementation begins (Koshy, Koshy, & Waterman, 2010).|
Example of Action Research
Title: Using Digital Sandbox Gaming to Improve Creativity Within Boys’ Writing
Citation: Ellison, M., & Drew, C. (2020). Using digital sandbox gaming to improve creativity within boys’ writing. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 34(2), 277-287.
Overview: This was a research study one of my research students completed in his own classroom under my supervision. He implemented a digital game-based approach to literacy teaching with boys and interviewed his students to see if the use of games as stimuli for storytelling helped draw them into the learning experience.
14. Semiotic Analysis
Definition: Semiotic Analysis is a qualitative method of research that interprets signs and symbols in communication to understand sociocultural phenomena. It stems from semiotics, the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation (Chandler, 2017).
In a Semiotic Analysis, signs (anything that represents something else) are interpreted based on their significance and the role they play in representing ideas.
This type of research often involves the examination of images, sounds, and word choice to uncover the embedded sociocultural meanings. For example, an advertisement for a car might be studied to learn more about societal views on masculinity or success (Berger, 2010).
|Strengths of Semiotic Analysis||Weaknesses of Semiotic Analysis|
|The prime strength of the Semiotic Analysis lies in its ability to reveal the underlying ideologies within cultural symbols and messages. It helps to break down complex phenomena into manageable signs, yielding powerful insights about societal values, identities, and structures (Mick, 1986).||On the downside, because Semiotic Analysis is primarily interpretive, its findings may heavily rely on the particular theoretical lens and personal bias of the researcher. The ontology of signs and meanings can also be inherently subject to change, leading to ambiguity in the analysis (Lannon & Cooper, 2012).|
Example of Semiotic Research
Citation: Symes, C. (2023). Shielding the learned body: a semiotic analysis of school badges in New South Wales, Australia. Semiotica, 2023(250), 167-190.
Overview: This study examines school badges in New South Wales, Australia, and explores their significance through a semiotic analysis. The badges, which are part of the school’s visual identity, are seen as symbolic representations that convey meanings. The analysis reveals that these badges often draw on heraldic models, incorporating elements like colors, names, motifs, and mottoes that reflect local culture and history, thus connecting students to their national identity. Additionally, the study highlights how some schools have shifted from traditional badges to modern logos and slogans, reflecting a more business-oriented approach.
15. Qualitative Longitudinal Studies
Definition: Qualitative Longitudinal Studies are a research method that involves repeated observation of the same items over an extended period of time.
Unlike a snapshot perspective, this method aims to piece together individual histories and examine the influences and impacts of change (Neale, 2019).
Qualitative Longitudinal Studies provide an in-depth understanding of change as it happens, including changes in people’s lives, their perceptions, and their behaviors.
For instance, this method could be used to follow a group of students through their schooling years to understand the evolution of their learning behaviors and attitudes towards education (Saldaña, 2003).
|Strengths of Qualitative Longitudinal Studies||Weaknesses of Qualitative Longitudinal Studies|
|One key strength of Qualitative Longitudinal Studies is its ability to capture change and continuity over time. It allows for an in-depth understanding of individuals or context evolution. Moreover, it provides unique insights into the temporal ordering of events and experiences (Farrall, 2006).||Qualitative Longitudinal Studies come with their own share of weaknesses. Mainly, they require a considerable investment of time and resources. Moreover, they face the challenges of attrition (participants dropping out of the study) and repeated measures that may influence participants’ behaviors (Saldaña, 2014).|
Example of Qualitative Longitudinal Research
Citation: Hackett, J., Godfrey, M., & Bennett, M. I. (2016). Patient and caregiver perspectives on managing pain in advanced cancer: a qualitative longitudinal study. Palliative medicine, 30(8), 711-719.
Overview: This article examines how patients and their caregivers manage pain in advanced cancer through a qualitative longitudinal study. The researchers interviewed patients and caregivers at two different time points and collected audio diaries to gain insights into their experiences, making this study longitudinal.
16. Open-Ended Surveys
Definition: Open-Ended Surveys are a type of qualitative research method where respondents provide answers in their own words. Unlike closed-ended surveys, which limit responses to predefined options, open-ended surveys allow for expansive and unsolicited explanations (Fink, 2013).
Open-ended surveys are commonly used in a range of fields, from market research to social studies. As they don’t force respondents into predefined response categories, these surveys help to draw out rich, detailed data that might uncover new variables or ideas.
For example, an open-ended survey might be used to understand customer opinions about a new product or service (Lavrakas, 2008).
Contrast this to a quantitative closed-ended survey, like a Likert scale, which could theoretically help us to come up with generalizable data but is restricted by the questions on the questionnaire, meaning new and surprising data and insights can’t emerge from the survey results in the same way.
|Strengths of Open-Ended Surveys||Weaknesses of Open-Ended Surveys|
|The key advantage of Open-Ended Surveys is their ability to generate in-depth, nuanced data that allow for a rich, exploratory analysis. They provide a more personalized response from participants, and they may uncover areas of investigation that the researchers did not previously consider (Sue & Ritter, 2012).||Open-Ended Surveys require significant time and effort to analyze due to the variability of responses. Furthermore, the results obtained from Open-Ended Surveys can be more susceptible to subjective interpretation and may lack statistical generalizability (Fielding & Fielding, 2008).|
Example of Open-Ended Survey Research
Title: Advantages and disadvantages of technology in relationships: Findings from an open-ended survey
Citation: Hertlein, K. M., & Ancheta, K. (2014). Advantages and disadvantages of technology in relationships: Findings from an open-ended survey. The Qualitative Report, 19(11), 1-11.
Overview: This article examines the advantages and disadvantages of technology in couple relationships through an open-ended survey method. Researchers analyzed responses from 410 undergraduate students to understand how technology affects relationships. They found that technology can contribute to relationship development, management, and enhancement, but it can also create challenges such as distancing, lack of clarity, and impaired trust.
17. Naturalistic Observation
Definition: Naturalistic Observation is a type of qualitative research method that involves observing individuals in their natural environments without interference or manipulation by the researcher.
Naturalistic observation is often used when conducting research on behaviors that cannot be controlled or manipulated in a laboratory setting (Kawulich, 2005).
It is frequently used in the fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology. For instance, to understand the social dynamics in a schoolyard, a researcher could spend time observing the children interact during their recess, noting their behaviors, interactions, and conflicts without imposing their presence on the children’s activities (Forsyth, 2010).
|Strengths of Naturalistic Observation||Weaknesses of Naturalistic Observation|
|The predominant strength of Naturalistic Observation lies in its ecological validity: it allows the behavior of interest to be studied in the conditions under which it normally occurs. This method can also lead to the discovery of new behavioral patterns or phenomena not previously revealed in experimental research (Barker, Pistrang, & Elliott, 2016).||The observer may have difficulty avoiding subjective interpretations and biases of observed behaviors. Additionally, it may be very time-consuming, and the presence of the observer, even if unobtrusive, may influence the behavior of those being observed (Rosenbaum, 2017).|
Example of Naturalistic Observation Research
Citation: Kaplan, D. M., Raison, C. L., Milek, A., Tackman, A. M., Pace, T. W., & Mehl, M. R. (2018). Dispositional mindfulness in daily life: A naturalistic observation study. PloS one, 13(11), e0206029.
Overview: In this study, researchers conducted two studies: one exploring assumptions about mindfulness and behavior, and the other using naturalistic observation to examine actual behavioral manifestations of mindfulness. They found that trait mindfulness is associated with a heightened perceptual focus in conversations, suggesting that being mindful is expressed primarily through sharpened attention rather than observable behavioral or social differences.
Definition: Photo-elicitation utilizes photographs as a means to trigger discussions and evoke responses during interviews. This strategy aids in bringing out topics of discussion that may not emerge through verbal prompting alone (Harper, 2002).
Traditionally, Photo-Elicitation has been useful in various fields such as education, psychology, and sociology. The method involves the researcher or participants taking photographs, which are then used as prompts for discussion.
For instance, a researcher studying urban environmental issues might invite participants to photograph areas in their neighborhood that they perceive as environmentally detrimental, and then discuss each photo in depth (Clark-Ibáñez, 2004).
|Strengths of Photo-Elicitation||Weaknesses of Photo-Elicitation|
|Photo-Elicitation boasts of its ability to facilitate dialogue that may not arise through conventional interview methods. As a visual catalyst, it can support interviewees in articulating their experiences and emotions, potentially resulting in the generation of rich and insightful data (Heisley & Levy, 1991).||There are some limitations with Photo-Elicitation. Interpretation of the images can be highly subjective and might be influenced by cultural and personal variables. Additionally, ethical concerns may arise around privacy and consent, particularly when photographing individuals (Van Auken, Frisvoll, & Stewart, 2010).|
Example of Photo-Elicitation Research
Citation: Green, E. M., Spivak, C., & Dollahite, J. S. (2021). Early adolescent food routines: A photo-elicitation study. Appetite, 158.
Overview: This study focused on early adolescents (ages 10-14) and their food routines. Researchers conducted in-depth interviews using a photo-elicitation approach, where participants took photos related to their food choices and experiences. Through analysis, the study identified various routines and three main themes: family, settings, and meals/foods consumed, revealing how early adolescents view and are influenced by their eating routines.
Features of Qualitative Research
Qualitative research is a research method focused on understanding the meaning individuals or groups attribute to a social or human problem (Creswell, 2013).
Some key features of this method include:
- Naturalistic Inquiry: Qualitative research happens in the natural setting of the phenomena, aiming to understand “real world” situations (Patton, 2015). This immersion in the field or subject allows the researcher to gather a deep understanding of the subject matter.
- Emphasis on Process: It aims to understand how events unfold over time rather than focusing solely on outcomes (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015). The process-oriented nature of qualitative research allows researchers to investigate sequences, timing, and changes.
- Interpretive: It involves interpreting and making sense of phenomena in terms of the meanings people assign to them (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011). This interpretive element allows for rich, nuanced insights into human behavior and experiences.
- Holistic Perspective: Qualitative research seeks to understand the whole phenomenon rather than focusing on individual components (Creswell, 2013). It emphasizes the complex interplay of factors, providing a richer, more nuanced view of the research subject.
- Prioritizes Depth over Breadth: Qualitative research favors depth of understanding over breadth, typically involving a smaller but more focused sample size (Hennink, Hutter, & Bailey, 2020). This enables detailed exploration of the phenomena of interest, often leading to rich and complex data.
Qualitative vs Quantitative Research
Qualitative research centers on exploring and understanding the meaning individuals or groups attribute to a social or human problem (Creswell, 2013).
It involves an in-depth approach to the subject matter, aiming to capture the richness and complexity of human experience.
Examples include conducting interviews, observing behaviors, or analyzing text and images.
There are strengths inherent in this approach. In its focus on understanding subjective experiences and interpretations, qualitative research can yield rich and detailed data that quantitative research may overlook (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011).
Additionally, qualitative research is adaptive, allowing the researcher to respond to new directions and insights as they emerge during the research process.
However, there are also limitations. Because of the interpretive nature of this research, findings may not be generalizable to a broader population (Marshall & Rossman, 2014). Well-designed quantitative research, on the other hand, can be generalizable.
Moreover, the reliability and validity of qualitative data can be challenging to establish due to its subjective nature, unlike quantitative research, which is ideally more objective.
|Qualitative Research||Quantitative Research|
|Definition||Research method focused on understanding the meaning individuals or groups attribute to a social or human problem (Creswell, 2013)||Research method dealing with numbers and statistical analysis (Creswell & Creswell, 2017)|
|Examples||Interviews, text/image analysis (Fugard & Potts, 2015)||Surveys, lab experiments (Van Voorhis & Morgan, 2007)|
|Strengths||Yields rich and detailed data; adaptive to new directions and insights (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011)||Enables precise measurement and analysis; findings can be generalizable; allows for replication (Ali & Bhaskar, 2016)|
|Limitations||Findings may not be generalizable; labor-intensive and time-consuming; reliability and validity can be challenging to establish (Marshall & Rossman, 2014)||May miss contextual detail; depends heavily on design and instrumentation; does not provide detailed description of behaviors, attitudes, and experiences (Mackey & Gass, 2015)|
In conclusion, qualitative research methods provide distinctive ways to explore social phenomena and understand nuances that quantitative approaches might overlook. Each method, from Ethnography to Photo-Elicitation, presents its strengths and weaknesses but they all offer valuable means of investigating complex, real-world situations. The goal for the researcher is not to find a definitive tool, but to employ the method best suited for their research questions and the context at hand (Almalki, 2016). Above all, these methods underscore the richness of human experience and deepen our understanding of the world around us.
Angrosino, M. (2007). Doing ethnographic and observational research. Sage Publications.
Areni, C. S., & Kim, D. (1994). The influence of in-store lighting on consumers’ examination of merchandise in a wine store. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 11(2), 117-125.
Barker, C., Pistrang, N., & Elliott, R. (2016). Research Methods in Clinical Psychology: An Introduction for Students and Practitioners. John Wiley & Sons.
Baxter, P. & Jack, S. (2008). Qualitative case study methodology: Study design and implementation for novice researchers. The Qualitative Report, 13(4), 544-559.
Berger, A. A. (2010). The Objects of Affection: Semiotics and Consumer Culture. Palgrave Macmillan.
Bevan, M. T. (2014). A method of phenomenological interviewing. Qualitative health research, 24(1), 136-144.
Birks, M., & Mills, J. (2015). Grounded theory: A practical guide. Sage Publications.
Bryman, A. (2015). The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research. Sage Publications.
Chandler, D. (2017). Semiotics: The Basics. Routledge.
Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing grounded theory. Sage Publications.
Cheek, J. (2004). At the margins? Discourse analysis and qualitative research. Qualitative Health Research, 14(8), 1140-1150.
Clark-Ibáñez, M. (2004). Framing the social world with photo-elicitation interviews. American Behavioral Scientist, 47(12), 1507-1527.
Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches. Sage Publications.
Creswell, J. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2017). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage publications.
Crowe, S., Cresswell, K., Robertson, A., Huby, G., Avery, A., & Sheikh, A. (2011). The case study approach. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 11(100), 1-9.
Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2011). The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. Sage.
Dewalt, K. M., & Dewalt, B. R. (2011). Participant observation: A guide for fieldworkers. Rowman Altamira.
Doody, O., Slevin, E., & Taggart, L. (2013). Focus group interviews in nursing research: part 1. British Journal of Nursing, 22(1), 16-19.
Durham, A. (2019). Autoethnography. In P. Atkinson (Ed.), Qualitative Research Methods. Oxford University Press.
Duriau, V. J., Reger, R. K., & Pfarrer, M. D. (2007). A content analysis of the content analysis literature in organization studies: Research themes, data sources, and methodological refinements. Organizational Research Methods, 10(1), 5-34.
Evans, J. (2010). The Everyday Lives of Men: An Ethnographic Investigation of Young Adult Male Identity. Peter Lang.
Farrall, S. (2006). What is qualitative longitudinal research? Papers in Social Research Methods, Qualitative Series, No.11, London School of Economics, Methodology Institute.
Fielding, J., & Fielding, N. (2008). Synergy and synthesis: integrating qualitative and quantitative data. The SAGE handbook of social research methods, 555-571.
Fink, A. (2013). How to conduct surveys: A step-by-step guide. SAGE.
Forsyth, D. R. (2010). Group Dynamics. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Fugard, A. J. B., & Potts, H. W. W. (2015). Supporting thinking on sample sizes for thematic analyses: A quantitative tool. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 18(6), 669–684.
Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Aldine de Gruyter.
Gray, J. R., Grove, S. K., & Sutherland, S. (2017). Burns and Grove’s the Practice of Nursing Research E-Book: Appraisal, Synthesis, and Generation of Evidence. Elsevier Health Sciences.
Greenwood, D. J., & Levin, M. (2016). Introduction to action research: Social research for social change. SAGE.
Harper, D. (2002). Talking about pictures: A case for photo elicitation. Visual Studies, 17(1), 13-26.
Heinonen, T. (2012). Making Sense of the Social: Human Sciences and the Narrative Turn. Rozenberg Publishers.
Heisley, D. D., & Levy, S. J. (1991). Autodriving: A photoelicitation technique. Journal of Consumer Research, 18(3), 257-272.
Hennink, M. M., Hutter, I., & Bailey, A. (2020). Qualitative Research Methods. SAGE Publications Ltd.
Hsieh, H. F., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1277–1288.
Jorgensen, D. L. (2015). Participant Observation. In Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Jorgensen, M., & Phillips, L. (2002). Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method. SAGE.
Josselson, R. (2011). Narrative research: Constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing story. In Five ways of doing qualitative analysis. Guilford Press.
Kawulich, B. B. (2005). Participant observation as a data collection method. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 6(2).
Khan, S. (2014). Qualitative Research Method: Grounded Theory. Journal of Basic and Clinical Pharmacy, 5(4), 86-88.
Koshy, E., Koshy, V., & Waterman, H. (2010). Action Research in Healthcare. SAGE.
Krippendorff, K. (2013). Content Analysis: An Introduction to its Methodology. SAGE.
Lannon, J., & Cooper, P. (2012). Humanistic Advertising: A Holistic Cultural Perspective. International Journal of Advertising, 15(2), 97–111.
Lavrakas, P. J. (2008). Encyclopedia of survey research methods. SAGE Publications.
Lieblich, A., Tuval-Mashiach, R., & Zilber, T. (2008). Narrative research: Reading, analysis and interpretation. Sage Publications.
Mackey, A., & Gass, S. M. (2015). Second language research: Methodology and design. Routledge.
Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (2014). Designing qualitative research. Sage publications.
McAdams, D. P., Josselson, R., & Lieblich, A. (2006). Identity and story: Creating self in narrative. American Psychological Association.
Merriam, S. B., & Tisdell, E. J. (2015). Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation. Jossey-Bass.
Mick, D. G. (1986). Consumer Research and Semiotics: Exploring the Morphology of Signs, Symbols, and Significance. Journal of Consumer Research, 13(2), 196-213.
Morgan, D. L. (2010). Focus groups as qualitative research. Sage Publications.
Mulhall, A. (2003). In the field: notes on observation in qualitative research. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 41(3), 306-313.
Neale, B. (2019). What is Qualitative Longitudinal Research? Bloomsbury Publishing.
Nolan, L. B., & Renderos, T. B. (2012). A focus group study on the influence of fatalism and religiosity on cancer risk perceptions in rural, eastern North Carolina. Journal of religion and health, 51(1), 91-104.
Padilla-Díaz, M. (2015). Phenomenology in educational qualitative research: Philosophy as science or philosophical science? International Journal of Educational Excellence, 1(2), 101-110.
Parker, I. (2014). Discourse dynamics: Critical analysis for social and individual psychology. Routledge.
Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative research & evaluation methods: Integrating theory and practice. Sage Publications.
Polkinghorne, D. E. (2013). Narrative configuration in qualitative analysis. In Life history and narrative. Routledge.
Puts, M. T., Tapscott, B., Fitch, M., Howell, D., Monette, J., Wan-Chow-Wah, D., Krzyzanowska, M., Leighl, N. B., Springall, E., & Alibhai, S. (2014). Factors influencing adherence to cancer treatment in older adults with cancer: a systematic review. Annals of oncology, 25(3), 564-577.
Qu, S. Q., & Dumay, J. (2011). The qualitative research interview. Qualitative research in accounting & management.
Ali, J., & Bhaskar, S. B. (2016). Basic statistical tools in research and data analysis. Indian Journal of Anaesthesia, 60(9), 662–669.
Rosenbaum, M. S. (2017). Exploring the social supportive role of third places in consumers’ lives. Journal of Service Research, 20(1), 26-42.
Saldaña, J. (2003). Longitudinal Qualitative Research: Analyzing Change Through Time. AltaMira Press.
Saldaña, J. (2014). The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers. SAGE.
Shernoff, D. J., Csikszentmihalyi, M., Shneider, B., & Shernoff, E. S. (2003). Student engagement in high school classrooms from the perspective of flow theory. School Psychology Quarterly, 18(2), 158-176.
Smith, J. A. (2015). Qualitative Psychology: A Practical Guide to Research Methods. Sage Publications.
Smith, M. K. (2010). Action Research. The encyclopedia of informal education.
Sue, V. M., & Ritter, L. A. (2012). Conducting online surveys. SAGE Publications.
Van Auken, P. M., Frisvoll, S. J., & Stewart, S. I. (2010). Visualising community: using participant-driven photo-elicitation for research and application. Local Environment, 15(4), 373-388.
Van Voorhis, F. L., & Morgan, B. L. (2007). Understanding Power and Rules of Thumb for Determining Sample Sizes. Tutorials in Quantitative Methods for Psychology, 3(2), 43–50.
Wodak, R., & Meyer, M. (2015). Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis. SAGE.
Zuber-Skerritt, O. (2018). Action research for developing educational theories and practices. Routledge.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]