Paper III

Qualitative Research Methods

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Theory and Practice

Distinguish between qualitative and quantitative data

  • Quantitative - used to extrapolate beyond sample tested (usually measured in numbers)
  • Qualitative - rich data that is highly descriptive (usually some form of text generated by participant)

Explain strengths and limitations of a qualitative approach to research

  • Rich data
  • Good for investigating complex situations (e.g. Phineas Gage, Genie)
  • Tends to be more experimentally valid if the individual studied remains in their environment
  • Time-consuming
  • Tons of data to deal with so analysis can be problematic
  • Interpreting results can be affected by the experimenter - use reflexivity to minimize this

To what extent can findings be generalized from qualitative studies?

  • Representative generalization - Individual studied is not representative of the population
  • Inferential generaliztion - because individual is rare and unique we cannot extrapolate the findings to the general population
  • Theoretical generalization - data may be used to generate a theory (inductive) or to confirm one (hypothetico-deductive)

Discuss ethical considerations in qualitative research

  • Informed consent (Genie)
  • Protecting individuals from psychological and physical harm
  • Anonymity and confidentiality must be maintained

Discuss sampling techniques appropriate to qualitative research

  • Purposive sampling
  • Snowball sampling - less time and energy required
  • Convenience sampling

Explain effects of participant expectations and researcher bias in qualitative research

  • Participants expectations - participant behaves in a way to please the researcher
  • Researcher bias - beliefs affect interpretation of participant behavior

Explain the important of credibility in qualitative research

  • Credibility is related to internal validity and how well the data reflects the beliefs/opinions/meanings of the participants
  • Importance of peer-review
  • Using other researchers' interpretations to validate conclusions

Explain the effect of triangulation on the credibility of qualitative research

  • Method triangulation - using different techniques to gather data - could be qualitative and quantitative (e.g. IAT and observation to investigate racial bias)
  • Data triangulation - use data gathered from various qualitative methods (e.g. interview and observation to investigate prejudice)
  • Researcher triangulation - use multiple researchers to agree on interpretations (Bandura did this)
  • Theory triangulation - use several theories to analyze the data
  • Space triangulation - use more than one setting/culture
  • Some researchers argue you can never have an accurate account because of the nature of subjective experience
  • Fielding & Fielding argue that the purest data and subsequent explanation arises from one method
    • Example - single malt whiskey is pure and tastes better than a blended whiskey

Explain reflexivity in qualitative research

  • Important that researcher is aware of his/her own beliefs so they do not affect the interpretation of behavior
  • Researcher must reflect on his/her own beliefs and attempt to separate them if they are not to affect the data
  • Willig's (2001) two forms of reflexivity
    • Personal reflexivity - values, beliefs, experiences, political faction, socioeconomic class, personal interest in the results can influence the research both professionally and personally
    • Epistemological reflexivity - related to how data was gathered, limited understanding of a particular group of people can restrict the amount of data gathered


Evaluate semi-structured, focus group and narrative interviews

  • Good for collecting data on socially sensitive subjects (e.g. sexual preferences, views on racism) because it is one-on-one
  • Should be less biased by researcher's preconceptions
  • Because it is an open-ended approach, participants can elaborate and clarify
  • The theme is chosen in advance so non-relevant material is avoided
  • Data analysis is time-consuming
  • One-on-one situation can be considered artificial which calls into question ecological validity
Focus Groups
  • Fast and convenient way to collect data from individuals concurrently
  • Provides natural setting which can give ecological validity
  • Uncovers knowledge and experience about what, how and why they think about a particular topic through the register (vocabulary, metaphors, sentence structure) they use
  • Can reveal cultural values and group norms
  • Not always appropriate for a research question (e.g. sexual preferences or fetishes)
  • Participants may not disclose all relevant information for fear of embarrassment or being judged
  • Conformity can confound the results
  • Ethical issues in conducting focus groups in non-free environments like prisons and nursing homes (informed consent, no freedom to choose)
Narrative Interviews
  • Good at elucidating complexity of individual experience because it shows how humans construct meaning in their lives
  • Can be used for all kinds of people as it only requires everyday speech - education level
  • Tons of data to analyze which is time-consuming to transcribe and analyze

Discuss considerations involved before, during and after an interview

Before Interview
  • Training the interviewer
    • Avoid interviewer effects
      • Interviewers can display non-verbal signs that affect responses
      • Non-verbal signals (body language) could intimidate or upset
    • Important to train interviewer to reduce non-verbal cues that can affect the interview process
  • Choice of interviewer
    • Appearance of interviewer matters (e.g. beauty or ethnicity)
      • Imagine a very beautiful interviewer investigating a sensitive topic, participants may be less open and willing to share intimate or embarrassing details
      • Imagine investigating racism and the interviewer has the ethnicity that the participate hates
    • Can counterbalance interviewers and vary age and ethnicity
  • Create interview guide
    • Create a roadmap or diagram showing the themes to explore and any sensitive considerations interviewer may need to make so the participant feels comfortable
  • Prepare ethical considerations for sensitive topics
    • Have therapists ready or hotlines available
  • Data Handling
    • Data transcription
      • Word for word or postmodern techniques?
    • Data recording
      • How will you record data?
        • Audio, video?
          • Consider effects of video cameras on participant
During Interview
  • Build a rapport so participant feels safe and trusted
  • Never abuse rapport to get participant to disclose more than they are comfortable with
  • Ensure recording device is working
  • Maintain eye contact with participant
  • Use interview guide flexibly to make sure all themes are explored
  • Use active listening technique so participants knows they are being listened to

Explain how researchers use inductive content analysis on interview transcripts

Grounded Theory
  • Look at trancription and identify themes
  • Use grounded theory where you ground your themes based on what is in the interview
  • Look for low level categories and then higher level categories will emerge
Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis
  • Based on grounded theory
  • Goal is to get insight into individual's unique perception of an experience
  • Willig's strategy for IPA
    • Read the transcripts over and over until themes emerge
    • Identify and structure the themes
    • Create a table to organize the themes and include quotations as evidence to support the themes


Evaluate participant, non-participant, naturalistic, overt and covert observations

  • Become part of the group you observe
  • Form relationships with group members
  • Record data on what they say, how they interact
  • Be reflexive
    • Reflect on how you are interpreting data
    • Reflect on how you may be affected by joining the group


  • Attempts to combine emic with etic approaches
  • Can get detailed konwledge about a group of people or phenomenon
  • Attempts to reduce researcher bias because researcher is not supposed to impose their views
  • Can provide holitstic picture of a group of people or phenomenon because many aspects and characteristics can be included
    • Cult example - different cermonies, behave during meals, interact with leader


  • Problematic to record data immediately so there can be memory distortions
  • Problematic to record data objectively since humans interpret situations in their own way
  • Time-consuming and demanding physically and psychologically
    • Mental resources used to become part of the group and investing in them
  • Researcher can lose objectivity
    • There is a risk of going native
    • Balance detachment to retain objectivity with involvement with the group
  • Observe group from afar
  • Take notes on what they say and how they interact
  • Overt observation the participants are aware
    • But then participants know they are being watched and may be reactive and invalidate data
  • Covert observation the participants are unaware
    • May have to use deception but will reduce participant reactivity
  • Observe groups in natural conditions
    • Criminals in prison
    • Mental patients in psychiatric institution
    • Monkeys in a forest
  • Can use cameras which can be hidden
    • Less likely to affect participant behavior
      • Less reactivity


  • High ecological validity because people are observed in natural environment
  • Collect data in situations where it would otherwise be unethical or irresponsible
    • Unethical to remove psychiatric patients from mental hospital
    • Irresponsible to remove prisoners from jail just to study them


  • Reactivity can confound results because participants alter their behavior
  • Collecting the data compromises the integrity of the data
    • Use multiple researchers to increase inter-observer reliability
      • Try and get researchers to agree
      • Researchers document how they arrived at their conclusions
  • Ethical concerns about observing people without their knowledge
    • Justify use of deception on ethical forms
    • Should not violate privacy of participants
  • Overt is when you are making it known to participants they are being observed
  • See points above
  • Covert is when you do not tell the participants you are observing them
  • See points above

Discuss considerations involved in setting up and carrying out an observation

Prepare Observations

  • Decide type of observations
  • Unstructured - document everything
    • Data collection is difficult (writing everything down)
      • Analysis is time-consuming
  • Semi-structured - decide loosely which aspects of behavior will be documented
    • Data collection is easier since you are noting relevant behavior only
      • Deep analysis and high detail but still time consuming
  • Structured - decide strictly which behaviors will be documented
    • Data collection is very easy but analysis is restricted to preset categories
      • Less detail but easier to carry out since less behavior is noted
  • Decide type of notes
  • Descriptive - observe and write down
    • No inferences
    • Girl is banging her head on a computer
  • Inferential - comments made on observations
    • Inferences made about why behavior occurred
    • Girl is banging her head on a computer because she is frustrated
  • Evaluative - commend on behavior and evaluate
    • Make a judgment about behavior
    • Girl banging her head on a computer does not have a positive relationships with computers

Conducting Observations

Discuss how researchers analyze data obtained in observational research

Case studies

Evaluate the use of case studies in research

Explain how a case study could be used to investigate a problem in an organization or group

Discuss the extent to which findings can be generalized from a single case study

Additional Resources