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Qualitative Research Methods


How can we engage with this? http://manual.recoup.educ.cam.ac.uk Qualitative Research Methods What is qualitative research? – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative Research Methods
What is qualitative research?
  • Research that
  • focuses on how individuals and groups view and
    understand the world and construct meaning out of
    their experiences.
  • focuses on the understanding of research
    phenomena in situ, within their
    naturally-occurring context(s).
  • teases out the meaning(s) the phenomena have for
    the actors or participants.
  • Aims to understand the processes (e.g. why and
    how and which decisions are made) rather than
    just the outcomes (e.g. dropping-out of school or

Three basic data gathering techniques
  • Participant observation, or ethnographic
  • Interviewsindividual or group
  • Content analysis of social artefacts (usually
    documents, but also photographs)
  • Each of these can be carried out in more or less
    structured and more or less participatory ways

What methods are available for use in qualitative
  • Case studies
  • Focus groups
  • In-depth interviews
  • Semi-unstructured or unstructured interviews
  • Life histories, oral history
  • Community mapping, time-lines
  • Observation, fieldwork
  • Diaries, other personal documents
  • Time-use studies
  • Life-line analysis

Why do qualitative research?
  • If we dont know the contours of the topic, it
    can be exploratory research
  • If we are interested in processes, sequences of
    events and reasons people give to explain what
  • If we want to explore the relationships between
    people and their effects on actions
  • If we want to explore in depth the meanings
    people themselves use to make sense of their own

What is not Qualitative Social Research?
  • Quantitative research (e.g. large-scale
    questionnaire-based surveys) but are there some
    qualitative elements even here?
  • Pure Observation (e.g. behind one-way mirrors)
    qualitative researchers want to understand the
    meanings of what they see
  • Literary research (e.g. purely text-based

Relationship to other methods
  • Studies or particular sections of projects may
    rely more heavily on one data-gathering method
    some may reject any kind of quantification, while
    others count some events or views for
    particular purposes, or are designed to
    complement other social research (e.g. surveys).
  • So, there is no necessary opposition between
    quantitative and qualitative methods one
    difference is between depth (learning a lot about
    a few people), and breadth (learning less about a
    lot of people).

Possible forms of research
  • Purely quantitative (e.g. national census)
  • Qualitative within quantitative (e.g. some
    questions that are not pre-coded)
  • Quantitative within qualitative (e.g. some
    background questions that allow counting)
  • Pure qualitative (e.g. some conversation
  • Synergies between linked research

Possible synergies between qualitative and
quantitative research
  • Qualitative before quantitative
  • to test question design,
  • to learn local terms,
  • to check acceptability of topics (like piloting)
  • to generate hypotheses for quantitative testing
  • Qualitative after quantitative
  • to test hypotheses based on correlations
  • to understand puzzling findings

In practice?
  • Very hard to keep quantitative and qualitative
    studies linked
  • different time constraints
  • different theoretical paradigms
  • status differences and conflicts

Key requirements of qualitative approaches
  • We should not invent the viewpoint of the people
    we are studying
  • We should only attribute to them ideas about the
    world they actually hold, in order that we can
    truly understand their motives, reasons and
  • We want to discover the subjective qualities of
    the worlds these people live in.

Uses of qualitative research
  • to try to "give voice" to marginalized groups
  • to formulate new interpretations of the
    historical and cultural significance of various
  • to advance theory.
  • Although in-depth, empirical qualitative studies
    may capture important facts missed by more
    general, quantitative studies, policy-makers need
    to be persuaded of the generalisability of their
    findings. Strategic (or purposive) sampling may
    help with this.

Issues of reliability and validity
  • The qualitative researcher (in some important
    ways) is the research tool
  • Need for reflexivity by the researcher
  • Need to report on how positionality matters
  • Strengths validity is maximisable
  • Weaknesses reliability is an issue that will
    continue to concern some audiences for our
    findings. How can we engage with this?
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