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The Focal Issues in Qualitative Research


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Title: The Focal Issues in Qualitative Research

The Focal Issues in Qualitative Research
  • by
  • Professor Dan Remenyi

Qualitative Data Researchers
We all observe the same thing but our perceptions
is different. Our experiences, our circumstances
and our expectations directly effect our
cognitive capacity and thus our ability to
understand that which we observe. Our ability to
function in a society depends upon how we find,
understand and use the commonality which exists
between us.
Film Reviews
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    there is widespread the message that war
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  • Research requires a high degree of curiosity
  • Without a sense of curiosity it is unlikely that
    anyone will make a competent researcher
  • Curious about the subject matter
  • Curious about how it could be researched
  • But curiosity needs to be focused remember -
    Curiosity killed the cat - being too curious can
    be counter productive.
  • If possible stick to your original under-graduate
    or post-graduate subject --- always try to
    capitalise on your already established strengths
    and the strengths of your supervisor!

Focusing Curiosity
  • Curiosity is focused by establishing medium to
    long term interests
  • The object of the research for a doctoral degree
    will need to sustain the interest of the degree
    candidate for 3 years or more. Ultimately the
    curiosity needs to be converted into a research
  • It is sometimes harder to focus a research
    question for qualitative research than
    quantitative research
  • The research question is more likely to change in
    qualitative research

Distinguishing Features of Qualitative Research
  • In business and management studies qualitative
    research will address in-depth understanding of
    the social aspects of the subject
  • Generally samples (?) will be small but detailed
    evidence will be required
  • Data collection will involve close contact
    between the researcher and the researched
  • Analysis of the evidence will be open to emergent
    concepts and will produce descriptions,
    classification, patterns, topologies and

The Quants and the Quals
  • The debate which argues that either quantitative
    or qualitative research is better is like the
    Wars of the Roses.
  • The Wars of the Roses were a series of civil wars
    fought in medieval England from 1455 to 1487
    between the House of Lancaster and the House of
    York. The name Wars of the Roses is based on the
    badges used by the two sides, the red rose for
    the Lancastrians and the white rose for the
    Yorkists. http//
  • The two communities have their own traditions and
    their own language and need to respect each

Quant and Qual
  • Quant
  • Identify a small number of variable and focus on
    understanding them in order to predict and
  • Use Occams Razor and certeris paribus
  • The research have to finally tell a story
  • Qual
  • Generally there will be a greater number of
  • Understanding will be the key issue and this will
    be unfolded in the story of the research
  • Also use Occams Razor and certeris paribus

Durkheim versus Webber
  • Durkheim proposed that sociology should emulate
    the natural sciences and develop universally
    applicable laws. His study on Suicide is the most
    notable in this respect. He was a quants man.
  • Webber believed that the difference between human
    being and inanimate objects means that they
    cannot be studied in the same way. His work on
    The Protestant Ethic demonstrated this. Known as
    a founder of quals.

  • The word interpretivist research is sometimes use
    as a synonym for qualitative research
  • But all research relies on interpretation
    perhaps we should talk about Interpretivists with
    a big I and interpretivists with a little i
  • The key issue is to learn as much about your
    chosen research tradition and to understand its

Interpret Whose point of view?
  • If You Want to Make an Omelet, You Must Be
    Willing to Break a Few Eggs.  Vladimir Ilyich
    Ulyanov Lenin
  • If You Want to Make an Omelet, You Must Be
    Willing to Break a Few Eggs.  The Head Chef at
    the Ritz

Definition of Qualitative Research
  • By the term qualitative research we mean any
    type of research that produces findings not
    arrived at by statistical procedures or other
    means of quantification (Strauss and Corbin, 1998
  • A key objective of qualitative research is a
    holistic understanding of the phenomenon
  • Quantitative research often want to develop
    knowledge for prediction and control

Qualitative evidence collection
  • Observation
  • Interviewing (including listening to groups)
  • Ethnographic fieldwork - urban
  • Discourse analysis
  • Textual analysis
  • Max Travers , 2001, Qualitative Research Through
    Case Studies, Sage, London

  • Observation is always present in research.
    However sometimes it can be central to the
    research design. Observation underpins
    participant/observer, ethnography and plays an
    important role in action research.
  • Observation may be categorised as covert or

  • Observing - many issues including
  • The premises and the grounds - parking
  • Entry procedures
  • The office décor and other accommodation and
  • Dress codes, tone of voice
  • Means of address between staff formal Vs informal
  • Eating arrangements
  • Body language

  • Age/seniority of informants
  • Outlook of informants
  • Observation is not a passive inbibition of
    sensory information, and mere transcription of
    the evidence of the senses. Medawar P, (1979),
    Advice to a young scientist, p 82, Harper and Row
    publishers, New York
  • The observations of one researcher alone can be
    problematic. The kid in the car in the game part
    is an interesting angle on this.

Six Wise Men of Hindustan http//
/wae123/misc/prose/hinustan.htm by John Godfrey
  • Interviews represent opportunities to hold
    conversations with knowledgeable informants
  • One-to-one interviews
  • Structured and semi-structured interviews
  • Group interviews
  • Structured and semi-structured interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • On-Line Interview
  • Private conversations
  • Interviews always need to be carefully planned
    and meticulously recorded

Ethnography field work
  • The researcher attempts to learn about the
    subject of the research question and understand
    the situation by acquiring an intimate
    familiarity with that experience and the scene of
    its operation. Ethnography requires a long time
    to develop this intimate familiarity with the
    situation. What is required is a human lived
    experience. The quality and the precision of the
    account of the experience is a central issue. Max
    Travers , Qualitative Research Through Case
    Studies, Sage, London, 2001

Discourse Analysis
  • There is no simple definition of discourse
    analysis. It is used to refer to the linguistic
    analysis of naturally occurring connected speech
    or written exchanges. It refers to the study of
    the organisation of language above the simple
    sentence level and thus to understand larger
    linguistic units. This applies to both
    conversational exchanges and written texts. Thus
    discourse analysis addresses language use in
    social contexts, and in particular with
    interaction or dialogue between speakers.

Defining Discourse Analysis
  • In summary Discourse Analysis may be defined as
    an approach which is concerned with
  • language use, mostly verbal, beyond the
    boundaries of a sentence or utterance
  • the interrelationships between language and
    society and
  • the interactive or dialogic properties of
    everyday communication.
  • Conversation analysis pioneered by Harvey Sack at
    Irvine has grown from a subfield of
    ethnomethodology to a large and growing field in
    its own right
  • The mixing of methods is a controversial issue

Textual analysis
  • The review of any type of document
  • There are two main approaches
  • Holistic approaches referred to as hermeneutics
  • Detailed approaches involving categories and
  • Meaning at document level, chapter level etc
  • Categories, codes, indexes and counting
    characterise the detailed approaches

Some basic guidelines Textual analysis
  • What is being read?
  • Who wrote it?
  • What was the intended audience?
  • Why was it written?
  • Does it have an unambiguous message?
  • Does it contribute to your being able to answer
    your research question? If so how?
  • Is it credible?

Evidence collection and analysis
  • Evidence collection and analysis will depend on a
    number of variables including the researchers
    ability to access knowledgeable informants
  • The researcher is always responsible for the
    integrity of the data.

Research tactics or approaches 1
  • Action research
  • Case studies
  • Ethnographic
  • Focus groups
  • Game or role playing
  • In-depth surveys
  • Participantobserver
  • Scenario discussions

Multiply tactics
  • It is possible to use multiply tactics and to
    employ the results of this in triangulating the
  • Care has to be taken if multiply tactics are used
    as there are opponents to this approach

The Researcher in Qualitative Research
  • . the importance of situating the perspective
    of the researcher was being emphasised. This was
    to encourage a more reflexive approach to
    research findings rather than the traditional
    approach in which the researcher takes an
    authoritative, neutral stance. Ritchie and
    Lewis, Qualitative Research Practice, 2003, p10,
    Sage, London

Hierarchy of Researchers Interest
  • There are three levels at which the interest
    needs to be focused
  • Field of study
  • Research Topic
  • Research Question
  • There is also the question of having to focus on
    a research method

Three Interconnected Issues
Research Topic
Field of Study
Research Question
Field of study
  • Traditionally this was known as the discipline
    but increasingly this is problematic as research
    now tends to transcend traditional academic
    disciplines. In general there is a blurring of
    the boundaries between traditional academic
    disciplines. Field of study is therefore often
    thought to be a more useful was of describing
    academic research.

Rationale for the choice of the field of study
  • What has made this field of study interesting to
    the researcher?
  • What is the perspective of the researcher with
    regards to the importance of this field of study
    in general and to his or her own career?

Research Topic
  • The research topic is a well defined area within
    the field of study. Defining the research topic
    requires the research degree candidate to
    identify a specific and well bounded niche within
    the field of study.

Rationale for the choice of the research topic
  • What is the perspective of the researcher with
    regards to the importance of this research topic
    in general and to his or her own career?

Where does the research question come from?
  • Traditionally the research question came from the
  • Today the research question may come from practice

Research Question
  • The research question needs to be quite specific
    and may be subdivided into sub-questions
  • It is important not to have to may sub-questions
  • It is difficult to give specific guidelines as to
    how many sub-questions might be appropriate but
    not too many

Research Questions
  • The question should not be answerable by a YES
    or a NO
  • The question should not be answerable by a number
  • The question should lead to an answer that has a
    directly useable function in as broad a context
    as possible it should have some impact on theory

Limitations of the Research Question
  • The question needs to answerable by one
    researcher in 3 years
  • The question needs to not require too much
  • You need to have a supervisor who is able to help
    you with your research question

Guidelines for questions
  • Some considerable interest to the researcher
  • Clear and Intelligible and Unambiguous
  • Of Academic and Practitioner interest
  • Focused but not too narrow and operationalisable
  • Answerable i.e. not too abstract and something
    for which data can be collected within the
    resources of the researcher
  • http//
  • http//

What informs the research question?
  • It is sometimes said that the research question
    dictates the research methodology but this is a
    rather naïve interpretation of the reality of the
  • There are other issues to be taken into account.

The Factors Determining the Research Methodology
Contextualising the question 1
  • What are the implications if you research the
    following topic and answer the following
  • Why are you interested in the topic?
  • What literature is available?
  • Are there likely to be any theoretical
    justifications for the question?
  • Will you be able to obtain access to informants
    to answer your question?

Contextualising the question 2
  • How many informants are you likely to have access
  • How might you be able to collect the evidence?
  • What sort of evidence will your informants be
    able and willing to supply?
  • What sort of analysis will you be able to perform
    on the evidence?
  • What are the likely findings going to be?
  • Who will be interested in your findings?

Five Forces Research Question
Complete the Question Analysis for your Research
Model as much as you can
The Nature of Knowledge 1
  • Knowledge so conceived is not a series of
    self-consistent theories that converges towards
    an ideal view it is not a gradual approach to
    the truth. It is rather an ever increasing ocean
    of mutually incompatible alternatives, each
    single theory, each fairy-tale, each myth that is
    a part of the collection forcing others into
    greater articulation and then all of them
    contributing, via this process of competition, to
    the development of our conscious. Nothing is
    ever settled. Feyerabend P, Against Method, p21,
    3rd Ed, Verso, London

The Nature of Knowledge 2
  • Considering now the invention, elaboration and
    the use of theories which are inconsistent, not
    just with other theories, but even with
    experiments, facts, observations, we may start by
    pointing out that no single theory ever agrees
    with all the known facts in its domain. And the
    trouble is not created by rumours, or by the
    result of sloppy procedure. It is created by
    experiments and measurements of the highest
    precision and reliability. Feyerabend, P, 1993,
    Against Method, 3rd Ed, Verso, p39, London.

Research Processes
Research Question
Collect Evidence
Process Evidence
Produce Findings
Research Question
Understand the Question
Research Question
Understand the Question
Research Question
Produce Findings
Produce Findings
Collect Evidence
Collect Evidence
Mixed Method Research
  • What is mixed method research?
  • The combination of both quantitative and
    qualitative research methods to answer a research
  • Issues in mixed method research
  • Philosophical objections to mixing methods the
    paradigm debate
  • Incompatibility
  • Irrelevance
  • Complementarity
  • Transcendence'
  • Practical considerations
  • Resources time, money
  • Word count
  • Researcher skills
  • Making sense of incompatible data formats

Mixed Method Options (1)
  • Triangulation use quantitative research to
    corroborate qualitative research (or vice versa)
  • Facilitation use one research strategy to aid
    research using the other strategy
  • Complementarity use quantitative and
    qualitative research strategies in order to
    investigate different aspects of the phenomenon

Hammersley in Bryman and Bell (2003)
The Logic of Triangulation
  • Data triangulation
  • Investigator triangulation
  • Theory triangulation
  • Methodological triangulation

Denzin in Seale (1999)
Mixed Method Options (2)
Adapted from Ulin et al (1996) in Tashakkori and
Teddlie (1998)
Mixed Methods in Practice
  • How do the authors use mixed methods in the
  • What data collection methods are used?
  • How are the findings presented?
  • Can quantitative and qualitative research be
  • If there is integration what can be said about
  • Legitimisation, is that adequate?
  • What does mixed methods do to the work load of
    the researcher?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of their
  • How are the philosophical issues reconciled?
  • What general lessons are there for mixed method

A Final Comment
Multi-strategy research, like mono-method
research, must be competently designed and
conducted. Poorly conducted research will yield
suspect findings no matter how many methods are
employed. Bryman and Bell (2003) p 492
Mixed Methods Further Reading
Bryman, A (1998) Quantity and Quality in Social Research. London Routledge
Creswell, J W (2003) Research Design Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA Sage Onwuegbuzie AJ and RB Johnson (2006), The validity issue in mixed research in the schools, 13(1), 48-63
Tashakkori, A and Teddlie, C (Eds) (2003) Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social and Behavioural Research. Thousand Oaks, CA Sage
Tashakkori, A and Teddlie, C (1998) Mixed Methodology Combining Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA Sage

Data present or absent
  • Inspector Gregory Is there any other point to
    which you would wish to draw my attention?
  • Holmes To the curious incident of the dog in
    the night-time.
  • The dog did nothing in the night time.
  • That was the curious incident, remarked
    Sherlock Holmes.

Research beware
  • Do not ascribe to intention that which may be
    explained by stupidity.
  • Conspiracy theory generally has a low level of