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Qualitative Research Techniques


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Title: Qualitative Research Techniques

Qualitative Research Techniques
Qualitative research
  • Qualitative research is a situated activity that
    locates the observer in the world (Denzin and
    Lincoln (eds.), 2003).
  • Qualitative research involves the studied use and
    collection of a variety of empirical materials
    case study, personal experience, introspection,
    life story, interview, artifacts, cultural and
    historical texts, observation, focus groups, etc.
  • Qualitative research emphasizes the qualities of
    the entities

Qualitative research Case studies ethnography
  • Single case design
  • Critical case to test a well formulated theory or
    several theories.
  • Extreme or unique case - where there is no direct
    comparison cases.
  • Revelatory case opportunity to observe and
    analyze a phenomenon previously inaccessible.
  • Multiple case design Evidence is more
    compelling, but research is more time consuming.

Choosing a research site
  • Research sites are purposively selected, rather
    than using a random sample (quantitative
  • One site may be selected or a small number
    depending on the research question that is being
  • For example, if trying to understand diffusion
    process of a technology you may choose several
    different sites
  • When selecting a site consider
  • Setting Where the research will take place.
  • Actors Who will be observed or interviewed.
  • Events What the actors do in the setting.
  • Process Evolving nature of events undertaken by
    the actors within the setting.

Identify the types of data that will be collected
  • Observations Observer may be known or role
  • First-hand knowledge of scene, actors, events
  • Researcher may bias responses (if known)
  • Interviews Face-face or telephone, one person
    or group
  • Controlled by researcher
  • But, information obtained in a specific place
    rather than in a natural setting, researcher may
    bias responses
  • Documents Company documents, newspaper articles,
  • Thoughtful comments by participants and can be
    viewed at a time convenient to researcher
  • But, may require scanning and may be incomplete
    or not accurate
  • Audio-visual materials photographs, videotapes,
    computer software
  • But, may be difficult to interpret

Research Design Exercise
  • Research question
  • If you have your own defined research question
    and expect to use a qualitative methodology write
    down answers to the questions 2-6 below.
  • If not, consider one of the following question
    Why do some Masters level students go on to have
    more successful careers than others? or Why do
    some Masters level students get better grades
    than others?
  • These are a very broad question and to actually
    find the link between the studies (or the
    students on a course) and career/course success
    you would probably need to do some narrowing. How
    would you narrow the above question?
  • To find evidence to support an explanation for
    the question what type of data would you collect?
  • How would you access the data?
  • Setting Where will the research take place?
  • Actors Who will be observed or interviewed?
  • What types of events or processes would you look

Qualitative tools used most commonly are
  • Interviewing
  • Participation and observation (perhaps during
    your internships, your job, etc?)

I) Interview as a tool
  • Individual (face-to-face or telephone) or group
  • Structured, semi-structured or unstructured.
  • Exploratory, or for measurement purposes
  • Single or multiple sessions

Group interviews
  • This is a qualitative data gathering technique
    that relies upon the systematic questioning of
    several individuals simultaneously in a formal or
    informal setting (Focus groups)
  • E.g., market research where the purpose is to
    gather consumer opinion on product
    characteristics, advertising themes or services
  • Could be used for exploratory research, to
    pretest questionnaire wording, measurement scales
    or in conjunction with other data gathering

Advantages of group interviews over individual
  • Relatively inexpensive to conduct
  • Often produce rich data that are cumulative and
  • Aid recall

Limitations of group interviews
  • The interviewer needs to prevent one person or
    small coalitions of persons from dominating the
  • The interviewer must encourage reluctant/submissiv
    e respondents to participate.
  • The interviewer must obtain responses from the
    entire group to ensure the fullest coverage of
    the topic.
  • May interfere with individual expression, may
    create groupthink.

Structured versus unstructured interviews
  • Structured interviews aim at capturing precise
    data that can be coded in order to explain
    behavior within pre-established categories.
  • Unstructured interviews attempt to understand the
    complex behaviours of members of a society
    without imposing any prior categorization that
    may limit the field of inquiry.

Structured interviews (Converse and Schuman,
  • All respondents are asked the same series of
    pre-established questions with a limited set of
    response categories.
  • Responses are recorded according to the coding
    scheme that has already been established.
  • Interviewer plays a neutral role never
    interjecting his or her opinion of a respondents

Errors of structured interviews
  • Respondent Behavior socially desirable
    response, omit relevant information, faulty
  • Sequence or wording of questionnaire
  • The interviewer
  • Interviewing skills are not simply motor skills
    like riding a bicycle rather they involve
    high-order combination of observation, empathic
    sensitivity and intellectual judgment (Gorden,
    1992, pp. 7)
  • Might overlook emotional response

Different stages of unstructured interviews
  • Gaining Access
  • Understanding the language and culture of the
  • Decide on how to present oneself
  • Locating an informant
  • Gaining trust
  • Establishing rapport risk of going native
  • Collecting empirical material take field notes,
    note down observations even if they seem
    unimportant at that time, try to be
    inconspicuous, analyze notes frequently

Data recording procedures for semi-structured
  • Use a protocol, heading to include time/date,
    place, interviewee. Record interview where
    possible, but also make notes.
  • Ice-breaker question
  • 4-6 key questions derived from research plan
  • Probes for each of the questions in case
    interviewee needs more prompting
  • Space between questions to write notes
  • Final question, e.g. who obtain more information
  • Thank you statement

Interview Exercise
  • Research Question
  • If you have your own defined research question
    and expect to use a qualitative methodology write
    down answers to the questions below.
  • If not, consider the following questions Why do
    some Masters level students go on to have more
    successful careers than others?
  • or Why do some Masters level students get better
    grades than others?
  • What type of interviews would you conduct? Why?
  • Design an interview protocol
  • Heading to include time/date, place, interviewee.
  • Ice-breaker question
  • 4-6 key questions derived from research plan
  • Probes for each of the questions in case
    interviewee needs more prompting

II) Participation-observation as a tool
  • Used by researchers who have deliberately set out
    to achieve a degree of subjective immersion in
    the culture they study (Cole, 1983) and yet try
    to be able to maintain their scientific

Types of participation-observation (Gold, 1958)
  • The complete participant (a highly subjective
    stance whose only scientific validity is
  • The participant-as-an-observer.
  • The observer-as-a-participant.
  • The complete observer.
  • Ethical concern informed consent
  • IMPORTANT Participation observation alone is not
    a credible method of data collection.

Data recording procedures for observations
(complete observer or observer as participant)
  • Use a protocol, e.g. page with a line down the
  • On one side record observations, dialogue,
    physical setting
  • On other side record personal thoughts,
    reflections, ideas, etc.

Data analysis
  • Sensemaking of data guided by research question
  • Iterative process. Write memos reflecting on
    findings as go through process.
  • Process is one of moving from the specific to the

Sequence of activities in qualitativedata
  • 1. Organizing and preparation of data for
    analysis transcribe interviews, scan documents,
    type notes
  • 2. Familiarization of data by reading through all
    items Obtain a general sense of the data.
    Credibility, patterns, etc.
  • 3. Coding By hand or using computer packages
    Categorization and labeling
  • 4. Identification of themes or descriptions
  • 5. Interrelation of themes and descriptions
  • 6. Interpretation of meaning behind themes and
  • 7. Checking the validity and reliability of

Coding steps
  • Read all transcripts and jot down ideas
  • Pick one transcript and read thoroughly while
    thinking what is this about. Write thoughts in
  • Repeat for several transcripts and make a list of
    key topics
  • Abbreviate list of topics and write codes next to
    appropriate passages
  • Turn codes into categories by using most
    descriptive word. Try to reduce categories by
    grouping. Look for themes
  • Make a final decision on categories
  • Assemble data belonging to each category in one
    place and analyze

When coding consider the following
  • Codes that people would expect to find based upon
    past research
  • Unanticipated codes
  • Codes that are unusual and of conceptual interest
  • Coding can be done by hand or using software,
    e.g. MAXqda, Atlas.ti, QSR Nvivo, HyperResearch

Limitations of content analysis
  • Content analysis reify the taken-for-granted
    understandings persons bring to words, terms or
  • Content analysis obscures the interpretive
    processes that turn talk into text (Silverman,

Validity checklist (accuracy of findings)
  • Check the following
  • Take final report or themes (not transcripts)
    back to participants and review for accuracy
  • The extent to which you represent all relevant
    views e.g., checking for deviant cases to test
    your interpretation
  • Adequate and systematic use of original data
    e.g., using quotations for interviews (rich
  • Consider bias the researcher brings to the study

Reliability checklist (consistent approach by all
researchers and across all projects/cases)
  • Demonstrate that
  • Transcripts have been checked for transcription
  • Coding remains consistent across transcripts
  • Consistency of coding has been maintained by
    multiple researchers (inter-rater reliability)
  • The approach to and procedure for data analysis
    is appropriate in the context of your study
  • There has been clear documenting of the process
    of generating themes, concepts or theories from
    the data audit trail

Thank you
  • .
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