Chapter 12
Qualitative Research

(Reminder: Don’t forget to utilize the concept maps and study questions as you study this and the other chapters.)

Qualitative research relies primarily on the collection of qualitative data (i.e., nonnumeric data such as words and pictures).


Next, to further understand what qualitative research is all about, please carefully examine Patton’s excellent summary of the twelve major characteristics of qualitative research, which is shown in Table 12.1 (page 362) and below:



Now you should understand what qualitative research is. In the rest of the chapter, we discuss the four major types of qualitative research:


To get things started, note the key characteristics (i.e., purpose, origin, data-collection methods, data analysis, and report focus) of these four approaches as shown in Table 12.2 on page 363 and below:





The first major approach to qualitative research is phenomenology (i.e., the descriptive study of how individuals experience a phenomenon).



The second major approach to qualitative research is ethnography (i.e., the discovery and description of the culture of a group of people).


There are two additional or specialized types of ethnography.

1.      Ethnology (the comparative study of cultural groups).

2.      Ethnohistory (the study of the cultural past of a group of people). An ethnohistory is often done in the early stages of a standard ethnography in order to get a sense of the group's cultural history.

Here are some more concepts that are commonly used by ethnographers:

·        Ethnocentrism (i.e., judging others based on your cultural standards). You must avoid this problem if you are to be a successful ethnographer!

·        Emic perspective (i.e., the insider's perspective) and emic terms (i.e., specialized words used by people in a group).

·        Etic perspective (i.e., the external, social scientific view) and etic terms (i.e., outsider's words or specialized words used by social scientists).

·        Going native (i.e., identifying so completely with the group being studied that you are unable to be objective).

·        Holism (i.e., the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; it involves describing the group as a whole unit, in addition to its parts and their interrelationships).


The final ethnography (i.e., the report) should provide a rich and holistic description of the culture of the group under study.

Case Study Research

The third major approach to qualitative research is case study research (i.e., the detailed account and analysis of one or more cases).

Because the roots of case study are interdisciplinary, many different concepts and theories can be used to describe and explain the case.

Robert Stake classifies case study research into three types:

  1. Intrinsic case study (where the interest is only in understanding the particulars of the case).
  2. Instrumental case study (where the interest is in understanding something more general than the case).
  3. Collective case study (where interest is in studying and comparing multiple cases in a single research study).

Multiple methods of data collection are often used in case study research (e.g., interviews, observation, documents, questionnaires).

The case study final report should provide a rich (i.e., vivid and detailed) and holistic (i.e., describes the whole and its parts) description of the case and its context.



Grounded Theory

The fourth major approach to qualitative research is grounded theory (i.e., the development of inductive, "bottom-up," theory that is "grounded" directly in the empirical data).

Four important characteristics of a grounded theory are


Data collection and analysis continue throughout the study.


When collecting and analyzing the researcher needs theoretical sensitivity (i.e., being sensitive about what data are important in developing the grounded theory).


Data analysis often follows three steps:

  1. Open coding (i.e., reading transcripts line-by- line and identifying and coding the concepts found in the data).
  2. Axial coding (i.e., organizing the concepts and making them more abstract).
  3. Selective coding (i.e., focusing on the main ideas, developing the story, and finalizing the grounded theory).

The grounded theory process is "complete" when theoretical saturation occurs (i.e., when no new concepts are emerging from the data and the theory is well validated).

The final report should include a detailed and clear description of the grounded theory.


Final note: The chapter includes many examples of each of the four types of qualitative research to help in your understanding (i.e., phenomenology, ethnography, case study, and grounded theory). In addition, reading new examples in the published literature will help to further your understanding of these four important approaches to qualitative research.