(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).
suggest that, to put things in perspective, you start by reviewing the
table showing the common differences between qualitative, quantitative,
and mixed research. That is, take a quick look at Table 2.1 on page 31 (or
go to lecture two because it is also included in the lecture).
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).
is the foundational question in phenomenology: What is the meaning,
structure, and essence of the lived experience of this phenomenon by an
individual or by many individuals?
researcher tries to gain access to individuals' life-worlds, which
is their world of experience; it is where consciousness exists.
in-depth interviews is a common method for gaining access to individuals'
researcher, next, searches for the invariant structures of
individuals' experiences (also called the essences of their
researchers often search for commonalities across individuals (rather than
only focusing on what is unique to a single individual). For example, what
are the essences of peoples' experience of the death of a loved one? Here
is another example: What are the essences of peoples' experiences of an
analyzing your phenomenological research data, you should write a report
that provides rich description and a "vicarious experience" of
being there for the reader of the report. Shown next are two good
examples. See if you get the feeling the patients had when they described
caring and noncaring nurses.
is a description of a caring nurse (from Exhibit 12.2) based on a
phenomenological research study: In a caring interaction, the nurse’s
existential presence is perceived by the client as more than just a
physical presence. There is the aspect of the nurse giving of oneself to
the client. This giving of oneself may be in response to the client’s
request, but it is more often a voluntary effort and is unsolicited by the
client. The nurse’s willingness to give of oneself is primarily perceived
by the client as an attitude and behavior of sitting down and really
listening and responding to the unique concerns of the individual as a
person of value. The relaxation, comfort, and security that the client
expresses both physically and mentally are an immediate and direct result
of the client’s stated and unstated needs being heard and responded to by
the nurse (From Creswell, 1998, p.289).
the same study of nurses, a description also was provided of a noncaring
nurse. Here it is: The nurse’s presence with the client is perceived by
the client as a minimal presence of the nurse being physically present
only. The nurse is viewed as being there only because it is a job and not
to assist the client or answer his or her needs. Any response by the nurse
is done with a minimal amount of energy expenditure and bound by the
rules. The client perceives the nurse who does not respond to this request
for assistance as being noncaring. Therefore, an interaction that never
happened is labeled as a noncaring interaction. The nurse is too busy and
hurried to spend time with the client and therefore does not sit down and
really listen to the client’s individual concerns. The client is further
devalued as a unique person because he or she is scolded, treated as a
child, or treated as a nonhuman being or an object. Because of the
devaluing and lack of concern, the client’s needs are not met and the
client has negative feelings, that is, frustrated, scared, depressed,
angry, afraid, and upset (From Creswell, 1998, p.289).
The second major approach to qualitative research is ethnography
(i.e., the discovery and description of the culture of a group of people).
is the foundational question in ethnography: What are the cultural
characteristics of this group of people or of this cultural scene?
ethnography originates in the discipline of Anthropology, the concept of
culture is of central importance.
is the system of shared beliefs, values, practices, language,
norms, rituals, and material things that group members use to
understand their world.
can study micro cultures (e.g., such as the culture in a classroom)
as well as macro cultures (e.g., such as the United States of
There are two additional or specialized types of ethnography.
Ethnology (the comparative study of cultural groups).
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
Ethnocentrism (i.e., judging others based on
your cultural standards). You must avoid this problem if you are to be a
Emic perspective (i.e., the insider's
perspective) and emic terms (i.e., specialized words used by people in a
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.
The third major approach to qualitative research is case
study research (i.e., the detailed account and analysis of one or more
is the foundational question in case study research: What are the
characteristics of this single case or of these comparison cases?
- A case
is a bounded system (e.g., a person, a group, an activity, a process).
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
case study (where the interest is only in understanding the
particulars of the case).
case study (where the interest is in understanding something more
general than the case).
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.
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).
is the foundational question in grounded theory: What theory or
explanation emerges from an analysis of the data collected about this
- It is
usually used to generate theory (remember from earlier chapters that
theories tell you "How" and "Why" something operates
as it does; theories provide explanations).
theory can also be used to test or elaborate upon previously grounded
theories, as long as the approach continues to be one of constantly
grounding any changes in the new data.
Four important characteristics of a grounded theory are
(i.e., Does the theory correspond to real-world data?),
(i.e., Is the theory clear and understandable?),
(i.e., Is the theory abstract enough to move beyond the specifics in the
original research study?),
(i.e., Can the theory be applied to produce real-world results?).
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:
coding (i.e., reading transcripts line-by- line and identifying and
coding the concepts found in the data).
coding (i.e., organizing the concepts and making them more abstract).
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.