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Qualitative Research is concerned with:

Early forms of research originated in the natural sciences: biology, chemistry, physics, geology
and wanted to observe and measure in some way in order to gain understanding. Quantitative
research refers to observations and measurements that can be made objectively and repeated by
other researchers. Along with the development of social sciences: psychology, sociology,
anthropology, etc, they were interested in studying human behaviour and the social world. The
social sciences found it difficult to measure human behaviour in the simpler quantitative
methods, therefore qualitative research methods were developed in order to look beyond how,
how often and how looks at why and attempts to further and deepen our understanding
of the social world.
Qualitative research methods:
1. are concerned with opinions, feelings and experiences
2. describes social phenomena as they occur naturally - no attempt is made to manipulate
the situation - just understand and describe
3. understanding is sought by taking a holistic perspective / approach, rather than looking at
a set of variables
4. qualitative research data is used to help us to develop concepts and theories that help us
to understand the social world - which is an inductive approach to the development of
theory, rather than a deductive approach that quantitative research takes - ie. Testing
theories that have already been proposed.
5. Qualitative data is collected through direct encounters i.e. through interview or
observation and is rather time consuming
Qualitative research is concerned with '...developing explanations of social phenomena...'
1. The world in which we live
2. Why things are the way they are
3. Concerned with social aspects of our world
4. Seeks to answer questions about
1. Why people behave the way they do
2. How opinions and attitudes are formed
3. How people are affected by the events that go on around them

4. How and why cultures have developed in the way they have
5. The differences between social groups
5. Qualitative questions:




Data collection approaches for qualitative research usually involves:

1. Direct interaction with individuals on a one to one basis
2. Or direct interaction with individuals in a group setting
Qualitative research data collection methods are time consuming, therefore data is usually
collected from a smaller sample than would be the case for quantitative approaches - therefore
this makes qualitative research more expensive.
The benefits of the qualitative approach is that the information is richer and has a deeper insight
into the phenomenon under study
The main methods for collecting qualitative data are:
1. Individual interviews
2. Focus groups
3. Observations
4. Action Research

The Nature of Qualitative Research

There is no single wellspring of qualitative research from which to draw for setting grand
strategy for evaluating NSF programs. The distinction between quantitative and
qualitative methods is a matter of emphasis more than a matter of boundary. In each
ethnographic or naturalistic or phenomenological or hermeneutic or holistic study, i.e., in
each qualitative study, enumeration and recognition of differences in amount have a
place. And in each statistical survey and controlled experiment, in each quantitative

study, natural-language description and researcher interpretation are expected. Perhaps

the most important differences in emphasis are twofold: the distinction between aiming
for explanation and aiming for understanding; and the distinction between the personal
and impersonal role of the researcher.
Experiential understanding. The distinction among aims, an epistemological
distinction, fundamentally separates these two forms of inquiry. The distinction is not
derived from the distinction between quantitative versus qualitative. The distinction
between inquiry for making explanations versus inquiry for promoting understanding has
been nicely developed by philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright in his book, Explanation
and Understanding (1971). He acknowledged that explanations are intended to promote
understanding and understanding is often expressed in terms of explanation--but they are
epistemologically quite different. Von Wright emphasized the difference between
formalizations of cause and effect and the informal understandings of experience.
5. It is a distinction something like that between teaching and learning. Preparing to teach in
didactic fashion is different from preparing experiential opportunities for learners.
Quantitative research tends to be an effort to improve the theoretical comprehension of
the researchers who in turn present it to their colleagues, students, and diverse audiences.
Qualitative research tends to be an effort to generate descriptions and situational
interpretations of phenomena which the researcher can offer colleagues, students, and
others for modifying their own understandings of the phenomena (Stake and Trumbull,
6. Generalizations. Quantitative research methods have grown out of scientific search for
grand theory. To establish generalizations that hold over diverse situations, most socialscience-oriented researchers make observations in diverse situations. They try to
eliminate the merely situational, letting contextual effects "balance each other out." They
try to nullify context in order to find the most general and pervasive explanatory
7. Most program evaluation work has been dominated by this search for grand explanation.
Employment of formal measurement and statistical analysis, i.e., quantification, has
occurred in order to permit simultaneous study of a large number of dissimilar cases, in
order to put the researcher in a position to make formal generalizations about the
program. The inappropriateness of a basic science approach for program evaluation has
been raised by Michael Scriven (1978) and Lee Cronbach (1982) on the grounds of the
particularity of the program, its situationality, and its political context, but both of them
have continued to endorse a metric and instrumental orientation to evaluation. Both have
emphasized the evaluator's responsibility for authoring program specific descriptions and

8. Emphasis on interpretation. Qualitative evaluation specialists such as Egon Guba,

Yvonna Lincoln, and myself, rely heavily on direct interpretation of events and less on
interpreted measurements. All research has an orientation to interpretation but with
standard quantitative designs there is effort to limit the role of personal interpretation for
that period between the time the design is set and the time the data are collected. Standard
qualitative designs call for the persons most responsible for interpretations to be in the
field, making observations, and making interpretations simultaneously.
9. The difference is both cause for and attributable to the nature of the research question. In
quantitative studies, research questions typically embody a relationship between a small
number of variables. For example, "Is there an enduring relationship between variable A,
e.g., student achievement, and variable B, e.g., the training of the teachers, over a great
variety of conditions C, e.g., classroom and community situations? Efforts are made to
operationally bound the inquiry, to define the variables, and to minimize the importance
of interpretation until data are analyzed. At the outset, it is important to interpret how
relationship between variables would reduce weaknesses in explanation and at closing, it
is important for the researcher to modify generalizations about the variables, and in
between times, it is important not to let interpretation change the plan of the study.
10. In qualitative studies, research questions typically orient to unstudied cases or
phenomena, seeking patterns of unanticipated as well as expected relationship. For
example, "What happens to personal relationships among teachers in this special project
P when they are obligated to emphasize a problem solving pedagogy?" Or if the project
had been implemented sometime in the past, what happened? The dependent variables are
not operationally defined, situational conditions are not known or controlled, even the
independent variables are expected to develop in unexpected ways. It is essential to have
the interpretative powers of the research team in immediate touch with developing events
and ongoing revelations, partly to redirect observations and to pursue emerging issues.
Thus the allocation of resources is different. Reliance on carefully developed instruments
and redundancy of observations typical in a quantitative study give way to placement of
the most skilled researchers directly in contact with the phenomena and making much
more subjective claims as to the meanings of data.
11. In his outstanding summary of the nature of qualitative study, Frederick Erickson (1986)
claimed that the primary characteristic of qualitative research is the centrality of
interpretation. He said that the findings are not just findings but "assertions." Given
intense interaction of researcher with persons in the field and elsewhere, given a
constructivist orientation to knowledge, given the attention to participant intentionality
and sense of self, however descriptive the report, the researcher ultimately comes to share
a personal view. Erickson drew attention to the ethnographers' traditional emphasis on
emic issues, those concerns and values recognized in the behavior and language of the

people being studied (Geertz, 1973), "thick description," alternative interpretations, and
"multiple realities" are expected. Ongoing attention to complex meanings is extremely
difficult when the instruments of data-gathering are objectively-interpretable checklists,
survey items. The ongoing interpretive role of the researcher is prominent in the work of
qualitative research.
12. Other characteristics of qualitative research. In addition to its orientation away from
cause-and-effect explanation and toward personal interpretation, qualitative inquiry is
distinguished by its emphasis on holistic treatment of phenomena (Schwandt, in press). I
have remarked already on the epistemology of qualitative researchers as existential (nondeterminant) and constructivist. These two views are correlated with an expectation that
phenomena are intricately related to many coincidental actions and that understanding
them requires a wide sweep of contexts: temporal and spatial, historical, political,
economic, cultural, social, personal.
13. Thus the case, the activity, the event are seen as unique as well as common.
Understanding it requires an understanding of other cases, activities and events, but also
an emphasis on its uniqueness. Such uniqueness is established not particularly by
comparing it on a number of variables, there may be few ways in which this one strays
from the norm, but the collection of features, the sequence of happenings is seen by
people close at hand as in many ways unprecedented, a critical uniqueness. Readers are
drawn easily to this sense of uniqueness by providing experiential accounts.
14. For all the intrusion into habitats and personal affairs, qualitative researchers are noninterventionists. They try not to draw attention to themselves or their work. Other than
positioning themselves, they avoid creating situations to test their hypotheses. They try to
observe the ordinary and they try to observe it long enough to comprehend what, for this
case, ordinary means. For them, naturalistic observation has been the primary medium of
acquaintance. When they cannot see for themselves, they ask others who have seen.
When there are formal record kept, they search the documents. But they favor a personal
capture of the experience, so they can interpret it, recognize its contexts, puzzle the many
meanings while still there, and pass along an experiential, naturalistic account for readers
to participate in some of the same reflection.
15. Recognition of risks. Qualitative study has everything wrong with it its detractors claim.
The contributions toward an improved and disciplined science are slow and tendentious.
New questions are more frequent than old answers. The results pay off little in the
advancement of social practice. The ethical risks are substantial. And the cost is high.
16. The effort to promote a subjective research paradigm is a given. Subjectivity is not seen
as a failing to be eliminated but as as essential element of understanding. And

understanding frequently will be misunderstanding, by the researchers and by their

readers. The misunderstanding will occur because the researcher-interpreters are unaware
of their own intellectual shortcomings and because of the weaknesses in protocol which
fail to purge misinterpretations. Qualitative researchers have a respectable concern for
validation of observations, they have routines for "triangulation" (Denzin, 1970) which
approximate in purpose those in the quantitative fields, but they do not have the protocols
which put subjective misunderstandings to stiff enough a test.
17. The phenomena being studied are often long in episode and evolving in nature. Long is
the period of time to come to understand what is going on. The work is labor intensive
and the costs are great. For most of the studies, these are labors of love. Many of the
findings are esoteric. The worlds of commerce and social service benefit all to little from
the investments in formal studies. More may come for those who study their own shops
and systems by these methods but they are unlikely to bring many of the disciplined
views of the specialist into play.
18. These are personal studies. The issues of other human beings quickly become partly
issues of the present research. Privacy is always at risk. Entrapment is regularly on the
horizon, as the researcher, a dedicated non-interventionist, raises questions and options
previously not considered by the respondent. A tolerable frailty of conduct nearby
becomes questionable ethic in distant narrative. Some of us "go native," accommodating
to viewpoint and valuation of the people at the site, then reacting more critically when
back again with academic colleagues (Stake, 1986).
19. It is not simply a matter of whether the gains in perspective are worth these costs. The
attraction of intensive and interpretive study are apparent, even while they were
considered unworthy of respect by many research agencies and faculties for many years,
and by some still are. Researchers are compelled to inquire. They are controlled by the
rules of funding and their disciplines, but that controls only whether or not they will
report their use of qualitative methods -- all researchers will use them. There are times
when they are going to be interpretive, holistic, naturalistic, and disinterested in cause,
and then by definition they will be qualitative inquirers.

The Nature of Qualitative Research

The Nature of Qualitative Research
The term qualitative research refers to studies that investigate the quality of the relationships,
activities, situations, or materials.
The natural setting is a direct source of data, and the researcher is a key part of the
instrumentation process in qualitative research.
Qualitative data are collected mainly in the form of words or pictures and seldom involve
numbers. Content analysis a primary method of data analysis.
Qualitative researchers are especially interested in how things accur and particularly in the
perspectives of the subjects of a study
Qualitative researchers do not, usually formulate a hypothesis beforehand and then seek to test
it. Rather they allow hypotheses to emerge as a study develops.
Qualitative and quantitative research differs in the philosophic assumptions that underlie the
two approaches.
Steps Involve In Qualitative Research
The steps involve in conducting a qualitative study are not as distinct as they are in quantitative
studies. They often overlap and sometimes are even conducted concurrently.
All qualitative studies begin with a foreshadowed problem; the particular phenomenon the
researcher is interested in investigating.
Researchers who engage in a qualitative study of some type usually select a purposive sample.
Several types of purposive sample exist
There is no treatment in qualitative study, nor is there any manipulation of variables.
The collection of data in a qualitative study is ongoing
Conclusion are drawn continuously throughout the course of a qualitative study
Approaches to qualitative research
A biographical study tells the story of the special events in the life of a single individual.
A researcher studies an individuals reactions to a particular phenomenon in a
phenomenological study. He or she attempts to identify the commonalities among different
individual perceptions.
In a grounded theory study, a researcher forms a theory inductively from data collected as a part
of the study.
A case study is a detailed study of one or (at most) a few individuals or other social units, such
as a classroom, a school, or a neighborhood. It can also be a study of an event, an activity, or an
ongoing process.
Generalization in qualitative research

Generalizing is possible in qualitative research, but it is of a type different from that found in
quantitative studies. Most likely it will be done by interested practitioners
Ethics and qualitative research
The identities of all participants in a qualitative study should be protected, and they should be
treated with respect.
Reconsidering Qualitative and quantitative research
Aspects of both qualitative and quantitative research often are used together in a study.
Increased attention is being given to such mixed- method studies.
Whether qualitative or quantitative research is the most appropriate boils down to what the
researcher wants to find out.

Why do qualitative research?

Posted on February 16, 2011 by jasonhopper
Compared to quantitative research a qualitative studies generally focus on a much smaller
sample, do not isolate variables, and results are almost by definition impossible to reproduce. So,
why bother? At its base I think that qualitative methods are epistemologically very similar to
quantitative studies and can often bring important insights not found in quantitative studies. The
point here is not that one is better than the other, but we need both.
Howard Becker makes the argument that the epistemological aims of qualitative research are not
fundamentally different from quantitative workits just that the benchmarks, questions, and
methods tend to be different. Becker labels these principles breadth, precision, and accuracy.
Instead of isolating variables, qualitative work generally tries to look at a broad range of
interconnected processes or causes. Rather than test a hypothesis, qualitative research tends to
engage in a much more dialectic process between the questions asked and data observed. New
questions and information gathered in the process of research shape the questions as the research
is being done. And in place of reproducible results, qualitative researchers generally aim at
accuracygetting at the everyday realities of some social phenomenon and studying important
questions as they are really practiced.
The actual research part of a qualitative study usually relies on a combination of participant
observation, interviews, and historical research. On the most basic level this means both
understanding the specific background context of a research site and also spending a lot of time
with the community one wants to research. In other words, in order to meet the standards of
qualitative research, you have to be there. For anthropology, Malinowski is the guy attributed
with pushing this idea. He argued that to truly understand a society one had to spend enough time
there to learn the language and acclimate to the situation. When Becker refers to accuracy, this is
what he meanstrying to get close to lived reality.

Malinowski pushed researchers to get off their verandas

Although time consuming to conduct, qualitative research tends to offer forth a wealth of varied
information on a small case or set of cases over a broad set of data. The breadth Becker refers to
means being open to the multiple causes of every event. Well done qualitative research is limited
in its scope, but very rich in depth. It can help us see how many different causes and actions lead
to specific outcomes.
Likewise, a qualitative approach can point out the limitations of our own theories and categories.
Allowing the research questions to adjust with new information, what Becker calls precision,
means that we can be more sure were actually getting at what we say were getting at.
Qualitative researchers are also often acutely aware of how their own preconceptions and
presence may affect a situation. This attention can, I think, lead to better research that helps
clarify our vision.
So what are the advantages of such an approach? In short, it helps us see how general forces play
out in specific circumstances and to ask questions that cant be easily put into numbers.
Qualitative research focuses attention on the contingent nature of social reality. Institutions,
technologies, and broad social forces matter, but their effects are always specific to a particular
context. The case-study nature of qualitative research allows a focus on how things went down,
how general forces and individual wills played out in a specific situation. This impulse is
incredibly relevant for development work. The video Andrew posted about several failed
development technologies in some ways follows this pointwe need to pay attention to affects
in particular contexts and under real human conditions.
In practice this is always a lot sloppier, imperfect, and ethically complicated. Caveats in place,
what I will show you over my next couple of posts are some examples of well conducted
qualitative research that can help shape the way we think about development.

Qualitative Research
Ruth G. McRoy
Qualitative research is concerned with nonstatistical methods of inquiry and analysis of social
phenomena. It draws on an inductive process in which themes and categories emerge through
analysis of data collected by such techniques as interviews, observations, videotapes, and case
studies. Samples are usually small and are often purposively selected. Qualitative research uses
detailed descriptions from the perspective of the research participants themselves as a means of
examining specific issues and problems under study.
Qualitative research differs from quantitative research in that the latter is characterized by the use
of large samples, standardized measures, a deductive approach, and highly structured interview
instruments to collect data for hypothesis testing (Marlow, 1993). In contrast to qualitative
research, in quantitative research easily quantifiable categories are typically generated before the
study and statistical techniques are used to analyze the data collected. Both qualitative and
quantitative research are designed to build knowledge; they can be used as complementary
Qualitative research is referred to by a variety of terms, reflecting several research approaches.
Field research is often used interchangeably with qualitative research to describe systematic
observations of social behavior with no preconceived hypotheses to be tested (Rubin & Babbie,
1993). Hypotheses emerge from the observation and interpretation of human behavior, leading to
further observations and the generation of new hypotheses for exploration.
Qualitative research is also referred to as naturalistic research or inquiry (Taylor, 1977) into
everyday living. Direct observations are made of human behavior in everyday life. Drawing on
symbolic interaction theory (Blumer, 1969), naturalistic researchers believe that gaining
knowledge from sources that have intimate familiarity (Lofland, 1976) with an issue is far
better than the objective distancing approach that supposedly characterizes quantitative
approaches (Haworth, 1984). Zurcher (1983) used this technique as he examined such common
occurrences as riding on an airplane or attending a football game.
Ethnographya term more commonly associated with anthropology and sociology than with
social workis used in qualitative research to describe a field study of a particular site or
population undertaken to better understand the culture from the perspective of that population. In
ethnographic studies, teams of researchers collect data by observing and interviewing
participants over time. Typically, field notes are taken and life histories and case studies are
derived from extensive contact with the group under study. Examples of the ethnographic
approach include Rainwater (1970) and Liebow (1967). Recently, social work researchers have
used participant observation and interviews in such settings as residential treatment centers
(Penzerro, 1992) and housing projects (Lein, 1994) to study foster care drift and persistent

Although social work since its beginnings has been involved with the study of natural
occurrences and the interaction between human behavior and the social context, only minor
acknowledgment has been made of the contributions of qualitative methodology. Almost since
1915, when Abraham Flexner asserted that social work lacked a core of knowledge derived from
the scientific process (Austin, 1978; Bruno, 1958), social work researchers have been striving to
demonstrate strict adherence to the objective methods characteristic of the hard sciences, and
much social work research has relied on the positivistic approach, using quantitative methods.
This situation is exemplified by the CambridgeSomerville youth delinquency prevention study,
in which Powers and Witmer (1951), using traditional social science quantitative methodology,
applied an innovative experimental model to assess effectiveness of social services. The study
has been cited as a landmark social work research project. Although Powers and Witmer found
no significant differences in terms of delinquency records and social adjustment between the
treatment and control groups, Witmer, in a supplemental study, used qualitative methodology in
intensive case studies and found that some children definitely benefited from the intervention
(Zimbalist, 1977). Witmer's use of qualitative methods was an early indicator that qualitative
techniques could be used to examine social processes that might be missed by traditional
quantitative measures.
Nevertheless, social work continued to emphasize quantitative techniques. Research was heavily
influenced by the methodologies of the natural sciences. Beginning in the 1950s and 1960s,
numerous doctoral programs in social work were established, and formal research courses in the
scientific method became a major component of the curriculum (Austin, 1978). And as social
work strove for greater legitimacy through the development of empirically based theories and
proof-oriented models for greater accountability and effectiveness, discovery-oriented
qualitative research was considered to have little scientific merit (Karger, 1983).
In the late 1970s, Taylor (1977) advocated four alternative approaches to social work research,
among them qualitative methods. He asserted that naturalistic inquiry is a perfect technique for a
profession that deals not just with the expected and easily measurable but also with the
unexpected events that are characteristic of human experiences. Taylor noted that when field
researchers use quantitative methods to increase the precision of observations (p. 121),
qualitative and quantitative approaches complement one another.
In the 1980s, debate about the use of quantitative methods as the preeminent social work strategy
was ongoing (Haworth, 1984; Hudson, 1982; Karger, 1983; Reid, 1987). As social workers tried
to meet the requirements of logical positivists for experimental designs with objective measures,
it was found that many research questions that did not fit neatly into a quantitative research
design were not investigated (Heineman, 1981). Some researchers acknowledge that qualitative
strategies are appropriate for exploratory or preliminary inquiry into a topic. Others suggest that
once there is an organized body of scholars who use a well-delineated qualitative methodology,
more serious attention will be given to the qualitative approach (Karger, 1983).
Although debate continues in the 1990s, and the paradigm of scientific inquiry in social work is
still primarily viewed to mean quantitative methodology, the merits of qualitative methods are
now being acknowledged by most authors of leading social work research texts (Babbie, 1989;

Chambers, Wedel, & Rodwell, 1992; Grinnell, 1988; Marlow, 1993; Rubin & Babbie, 1993;
Sherman & Reid, 1994), and some qualitative techniques are covered in the research courses of a
growing number of schools of social work.
A number of advantages of qualitative methodologies for social work have been noted in the
literature. Descriptive, inductive, and unobtrusive techniques for data collection are viewed as
compatible with the knowledge and values of the social work profession (Epstein, 1988). For
situations in which social workers are faced with issues and problems that are not amenable to
quantitative examination, qualitative methods have been advocated (Sherman & Reid, 1994).
The socialpsychological bases of qualitative research suggest that it is compatible with the
person-in-environment paradigm of social work practice (Epstein, 1988; Taylor, 1977).
Gilgun (1994) suggested that qualitative approaches are similar in method to clinical social work
assessments. Clinicians rely on interviews to gather data on a client's issues in the context of the
environment. A clinician goes over a series of hunches and working hypotheses that are based on
observations made through ongoing contact with the client. Qualitative researchers, like
clinicians, are trained to look at each case individually, without imposing preconceived notions
or attempting to generalize to all clients having a particular problem. Qualitative researchers
maintain field notes and documents on their research (Gilgun, 1994; Marlow, 1993), just as
clinicians keep running accounts of contact with a client in the form of process recordings or
case records.
In studies of social processes of complex human systems such as families, organizations, and
communities, qualitative methodology may be the most appropriate research strategy (Reid,
1987). Scholars of the family now extol the benefits of qualitative methodologies in gaining
Verstehen (Weber, 1947), or understanding, of the dynamic processes, meanings, communication
patterns, experiences, and individual and family constructions of reality (Daly, 1992). Field
settings and social service agencies provide unique opportunities for the qualitative study of
social processes.
Qualitative approaches also have the advantages of flexibility, in-depth analysis, and the
potential to observe a variety of aspects of a social situation (Babbie, 1986). A qualitative
researcher conducting a face-to-face interview can quickly adjust the interview schedule if the
interviewee's responses suggest the need for additional probes or lines of inquiry in future
interviews. Moreover, by developing and using questions on the spot, a qualitative researcher can
gain a more in-depth understanding of the respondent's beliefs, attitudes, or situation. During the
course of an interview or observation, a researcher is able to note changes in bodily expression,
mood, voice intonation, and environmental factors that might influence the interviewee's
responses. Such observational data can be of particular value when a respondent's body language
runs counter to the verbal response given to an interview question.


Grounded Theory
Qualitative research is theory generating. The development of theory from data is based on
Glaser and Strauss's (1967) process of constant comparisons. Because theory derived from this
approach is discovered, developed, and provisionally verified through systematic data collection
and analysis of data (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, p. 23), it is known as grounded theory. Although
the grounded theory approach was developed by sociologists, it is used by qualitative researchers
in social work to systematically investigate an issue and to organize data.
Glaser and Strauss (1967) identified two types of grounded theory: substantive and formal.
Substantive grounded theory is developed when hypotheses are based on one area of inquiry.
Formal grounded theory is developed when hypotheses apply across several areas of research
inquiry with different sample populations and settings (Gilgun, 1992).
Under the grounded theory approach, cases are selected by a sampling process in which the
researcher identifies new cases that are similar to previous cases. When these cases generate no
new insights, the process is repeated with newly selected cases that yield different insights, again
until no new insights are noted.
Gilgun (1990) suggested these steps:
1. identification of area under investigation
2. literature review
3. selection of parameters of study
4. collection of data
5. comparison of patterns of first case with those of second case
6. development of working hypothesis as common patterns emerge across interviews
7. formulation of additional questions and modification of questions, based on analysis
8. continuation of theoretical sampling
9. review of relevant literature when patterns appear to stabilize
10.linking of relevant literature to the empirically grounded hypotheses
11.testing of theoretical formulations derived from preceding step
12.revision of theoretical formulations as needed to fit empirical patterns in each subsequent
step. (p. 11)
The process ends when the researcher reaches theoretical saturation, the point at which no new
data are emerging (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Through this procedure emerging theories are
grounded in data and are linked to other theories and research (Gilgun, 1992).
When cases do not fit into the common pattern (negative cases), researchers typically assess
each to determine whether the case is a result of expected variation, the researcher's failure to
consider the total range of behavior or situations that might fit a particular category, or truly
exceptional (Marlow, 1993). In the presentation of findings, negative cases and common
patterns are illustrated.

Structured interviews.
Structured interviews. Limited time and financial resources may lead some qualitative
researchers to pursue other data collection techniques, such as a structured interview schedule
with open-ended questions. Drawing on the theoretical and research literature, such questions
may be formulated and organized in advance to address a specific research topic. Studies of
adoption dissolution, for example, might include questions posed to adoptive parents that focus
on such themes as parental motivation for adoption, knowledge of the child's past, initial
attitudes toward the child, use of therapeutic resources, development of problematic behavior,
and factors leading to dissolution. Interviewers are expected to take field notes or to keep a field
diary of observations made during the interview.
Data reduction.
Data reduction. Interview questions and responses are typically tape-recorded and then
transcribed verbatim before analysis is begun. Transcription is extremely time-consuming
(Marlow, 1993). Due to the large amount of data that can be generated in qualitative research, a
data reduction process must be used to aid analysis. This procedure includes organizing the data;
identifying emerging themes, categories, and patterns; and testing hypotheses against the data.
Either indigenous or analyst-constructed typologies may be constructed. In indigenous
categories, the language of respondents is used to label types of processes (Marshall & Rossman,
1989; Patton, 1990). For example, in a qualitative study of the development of emotional
disturbance in adopted adolescents, researchers used elbow babiesthe language of the
participantsto classify infants who pushed away from close contact with family members.
Ongoing analysis of data revealed other instances of this phenomenon (McRoy, Grotevant, &
Zurcher, 1988).
In analyst-constructed categories, the researcher attaches a label to observed recurring events.
For example, in Matocha's (1992) qualitative study of the needs of caregivers of acquired
immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) patients, four categories or domains of needs of caregivers
were identified: physical, spiritual, social, and economic. Matocha's case study data focused on
each of these identified categories.
Narrative descriptions.
Narrative descriptions. Narrative descriptions of data collected through interviews, observations,
and case records are also used in qualitative analysis. Narrative descriptions may be developed in
the form of case studies of a particular interviewee or agency for use in social work practice or
program evaluation (Marlow, 1993).
Content analysis is often used in qualitative and quantitative research methods. Some researchers
view content analysis as a technique to quantify manifest (surface-level) descriptive data (AllenMeares, 1985), in which categories are developed, content is coded, and category counts are
conducted. Hollis (1972), studying communications in social work interviews, categorized
specific statements according to type of communication. Qualitative content analysis typically
does not transform the content into numeric patterns. Instead, recurrent themes, and typologies
and illustrations of particular issues, are used.
When qualitative methods are used in evaluating the effectiveness of social work practice, a

purposive sampling approach may be taken in which one or a few cases are selected for intensive
interviewing and analysis. Qualitative interviews can augment single-subject studies by
exploring variables other than a specific intervention that might have affected the client outcome.
Similarly, in program evaluation studies, qualitative methods allow the researcher to focus on
the process of how something happens rather than on just the outcomes or results that would
be more characteristic of quantitative designs. Program evaluation studies involving qualitative
approaches focus on participants' perceptions and their experiences in the program (Bogdan &
Taylor, 1990; Patton, 1990; Rubin & Babbie, 1993).
Naturalistic evaluation, which is now often referred to as constructivism (Chambers et al., 1992),
emphasizes multiple constructions of reality in the evaluation process of social programs. It
involves an interactive approach in which the direction of inquiry is shaped through
involvement with the participants (p. 293). The research design and process emerge through
interaction with participants in the setting. Although a conceptual base may guide the evaluation,
grounded theory, based on the data, emerges through consideration of multiple realities and
Reliability and Validity
Among the most cited criticisms of qualitative research are the presumed lack of reliability and
validity of its findings. In regard to field research, critics question the ability of qualitative
research to replicate observations (reliability) or to obtain correct answers or correct impressions
of the phenomenon under study (validity) (Kirk & Miller, 1986). Other criticisms concern the
reactive effects of the observer's or the interviewer's presence on the situation being studied and
selective perception or bias on the part of the researcher. Also of concern has been the
researcher's inability to observe all factors that might influence the situation under study (McCall
& Simmons, 1969; Schaffir & Stebbins, 1991). For example, agency time, staff, and financial
constraints may limit an agency's ability to provide the researcher with the opportunity to review
the entire range of cases pertaining to a particular topic.
Qualitative researchers have addressed these issues in several ways. Purposive sampling, based
on reviews of the literature and knowledge of the subject area, has been used to select cases
under study, rather than as an attempt to observe or collect data from all respondents, who may
be affected by the phenomena under study. Individual bias has been addressed by using teams of
researchers to read cases or make observations. To ensure validity of interviews or observations,
some qualitative researchers use the technique of member validation, in which the respondent
is given a copy of the observations or interview to provide feedback (Schaffir & Stebbins, 1991).
Although quantitative researchers are likely to address threats to validity through such techniques
as random selection of participants and the use of controls, qualitative researchers are more
likely to address validity throughout the data collection and analysis processes. As qualitative
researchers review more cases, seeking common themes and patterns and testing emerging
hypotheses, they are in essence working to ensure validity (Maxwell, 1992).
Qualitative researchers also confront issues of reliability and validity through triangulationthe
use of different strategies to approach the same topic of investigation. Some researchers use

multiple measures of the same phenomenon. For example, to measure self-concept, investigators
may use a standardized instrument such as the Harter Self-Perception Profile (Harter, 1985) as
well as the Twenty-Statements Test (Kuhn & McPartland, 1954), an open-ended measure.
Observations of multiple comparison groups, cross-site analyses, and acquisition of multiple
viewpoints of the sample phenomena are all techniques used to improve the reliability of
findings (Jick, 1983). In data analysis, coding teams with high interrater reliability scores are
used to code each interview and thus improve reliability of findings (Miles & Huberman, 1984).
Ethical Issues
Due to the subjective nature of data collection, interpretation, and analysis in qualitative
research, there appear to be more ethical dilemmas and concerns with confidentiality associated
with this method than with quantitative research. A qualitative researcher interviewing femaleheaded families on welfare, for example, may gather data on unreported financial support from
fathers. Despite assurances of confidentiality, participating families may feel at risk when they
reveal such support to the researcher. It is the researcher's ethical responsibility to maintain
confidentiality, but there have been cases in which research data have been subpoenaed. Despite
attempts to protect respondents through the use of pseudonyms, identities sometimes may be
The security of sensitive and potentially identifiable research materials contained on computer
disks, in mainframes, and on paper is a persistent issue. When several people are involved in text
analysis and the development of coding schemes, or in grant-funded projects that require
databases to be made available to other researchers to conduct secondary analyses of computergenerated or stored data, there are risks associated with the confidentiality of data. The issue of
who has rights to the data has not been resolved (Fielding & Lee, 1992).
The deception of respondents by researchers is an ethical issue in ethnographic studies. For
instance, in some studies of people living in homeless shelters, a researcher has become a
participant, interacting with residents while giving them the impression that the researcher too is
homeless. Some researchers have responded to the ethical issue in this type of data gathering by
taking on the role of participant-as-observer, in which the identities of the researchers are known
to the respondents (Rubin & Babbie, 1993).
Qualitative methods are particularly appropriate for use with people who are more comfortable
responding in an interview format than to a standardized survey questionnaire. Davis (1986)
suggested that the gender of respondents should be a consideration in selecting a research
strategy because many women may prefer qualitative research techniques to quantitative
approaches because they prefer opportunities to discuss subjects in context.
Myers (1977) suggested that some members of ethnic groups, low-income populations, or others
who may be socially distant from the researcher are more likely to participate in the in-depth
interviews characteristic of qualitative research than to complete a structured questionnaire or
survey. To enhance the validity of results in research with diverse populations, research questions
must be clearly constructed and must not be subject to different cultural interpretations. Also, due
to the subjective nature of qualitative research it is important for the researcher to continually

engage in self-examination to be certain that his or her own biases and stereotypes are not
influencing the interpretation of the findings. Conversely, because qualitative analysis allows
researchers to explore in depth all factors that might affect a particular issue, this strategy permits
sensitive consideration of the complexities of human diversity (Marlow, 1993).
Use of Computers
Recent advances in computer technology let qualitative researchers rapidly and efficiently gather,
enter, and retrieve data. Some qualitative researchers take computer notebooks to the field, in
which they enter notes directly (Babbie, 1986; Pfaffenberger, 1988). Although many wordprocessing packages and database managers allow for simple word or phrase searches, specific
qualitative analysis programs for text retrieval, such as Ethnograph, ZyIndex, or Word Cruncher,
create word lists, count frequency of occurrences, create indexes, and attach key words to words
in text (Tesch, 1992).
Some qualitative researchers use computer programs to do a reliability check during data
analysis. For example, after completing a personal search of a document for specific words or
issues, a computer program is used to double-check the accuracy of the original analysis. Despite
the advantages of computerized analysis, qualitative researchers engaged in theory construction
must also undertake ongoing exploration of the data to identify patterns and categories that may
be used as key words for computer searches.
Qualitative research methodology is receiving growing acceptance in the social work research
community. Qualitative methods are becoming particularly popular among researchers working
on family issues. A Qualitative Family Research Network was formed in the late 1980s, and an
increasing number of social workers and family researchers exchange ideas on qualitative
methodologies (Gilgun, 1990). Another indicator of the growing acceptance of qualitative
research in social work practice is the recently established journal Research on Social Work
Practice, which seeks manuscripts based on qualitative studies as well as on a combination of
qualitative and quantitative research.
Clearly, quantitative and qualitative methodologies have different strengths and weaknesses, and
the strategy taken should depend on the nature of the question being investigated. In many
instances, both qualitative and quantitative approaches can be used in the same study. For
example, standardized measures might be used to collect data in conjunction with open-ended
interview questions. It is possible to code interview data using both qualitative and quantitative
techniques and to report the results of both the qualitative and quantitative analyses of the same
data set (McRoy et al., 1988). Qualitative strategies need not be limited to small-scale studies.
Daly (1992) reported a technique for applying grounded theory principles in the design and
analysis of a large national survey on adoption trends.
The close compatibility of qualitative research methods with social work practice techniques is
likely to lead to greater use of qualitative strategies in practice evaluation. As more social work
researchers network and refine and publish qualitative studies that clearly specify the techniques
used, qualitative methodology is likely to receive even greater acceptance among social workers.

Compared to quantitative research a qualitative studies generally focus on a much smaller

sample, do not isolate variables, and results are almost by definition impossible to reproduce. So,
why bother? At its base I think that qualitative methods are epistemologically very similar to
quantitative studies and can often bring important insights not found in quantitative studies. The
point here is not that one is better than the other,
Rather than test a hypothesis, qualitative research tends to engage in a much more dialectic
process between the questions asked and data observed.
The actual research part of a qualitative study usually relies on a combination of participant
observation, interviews, and historical research. On the most basic level this means both
understanding the specific background context of a research site and also spending a lot of time
with the community one wants to research. In other words, in order to meet the standards of
qualitative research, you have to be there
qualitative research tends to offer forth a wealth of varied information on a small case or set of
cases over a broad set of data
qualitative approach can point out the limitations of our own theories and categories.
Qualitative researchers are also often acutely aware of how their own preconceptions and
presence may affect a situation.