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QUALITATIVE RESEARCH

Introduction
What is a research?
The word research has been variously defined by different scholars. The Longman
dictionary of contemporary English (2007), defines research as serious study of a subject, in
order to discover new facts or test new ideas (p.515). Similarly, the new Oxford American
dictionary (2005), defines research as the systematic investigation into and study of materials
and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions (p.712). What is of significant
and crucial to these definitions is the constant occurrences of words such as serious
systematic, investigate, inquire, examination, all aimed at discovering and establishing
facts. Research is thus the serious systematic investigation of a given subject and a serious study
and examination of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.
This definition is very crucial to our understanding of the field and demands of the research
endeavour.
In order to achieve the establishment of new facts and add to or contribute to existing
knowledge and reach new conclusions, researchers employ different methods, procedures and
style or a combination of all to suit their research purpose or need at a particular time. This could
be the use of the qualitative method, quantitative or the mix method.
Broadly speaking, a researcher may wish to adopt the qualitative, quantitative or the mix
methods research methods. Smith, (2014), points out that one of the key philosophies of science
and of quantitative research is the paradigm of positivism, a belief that knowledge is objective,
generalisable and quantifiable. This suggests that knowledge derived from logical and
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mathematical treatment of data is the only true source of authoritative knowledge (p. 117). This
position is succinctly captured by McCusker and Gunayin (2014) in stating the distinction
between the qualitative and the quantitative research. They observe that while quantitative
research answer how much and how many, qualitative research seek to answer the question
about the what, how and why of a phenomenon and believe that the item of investigation
normally determines the approach to be used by the researcher.
For the purpose of this paper, the qualitative research and its tenets will be investigated
with the aim of establishing and reinforcing its significance and importance to the research
endeavour.
The Qualitative Research
Qualitative research is designed to reveal a target audiences range of behavior and the
perceptions that drive it with reference to specific topics or issues. Qualitative research as a
method emerged from the behavioural sciences: sociology, psychology, education and
anthropology. Daymon and Halloway (2002), (as cited in Deacon et al), pointed out that the
qualitative research methods are generally viewed as indicative of the interpretive world view
which is more concerned with exploring the way people are able to make sense of their social
worlds and how these understandings are expressed through language, sound, imagery, personal
style and social rituals (p. 4). Such researchers are therefore more concern with the social reality
that the items of their investigation are experiencing at a given time. They try to share and have
the experiences of their targets. Daymon, and Holloway believe that by exploring the evidence
before coming to an interpretation of it, they embrace the idea that concepts and theories emerge
out of the data, that is directly related to a particular, naturally occurring situation (p. 8). This

means that involved discovery can change preconceived notions that were held before the
research started. The involvement of the researcher in gathering and analysis of data in this way
is very important to the progress, authenticity and validation of research findings.
Features of the qualitative research
What makes a research qualitative or quantitative research is the presence of certain
undeniable elements. The qualitative research tends to always reflect certain features that mark it
out from the quantitative research. Scholars like Daymon and Holloway (2002), Groenewald
(2004), Hogan, Dolan and Donelly (2009), Sousa (2013) and Bailey (2014), have all been
consistent on what makes the qualitative research stand out as a distinct research method. Among
many of these features are:
a. Descriptive words. Qualitative research rely more on descriptive words rather than
numbers. When numbers are used, they are employed to show the frequency of the
occurrence of a phenomenon.
b. Flexibility. Most times researchers set out with a particular goal in mind but field
experience and reality often reshape the focus of the research as new truths unfold. This
is because most qualitative researches are designed to be adaptable to their settings or
social contexts.
c. Natural settings. Qualitative research is normally carried out in natural human settings.
To get the best of results the researcher is expected to have a holistic knowledge of that
setting.
d. Participants view point. Qualitative research is known to present the subjective view
point of the participants as well as the informed position taken by the researcher.

e. Researcher involvement. The main research instrument in a qualitative research is the


researcher who is expected to engage closely with the people or phenomena being
studied.
f. Small scale studies. The detailed description and explanation that are consistent with
qualitative research makes this feature an inevitable requirement
g. Inductive followed by deductive reasoning. Data are first collected with a given idea in
mind, this ideas are the tested out by relating them to the literature and the further data
analysis. This forms the basis for new ideas and theories.
Approaches to qualitative research method
The qualitative research method has some peculiar approaches and procedures which
help in defining it and giving it its basic features. These approaches and procedures of qualitative
research are:
1. Phenomenology
2. Ethnography
3. Case study
Phenomenology
This qualitative research approach is seen as both a philosophy as well as a methodology. The
philosophy behind the phenomenology approach to research insists that a researcher can best
undertake a research from the standpoint of the research participants. Groenewald (2004) traced
the development of phenomenology research to Husserl (1859-1938). Husserl first mentioned
phenomenology to mean the science of pure phenomena. The aim of phenomenology is to
return to the concrete. Phenomenology is drive by the slogan: back to the things themselves
(p.123). He further observed that, phenomenology is concerned with the lived experiences of the
people and that the operative word in phenomenology is describe (p. 126). The idea here is that

the researcher must get involved and engage with the research participants. In a similar vein,
Daymon and Holloway posit that:
Phenomenology helps you get into the shoes of other people and understand why they
experience life as they do. It does more than enable you to see from the perspective of
participants; it offers a way of understanding the sense-making framework that each
individual has developed over time, which shapes their responses to events and
experiences (p. 8).
The possible steps in doing a phenomenology research
Dayton and Holloway believe that although it is difficult for us to pin down a particular method
used in a phenomenology research, there are some basic features and common features which
stand it out. A summary of Dayton and Holloways expectation of the phenomenology is adopted
here. These are:
1. Articulating the philosophical basis of the study
The researcher must show uncommon understanding of the philosophical underpinning of a
particular research. The research should be pinned down to one of the philosophical strands
of phenomenological research: social phenomenology (focuses on social acts and group
experiences), transcendental phenomenology (emphasizes individual experiences) and
hermeneutic phenomenology (texts interpretation is according to the cultural, situational and
historical context in which phenomena occur).
2. Bracketing assumptions
This is a very important aspect of the phenomenology study. The researcher is expected
to write out his own assumptions regarding topic app initio and put it aside. This takes
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care of preconceived notions interfering with the findings of the researcher regarding the
experiences of his participants. This enables the researcher see things through the eyes of
the participants or respondents.
3. Focusing on a main phenomenon
The researcher should try and identify first and foremost the phenomenon that he wishes
to investigate and develop his research questions which should explore its meaning for
the participants. Focus you research questions on the research phenomenon.
4. Working with small samples
It is important to work with small samples, this is because it would allow the researcher
to pay attention to certain paralinguistic elements emanating from the responses of his
respondents: gestures, facial expressions and body language, all of these will have a
bearing on the outcome of in depth interviews, data interpretation.
5. Applying thematic data analysis
The goal of a phenomenology data analysis is to present an exhaustive, analytic
description of the phenomenon under study. The analysis must reflect the rich lived
experiences of the participants.
Ethnography
Crowley-Henry, M. highlighted that ethnography is concerned with the study of a particular
culture and she believes that ethnography relies partially or mainly on participants observation.
The researcher is expected to immerse his/her self in the customs, traditions and lives of the
sample population that is being investigated. She also pointed out that, ethnography research can
use different methods depending on the aim of the research and the methodological positioning
of the researcher with regards to how relevant research questions can be answered (p. 18). She
further observed that the ethnography study have methods that are typical to it. These are:
interviews (structured or exploratory), observation (keeping diaries and writing field notes),
collecting narratives, undertaking documents and / or historical research, participation in the
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context of and accumulating first hand, contextual information about the culture or population
sample under investigation. She concludes that the point to note about ethnographical research is
the fact that they are specific to particular culture/subculture or population. Ethnography is
firmly rooted in anthropology since anthropology is interested in exotic and unfamiliar cultures.
Two types of ethnography research are identified by Dyaton and Holloway (2002). They are the
conventional (descriptive) ethnography and the critical ethnography. These two are identified by
the process of doing the actual ethnography research. The conventional ethnography refers to the
type of research were emphasis is on the description of groups or communities, with the aim of
uncovering patterns, categories and typologies. On the other hand critical ethnography refers to
the type were the focus is on macro social factors such as power and examines common sense
assumptions and hidden agendas (p. 12).
The possible steps in doing an ethnographic research
Doing the ethnography research can take very interesting formats. However there are certain
steps that are seen to have been consistent over the many years of the doing this kind of research.
These are:
1. Sampling
It is important that you find the adequate and appropriate data for a given research. This
means that the researcher through a systematic criteria and base on the purpose of his/her
should identify a specific group and setting for the research. Attention should be paid to
choosing key informants rather than passive respondents as they are groups
representatives and active collaborators in the research.
2. Participants observation
Here the researcher should be aware that he is the major tool of research and must
immerse himself in the peoples culture and transform himself and become like a native
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and fit into the community for better results. Pay attention to regular mundane activities:
crises, special events and their relationships. By so doing, you will be in a good position
to conduct an in depth interview.
3. Collecting data from online groups
Computer mediated groups are becoming very common and they too can constitute a
group with an identity and a language form that may be distinct from our daily
expressions and language habits. Crystal (2004) concede that the virtual community is
distinct and has its features that a remarkably distinct and worthy of investigation.
Participants in a chat room have shared meanings that given careful observation,
participation and indeed interviews we could gather very useful and meaningful data for
constructive analysis (p. 39).
4. Making field notes
Field notes are very useful and important in researching and are good for research
findings. With field notes we can easily reduce observed events, persons and places of
significance to written accounts. Field notes can be written as condensed accounts, that is,
short notes and descriptions about real events and people that you make in the field
during data collection. Field notes can also be collected as expanded account. Expanded
accounts should be written as soon as possible especially if recording of data was not
done electronically. Another way is to write the field notes as a field work journal. This is
where to note your biases, reactions and encountered problems during the research.
Finally it is the analysis and interpretation of notes and recorded data. The researcher is
here expected to reduce the whole data collected into understandable materials and
subject the materials to critical analysis devoid of your biases and prejudices.
Case studies

The case study is an interesting method to adopt for a research that examines a location, an
organization or a campaign. Thus, among other features, case study research assumes that
examining the context and other complex conditions related to the case(s) being studied are
integral to understanding the case(s). Dayton and Holloway (2002) hold that:
A case study is an intensive examination, using multiple sources of evidence
(which may be qualitative or quantitative or both), of a single entity which is
bounded by time and place. Usually it is associated with a location. The case may
be an organization, a set of people such as a social or work group, a community,
an event, a process, an issue or a campaign. (p. 105)
The primary purpose of a case study is to increase awareness and knowledge about real,
contemporary phenomenon in their contexts of occurrence. The why and what questions that
we ask about the occurrence of an event is what leads us to do a case study in order to provide
useful answers. A good case study is expected to capture all the complexities of a given case. It
must therefore have a case. The case is equally expected to fulfill certain conditions: a complex
functioning unit must be investigated in its natural occurring environment using multiple
methods and finally, it must be contemporary. The case study is also aimed at testing theories or
generating new theories.
The case study can take two forms of designs: the single case study and the collective or multiple
case studies. Dayton and Holloway (2002) posit that, the single case design enables the
researcher to deeply explore a single phenomenon that occurred (p. 108). The case study is
determined by interest in a particular issue that can be isolated from a plethora of other issues in
other to particularize it. However, they also point out that the collective or multiple case studies

affords the researchers the opportunity to widen the scope of the researcher as well as the scope
of generalization because of the number of cases that are investigated (p. 109).
Another important stage in the case study is the sampling stage. Here the researcher is basically
expected to perform two tasks: sample the informants or participants and most importantly,
sample the case itself. Here the worth that we place on a particular research easily comes to bare
since there is always a rationale for the sampling that the researcher does. The researchers
choice is guided by certain features of the setting which could be, accessibility, convenience,
personal interest, etc.
We can reduce the data collecting process and points of collection in a case study to about six
very important points:
1. Direct observations (e.g., human actions or a physical environment)
2. Interviews (e.g., open-ended conversations with key participants)
3. Archival records (e.g., student records)
4. Documents (e.g., newspaper articles, letters and e-mails, reports)
5. Participant-observation (e.g., being identified as a researcher but also filling a real-life role
in the scene being studied)
6. Physical artifacts (e.g., computer downloads of employees work)
Limitations and problems in qualitative research
Despite the intensive and vigourous nature of qualitative research and its many and useful
approaches, scholars have come to a common ground regarding the limitations and problems
associated with doing a qualitative research. Among these scholars are Dayton and Holloway
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(2004), Sousa (2014), Thamhain (2014) and Smith, A.T. (2014) point to these limitation and
problems to include:
1. Some of the qualitative research approaches are very cumbersome and require a lot of
field knowledge from the researcher
2. Finding willing people who have experienced a certain phenomenon that you are
interested in investigating could be difficult and can pose as a problem.
3. Subjectivity might surface despite your efforts to bracket and shelve them
4. In an ethnographic research, fitting in might difficult to achieve as the is never a perfect
fit
5. If the researcher is investigating his own culture, acting the stranger is always difficult
to achieve. Subjectivity can easily surface.
6. In case studies, the boundaries of cases are difficult to establish especially with regards to
when it begins and ends. Where are researcher cannot draw this boundary firmly the case
study cannot be well defined.
Summary and conclusion
The qualitative research paradigm is a very resourceful and insightful way of digging up facts
about real world occurring phenomenon. It is steep in interactive research as well as
researcher involvement in the direct act of researching. The quality of such a research to a
large extent depends on the competence of the researcher as well as his willingness to deeply
engage in the researcher. The ability of the researcher to fit his research approach to the
research question is also crucial to doing a critical qualitative research.
Despite some of the short coming of this research paradigm, it remains a very reliable source
of research that is cardinal to the fields of linguistics, anthropology, sociology and education.
A close look at these disciplines points to the fact that they are humanistic in nature and thus
the need to adopt a research paradigm that can answer deep questions related to the humanity.
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References
Bailey, F. L. (2014). The origin and success of qualitative research. The international journal of
market research, 56 (2), 167-184.
Daymon, C. & Holloway, I. (2002) Qualitative research methods in public relations and marketing
communications. London & New York, Routledge
Groenewald, T. (2004). A phenomenological research design illustrated. International journal of
qualitative methods, 3(1), 1-24.
Hogan, J., Dolan, P. & Donnelly, P. (2009). Approaches to qualitative research: theory and its
practical application. Dublin, OAK Tree Press.
McCusker, K.& Gunayin, S. (2015). Research using qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods and
choice based on the research. Original paper, 30 (7), 536-545.
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Smith, A. T. (2014). Testing theory and related factors for influencing proficiency in the
quantitative research. Academy of educational leadership journal, 18(6) 117-129.
Sousa, D. (2014). Validation in qualitative research: general aspects and specificities of the
descriptive phenomenology method. Qualitative research in psychology. 1 (11), 211-227 .

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