Methods in Practice

This part of the website offers plain-language accounts of what happened in ten qualitative projects.

Each has a Home Page, with succinct summary under five headings (consistent across all projects – Setting Up, The Data, Working with Data, Analysis, Reporting, and References). Behind each summary section is a detail page on that topic, and often links to other online supporting materials. Each ends with a new section, added for this third edition of the book. For those sections, I asked the authors to answer the following questions:

  1. Three years on: research developments
    1. relevant subsequent research by you or others – where was it done and how different was it to your earlier project?
    2. what does it add to or alter in the understanding of your project’s topic?  What is new and why?
    3. If there isn’t anything new in the area since your work, what does that indicate about the field, or maybe the decisive brilliance of your work?
  2. In hindsight
    1.  If you were to design and conduct that project now, what would you do differently? Why?
    2.  What did the project need to be more satisfying to you, more adequately addressing questions that matter? 
  3. Software tools
    1.  Looking back, could you have used the qualitative software available to you more effectively – and how?
    2. Would current versions of software tools have helped? 


The project reports, and their authors, are as follows. Click on the title to go to the home page for each – then follow the links for more detail under any of the topics.

Elderly Survivors of the Hanshin Earthquake: Junko Otani

Handling Sexual Attraction: Anthony Arcuri and Doris McIlwain

Harassment Complaints: Helen Marshall

Inside Companionship: Alfredo Berbegal, Fernando Sabirón and Patrick Boumard,

Leading Improvement in Primary Care Practices: Lynne Nemeth

Mapping Caregiving: Robin Ray

REMS: Clare Tagg, Somia Nasim and Peter Goff

The Sexuality-Spirituality Project: Sharon Bong

Wedding Work: Áine Humble

Youth Offender Program Evaluation: Dan Kaczynski, Ed Miller and Melissa A. Kelly

How to use the reports?
You are the critic of how these researchers have used methods in practice. The design of this website explicitly excluded commentary or critique from me. I did not seek model reports of exemplary projects – and didn't get them! On the contrary, I wanted to offer readers a set of honest accounts of the motley experiences of researchers, their mixtures of triumphs and trials and their uneven journeys to more or less satisfactory outcomes.

So these are stories of methods in practice, told by the researchers. They are not offered as paradigms for your emulation. Nobody – including myself and the researcher-authors – is claiming their research was exemplary. My own work with the contributors has been limited to explaining the goals of this site, encouraging writing about what they really did, receiving drafts, editing for readability and enforcing word lengths and page structure.

Exercises using these reports
These are a most uneven set of studies. Research is like that. They differ widely in the openness of the accounts and the detail offered. They also differ dramatically in the reflections offered three years on. Read each with the aims of discussion, comparison, critical appraisal and consideration. From some you may learn new techniques or find ones you can adapt to your project. Other accounts may warn you against a possible approach or alert you to the need to rethink a design.

They provide most unusually candid accounts of research experiences. The methods literature too often provides researchers with rules but no idea of how these work in practice, or the many ways a rule may be used. It's not surprising that researchers learning about a method should use it in idiosyncratic ways – but concerning that writers too often feel constrained in admitting this. The present site is a place for such admissions.

As you work through the book, these reports can be used to illustrate methods and offer some idea of how and when they work. Compare project reports to find how a technique can be best used or critique them in the light of your discussion of the hazards of a method or standards to be applied.

Some of these reports offer unusually detailed accounts of using software, and a candid picture of what it's like to use different packages. I urge readers to assess critically what the researchers have done with the software. I also suggest to researchers and teachers that reading of the many projects using one package is highly useful to show its problems and possibilities, the ways it shapes research and the very different uses to which the same software can be put.

Try comparing the studies associated with a method (for example, ethnography, or grounded theory). You will find very different uses of those methods – and the comparison should send you back to the literature wondering about the usefulness of each approach. You might use these studies for example to compare the very different ways in which 'Grounded Theory' method(s) have been employed and interpreted.

Software exercises
Several projects on the website use the same software. Compare projects using Atlas ti, MaxQDA, NVivo. To what extent do you think the software has driven the design and conduct of the project?

How did they get here?
The ten projects reported here were selected from responses to a call for projects on several qualitative methods lists. They are not a random sample of anything. In the call, I made it clear that the goal was to gather a wide range of approaches to qualitative methods from a wide range of disciplines. The principal requirement was that authors were prepared to tell the story of what they actually did with data, in their own words, and to make that story available on an open website, for discussion and teaching purposes. The only content control imposed was that each story be told under the five headings I specified, so readers could compare across projects.

The projects finally selected do indeed represent an extraordinary range of methodological approaches, from seven different countries and many disciplines. They also represent, importantly, some of the very wide range of project scale and research goals to which qualitative data handling techniques are now very often applied. I sought to include not only small sample doctoral-sized studies but also massive governmental projects. Three software products are represented: Atlas ti, MAXQDA and NVivo, as is research without software.

Of course, there was skew in the range offered. The call was for projects to go up in a site associated with a particular book by a particular research writer – whose work was widely associated with development and teaching of qualitative software. So I didn't expect offerings from researchers not wanting that association. I was delighted that several of the contributors either did not use software, or frankly described how little use they'd found it. However, disappointingly – but not surprisingly – there was a skew to the software I had been in the past associated with (NVivo). I actively sought projects using other software and, late in the process, sought the help of the developers of one (MaxQDA) in finding a replacement for a project whose authors had to withdraw due to ill health. My thanks to Anne Kuckartz for putting me in touch with Áine Humble, and to Áine for her efforts in catching up to our timetable.

Three of the researchers are colleagues whose projects I already knew – these I sought because they represented what I see as the most unrecognised and under discussed development of qualitative research – in governmental or NGO projects. These three were all using the NVivo software:  that's how I knew the projects. I regretted the skew to that software, but could find no comparable projects using other software. I'd like to hear of such projects in other software, and to include them in revisions of this site.

I wish to thank all of the researchers who contributed these highly unusual reports. It was a much more demanding task than most expected when they volunteered, and for some a far more difficult one. Writing for the web, informally, openly, succinctly and sharply, doesn't come easily to academics. All of our contributors braved several rounds of editing from me and for a few the process was very prolonged. Their patience and their persistent enthusiasm for the project kept me going when the task of bringing it all together seemed impossible. Thanks too to Patrick Brindle and his colleagues at Sage Publications, for their unflinching acceptance of the first proposal for this challenging project and immediate recognition of what it might contribute to researchers.