Chapter 1: What is Qualitative Research?

Should I use qualitative research?

When planning your research project, try to answer the following six questions suggested by Punch (1998: 244–5):

  1. What exactly am I trying to find out? Different questions require different methods to answer them.
  2. What kind of focus on my topic do I want to achieve? Do I want to study this phenomenon or situation in detail? Or am I mainly interested in making standardized and systematic comparisons and in accounting for variance?
  3. How have other researchers dealt with this topic? To what extent do I wish to align my project with this literature?
  4. What practical considerations should sway my choice? For instance, how long might my study take and do I have the resources to study it this way? Can I get access to the single case I want to study in depth? Are quantitative samples and data readily available?
  5. Will we learn more about this topic using quantitative or qualitative methods? What will be the knowledge pay-off of each method?
  6. What seems to work best for me? Am I committed to a particular research model which implies a particular methodology? Do I have a gut feeling about what a good piece of research looks like?

Review any research study with which you are familiar. Then answer the questions below:

  1. To what extent are its methods of research (qualitative, quantitative or a combination of both) appropriate to the nature of the research question(s) being asked?
  2. How far does its use of these methods meet the criticisms of both qualitative and quantitative research discussed in this chapter?
  3. In your view, how could this study have been improved methodologically and conceptually?

This exercise requires a group of at least six students, divided into two discussion groups (‘buzz groups’).

Imagine that you are submitting a proposal to research drug abuse among school pupils. Each buzz group should now form two ‘teams’ (Team I = QUANTITATIVE; Team II = QUALITATIVE).

  1. Team I should formulate a quantitative study to research this topic.
  2. Team II should suggests limits/problems in this study (Team I to defend).
  3. Team II should formulate a qualitative study to research this topic.
  4. Team I should suggest limits/problems in this study (Team II to defend).
  5. Both teams should now come to some conclusions.

This exercise will also focus upon drug abuse among school pupils. It can be done in buzz groups or by individuals.

Consider in turn, how a positivist, naturalist and constructionist might:

  1. Define a delimited research problem on this topic
  2. Suggest a particular methodology.