Qualitative Research Methodologies

Ongoing Conclusions

  • Post-postive paradigm seems to most neatly fit our emerging research goals and design
  • Continual reflexivity is important
  • Qualitative Research Dialog – e.g.: This wiki, is important
  • Grounded Research may be a good technique to use
  • Unlike qualitative interviews, our questionaire and interviews may benifit from tweaking for later groups & interviews, based on the feedback of our ongoing research

General Notes

Info from ‘Introducing Qualitative Research in Psychology…’

Difference between Qualitative Research, small q and big Q
Q = “open-ended inductive research methodologies…concerned with theory generation and the exploration of meanings”
q = “incorporation of non-numerical data collection techniques into hypothetico-deductive research designs” – e.g.: adding some open questions to a closed survey

q – doesn’t seek to understand how research participants construe meaning
have pre-defined hypothesis and categories

Q – reflexivity etc, don’t use variables, describe and explain NOT predict

  • ecologically valid settings
  • research interpretation / generation
  • prediction of outcomes not meaningful
  • participants led
  • flexible enough to allow new categories of meaning to emerge
  • naturalistic data – note coded, summarised or categorised at collection


  • feedback – should be taken from participants on findings at end of report – to ensure validity
  • reflexivity – reflections on role of consultant, and tensions with qualitative research
  • reliability – not important
  • representative ness – accumulative techniques, check observations in one context against another
  • check results between studies & between interviews and questionnaire / focus group
  • role of participant


  • informed consent
  • no deception
  • right to withdraw
  • debriefing
  • confidentiality
  • positive benefit to participants – recommendations for research or changes to sex education programme

Semi-Structured Interview

  • Researcher steers interview to answer research question
  • But allow interviewee to redefine topic

Interview Agenda

  • small number of open ended questions
  • restate comments and integrate into questions
  • request illustrations of events and experiences

Focus Groups

  • Researcher takes on the role of group moderator
  • introduce focus
  • steer discussion
  • promote responses to challenges
  • overtly state agreements and disagreements
  • ideally participants interact in same way as with peers outside of research
  • 6 or less participants
  • In our case pre-existing group (note this)

Info from The Psychology Research.. Handbook..Chapter 4

  • A variety of qualitative paradigms exist
  • Paradigm takes precedence over methodology and data analysis (Guba & Lincoln, 1994)

Positivist Paradigm

  • seeks explanation leading to prediction and control
  • believes in the existence of an objective reality
  • may include quantitative analysis (or use of quantitative statistics)
  • open to charge of stripping context from participants

Post Positivist Paradigm

  • reality exists but can only be approximated
  • emphasis on discovery and theory generation
  • acknowledge interaction between researchers and participants

e.g.: grounded theory

  • interviews, multiple perspectives, theory generation
  • comparison, theoretical questioning / sampling
  • significance, theory-observation, compatibility, generalisability
  • consistency, reproducibility
  • precision and verification

(Strauss & Corbin, 1994)
Other Paradigms Include

  • Interpretative / constructivist,
  • Critical (emancipatory)
  • Post Structuralist (Deconstuctionist)

Data Analysis

  • brings order structure and meaning to data
  • finds generalisable relationships
  • simultaneous data collection and analysis
  • generating patterns, categories and themes
  • testing emergent hypothesis against data
  • searching for alternative explanations – multiple researchers encode same data, participant feedback

Research Dialog 

  • various research records
  • systematic filing system
  • observational, methodological (research process), theoretical (categories and themes), and *personal notes (observations during research


Positivism vs Post Positivism


  • epistemology – philosophy of knowledge
  • positivism – goal of knowledge to describe observable measureable phenomena
  1. deductive reasoning, hypothesis formation, poperian falsification
  2. progressive march of history and knowledge
  • post postivism – critical realism (subtype)
  1. reality exists independent of thought
  2. all theory falible and containing error
  3. triangulates multiple measurements to eliminate error implicit in a specific methodology
  4. observations are determined by theoretical framework –
  5. however – not relativist, ideas not incommensurable
  6. we construct reality, therefore objectivity is impossible
  7. however multiple perspectives will provide a more accurate view of reality
  8. natural selection of effective theories

Grounded Theory



  • Applied research – done to solve specific practical questions
    • descriptive or exploratory
  • Our research questions could broadly be stated as
    • What factors influence teenage sexual behaviour / attitudes in Ireland?
  • Exploratory research – structures and identifies a given problem


  • Grounded Theory – originally ‘constant comparative method’ 2 kinds, Barry Glasers grounded theory and Anselm Strauss’s model

Glaser’s Grounded Theory

  • goal – to formulate verifyable hypothesis
  • continuasly compare fit of conceptualized ‘incident’ data on different levels of abstraction
  • relevance judged by evokativeness and expression of real concearns of patients
  • theory is never right or wrong – more or less fit, relevance, workability and modifiability
  • data can be anything – not just interviews or observation, but lectures, seminars, expert group meetings, newspaper articles,

television shows, self interview

  • every piece of written data is conceptualised line by line – can be done in margins of field notes *all concepts compared and merged / renamed and modified
  • when core variables are found – key explanations of participants in resolving their main concearn – *data is coded with this in mind – new data is selectively theoretically sampled to fit core codes
  • theoretical codes emerge from comparing data in field notes and memo – theoretical models applied to the data
  • memos – anything written or drawn – develop ideas aout concepts name and relationships – *accumulates written ideas in bank of concepts and relationships
  • sorting – memos are put into stacks representing categorical concepts => may be done using one of *many theoretical frameworks
  • writing up – sorted memos are are related to each other and core variables – mixed with tables, *decriptions etc – rewriting – is then done, where relevent literature is interwoven


  • No pre-research literature review – leads to preconceptions, although literature can be integrated into sorting stage to feed development or bracketed – explored then set asside
  • No taping of interviews – hides patterns in detail, taping wastes time, as goal is to generate concepts not describe
  • No talking about theory prior to write up – leads to less creativity

Practical Advice


  • Keyword during interviews, to be later converted into codes/themes – tape record in case we dont use grounded theory after all
  • codes emerge from the researchers interpretation of the underlying theme in a sentence
  • write down theoretical ideas as they occur to you – these will be your memos

cateogories emerge which make sence of interview data – in the light of other interviews and other research data

  • a core category is one which arises with high frequency, and is connected to many other categories

when core category is found, stop coding any sentences which do not contain it or connected categories

  • saturation occurs when interviews add no more information to categories or their relationship to core category
  • sample should ideally vary to fit into theory
  • memos should structure category relationships
  • physically sort memos on basis of category – then gather in a sequence allowing the structure to be described
  • write up based on sort structure – integrate cards into a coherent argument
  • the literature which will be relevent doesn’t emerge until later
  • literature should be treated as data

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