Qualitative Research Methodology

Original Editor - Manisha Shrestha Top Contributors - Manisha Shrestha and Cindy John-Chu

Original Editor - User Name

Top Contributors - Manisha Shrestha and Cindy John-Chu

Introduction      [edit | edit source]

Qualitative study deals with the universe of meanings, beliefs, motivations, aspirations, values, perceptions and human feelings obtained with research participants in their subjectivity and living contexts.[1] Qualitative research is generally used as a broad umbrella term for a range of research methodologies, with differing epistemological assumptions.[2]

The research design is the plan or strategy researchers use to answer the research question, which is underpinned by philosophy, methodology and methods.[3]

Methodology refers to ‘the theoretical, political and philosophical backgrounds to social research and their implications for research practice and for the use of particular research methods.[2] It is the science of study of how research is done systematically. Thus, it is a strategy of enquiry that guides a set of procedures and an overall framework to explain methods.

Methods, on the other hand, refer to techniques used to acquire and analyze data to create knowledge.[2]

Types of Qualitative Methodology[edit | edit source]

There are various methodological approaches in qualitative study. Each methodology has explicit criteria for the collection, analysis and interpretation of data.[3] Qualitative studies are flexible and iterative, but it should be under the methodological approach. The “big three” qualitative approaches are:

  1. Grounded Theory
  2. Phenomenology
  3. Ethnography

Furthermore, qualitative research has a rich tradition of various designs. So other qualitative approaches are:[1][4]

  1. Case Studies
  2. Conversation Analysis
  3. Narrative Research
  4. Hermeneutic Research
  5. Historical Research
  6. Participatory Action Research
  7. Participatory Community Research
  8. Critical Social Theory
  9. Feminist research
  10. Discourse analysis
  11. Content analysis

Grounded Theory[edit | edit source]

History[edit | edit source]

This methodology was developed by Glaser and Strauss from the University of California in the 1960s and is rooted in sociology.

Grounded theory (GT) was developed and evolved in three genres:

  • Traditional GT associated with Glaser and Strauss in 1967
  • Evolved GT associated with Strauss, Corbin and Clarke in 1990s
  • Constructivist GT associated with Charmaz in 2000s[3]

Aim[edit | edit source]

It aims to generate a theory that explains a social process, action or interaction. The theory is constructed or ‘grounded’ from the data of participants who have experienced the phenomenon under study.[2]

Sampling[edit | edit source]

It usually starts with purposive sampling and later uses theoretical sampling to select participants who can best contribute to the developing theory. As theory construction takes place concurrently with data collection and analyses, the theoretical sampling of new participants also occurs along with the emerging theoretical concepts.

Most commonly, data collection involves interviews although observation and documentary data may also be used.[2]

For example, one grounded theory study tested several theoretical constructs to build a theory on autonomy in diabetes patients. In developing the theory, the researchers started by purposefully sampling participants with diabetes differing in age, onset of diabetes and social roles, for example, employees, housewives, and retired people. After the first analysis, researchers continued with theoretically sampling, for example, participants who differed in the treatment they received, with different degrees of care dependency, and participants who receive care from a general practitioner (GP), at a hospital or from a specialist nurse, etc.[5]

Data Analysis[edit | edit source]

Grounded theory generates a theory that explains how a basic social problem that emerged from the data is processed in a social setting. It uses the ‘constant comparison’ method, which involves comparing elements that are present in one data source (e.g., an interview) with elements in another source, to identify commonalities.

The steps in the analysis are known as open, axial and selective coding. Throughout the analysis, you document your ideas about the data in methodological and theoretical memos. The outcome of a grounded theory study is a theory.[5]


Phenomenology[edit | edit source]

History[edit | edit source]

This methodology originated from Germany at the start of the 20th century and has its roots in psychology and philosophy. Edmund Husserl (1859) and Martin Heidegger (1889) – pivotal German philosophers involved in foundation and development of phenomenology.[2]

There are two main variants:

Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) Descriptive Phenomenological Method
Developed by Jonathan Smith in 1990s. Developed by Amedeo Giorgi in 1970s.
Heideggerian approach. Husserlian approach
Double hermeneutics – attempting to understand

how the individual interprets and attempts to

understand their world.

Avoids theoretical or speculative interpretations –

stays close to the descriptions provided by


Active role of researcher Researcher “brackets” own assumptions

Aim[edit | edit source]

The aim is to understand the unique lived experience of individuals by exploring the meaning of a phenomenon. It enables the researcher to uncover a description of the ‘essence’ of the phenomenon; the universal meaning for individuals.[2]

Sampling[edit | edit source]

Phenomenology uses criterion sampling, in which participants meet predefined criteria. The most prominent criterion is the participant’s experience with the phenomenon under study. The researchers look for participants who have shared an experience, but vary in characteristics and in their individual experiences.

For example, a phenomenological study on the lived experiences of pregnant women with psychosocial support from primary care midwives will recruit pregnant women varying in age, parity and educational level in primary midwifery practices.[5]

Analysis[edit | edit source]

In phenomenology, analysis aims to describe and interpret the meaning of an experience, often by identifying essential subordinate and major themes. Search for common themes featuring within an interview and across interviews, sometimes involving the study participants or other experts in the analysis process.

Researchers put their own views of the phenomenon, referred to as bracketing or reflexivity, in order to deepen their understanding.(1) The outcome of a phenomenological study is a detailed description of themes that capture the essential meaning of a ‘lived’ experience.[5]


Ethnography[edit | edit source]

History[edit | edit source]

It came from comparative cultural anthropology in the early 20th century.[2]

Aim[edit | edit source]

To examine the shared patterns of behaviour, beliefs and language within a cultural group and to do this requires extended times of observation by the researcher.[2]

Sampling[edit | edit source]

The main strategy is purposive sampling of a variety of key informants, who are most knowledgeable about a culture and are able and willing to act as representatives in revealing and interpreting the culture.

For example, an ethnographic study on the cultural influences of communication in maternity care will recruit key informants from among a variety of parents-to-be, midwives and obstetricians in midwifery care practices and hospitals.[5]

Analysis[edit | edit source]

In ethnography, analysis begins from the moment that the researcher sets foot in the field. The analysis involves continually looking for patterns in the behaviors and thoughts of the participants in everyday life, in order to obtain an understanding of the culture under study.

When comparing one pattern with another and analyzing many patterns simultaneously, you may use maps, flow charts, organizational charts and matrices to illustrate the comparisons graphically. The outcome of an ethnographic study is a narrative description of a culture.[5]


How Do I Choose Qualitative Methodology/Approach?[edit | edit source]

Methodology of qualitative study can be chosen based upon:

a)       The nature of the research problem, research question and scientific knowledge you are seeking.

For instance, if your research question is ‘What constitutes the caring relationship between Physiotherapists and family caregivers in the palliative care for people with disability among family caregivers of Moroccan, Syrian, and Iranian ethnicity?’ Since you are interested in the caring relationship within cultural groups or subgroups, you might choose ethnography.[4]

If your research question is ‘How does a relationship of trust between Physiotherapists and family caregivers evolve in end-of-life care for people with disability?’ Grounded theory might then be the design of the first choice.

b)      Discussing with other qualitative researchers, the pros and cons of different designs for your study.

c)      The resources and time available and your access to the study settings and participants also influence the choices you make in designing the study. For instance, one to one interviews take longer time than focus group discussions.[4]

Resources[edit | edit source]

Other related pages are:

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Petty NJ, Thomson OP, Stew G. Ready for a paradigm shift? Part 1: Introducing the philosophy of qualitative research. Manual therapy. 2012 Aug 1;17(4):267-74.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Petty NJ, Thomson OP, Stew G. Ready for a paradigm shift? Part 2: Introducing qualitative research methodologies and methods. Manual therapy. 2012 Oct 1;17(5):378-84.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Chun Tie Y, Birks M, Francis K. Grounded theory research: A design framework for novice researchers. SAGE open medicine. 2019 Jan;7:2050312118822927.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Korstjens I, Moser A. Series: Practical guidance to qualitative research. Part 2: Context, research questions and designs. European Journal of General Practice. 2017 Oct 2;23(1):274-9.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Moser A, Korstjens I. Series: Practical guidance to qualitative research. Part 3: Sampling, data collection and analysis. European Journal of General Practice. 2018 Jan 1;24(1):9-18.
  6. 5.5 Grounded theory | Qualitative Methods | Qualitative Analysis | UvA. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6f1GHjD5JQ. [Lasted accessed: 31-5-2021]
  7. 1.6 Phenomenology | Qualitative Methods | Philosophy of Qualitative Research | UvA. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0rvs2An6dk. [Lasted accessed: 31-5-2021]
  8. 2.1 Ethnography | Qualitative Methods | Observation | UvA. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn_L0lhCOfY.[lasted accessed: 31-5-2021]