A PhD Beginner’s Guide to Qualitative Research & Data Collection Methods

A qualitative research aims at the researcher’s deep understanding of a specific organisation or a group, attributed to a social problem. The concepts, data collection methods, and tools change due to a flexible research process. The researcher analyzes the collected data in an inductive approach, i.e., the process moves in an upward direction. The research is processed with a bottom-up logic deriving a theme or theory from the research. Generally, a person chooses a topic, collect data on its basis and concludes his argument, whereas here, he collects the data and then defines the topic.

Thus, the qualitative research process aims at coming up with a new theory based on the inferences from the collected data. It is prefered to collect first hand data as the researcher observes, analyse, and gradually moves to the general theme of the research. The other sources to data collection includes archival records, anecdotes, or private records. However, the first hand experience is much more reliable and trusted as it involves direct interaction with the participants and quotations from the conversations.

Types of Qualitative Research methods

Once a scholar has decided to research on a tentative topic, developed his research problem, formulated research questions, he has to choose a research method to approach all these justly. While there are multiple methods to conduct qualitative research, the researcher may choose any of these on the basis of his research problem :

Ethnographic research-Ethnographic research is the study of people and cultures, customs, habits, and their mutual differences or similarities. In this study, researcher investigates or analyzes an intact cultural group in a particular setting for a prolonged period of time. This flexible research takes place either via observational or interviewed data consuming an extensive time.

Grounded theory-Grounded research theory involves a scholar to generate the theory from a systematic research. The researcher concludes with an abstract theory based on the interaction, actions, and views of the participants since the concept is emerged after the research is processed.

Case studies- In this kind of research, researcher studies a program, event, activity, or one or more individuals to understand the situation, culture, or issues associated. Although the researcher is bounded by time for an extensive study, he focuses on one subject to derive the theme.

Phenomenological research-A researcher realizes a particular phenomenon through a critical evaluation of the people’s experiences, perceptions, and observations. The researcher understands the past experiences as a philosophy to provide an answer to the research question. Hereupon, the researcher excludes his own life experiences, opinions and perspectives to completely dwell into the life of the participant.

Narrative research-The researcher studies the lives of individuals by observational or interviewed data. Narrative research combines the views of the participants’ lives with those of the researcher’s life. The researcher contrasts his life experiences with the participant’s to move from particular to a general theme.

Data collection methods in Qualitative Research

After the scholar has decided the research method now, he may proceed further to decide the data collection method. He could choose to collect data with an open ended questionnaire, or interview the participants and record their responses. The observational method involves consistent monitoring of the participant whereas research on the basis of documented data is surveying the archival records. The collected data is interpreted by the themes and patterns of the responses. However, the researcher analyze and interpret the data by categorizing it into themes and the pattern it follows.

Whether the researcher is conducting the survey through open ended questionnaire or interviewing the participants personally, he should have a set of questions for him. A broad central question should focus on one concept or phenomena, although, the scholar may divert to other related concepts following the answers of the sub questions. Any central question has to be followed by more than seven to eight sub questions to get a pattern of the behaviour and responses of the participants. You must begin the first question with ‘what’ or ‘how’ to get into a conversation and follow up with more questions.

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