Qualitative Research Critical Literature Review


Qualitative research is one of the most commonly used research methods in social sciences. Punch (2005, p. 89) defines qualitative research as “Ethnographic, naturalistic, anthropological, field, or participant observer research.” As this definition suggests, qualitative research methods involves investigation of specific issues through field studies, case studies, ethnographic, anthropological, or naturalistic studies. When conducting research, it is important to determine when it is appropriate to use qualitative methods. This will require one to find out the differences that exist between qualitative and quantitative research methods, and the context under which each of them is appropriate. Qualitative research was traditionally used in social sciences because of its descriptive nature. The desire to get the answers on why or how a phenomenon occurred made the social scientists to rely heavily on qualitative other than quantitative research. As Yin (2003, p. 132) puts it, when answering the why and how questions, numerical data may not offer an appropriate solution. This makes it necessary to have data that can describe why a phenomenon happened, and how it happened. It is for this reason that the researcher considered it necessary to use qualitative research in this study. In this paper, the researcher will conduct a critical review of literatures in order to determine why qualitative research will be appropriate for this research topic.

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Rationale for Research Design

The researcher chose qualitative research methods as the appropriate research design for the study. It is essential to understand the rationale for using this research method. According to Punch (2005, p. 64), when conducting research, it is necessary to define an appropriate design based on what is expected out of the research. When a wrong research design is chosen, then it may not be possible to achieve the desired results out of a given study. In this section, the researcher will look at the rationale of the design by defining the aim, objectives, and questions that will be used in the research.

Research aim

In order to understand the aim of this study, the researcher will analyse the topic in order to determine what is seeks to investigate. The following is the title that will be used.

Effective Leadership: A Driver in Talent Retention

As the topic suggests, this research seeks to investigate how effective leadership can be considered a driver in talent retention. In order to retain employees, many researchers such as Kemmis (1991, p. 52) have always suggested that it is necessary to have an effective leadership. The way leaders treat employees will determine how long they will stay within an organisation. In the current competitive business environment, retaining of talented employees is a primary need that cannot be ignored. It is for this reason that the researcher developed interest in investigating how talent can be retained through effective leadership. The aim can be summarised as shown below.

To determine how effective leadership can help in retaining talented employees

To achieve this aim, the researcher considered using qualitative research methods as an appropriate research design.

Research objectives

At this stage, it will be crucial to look at the specific research objectives that made it necessary to use qualitative methods. According to Yin (2003), when selecting a research method, it is necessary to have in mind, the appropriate research method that will make it easy to collect, analyse, and compile data in a way that is easy to comprehend. The following are the specific objectives that the researcher seeks to achieve by the end of the study.

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  1. To determine why employees may consider leaving one company to another
  2. To determine the role of leadership in talent retention within an organisation
  3. To determine other factors that may enhance retaining employees within an organisation

As shown in the above statements, the investigation will go beyond determining what and when of a research. There is a section that requires an answer as to why a given phenomenon happens the way it does. As shown in the first objective, there is the desire to determine why an employee may consider leaving one company to another. This question cannot be answered using numerical data. It is explanatory in nature and requires qualitative data. Using of a case study to explain how an event led to loss of talent or a phenomenological study at this stage may be very critical. That is why the researcher considered this research method a priority over other existing research designs.

Research questions

Looking at the research questions also helps the researcher to identify the most appropriate research method that will provide desired outcome. Yin (2003, p. 127) equates a research process to a journey to the unknown. When making such journeys, it is necessary to have a guide or a map that will help one to know the wrong turns and how to stick to the right routes. Similarly, when conducting a research, one needs a guide that will help in identifying irrelevant data from the data that is needed and how to stick to the topic of the study. This is what research questions do. It helps in giving focus during the process of collecting, processing, and analysing data. When a researcher is in the field, the research questions help him to determine the questions which are relevant to the topic. The data collected should respond directly to the set research questions. Any datum that does not respond to these questions should be considered irrelevant. In the processing of data, the focus of the researcher is to have information that will be in line with the research topic and the research questions. It, therefore, means that research questions play an important role in defining the research design to be used in a given study.

In this research, the following are the research questions that were developed.

  1. Why would an employee consider leaving one company to get an employment in another company?
  2. What is the role of effective leadership in enhancing talent retention within a firm?
  3. What other organisational issues may make employees consider staying with an organisation for a long time?

These questions are specifically meant to guide the process of conducting this research in order to determine how effective leadership can be a driver to talent retention. To respond to these questions, it will be necessary to conduct ethnographic, phenomenological or case studies to explain why retaining of employees within an organisation requires an effective leadership.

Justification of the Research Method

According to Punch (2005, p. 50), when choosing an appropriate design, it is necessary to give a detailed justification as to why a given research method is more appropriate than the other ones. In this section, the researcher will look at the theoretical perspective of this research design and the philosophical paradigm that makes it necessary to be used in this specific study.

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Philosophical paradigm

Qualitative studies are very unique in nature based on the philosophical tradition it uses in its ontological and epistemological assumptions. Looking at the philosophical paradigm of qualitative research may help in understanding how it will be relevant in this study. It makes it necessary to look at some of the relevant theories and research concepts commonly used to support the use of qualitative research.

Grounded theory

Grounded theory is one of the most commonly used theories in qualitative research. In defining Grounded Theory, Yin (2003, p. 67) says that it is “A general theory of scientific method concerned with the generation, elaboration, and validation of social science theory. The scholar further notes that grounded theory’s aim is to develop theories that will help in understanding a phenomenon. When using this theory, it is necessary to derive data inductively. This form of research differs from other traditional forms of research. As Punch (2005, p. 117) observes, in most of the traditional studies, a researcher would select an appropriate theory and collect data to support it based on a given phenomenon. This is a complete opposite of what happens when using grounded theory. In this theory, a researcher will collect data from the field, analyse it, and develop an appropriate theory base on the collected data.

According to Maxwell (1996, p. 92), this concept of grounded theory combines two contrasting traditions of sociological studies which are symbolic interactionism and positivism. When data is collected from the field, its analysis, based on this theory, follows three basic steps. The first step involves coding the text and then theorising it. The second step involves memorising the data and then theorising it. The third step involves integration, refinement, and writing up of the theory. At this stage, the researcher shall have come up with a strong theory that is backed by the collected data about a phenomenon under study. It is important to note that Grounded Theory has met criticism from some scholars who believe that its approach is a signal to the return of Baconian inductivism. However, Winter (1995, p. 82) dispels such criticisms claiming that this theory is strongly grounded on scientific research methods.


Phenomenological studies are part of qualitative research that will be very relevant in this study. According to Kemmis (1991, p. 48), phenomenology focuses on the experiences that one gathers during a given event. A participant in phenomenological study must have had a first-hand experience on a given event in a way that he or she can give an account of what actually took place. A researcher may be interested in understanding why or how a given event took place. It may be possible to use the current data to deduce what could have happened during such an event that resulted in what we currently have. However, sometimes the deductive approach may require some assumptions or even guess work because the researcher or people involved in the study did not have the experience in what took place.

The deductive approach will always base its reasoning on events that happened rationally and in an expected manner without any abnormal twists. However, it is a fact that sometimes events are caused by twists, some of which are supernormal. This means that the outcome resulting from such deducting approach may be wrong. That is why phenomenology focuses on the logical path that involves the actual experience. One must have had the experience of an event in order to give a clear picture of what took place. In this study, the researcher will be looking at how leadership can be a driver of talent retention. To do this, a researcher may need to engage two groups of participants. The first group of participants must have worked in organisations that experienced mass exodus of employees while the other group must have worked in an organisation that has been able to retain its employees, especially those talented in various fields. These participants can give accounts of what happened that led to massive outflow of the employees or their long retention within a company based on the experience they have.


According to Yin (2003, p. 58), ethnography is another popular design when using qualitative research method. Sometimes the respondents may hide or twist given information when interviewing them for various reasons. A respondent may hide information to protect self, to avoid intimidation, or to protect an organisation that is of value to him or her. Sometimes the responses given by the participants may be exaggerated or diluted for the same reasons. That makes it necessary to use ethnographic studies. When using ethnography, a researcher will be forced to be part of the system. Instead of getting the information from the third party, the researcher will go to the field and get the experience directly. For instance, this research will be looking how leadership can influence talent retention within a firm. In order to have right data, the researcher will need to be part of a given organisation for some time. Through personal experience and direct interaction with other employees, the researcher will be able to determine how leadership affects employee retention.

Every time an employee registers dissatisfaction and a desire to leave a given firm to the other, the researcher should be able to determine if the feeling is caused by the leadership within the organisation or other organisational factors. However, Kemmis (1991, p. 38) says that this concept requires a lot of patience. It may not be appropriate for a study that is expected to last for a short period. This is so because the researcher will have to spend a lot of time collecting the relevant information. Sometimes this can last as long as one or two years. Another weakness is that it is subject to the perceptions and biasness of the researcher. What the researcher considers normal can easily be ignored. However, the ignored factor could be the major contributor to talent retention in a given firm. This one-sided view may not be appropriate or the research’s validity and reliability.

Case studies

Sometimes case studies may be relevant when conducting a qualitative research. Punch (2005, p. 72) defines case studies as “In-depth analysis of people, events, and relationships, bounded by some unifying factor.” A case study is always more appropriate when looking at a more specific issue within an organisation. It is also appropriate when making comparison of issues in two or more organisations. When looking at how leadership affects talent retention, using a case study may be necessary. When doing this, a researcher will look at the behaviour of the top managers, and how they relate to their employees within the organisation. According to Maxwell (1996, p. 47), looking at the behaviour and approach leaders use when handling the employees may not be an enough determinant in this context of the research. It will also be necessary to get the views of the employees about their leaders. The perception of the employees towards their leaders will be the primary issue in this context because it will directly affect the ability of the firm to retain its best talents.

Case studies can be perfect when conducting comparisons. In this regard, a researcher would need two organisations that are known to have different leadership strategies. Leadership approach in these two organisations will be analysed and the rate of employee turnover determined. This way, it will be possible to easy to know how one approach of leadership differs from the other when it comes to employee retention. McNiff (1992, p. 87) warns that when using case studies, care should be taken to avoid misinterpretations. The fact that employees’ turnover rate is low may not necessarily mean that leadership is effective enough in retaining them. Other forces may affect the rate of employees’ turnover. Such other factors may be good remunerations, lack of better alternatives, or even emotional attachments. For this reason, a researcher should go as far as interviewing the participants about the leadership.

Public and professional ethical codes and their implications

When conducting research, it is important to take into consideration the issue of public and professional ethics. Issues that may raise controversy or public concerns should be avoided. Professionally, a researcher has the obligation to protect the respondents. The identity of the respondents should not be revealed to anyone because they may be intimidated in case their views conflicts with that of the rest of the population. It is also professionally unethical to reproduce the work of another researcher and claim ownership to it (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe & Lowe 2001, p. 33). That is always considered plagiarism, one of the worst offences in research. When one ignores these public and professional ethical concerns, the resulting report may fail to be of any value because it will not be adding anything to the existing body of knowledge. One can even be sued for violating copyrights of other scholars, leading to fines or even jail term.

Benefits of qualitative research

Finally, it will be necessary to review benefits of using qualitative research. This type of research is very beneficial to the participants of the study. According to Easterby-Smith, Thorpe and Lowe (2001, p. 59), qualitative research offers participants a rare opportunity to give a detailed account of an issue in their own words. If it is an issue that is affecting them such as poor leadership, then they will be able to explain it in their own terms. This way, the issue can be corrected in a way that will meet their desires. To the users, qualitative research is the most appropriate when it comes to giving details over an issue. When users are only provided with statistics, it may not be very beneficial to them if it is not accompanied by proper justification. Qualitative research offers a detailed description of a phenomenon that will give the user a clear view of the issue under investigation.


Easterby-Smith, M, Thorpe, R, & Lowe, A 2001, Management research: an introduction, Sage, London.

Kemmis, S 1991, Action Research for Change and Development, Gower, London.

Maxwell, A 1996, Qualitative research design: An interactive approach. Applied Social Research Methods Series, vol. 41. no. 5, pp. 34-98.

McNiff, J 1992, Action research: Principles and Practice, Routledge, London.

Punch, K 2005, Introduction to Social Research: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches, Sage, London.

Winter, R 1995, Learning from Experience. Principles and Practice in Action Research, Falmer Press, London.

Yin, R 2003, Case Study Research – Design and Method, Sage, London.

Qualitative Research Critical Literature Review
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