Social Research: Qualitative Methodology


Qualitative research method is a method used to research different ways of handling a research problem. Though the method has faced criticism from those who vouch for the objectivity in quantitative methods, qualitative research has revolutionized the research world by providing a better way of handling issues in social realms. To achieve this, the method vouches for precise and plausible ways through which a researcher’s account of the findings can be found to be consistent, even if the research was to be carried out by a different researcher. This means there is an objective assessment of the research account to establish the level of trustworthiness.

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Qualitative research focuses on analyzing the data that is collected from fieldwork. This could be through observations done, open interviews and even through written documents. However, it should be remembered that the end goal of generation of narratives and case studies is to yield patterns or themes. Thus, the product becomes the product of qualitative research.

Actually, discovery is a question that science has been preoccupied with for a considerable period of years. The trouble only comes with the ways through which the discovery is made. Social research, through the qualitative method, sets out to provide a clear analytical route that can achieve such a discovery. This paper is actually going to highlight critical issues in social research. These will include various principles that govern a clear understanding and carrying out of social research. The paper will also clarify qualitative research and its importance. It will also analyze and shed some light on the theories associated with social research and how they integrate within the wider quest of understanding the research methodologies used in social research.

Considerations in Research

The researchers usually relish the outcome of the data that they collect as they usually like what can be done to come up with a clear-cut discovery. Some researchers, according to Strauss and Corbin (1998), “are actually unafraid to draw their own experiences when analyzing materials, because they realize that these become the foundation for making comparisons and discovering properties and dimensions”. Here one can see the importance of data collected. It is usually prudent to come up with a conclusion that is backed by the data collected. It is against this that theories are also drawn. Actually here Strauss and Corbin suggest, the theories should be qualified as, if not, the research could be said to be unsuccessful.

The distinct feature of qualitative research is that it uses non-statistical ways of inquiry and even analysis of the phenomena in question. By way of inductive process, conclusions and general themes are eventually drawn from the data. (Strauss and Corbin 1998).Another area that is of great importance has to do with data collecting. Should the data be collected using the wrong method, the whole process may yield an unreliable outcome. Thus, qualitative research may collect data through observation, case studies, interviews etc. It is usually from the samples selected that detailed descriptions are advanced. Remember, during the research process, specific issues are normally under study (Strauss and Corbin1998)

The ways through which qualitative research operates are quite different from those employed in quantitative analysis. As qualitative research uses considerably smaller samples, quantitative research incorporates large samples replete with standardized measures. Quantitative research also uses a deductive approach, as opposed to the inductive approach taken by qualitative research. The interviews used in quantitative approach are also highly structured. This means therefore that quantitative research ends up with categories that are quantifiable, i.e. ones that will conform to the statistical techniques employed (Strauss and Corbin 1998).

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Qualitative Research

According to Strauss and Corbin (1998) qualitative research, for instance, could be about people’s lives, behavior and even feelings, among other social issues. While some data can be handled quantitatively through such means as a census, the greater percentage of the data can be used in qualitative ways though which many may confuse this method of research. For example, whereas some social researchers may collect data using qualitative methods, they may end up structuring it in such a way as to analyze it quantitatively using the available statistical methods. So, it is crucial not to view such as quantitative method. Strauss and Corbin (1998) clarify thus:

In speaking about qualitative analysis, we are referring not to the quantifying of qualitative data but rather to non-mathematical process of interpretation, carried out for the purpose of discovering concepts and relationships in raw data and then organizing this into a theoretical explanatory scheme. Data might consist of interviews and observations but also might include documents, films or videotapes, and even data that have been quantified for other purposes, such as census data.

Becker (1986) says there are various motivations for choosing qualitative research. Someone may choose this path due to personal preference or even experience. This could be supported from the type of background one is in. For instance some people may be more grounded in humanities such as anthropology or sociology, among others. It will, thus, be obvious to use this approach. This is because qualitative methods have a way of finding out and explaining intricate social matters such as feelings, preferences and even the prevailing thought processes.

Basically, qualitative research comprises of three main components, which include data, procedures and written verbal reports. The second component of qualitative research is procedure. In a nutshell, Strauss and Corbin (1998) feel that “conceptualizing, reducing, elaborating, and relating” can be seen as coding. The information may actually be presented in the form of books, journals, or even articles. It may also be presented in talks, e.g. through conferences etc.

The approaches to doing qualitative research are various. Grounded theory is one of the approaches.

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Grounded Theory

Grounded theory has been greatly analyzed by Strauss and Corbin. This view is routedis routed in data. This shows that theory is developed from the data used in the research. According to Strauss and Corbin, the researcher gets data first, and then through systematic analysis ends up coming up with the theory. In grounding theory, the researcher is prohibited from coming up with a preconceived theory. Unlike many researches where some researchers come up with theory and map it to data, in grounded theory approach, theory only comes in after data has been collected. The researcher’s intention here is to actually build their theory from the ground up. The researcher should avoid situations whereby external existing literature may interfere or prejudice their research process and findings if a grounded approach is used. Speculation is also not given a chance in the grounding approach. There are several benefits that emerge from grounding approach. First of all, there is greater enhancement of creative thinking (Charmoz, 2005). The open-mindedness with which the researcher approaches an issue goes to a large extent in enhancing creativity as the mind is open to an array of possibilities. So, surprises are usually expected in this particular approach. There is usually the employment of non-linear thinking as the researcher sieves to and fro through the process. This is usually done, according to Charmoz, to try and reach a perspective that is new or fresh.

A theory is crucial as it goes ahead in explaining the phenomena presented in data. Theory is equally important. Strauss and Corbin (1988, p.22) opine thus:

For us, theory denotes a set of well-developed categories (e.g. themes, concepts) that are systematically interrelated through work that explains some relevant social, psychological, educational, nursing, or other phenomenon … It is only after concepts are related by relationship statements and conceptual ordering that a theory can be said to develop.

Theories are varied and unique in terms of their functioning. Some theories may be systematically formulated but may end up lacking in their greater applicability to data.

Theorizing and theory are issues that elicit great debate in social science. For instance, some quarters refer to some philosophical stances such as structuralism or even feminism as theories. Strauss and Corbin (1988) clarify that these do not constitute theory since they do not constitute a set of concepts that are explanatory. They further clarify that such are not theories but theoretical frameworks. Theoretical frameworks are quite invaluable in social research as they provide a focused perspective on phenomena, thus helping in the generation of theoretical questions. Creswell has a different opinion.

Strauss and Corbin (1998) point out reveal misconceptions have also caused a stir in social research. One such misconception is that qualitative approach does not validate theory. This is not true since some studies do validate theory while others do not. Another misconception has also been to do with theorizing. Many think that picking a theory and mapping it with data is theorizing. This is not so, since theorizing constitutes an intricate and systematic process where concepts and data are observed for relationship and then finally determine how such a method can actually stand in case of scrutiny.

Strauss and Corbin (1998, p.25) define theorizing as,as; “…the act of constructing from data an explanatory scheme that systematically integrates various concepts through statement of relationship”. In essence, Strauss and Corbin have taken grounded theory toward a direction that has elicited great interest. They have restructured to a larger extent, coding process by inclusion or a coding paradigm.

Grounded theory has several comparisons in relation to other qualitative designs (Strauss and Corbin, 1998). It also has got characteristics that are unique to it, which make it stand out. In its comparative nature it also has a way of having data collected simultaneously with analysis. It also pushes literature review away for sometime so that data comes first and the whole study is in progress. Purposive sampling is what grounded theory employs. When it comes to elaboration of categories it employs memoing (Strauss and Corbin1998). This also helps in the clear representation of the relationship between categories. To show the stopping point for data collection, this approach uses saturation to indicate that. When all these have been achieved, the approach therefore uses explanation, which is a core process; thereby, the grounded theory is seen Strauss and Corbin (1998).

But this cannot go on without challenge from the other researchers. Many have experienced a lot of difficulty with constant comparison, sampling or theory and theoretical saturation. They find these to be too difficult for a researcher to operationalize, as they cannot be bypassed when doing grounded theory analyses. Looking at the requirement for saturation one sees the apprehension expressed. For instance, for saturation to be achieved, the comparative process has to be carried out repeatedly to ascertain that new ideas are no longer emerging from the data (Strauss and Corbin, 1998). For saturation to occur there is always an emergence of repeated themes observed and articulated. The process of data analysis is also hectic as the researcher is usually faced with the task of organizing data into codes. One way is through open coding (Strauss and Corbin 1998). Here, data is usually in the form of categories replete with information about phenomena. In axial coding the researcher starts to bring the categories close. These are actually usually novel ways of phenomenon understanding. The next type of coding is axial coding where the categories are brought together by the researcher. Finally, categories and themes are integrated towards a clear understanding and flow of the phenomenon under study (Strauss and Corbin 1998).


This approach credits its emergence to the work of Husserl, a mathematician preoccupied with the description of how people experience objects of experience and the experience itself.

In phenomenology one has to make oneself not believe in the existence of the objects for objective analysis. Phenomenology therefore advances the notion that objects exist because we perceive them and conceptualize them as such (Creswell, 1998).

The purpose of phenomenological approach is to highlight the specific. This is actually intended to capture information just as it is perceived by the actors in a situation. Thus, it usually takes the form of gathering those perceptions through qualitative methods such as interviews, observation and even discussions (Creswell, 1998). What phenomenology is interested in is to capture the experience of the individual. This approach has found a path in emphasizing the crucial role of personal perspective and even personal interpretation. This makes such an approach a very powerful tool through which a clear understanding of the research participants’ subjective experience. By this, a great deal of insight is gained since one may get to know the motivations behind people’s actions (Creswell, 1998).

Method used in Phenomenology

The phenomenological approach is well applied to single cases or those samples that are purposely selected (Creswell, 1998). Single case study may be good at identifying the inherent issues that can be identified. In such a case, the inferences made are not easy to make, unlike situations in multiple participant researches. In multiple participant situations, many inferences could be drawn. This is usually possible as one starts to see several factors recurring among the participants; thus, inferences can be drawn from such a situation. The peculiarity in phenomenological research is that its findings are well applied to individual cases, but not the relationship of the population that the participants emanated from. In other words, the findings should be deemed tentative (Creswell, 1998). Just like in the grounded approach, the researcher who takes a phenomenological approach has to grapple with large quantitative audio or visual recordings etc.

Another area that is worth considering in phenomenological approach has to do with the way research participants are located, as previously mentioned. Usually, this approach prefers that purposive sampling is employed. This is particularly well suited in identifying the primary participants’ who are crucial to the research. Babbie (1995) has proposed one way of achieving this, which is by letting one participant identify other participants who belong to the same group. This would be difficult for researchers to identify by themselves since it is difficult to establish the identities of members of particular groups. So that is why finding one right participant to identify the rest can be quite enriching to a study of this kind. However, one major drawback of this approach is the isolation faced by the researcher; he or she may not be in a position to know some of the potential participants. The other strength of this approach is that such a selection ensures that an element of confidentiality is sustained. Most participants would be suspicious and hence give unreliable if they were to be identified by a person from the “outside” their area.

Creswell (1998, p.65 & 1130) suggests “long interviews with up to 10 people”. This ensures a successful phenomenological study. A researcher can also select the same number in case of checking for validation. What should be ensured is that the number should not exceed 10 for each group.

All in all, just like in the grounded approach, one can see the notion of saturation still applies in phenomenology (Creswell, 1998). It is after saturation, prompted by recurrence, that one is able to arrive at a juncture for making inferences or conclusions.

Data Acquisition

The phenomenological approach concerns itself with capturing data the information the way it is. Just like in the grounded approach where data forms a central role. Here, data is not supposed to be interfered with but just be allowed to emerge spontaneously. Thus, the rich descriptions are captured together with their settings where the researcher can focus the inquiry so as to explain or share their lived experiences under a certain question (Creswell, 1998). The responses elicited are therefore recorded and analyzed.

In phenomenological study the researcher is usually deeply concerned with getting information as presented in the informant’s perspective from the participants’ perspective. This forms a reliable phenomenological study (Creswell, 1998).

Explicating Data

Usually the phenomenological study avoids the term data analysis since it, in most cases, connotes “breaking down into small units”. Therefore, this means that the concept of the whole is lost. Data explicitation is usually employed since it suggests that the investigation handles constituents without necessarily losing the whole phenomenon (Creswell, 1998).

One way through which data can be explicited in this approach constitutes bracketing and phenomenological reduction. Reduction actually refers to the assessment of phenomena. It does not in any way suggest taking away some bits of what is provided by the participant. Bracketing, on the other hand, suggests opening out such that positions for and against any notion are not taken. The researcher’s own feelings, meanings and even interpretations are not allowed to find their way into the participants’ world (Creswell 1998, p.54)

Phenomenological approach, just liked grounded approach, share the view that data elicitation is a process that takes constant examination and comparison until a reasonable conclusion can be made (Creswell, 1998). The focus of this approach gives more power to the data as opposed to the researcher’s perspective. It is indeed right to say that its weight falls on those unique experiences of the informants (Creswell, 1998).

Delineation of units of meaning is the second crucial stage of data explication. This means that the statements that highlight the phenomenon of the research are usually collected or, rather, extracted (Creswell, 1998). Therefore, the researcher does this extraction while at the same time bracketing their own feelings and notions so that they do not confuse him/her to assume a subjective perspective. From this one can note great semblance with the tenet that grounded approach advances, as both approaches clearly guard against the research process.

The third phase includes unit clustering to form themes. This requires rigorous examination of the various units of meaning so as to come up with a holistic background and view. Therefore, this calls for clear examination of the non-redundant units of meaning. This clear occasion should have been covered previously by removal of redundant units, and also the researcher’s presuppositions should have been bracketed. For this phase to succeed, what the researcher needs is creativity and skill, as it is not easy to delineate precisely the various aspects that constitute the phenomenon (Creswell, 1998).

According to Creswell (1998), various clusters of the themes are basically usually formed through putting units into meaningful groups. That is why many phenomenological researchers recommend going back and forth to the data from which these clusters are elicited. This helps in the research veracity since nothing is left to chance.

Though many researchers agree that some aspects of qualitative research can be analyzed using some software in computers, the researchers themselves can only undertake the interpretation (Creswell 1998).Phenomenology has been identified as an approach whose process cannot be done using the computer packages.

The fourth phase concerns summarizing and validating the data. To do this, the researcher makes a deliberate move to go back to the participant to ascertain if the intended objective was captured (Creswell 1998). It is only after this that the researcher gets down to write a summary that includes the whole captured perspective. Here the sources from which the particular themes were drawn are highlighted. However, the researcher should not feel to have done the best work if he/she is going to concentrate on data alone. It is said that one can only claim to have done good research if ideas are produced eventually from that research (Creswell 1998).

In a nutshell, phenomenological research design can be said to share so much with the grounded approach, though there are many notable disparities between the two, as discussed.


Ethnography is a known field in what has come to be associated with cultural anthropology, which majorly pre-occupies itself with groups that share similar cultural background or features. In this research, the researcher’s main concern is looking at issues to do with behavior, interaction and even the linguistic aspects of members of that particular group (Creswell, 1998). It can be said that ethnography is an approach that is used to describe a group. In it, opinions are sought, interviews carried out and records of data are reviewed as the various interconnections that can be identified are highlighted. The ethnographical approach thus pre-occupies itself with the usual routine occurrences in the lives of populations.

Research in this field usually takes ethnography to be both a product, on one hand, while it also serves as a process on the other. As such, it finally gives a reliable record of the state of a particular perspective of culture studied as well as exhibiting itself through prolonged periods of group observation (Emerson, Fretz & Shaw, 1995).

Ethnographic study exhibits several features. First of all it delves into deep understanding and exploration of a particular social issue as opposed to an intention to test the hypothesis about the phenomena (Emerson, Fretz & Shaw, 1995). It also sets out to study a few cases. For instance, instead of studying various issues, it concerns itself with studying an issue in great detail. Therefore, the ethnographical approach, it must be concluded, subordinates statistical analyses but gives great credence to clear and detailed interpretation of the human actions under study (Emerson, Fretz & Shaw, 1995). Thus in ethnography, what directs ethnographical approach is a number of theories derived from social anthropology. This also means that results’ interpretation is heavily controlled by the theory applied and not the researcher’s own insights and inferences. As such, the theory in this approach is a tool.


Observation is a method that is greatly employed in ethnographical study. Thus, the researcher immerses in the cultural day-to-day life of the participants being studied to get first hand information of the phenomena under study. This usually poses many challenges to the researcher as it requires extensive input (Emerson, Fretz & Shaw, 1995).

Interview is another method that is of great value to this study. The interview takes the form of just usual conversation, though it does greatly vary depending on degree of formality. The interviews could equally vary from structured to semi-structured or completely informal types of interview (Emerson, Fretz & Shaw, 1995).

Texts, artifacts, pictures etc. are also used by ethnographers to get the required information. These sources or information are not just limited to the ones mentioned but may go ahead and include all other material that people use in their day-to-day lives (Emerson, Fretz & Shaw, 1995).

Case Study

Creswell (1998, p.61) defines case study as “an exploration of a ‘bounded system’ or a case (or multiple case) over time through detailed, in depth data collected involving multiple sources of information rich in context”. By this definition, one can see that case study does not in any way have routes in any social scientific background, as with the other approaches, but it should be considered that case studies exhibit themselves both qualitatively and quantitatively. As a discipline, case study has the capacity to run across several other disciplines. So, based on Creswell’s definition, several units can be bound and examined in a case study.

The usual concern when studying is to demarcate the boundaries that show what should be part of a case and what should not. This is what focuses the study in the long-term. Another concern is to establish the unique characteristics that are particular to a certain case. Cases can be studied as single entities as well as multiple cases. In the situation where the cases are studied as a group, then the researcher’s concern will be to study each case individually and then try to establish the similarities and differences that characterize that group.

Consequently, the sources needed for generation of an acceptable case study should be several (Creswell, 1998, p.62). By this he means that the data techniques used should not be limited to one. These could include observation, audio and visual, resources, varied documentations, interview etc. The use of all these strategies is to make sure that the case study is understood in the best way possible by the researchers. The researchers may also get to understand the case by collecting material such as texts, charts and even artifacts, among others, to understand the case better.

Cases could be classified into three broad categories: intrinsic, instrumental and collective. An intrinsic case provides a deeper knowledge or understanding of that particular case (e.g. how a person managed skin cancer for a long period). This is a case of interest. What makes of interest is because it could have particular characteristics that are peculiar or it could just be an ordinary case. Secondly, a case could be instrumental. This is a situation where that case serves as a source of knowledge to solve a particular phenomenon; for example, three educational systems being studied to establish creativity among students.

Action Research

This is another type of qualitative approach. It involves a large number of people, which motivates action. Just like the grounded theory approach, action research motivates imaginativeness and coming up with new insights, thus gets the players to feel empowered to achieve their goals (Becker,1986).Unlike quantitative research that majors on statistical analysis, action research brings with it a wealth of experiences emanating from constant exposure to data, interviews etc. It is not easy to get these from quantitative approaches. Action research therefore acts as an inquiry that relate to day-to-day experience.

Action research, as earlier noted, takes an exploratory approach (Becker, 1986). This can be seen from the way it is detached from the already established theory. The approach allows for reflection on the data. This is a good path, since due to such reflection new insights could be discovered, thereby adding to the prevailing knowledge base. The other strength is that this approach enables the participants to engage with the researcher and this can be quite fulfilling.

What is advanced from action research can be quite useful in the learning world. For instance, the learners could be encouraged to come up with their own findings derived from their own experiences. This could be easily achieved since action research advocates participatory working. Learners may be given the freedom to reflect on issues by themselves and come up with their findings.


Babbie Earl has contributed a great deal to survey methods. Sample surveys are said to have evolved from the Victorian era when information was being gathered about the poverty that was then bedeviling society. As such, samples of the residents were used to try to get the picture of the extent of their poverty. Therefore, this meant that the sample could reflect the general state of the entire population. With a modern survey, the area of study has seen inclusion of other issues such as attitudes and other facts, which has marked an expansion of the survey (Babbie, 1973).

In a survey, questions may be posed with a view to inquiring about various aspects of life that people could be facing, thus, in it the elicitation of answers could be brought about through questions.

According to Babbie, (1973). surveys are useful especially when there is a need to collect data about issues that are not easy to observe. These could include opinions and even likes depending on what the research sets out to investigate. A survey usually targets populations but the population can be too large to be surveyed completely. This is why in surveys there is use of samples. This approach caters for a reduction in cost and time. It could actually take a great deal of time and money if everyone was to be surveyed. The small proportion of the population can thus be surveyed; and the findings thus found used to mirror the state of the rest of the population.

Scientifically, the accuracy of the findings are usually easy to establish by way of significance testing.

There are several types of surveys. For qualitative surveys, open-ended questions are usually used while, for the quantitative approach, forced-choice type of questions are usually used. Longitudinal and cross sectional surveys are the primary types of survey.

To get the array of information of a group in relation to a particular point in time, a cross sectional survey is conducted. A good example could be one that could test parents’ feelings towards the internet and morality in June 2011.

Longitudinal surveys, on the other hand, collect information during a certain period. The researcher looks for changes that take place and then tries to explain them. The researcher may as well just decide to describe the changes, and this helps towards addition to the wealth of knowledge about a particular trend or issue. Trend studies usually target a particular group of people where this group gets sampled and scrutinized several times. These samples may be of the same population but they may not necessarily be comprised of the same people. Thus, a researcher may be conditioned to use information that had been gathered by another researcher previously (Babbie, 1995). A probable example would be a yearly survey on alcoholics to establish their preferences in terms of brands of beer.

Cohort studies deal with one group. For instance, 2010 graduates could be given questions to answer on the same survey (Babbie, 1995).

Panel studies are those studies that permit the researcher to establish the reason behind the occurrence of changes within the same reason behind the occurrence of changes within the same population (Babbie, 1973). This happens since the researcher uses the same group to answer the same questions and notes the changes in their responses. One criticism of these panel studies is that they are expensive and usually take a very long time to carry out. Thus, there is a very high attrition rate as time goes by (Babbie,1973)..

Issues in Surveys

Surveys have faced a barrage of criticism in that they are poorly designed; therefore, the resultant data becomes inaccurate. Therefore, there is a need to look into two pertinent areas of survey research (Babbie, 1973). These have to do with sampling and the design of the questions employed in the study.

Sampling has to be well thought out. For instance, establishing the sub-categories of the sample that is crucial to the study must be considered to a greater extent. This will make sure a truly representative sample is placed for the survey to be carried out properly.

Babbie (1973) has put great emphasis on the questions that are used in a survey. This means that the language used in the questions should not be beyond the comprehension level of the interviewee. Double-barreled question are also discouraged. The respondents should also be those with the capacity to answer questions and the relevance of the questions cannot be underscored. Negative items have also been known to cause great confusion. Also, biased items can be a hindrance to the right responses. Additionally, it is better to give short items for ease of reading and answering.

All in all, it has been seen that Babbie has identified an area that the other theorists have not put deeper emphasis onto. Questions can determine whether the results received are reliable or not.

Issues in the Survey Method

Sometimes, human beings have found complications to this method. For instance, they may turn down the request to respond to the questions that have not been composed correctly. But the question to ask here is do we ignore such a segment and move on? The answer is no. This is because still such a segment may be useful to the study (Babbie, 1973).

Samples could also pose a challenge. For instance it may not be easy for a night shift worker to be accessed in order to answer the questionnaire, so it may be returned incomplete.

There are ethical issues that may arise like ignoring to answer calls from interviewers. In most cases the interviewers do ignore such a segment and go ahead with the survey. This may yield unreliable results. In fact, there could be issues to do with personal privacy being violated by the intrusion.

However, a sample survey has its advantages. For example, over time it has gained wide acceptance and use in the US since a finding of a sample can be used to reflect the entire state of affairs of the population.

Surveys can also be good ways through which certain information can be confirmed. A major weakness, however, is that surveys are hardly used for exploratory intentions.

Finally, a major advantage of using a survey over other methods, as expressed by other theorists, is that its procedures can be easily coded, subjected to scrutiny, as well as being able to be replicated, unlike the other approaches whose findings may be difficult to ascertain or even replicate (Babbie1995).

Importance of Qualitative Research

Qualitative methodologies in social research are quite common. All the techniques employed in social research have contributed a great deal to a better way of conducting it. Consequently, with this elaborate process and findings, the approach contribution to the wealth of knowledge that this field has contributed to cannot be underestimated (Chambliss & Shut, 2006).

In most instances, social workers have been faced with issues that could not be established quantitatively (Chambliss & Shut, 2006).. But, qualitative approaches have, over time, contributed a great deal of tools and techniques that have made such a situation no longer a nightmare to social workers.

Qualitative approaches, by identifying and putting aside preconceived notions, have managed to single out the real issues under investigation (Chambliss & Shut, 2006). By identifying some of the issues without subjectivity, qualitative approaches have provided a platform through which various disciplines have borrowed a platform to do their work effectively. For instance, by such techniques, a case is looked at individually and, thus, accurate conclusions can be made (Chambliss & Shut, 2006)..

Understanding of complex human systems such as the family and even communities have been greatly understood due to the benefits accrued from qualitative methods. For instance, certain patterns of behavior have been described and these form a basis through which action could be taken (Chambliss & Shut, 2006).

The approaches are also flexible, unlike those employed in the quantitative method. For example, various aspects of society can be analyzed deeply since the researcher is flexible enough to schedule an interview so as not to jeopardize the type of response to be elicited (Chambliss & Shut, 2006). For example, if the respondent showed a sign of exhaustion, the interviewer could reschedule the interview until proper responses can be given.

Challenges in Qualitative Research

Over time, qualitative research has faced its challenges. One of the most common criticisms is on the issue of validity and reliability (Creswell, 1998). Many have argued that the findings drawn from qualitative research are not valid or reliable. They say that it is not easy for qualitative researchers to claim that they can replicate observations. Others have also raised the question of getting valid responses (Babbie, 1995). Others are not convinced that the biases emanating from the researcher cannot reach the findings. Though most approaches employed in qualitative research grapple with the place of the observer, some critics feel one cannot claim to be objective when carrying out research using the qualitative approach (Creswell, 1998).

The other issue has to do with the researcher not being able to have enough time to look at all issues that the research may require. This could be as a result of limited finances and also time and is usually prevalent where an agency is in control of the research (Babbie, 1995).

These issues, however, have been raised by several researchers. For instance, purposive sampling has been used to select samples that are relevant to the study whereby the question of random sampling and all its complications has been left out. Purposive sampling can save both time and money (Creswell, 1998).

For cases where the issue of bias may creep in, the number of observers has been increased. The observers can give their views until consistency is attained. In such a case the biased conclusion can be weeded out. The observations that are found to be unbiased are allowed to carry the day. On the thorny issue of validity, the participant is also given a copy of the findings to provide his or her own feedback. Another method used by qualitative researchers to handle the issue of validity is through their constant back and forth attention to the data as they carry out its elicitation. This ensures only acceptable conclusions; descriptions and even patterns of relationships are considered. This is usually essential as it serves as a control measure. Another control measure could be reviewing more data. For a saturation point to occur, and for conclusion and inference to be drawn at this juncture, this is a clear show that validity is being sought.

Researchers also handle the issue of reliability. In most cases, several researchers use several strategies to arrive at the same conclusion. When coding, the researcher only takes coding groups that can be supported, thereby improving validity (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

Though ethical issues pose a great challenge to qualitative research more than with a quantitative approach, researchers have opted to give assurances, through written commitment, as to the way the information given is going to be used. In most circumstances the research avoids use of real names. However, the issue of ethics still poses a big challenge to the social research (Babbie, 1995).

Sometimes large data received from respondents is stored in computer databases for future research. What is still not clear is the person who is responsible for such information Babbie, 1995). Of late the computer system security has been found to be vulnerable and it is quite possible that any unauthorized person may be privy to the information in the databases being maintained.

The respondents being deceived by the researcher is still an ethical issue that qualitative research has to address. For instance, when doing an ethnographical research, researchers have posed or pretended to be part of the group they are investigating so as to get the experience like the respondent does (Babbie, 1995).. This is deception and it poses a grim picture towards ethical expectation.

Qualitative Research and the Future

As stated earlier, qualitative research has been growing in leaps and bounds. As such, most researchers working on family and other social issues prefer to do a qualitative research as opposed to a quantitative one. Qualitative research is present in most theories that concern themselves with how the social world operates (Babbie, 1995). Most of its principles are collected from the notable differences that appear between the natural sciences and those concerned with human experience. Also, since it provides room for the world to be viewed in terms of the objects being studied, there seems to be a high chance that social science can only expand (Babbie, 1995).

Qualitative research plays a crucial role in helping us understand complex worldwide issues. To do this, the research focuses on the various interconnections within which activities occur. Coupled with the intuitive nature of the qualitative research, one can see it positioning itself as a research area of choice for many upcoming researchers as it seeks to unearth what was unimaginable in the past. (Babbie, 1995).

Mixed Methods and Qualitative Research

The choice on whether to take a purely qualitative or quantitative approach has bothered many researchers (Becker, 1986). We have seen how these two traditional approaches relate to each other. This controversy has been upped by the perceived “war” between proponents of these two paradigms. There are the purists who believe that when one approach has been chosen it should not borrow any other aspect from the other. For example, we saw that when purposive sampling was felt to be a source of bias whereby some researchers proposed random sampling for the qualitative research (Babbie, 1995). However, there is a strong feeling for the whole system to go for a pragmatic approach. This could work especially where one approach may be seen as inadequate. The qualitative approach has, for instance, been criticized for being purely general in its interpretations. Those vouching for a mixed method feel that there should be a framework for complementarities.

The biggest question is that is it true that the two methods are purely incompatible? The truth is that the two can have so much in common. For instance, both use the empirical form of observation in addressing research questions, as they describe and even speculate over their data almost in the same way (Babbie, 1995).

Research is a complex issue and so are the complexities inherent in the various phenomena under study. One may find it plausible or even actually convenient to borrow elements from either side so as to accomplish the daunting task that they may face, which is why mixed method adherents are advancing (Babbie, 1995).

Qualitative research has its strengths, just like it has its weaknesses (Becker, 1986). What I would propose is to be able to take an approach that best suits a topic. And for areas where there may arise a need to borrow an element from the other side, such an approach should be allowed.


It can be seen clearly that qualitative methodology offers a wide range of choices through which research on social aspects can be carried out. Qualitative approach, as with quantitative approach, seems to offer some detailed processes under which different types could be handled.

However, several instances have shown that there is a need for the two traditional paradigms to borrow from each other so as to strengthen the validity and reliability of the findings. For example, the assertion that data can be coded both qualitatively and quantitatively is a welcome way of making sure the two paradigms complement each other.

Grounded theory has great appeal to the theory and practice of research and has had great impact in the education field. It has managed to stamp this support due to its insistence on putting first what it has received from the field then developing the theory, and not vice versa as seen with many other approaches. Discovery has been the tenet of researchers and that is why this approach confirms this desire. Taking a theory and then trying to fix it into data does not enhance discovery.

Another area that can be expanded upon is the limited small-scale studies that the qualitative approach has limited itself to. This should not be the case.

Reference List

Babbie, E. (1973). Survey Research Methods. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Babbie, E. (1995). The Practice of Social Research. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Babbie, E. (1995). The Practice of Social Research (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Becker, H. (1986). Writing for Social Scientists. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Chambliss, D. F. & Shut, R. K. (2006). Making Sense of the Social World: Methods of Investigation (2nd ed.). Pine Forge Press: Sage.

Charmoz, K. C. (2005). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analyses. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Creswell, J. (1998). Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing Among Five Traditions. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Creswell, J. (2004). Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Emerson, R., Fretz, R. & Shaw, L. L. (1995). Writing Ethnographic FieldnotesChicago: University of Chicago Press.

Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures And Techniques. Newbury Park: Sage Publications.

Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Information on this checklist is drawn from the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). This list is intended as a guide for students as well as faculty, including committee chairs and URRs, and covers the APA errors most commonly found in the form and style review. Correctly applying the rules specified in these items will save the student time in the final revision process. Note that all of the formatting requirements are preset in the templates available on the Writing Center website.

Important: If a student has or will have an approved proposal by December 31, 2009, the student may continue to use the 5th edition guidelines or may use the APA 6 rules and accompanying Writing Center template. Students who will not have an approved proposal by that date will be required to use the guidelines in this 6th edition checklist.

  1. Margins
    1. Margin specifications: The left margin must be 1.5 in. (to accommodate binding); the right, top, and bottom margins should be 1in. This includes any appendices and CV (see #9 and #10). All text markings, tables, and figures must be contained completely within the area bounded by the margins. The page number must be 1” from the top edge of the page; set the top margin to 1.3 in., so the first line of text falls below the page number, and set the header to 1 in.
    2. The right margin should be ragged rather than justified.
  2. Preliminary Pages
    1. The dissertation template using the 6th edition of the APA manual contains information on the content of each page. The order and pagination of the preliminary pages is as follows:
      1. Abstract title page (no page number)
      2. Abstract (no page numbers)
      3. Title page (no page number)
      4. Dedication–optional (no page number)
      5. Acknowledgements–optional (no page number)
      6. Table of Contents (page i)
      7. List of Tables (follows pagination of TOC)
      8. List of Figures (follows pagination of TOC)
    2. Page numbers on the preliminary pages should appear in lowercase roman numerals, centered, one inch from the bottom of the page.
    3. Title pages must be formatted in accordance with sample titles pages as shown in the dissertation template. There needs to be an abstract title page and a title page (they’re the same, except the abstract title page has the word Abstract, centered, at the top).
    4. Per Walden guidelines, the abstract can be no longer than one page, double spaced. For complete guidelines, refer to the Walden Abstract Guidelines and the Abstract Primer found at website.
    5. The acknowledgements and dedication are double spaced and use normal paragraph format.
    6. Heading levels must be differentiated in the Table of Contents (TOC). In the TOC, major (level 0) headings should be flush left, title case, plain type; level 1 headings should be title case, indented.25 in; the next level heading, level 2, should be indented another.25 in. If you use the Writing Center templates, the TOC will be automatically generated from the heading in the narrative. Note that only these three levels of headings appear in the TOC: level 0, level 1, and level 2.
  3. Pagination
    1. Page numbers must appear 1 full inch from the upper right corner of the page. They cannot be in the margins. There are no page headers with the abbreviated title in a dissertation.
    2. The text (i.e., the first page of chapter 1) begins on page 1, with the page number showing in the upper right corner. Pages are numbered consecutively throughout the document, with a page number appearing on every page.
  4. Spacing
    1. Double-spacing should be used between lines of text, between text and a block quotation, between paragraphs, and between a heading and subsequent text. Do not triple space or quadruple space between paragraphs. Double-spacing should be used for the TOC, the main narrative text, the reference list, and block quotes.
    2. In the narrative text, use one character space between sentences.
  5. Headings (APA 3.03)
    1. The five major chapters (or sections for doctoral study; four major sections for the project study option for doctoral study) are numbered with Arabic numerals, not spelled out or with roman numerals (e.g., Chapter 1 [Section 1], Chapter 2, and so on). Headings within the chapters or sections should not be labeled with letters or numbers.
    2. APA style allows five different heading levels. In a typical dissertation, there are usually three or four: the chapter heading (L0), L1, L2, and, if needed, L3.
      1. Chapter (Section) Heading (Level 0)
      2. Centered, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading (Level 1)
      3. Flush Left, Boldface, Uppercase and Lowercase Heading (Level 2)
      4. Indented, bold, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period. (Level 3) (Sample, Chapter 2: Literature Review, American Food, History of Hamburgers, Era of fast food. Text starts here on the same line)
    3. Headings must be worded identically in the Table of Contents and the text. Heading levels that appear in the TOC are the chapter heading (L0), L1, and L2.
    4. Do not strand a heading at the bottom of a page.
  6. Tables and Figures (APA 5.01-5.30)
    1. Permission must be granted by copyright holders if in your dissertation you plan to use tables and figures from published works not in the public domain.(APA 5.06)
    2. Table numbers and titles are in accordance with APA style. The number of the table goes above the table, flush left. The title of the table goes next, double-spaced under the table number, flush left, italic. If the title is more than one line long, it can be single spaced. (APA 5.12) (Table 1, Comparison of Learning Styles with Self-Reported Multiple Intelligences)
    3. Figure numbers and captions are in accordance with APA style. The number of the figure goes under the figure, flush left. The figure caption goes next to the number. (APA 5.23) (Figure 1. Data analysis for multiple case design)
    4. Information regarding abbreviations or symbols used in a table, copyright information, and probability must be located in a “Note.” section below the table or as part of the figure caption. APA 5.16
    5. Titles and captions must be concise but clear and expressive. (See APA 5.12 &5.23).
    6. Do not split a table unless it is too large to fit on one entire page. If a table must go over to the next page, then type (table continues)
    7. like that under the table, flush right. Repeat column headings at the top of the continuation.
    8. Larger tables or figures may be placed on a landscape-oriented page. The page number on those pages will be in the same position as it would be if the page were in portrait orientation.
    9. Do not place any text on a page if a table or figure take up three quarters or more of the page.
    10. The font size used in tables and figures may be smaller than that used in the text; however, to ensure legibility, it should be no smaller than 8 point. Colors used in figures will not reproduce well. Instead, use shading, cross-hatching, broken lines, and so forth. Greyscales often do not photocopy well.
    11. Tables and figures are numbered with Arabic numerals in the order in which they are first mentioned in text. APA 5.05
  7. Citations and Quotations
    1. Page numbers and quotation marks must appear for all direct quotations. When
    2. paraphrasing, page numbers are encouraged. APA 6.03-6.04. In citations of electronic sources where there are no page numbers, use a paragraph number and abbreviate as para. (Zuckerman, 2009, para. 3) APA 6.05
    3. Quotations 40 or more words in length must be put in block form. Double-space block quotes.
    4. At the end of block quotations, the final punctuation appears before the citation, as in this example: APA 6.03
    5. as a result of overharvesting in the tuna industry. (Fishmore, 2006, p. 45)
    6. List authors in groups of different sources within the same parentheses in alphabetical order by first author’s surname (e.g., Brown, McIndoo, & Pezalla, 2008; Johnson & Ball, 2006; King, 2005). APA 6.16
    7. “Et al.” should not be used the first time a work is cited unless that work has six or more authors. For works with fewer than six authors, list all authors in the first citation, then use the surname of the first author and “et al.” and the year in subsequent citations. For works with six or more authors, use the surname of the first author and “et al.” and the year. The correct spelling is et al. e-t{space}a-l{period} APA 6.12
    8. Ellipsis points are used to indicate that material has been omitted within a sentence or between sentences. Three ellipsis points (with spaces between them) should be used to indicate that material has been omitted within a sentence… like this example. In this next example, four ellipsis points, the first serving as a period, are used to indicate that material has been omitted between two sentences…. In general, ellipsis points are not necessary at the beginning or end of a quotation; it is understood that a quotation continues or is a continuation of the text. APA 6.08
    9. With two or more authors in a parenthetical citation, use “&” rather than “and” before the last author. If not in parentheses, use and. For example: Other authors (Cook & Wold, 2007; Marshall, Timmerman, & Walsh, 2006) agreed, but Patterson and Zuckerman (2008) found otherwise. APA 3.95
    10. The year should always appear inside the parenthetical citation and the first time the author is used outside the parenthetical in a given paragraph, even if it has already been mentioned inside parentheses. The year may be omitted when the author appears later in that paragraph only if the source can’t be confused with another. APA 6.11
    11. The basics of in-text Web citations are the same as the author/date format described in APA 6.11-6.19.
  8. Reference List
    1. Information regarding APA style for references is taken from Chapter 7 of the Publication Manual (6th ed.). Please review this section thoroughly before revising your reference list. For examples of common types of reference list entries in APA style, go the Walden Writing center website at
    2. Reference lists should appear with hanging indents. Double-space the reference list.
    3. Use the first and middle (if any) initials of all authors; do not write out the first name. There should be a space between the initials. With two or more authors in the reference list, use “&” rather than “and” before the last author. Separate all authors with a comma (Schatzlein, E. R., & Shepard, M. P.) APA 6.25
    4. All authors must be listed. The one exception is if a work has eight or more authors, list the first seven, [comma] three ellipsis points […] [space], and the last author. APA 7.01, example 2.
    5. Do not use blanks to indicate more than one work by the same author. The author’s name must be written out for each listing, and the listings should appear in chronological order. APA 6.25
    6. For book titles, capitalize only the first word of the title and subtitle, any proper nouns, and a word following a colon. Writing from A-to-Z: The easy-to- use handbook. Use italics. APA 7.02
    7. Quotation marks should not be used around titles of journal articles. For the titles of journal articles, capitalize only the first word of the title and subtitle, any proper nouns, and a word following a colon. (e.g., In search of mediocrity: The downfall of American Motors). APA 7.01
    8. The titles of journals are italicized and capitalized using title case (e.g., Strategic Management; Counseling Psychology) APA 7.01
    9. The abbreviations “Vol.” and “No.” are not used in reference to journals. The volume number should be italicized, and the issue number (if any) should be in parentheses, followed by a comma and the page numbers: American Political Science Review, 37(3), 117-132. APA 7.01
    10. Page numbers of journal articles should not be preceded by “p.” or “pp.” APA 7.01
    11. Provide the city and state of publication before the publisher’s name. The standard two-letter U.S. Postal Service abbreviation should be used for the state (e.g., Cambridge, MA; San Diego, CA). APA 6.30
  9. Appendices (preferred over 5th edition “Appendixes”) APA 2.13
    1. Any prepublished copyrighted materials (not in the public domain) require written permission if you include them as an appendix. Include letters or permission as a separate appendix.
    2. The appendices must be paginated continuously. Page numbers should appear in the upper-right corner of all pages.
    3. The appendices must adhere to the same margin specifications as the body of the dissertation.
  10. Curriculum Vitae
    1. A copy of the author’s CV must be included at the end of the dissertation (i.e., after the appendices). The CV may be in either basic outline form or full-sentence form.
    2. The CV must conform to the margin specifications, be included in the pagination, and listed in the TOC.
  11. Lists (Seriation) APA 3.04
    1. For listed items within a paragraph like this (a) use letters, not numbers, in parentheses; (b) separate each item with a comma; unless (c) there’s already a comma in one of the clauses. In that case, separate the elements with a semicolon.
    2. When listing items vertically, or breaking them out of the paragraph, use 1., 2., 3., and so forth, if ordinal position is important. If ordinal position is not important, use bullets. Use MS Word’s automatic numbered (or bulleted) list format; set the number indent the same as for a paragraph (usually 0.5 in.); if sentences run over one line, they are also indented, as in this example:
      1. Begin the sentence here and keep typing; if the sentence goes over one line, as this one does, the text will look like this.
      2. The next item will begin here.
      3. Items in a series where chronology or priority is not warranted may be identified in a vertical list with bullets.
    3. Double-space list entries.
  12. Miscellaneous
    1. A comma must be used between items (including before “and” and “or”) in a series of three or more nouns or noun phrases (e.g., breadth, depth, and application). APA 4.03
    2. Use gender-neutral language. APA 3.12-3.17
    3. Latin abbreviations such as “e.g.,” “etc.,” “i.e.,” and “cf.” should be used only in parentheses and are always followed by a comma. Otherwise, use the English translation of these abbreviations. APA 4.26
    4. In general, numbers under 10 are written out while numbers 10 and above appear as Arabic numerals. Exceptions include a series of numbers (e.g. 7-point Likert scale), numbers preceding elements of time or measurement (e.g., 4 miles; 2 months, 6 decades, and 18 years, unless there is an approximate number, e.g., about three miles, in approximately five days, and a number beginning a sentence (e.g., Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed disagreed with the statement.). Other exceptions are found in APA 4.33-4.34. APA 4.31
    5. Unless at the start of a sentence, use the percent symbol (%) when it is preceded by a number (e.g., 20% rather than 20 percent or twenty percent). APA 4.32a
    6. Do not use an apostrophe when forming the plural of a number (e.g., 1990s, 40s). Do use a comma in numbers like 2,398. Use numerals in numbers like 2 million. APA 4.38, 4.37
    7. The proper format for a dash is two hyphens (or an “em dash”) with no space between them or on either side–like that—or that. APA 4.06
    8. Use double quotation marks for quotations. Use single quotation marks within double quotation marks only. Italicize (not boldface) a key word or term introduced for the first time in the text. (“The term hegemony refers to….”) APA 4.07-4.08, 4.21
    9. The subject and verb must agree in number (i.e., singular or plural). Data and media are plural nouns. (The data are….). Pronouns must agree in number and gender with the nouns they replace. APA 3.19
    10. Statistical abbreviations are usually italicized: n, t, SD, p. Uppercase N is total sample; lowercase n is subsample. The correct form is t test, no hyphen, italicized t. APA 4.33-4.45
    11. Add an apostrophe + s to form a possessive of a name: Wilks’s lambda, Jones’s study. APA 4.12
    12.  Use the term subjects or participants or describe their characteristics. APA 2.06
    13. When referring to the number of participants in a study, follow the rules for numbers in APA 4.31.
    14. Report the literature in past tense, as in Jones (2003) argued, not Jones (2003) argues. APA 3.18
  13. 13. Spelling (APA 4.12) (Always consult Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and APA for its own preferences, particularly with hyphens)
    1. If a compound adjective cannot be misread or if its meaning is established, a hyphen is unnecessary (covert learning conditions; health care reform; day treatment program; sex role differences; grade point average). APA 4.13
    2. Compound adjectives that end in “ed” are generally hyphenated before a noun and not hyphenated alone. (It is client centered; but self-paced course; quick-tempered person). When two or more compound modifiers have a common base, this base is sometimes omitted in all except the last modified, but the hyphens are retained (long- and short-term memory). APA 4.13
    3. Many prefixes do not require hyphens, including anti, non, inter, intra, semi, mini, pseudo, and under. For example: nonsignificant; semistructured, antisocial, multiphased, pretest, posttest (See APA Tables 4.1 and 4.2, pages 98, 99).
  14. Capitalization APA 4.14-4.20
    1. Do not capitalize the names of job titles unless they immediately precede a person’s name. Hence: the vice president of the United States, but Vice President Joe Biden; the director of the Writing Center, but Director Zuckerman. Do not capitalize the names of laws, theories, or hypotheses, or disorders or diseases, although retain uppercase in personal names (e.g.,Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, Asperger’s syndrome, theory of learned behavior).
    2. Do capitalize the first word after a colon that begins a complete sentence. (APA 3.12)

Review Chapter 3 in the manual for guidance on APA style for social science writing related to continuity in presentation of ideas, tone, precision and clarity, and economy of expression; these are areas the dissertation editors will comment on in the form and style review.

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