Creswell, J.W. 2013. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design.

Creswell, John W. 2013. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. Third edition. Washington DC: Sage.

Philosophical assumptions to consider:

  • Ontological – what is the nature of reality (Reality is multiplex)
  • Epistemological – what is the nature and definition of knowledge? How is the relationship between researcher and researched defined? (Subjective evidence from participants, personal experience, combination of personal and social knowledge regarding topic)
  • Axiological – What is the role of values within research? (Acknowledging that research is rooted within reality and method that offers biases, taking note and disclosing biases as important)
  • Methodological – What methods and language do we undertake in our research (use of inductive/abductive methods, emergent design, exploratory observations in relation to existing theories)

Denzin and Lincoln (2011): offering interpretive frameworks to guide research (social sciences – exploring topics that have larger theoretical impact (leadership, control, etc.), vs. social justice frameworks, which aim to have transformative or activist aims.

Within these own frameworks – I identify through social constructivism – where individuals work toward an understanding of their realities through subjective meanings and experiences, and where objects/relationships have multiple, varied meanings. These meanings are negotiated through social and historical contexts, and are built through social interactions with others, guiding values and behaviors. Constructivists often work to understand the processes of interaction, the contextualization of sociohistorical practices. Researchers within social constructivism work to disclose their own cultural and historical backgrounds in order to position themselves in relation to the research, noting how their interpretations are impacted by their personal experiences and backgrounds.

Ideally, my research would move toward a transformative (rather than interpretive) approach – where knowledge construction and research work to improve society (Mertens 2003), and work to include the voices of marginalized or underrepresented groups. Thus, transformative frameworks aim to change aspects of society – for participants, for researchers. Transformative research works to study domination, alienation, and hegemony in ways that are dialectical and focus on emancipatory social change through practical, participatory, and collaborative efforts with research subjects. Using social justice as an interpretive and transformative lens, data collection and analysis, a reciprocal presentation and review of data by researcher and participants, and strong ethical considerations, the researcher aims not to marginalize the groups studied any further, but rather remain sensitized to power imbalances, and work to give back to the communities where they study. This requires the acknowledgement of researcher power, subjectivity, and the co-constructed nature of the research project, involving both researcher and participants. Ultimately, the end goal of a transformative projects is to suggest or enact certain policy or program reforms that work toward the interests of the community studied.

I also draw from feminist theoretical orientations, which draws from a myriad of international (postcolonial) and intersectional perspectives (of race, class, sexuality, etc.). Within feminist research, we aim to construct collaborative, participatory, and non-exploitative relationships with research participants, to aid in conducting transformative research that furthers our understanding and activism in regard to race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. Feminist frameworks can be both theoretical as well as procedural (methodological as well as rooted in methods). Feminist researchers acknowledge the demand to acknowledge the position between researcher and researched, and disclosure their backgrounds as critical to interpretation. This is similar to critical theory, where researchers explore both the meanings that are created as well as a critique of society, giving way to new possibilities and uprooting exploitative relationships.

Qualitative research is usually conducted in a natural setting, where researchers become the key instruments of data collection and analysis. To capture the variety of phenomena within a field, they usually utilize multiple data collection methods as they collect data over extensive periods within the field, which are then analyzed through both inductive and deductive reasoning. These are usually reported in narrative, descriptive reports, which work to demonstrate the multiplicity of research participant perspectives. This “verisimilitude” (Richardson 1994, 521 here 54) in writing gives the reader an experience quite similar to being in the field with the researcher – this enhances the believability of the author, and works to convey the complexities and intricacies of the field. Qualitative researchers are often focused upon the construction of meaning, and use emergent research designs to help explore and develop these ideas. Reflexivity plays a large part in how these research designs are conducted, as they are often flexible, iterative, and take into account the complex relationship that the researcher has with the field and their research participants.

Ethical considerations:

  • Prior to study – getting IRB approval, gaining site and stakeholder permissions
  • Beginning the study – disclose purpose of study, do not pressure participants into particiant, respect norms of host society or community, be sensitive to vulnerable populations
  • Collecting data – disturb the site as little as possible, avoid deception, resist the need to exploit power imbalances while observing or interviewing, make sure that you offer something to the site as a reciprocal ‘gift’ for research permissions
  • Analyzing data – avoid siding with participants, respect privacy of participants, avoid only offering ‘good’ sides of the community
  • Reporting data – avoid plagiarism, disclosing information that would harm participants, and communicate in clear, unambiguous language
  • Publishing study – share data with others (particularly research participants), if requrested, provide proof of IRB and site permissions

Examples of Proposals: pgs 61-64 (This is beautiful.)

Approaches to Research

  • Narrative: describes both the phenomenon studied (the story of illness, education, etc.) or the method used (using stories and storytelling to analyze the phenomenon). Narrative researchers collect stories from individuals, groups, and documents about lived/shared/told experiences. Stories become co-constructed between researcher and research participant, and thus, it brings forth a strong collaborative element of which the researcher must be aware and disclose. Storytelling occurs through interaction and dialogue, thus may be impacted by the presence or reactions of the researcher, as well as the environment. Narratives offer stories of experience, and may expose elements of participant identity. Because these stories, experiences, and identities are so complex, researchers must often use multiple forms of data to capture phenomena studied. These experiences are often organized into chronological timelines by the researcher, though these stories may not be structured in such a way by the storytellers. Narratives can be analyzed through themes, structure (the format of the storytelling), or by who is telling the story (dialogical/performative analysis) — see also Riessman 2008. Narratives include dramatic tensions and “turning points”(Denzin 1989a), which highlight certain features or conflicts or areas of meaning-making within the conversation/story. Narratives, too, are situated within time and place, and must be accounted for within the researchers’descrilption and own storytelling of this narrative.
    • I integrate certain aspects of narrative approach within my own research, through the use of authoethnographic vignettes. Despite the fact that I am not the sole subject of the study, my use of autoethnography seeks to explore the multiplex dimensions of self-creation, alternative discourses, and the critique of social phenomena, as experienced by the self (see also Muncey 2010). Events placed here are not necessarily chronological, but are told through “restorying” – where experiences and narratives are analyzed and reorganized to make sense (see also Ollerenshaw and Creswell 2002), here offered thematically and as ways to illuminate the nature of the field and phenomena studied.
  • Grounded Theory: works toward the development of a “unified theoretical explanation” of processes or actions (Corbin and Strauss 2007, 107 here 83). Here, the methodological approach seeks to incorporate the views and experiences of a large number of participants in order to develop a general explanation of a meaning, interaction, or process. This is performed through data collection from several individuals, and performed in an iterative process that seeks out the relationships between categories, meanings, and ideas. Charmaz (2006) introduced an extension of the previous tenets of grounded theory, where constructivist interpretative frameworks help support the methodological approach of grounded theory, allowing flexibility and adaptation for researchers, in a method that was previously critiqued for being too structured (Glaser 1992 – in response to Strauss). Clarke 2005 seeks to remove grounded theory from its positivist leanings, taking a postmodern turn- where we shift away from notions of dichotomized researcher/participant relationships, and instead examine the issues of representation, legitimacy of researcher and researcher authority, and the repositioning of researcher from the role of omnipotent analyst to “acknowledged participant” (Clarke 2005 xxvii, here 84).
    • Grounded theory tends to focus on processes or actions that occur over time, and are based within notions of transition (how do we develop program, how do we support faculty, etc.) – thus, GT tends to be more longitudinal or focus on “movement” within phenomena.
    • The aim of grounded theory is ultimately, to create a theory. It’s not just about application, but a point of generation of explanation. You really can’t do grounded theory unless you make a theory. Sorry.
    • Memoing becomes a critical process in developing analytical schemes – these are more or less just ideas on how these processes are fitting together, and how to formulate these connections.
    • Data collection is often done through interviewing. Data is constantly compared with other data forms, going back and forth between participants, and gathering new interviews to help develop the evolving theory, filling in the gaps. Data analysis is performed by developing open categories, elaborating on additional subcategories within these original categories (axial coding), which helps to form a theoretical model. One identifies the intersections and overlaps of these multiple categories (selective coding), which becomes the theoretical development (yes, the theory itself). These can be presented as propositions of relationships or discussions about the overlaps themselves (Strauss and Corbin 1998); on the other hand, data analysis can be less structured, and instead, theory can be developed by piecing together implicit meanings about categories (Charmaz 2006).
    • We don’t do classical grounded theory. Instead of embracing a singular core process or category for analysis and study (a la Strauss and Corbin 1998), we reject the jargon, conceptual mapping, and systematic approaches of Glaser and Strauss, Strauss and Corbin. Instead, we gather rich data, coding it, and using theoretical sampling to help us understand the relationships between our ideas. Constructivist grounded theory examines hidden networks, embedded ideas and relationships, and works to expose hierarchies of power, meaning, and agency. We do this through emphasizing the beliefs, values, assumptions, feelings, viewpoints, and ideologies of individual research participants, and looking at gerund-based categories that help detail our participants’ navigation and experience of social phenomena. More so, Charmaz seeks to remove the somewhat objectivist stance of grounded theory, and seeks to understand the role of researcher within the process – as they decide on categories to study, how they frame questions about the data, their reactions to the data they collected and the experiences they have in the field, and how their relationship with the study (and its participants) changes over the course of the study. Charmaz (2005) understands that our contributions under GT are ultimately incomplete and require further exploration.
    • Grounded theory is good for exploratory research, but also when theories are present but don’t seem to address important variables or categories of interest — so, when existing theories are incomplete. Grounded theory helps to, then, develop general frameworks for exploring the experiences of a phenomenon, or specific applications or fields of reference.   Grounded theory seeks to “saturate” the researcher in themes, where she will ultimately and reiteratively reformulate questions and approaches in response to data, to help gain deeper understanding until new ideas are no longer being presented.
    • Grounded theory can be challenging, as it requires people to set aside preconceived categories so that the data can emerge naturally. Grounded theory takes a lot of time, and may go on forever, if allowed. In this case, saturation must be discerned carefully.
  • Ethnographic approach: Usually seeks to understand a culture-sharing group (Harris 1968), in an exploration of values, behaviors, language, and beliefs. Often conducted through immersive participant observation of everyday behaviors, with specific insight to the everyday lives of the studied group. Ethnography has long since shifted from studying existing ‘primitive’ cultures of the turn of the century, but instead has adopted several pluralist approaches that seek to question the role of the researcher, research, and researched.
    • Ethnographies seek to develop detailed descriptions of a group culture, whether that be holistic or through the study of a subset of that population. Wolcott (2008a) – ethnography is not the study of a culture but the study of social behaviors of a bounded, identifiable group of people. Culture then may be studied through patterns of behavior (rituals, normative behaviors), ideas and values, material activities (the production and distribution of artifacts or goods) – more or less, examining a pattern of social and ideological organization/interaction.   This is performed on the presumption that the group has been around long enough to develop normative behaviors and ideas.
    • Ethnographies are performed through extensive fieldwork, where data is collected in the form of observations, interviews, artifacts, symbols, etc. (Fetterman 2010).
    • Ethnographies aim to give emic (insider) perspectives through the use of member quotes, and uses external (etic) knowledge to contextualize this meaning for those who are outside of this group – lending to a cultural interpretation.


  • There are several types of ethnographies. Here, I focus on the approach of a new ethnography, which has its roots in the critical ethnographic tradition. Critical ethnographies seek to understand dimensions of power, privilege, and authority which serve to marginalize groups/individuals of different races, classes, genders, sexualities, etc. Thus, critical ethnographers seek an emancipatory framework (Thomas 1993), and work to use their research to help better serve a community’s needs to resist hegemony, dominance, and inequality.
  • Ethnographies are conducted through choosing groups, identifying key stakeholders, informants, or gatekeepers – which may help in accessing other informants – however, gatekeepers may be in positions of power and work to obscure relationships that may disempower and marginalize. Fieldwork is performed to collect data regarding everyday interactions and behaviors. One must understand the role of reciprocity within this – obtaining access and information is a “gift” from the community – find a way that you can ‘give back’—but do not let this hinder you from addressing negative aspects of the culture or society. Ethnographies should be descriptive and can focus on a range of data – a single event or a collection of activities over an extended period of time. This data should work to give you an appropriate set of generalizations that are able to construct a holistic ‘cultural portrait’ (96) to convey in your reporting.
  • Ethnographies can be challenging as they are time-consuming, and can overlap with other methodological approaches (narrative, etc.). Unfortunately, you will not be able to encapsulate every little detail about a society or process, etc. – however, this is the point of ethnography. Data may be skewed by your gatekeepers, your role as researcher – take note.


  • Under grounded theory, you’re supposed to have a homogenous sample, according to Strauss and Corbin (1998) to start with, and use the information derived from this sample to compare against heterogeneous samples in order to confirm or disconfirm theoretical conditions (oops).
  • Under ethnography, you’re supposed to rely on your judgment to select members/units based on their research questions – this can take the form of the ‘big net approach’ (Fetterman 2010) – where you mingle with everyone, or opportunistic sampling (Miles and Huberman 1994) where you seek out “opportunities” to speak with members of the group.
  • Sample sizes are often not selected in an effort to be able to ‘generalize’ the research, as is not the nature of most qualitative approaches. In grounded theory, it is often suggested to interview 20-30 (157), but Charmaz 2006 notes that this sample size can be much, much larger.
  • I use convenience-based sampling for interviewing (which saves time, money, and effort at expense of information and credibility), opportunistic sampling for participant observation (which works to follow new leads, uses the unexpected as ways of sourcing new information or cases), and critical-case (look more up) on online documents – where this helps generalize and use the maximum information to apply to other cases.


  • PO (complete participant) – fully engaged with people observing, helps establish greater rapport with participants) and participant as observer – which helps gain insider views through experience, however can be very difficult to record data when immersed/integrated into the activity being observed.

Considerations –

  • In PO – what is appropriate inclusion? How does your presence shift the phenomenon observed?
  • Interviewing – power dynamics between interviewer and interviewee — is this just a one-way dialogue (173)? Kvale and Brinkmann 2009 suggest collaborative interviewing as a way to approach equality within questioning, interpreting, and reporting. Weis and Fine 2000 bring up additional questions –are your interviewees able to articulate the phenomena they are experiencing, and the power structures inherent within them? Do they work to erase their own experiences or histories? Do they avoid the more difficult to talk about topics and aspects of the interview?

Data Analysis –

  • Data analysis is custom-built and is rarely ‘off-the-shelf’-
  • Recommended to read transcripts and data collections several times, in its entirety – acknowledge the holistic aspects of the research before trying to break it down into parts (Agar 1980).
  • Use of “lean-coding” of Creswell (here 184), where 5-6 categories are built with shorthand labels, and are then revisited for expansion. Attempt not to develop more than 25-30 categories. Codes are then incorporated into thematic ‘families’ which are dependent upon the methodological approach (GT – processes; ethnography – cultural descriptions)
  • Use of in vivo codes – the use of exact words of participants as a particular code.
  • Create and organize files for data
  • Read through text, make margin notes, form initial codes (GT/E)
    • Use of line-by-line or segment-by-segment data (Charmaz 2006)
  • Describe open coding categories (GT); describe social setting, actors, events (E)
  • Select one open coding category for analysis as central processual phenomenon, perform axial coding (GT); analyze data for themes and patterned regularities (E)
    • Charmaz 2006 rejects the use of axial coding as proposed by Strauss and Corbin 1998, but instead leans on theoretical coding developed by Glaser 1978 – specifying relationships between categories based on previously developed theoretical ideas (causes, contexts, etc.) — works to address multiple realities, emphasizing understanding rather than explanation (that is, the descriptive, rather than the predictive).
  • Interpreting the data: Selective coding to interrelate categories to form a ‘story’ or hypotheses (GT); find out how the culture works and make ‘sense’ of the themes (E)
  • Present data through midrange-theory (GT), or through narrative presentation supplemented by figures/visual aids (E).


  • “How we write is a reflection of our own interpretation based on the cultural, social, gender, class, and personal politics that we bring to research. All writing is ‘positioned’ and within a stance. All researchers shape the writing that emerges, and qualitative researchers need to accept this interpretation and be open about it in their writings” (215).
  • Richardson (1994) – all writing has ‘subtexts’ that posit writing within particular social, historical, and spatial realms (518 here 215); Gilgun 2005 – writings are co-constructed and representative of the interactions between researcher and participants.


  • Angen (2000) – validation becomes “a judgment of the trustworthiness or goodness of a piece of research” (387) – what garners our trust? “Considerations of validation are not definitive as the final word on the topic, nor should every study be required to address them” (Creswell 2013, 248). Instead, ethical and substantive validation can be furthered to support the writing. Ethical validation – researchers must question underlying moral, political, structural, and personal assumptions. Ethically valid research must offer practical answers to social and theoretical problems, through the incorporation of transformative thinking and action. Substantive validation is reflected through understanding of the phenomenon through self, as well as others – which is then reported through the writing. The researcher, here, acts “as a sociohistorical interpreter” (Creswell 2013, 248), working with research participants and settings to co-construct meaningful interpretations. These are interpretations are framed through previous literature, and elaborated on through use of descriptive documentation and narrative, which helps to construct a trustworthy account that powerfully engages the researchers’ audiences.
  • Strategies of Validating Findings
    • Ethical: Clarifying researcher bias – doing so from the beginning so that readers know researcher positioning, biases, and assumptions that impact the study (Merriam 1988). Done through commenting on previous experiences, biases, prejudices, orientations that likely help shake the interpretation AND approach to the study.
    • Ethical: Member-checking – soliciting participants’ views on the credibility of the research findings/interpretations (Merriam 1988) – taking data, analyses, conclusions back to the community and participants to check for accuracy (kx^ use of individual and focus group checks within community for preliminary and pre-final editions of the project)
    • Ethical: Substantive contribution that offers transformative potential (Angen 2000)
    • Substantive: Multi-site
    • Prolonged engagement, persistent observation – building trust and rapport, learning the culture — though the researcher is in charge of making decisions about what is salient and meaningful, this should be informed by cultural knowledge
    • Thick description: detailed writing that uses description of physicality, movement, activity – bringing broad ideas into narrow instances and “working your way” through these processes through use of specific examples
    • Triangulation – use of multiple research methods and data sources to help illuminate a particular theme or perspective


Agar, M.H. 1980. The Professional Stranger: An Informal Introduction to Ethnography. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Angen, M.J. 2000. “Evaluating Interpretive Inquiry: Reviewing the Validity Debate and Opening the Dialogue.” Qualitative Health Research 12: 1338-1352.

Charmaz, K. 2005. “The Grounded Theory Method: An Explication and Interpretation.” In R. Emerson (ed.), Contemporary Field Research. Boston: Little, Brown. Pp. 109-126.

Charmaz, K. 2006. Constructing Grounded Theory. London: Sage.

Clarke, A.E. 2005. Situational Analysis: Grounded Theory after the Postmodern Turn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Corbin, J. and A. Strauss. 2007. Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory, third edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Denzin, N.K. 1989a. Interpretative Biography. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Denzin, N.K. and Y.S. Lincoln. 2011. “Introduction: The Discipline and Practice of Qualitative Research.” The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Pp. 1-19.

Fetterman, D.M. 2010. Ethnography: Step by Step, third edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Gilgun, J.F. 2005. “’Grab’ and Good Science: Writing Up the Results of Qualitative Research.” Qualitative Health Research 15: 256-262.

Glaser, B.G. 1978. Theoretical Sensitivity. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press.

Harris, M. 1968. The Rise of Anthropological Theory: A History of Theories of Culture. New York: T.Y. Cromwell.

Kvale, S. and S. Brinkmann. 2009. InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Merriam, S. 1988. Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mertens, D.M. 2003. “Mixed Methods and the Politics of Human Research: The Transformative-Emancipatory Perspective.” In A. Tashakkori and C. Teddle (eds.) Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social and Behavioral Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Pp. 135-164.

Miles, M.B. and A.M. Huberman. 1994. Qualitative Data Analysis: A Sourcebook of New Methods, second edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Muncey, T. 2010. Creating Autoethnographies. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Ollerenshaw, J.A. and J.W. Creswell. 2002. “Narrative Research: A Comparison of Two Restorying Data Analysis Approaches.” Qualitative Inquiry 8:329-347.

Richardson, L. 1994. “Writing: A Method of Inquiry.” In N.K. Denzin and Y.S. Lincoln (eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Pp. 516-529.

Riessman, C.K. 2008. Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Strauss, A. and J. Corbin. 1998. Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory, second edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Thomas, J. 1993. Doing Critical Ethnography. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Weis, L. and M. Fine. 2000. Speed Bumps: A Student-Friendly Guide to Qualitative Research. New York: Teachers College Press.

Wolcott, H.F. 2006a. Ethnography: A Way of Seeing, second edition. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.


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