Application—Using Grounded Theory

Assignment 1: Application—Using Grounded Theory
Using your identified phenomena from Module 1, create a qualitative research design using the grounded theory approach. Identify the following:
1. Research question
2. Sample
3. Data collection method (interview, survey, observation, etc.)
Post your assignment, saved as R7035_M4_A1_Lastname_FirstInitial.doc to the Discussion Area by by Friday, May 27, 2016. Respond to at least two other classmate’s response before the end of the week.
All written assignments and responses should follow APA rules for attributing sources.
Assignment 1 Grading Criteria Maximum Points
Responded to all parts of the discussion question applying information from lectures, readings, and used vocabulary relevant to the current week’s topics. 5
Responded to at least two peers and participated in the discussion by asking a question, providing a statement of clarification, providing a point of view with rationale, challenging a point of discussion, or making a relationship between one or more points of the discussion. Demonstrated ability to respond to peers in a sensitive and respectful manner. 5
Justified ideas and responses by using appropriate examples and references from texts, or the Argosy University Online Library. Followed APA rules for attributing sources. 15
Wrote in a clear, concise, and organized manner; demonstrated ethical scholarship in accurate representation and attribution of sources, displayed accurate spelling, grammar, and punctuation. 4
Total: 29
Use the Respond link to post responses and materials that pertain to this assignment. Use the Respond link beneath any existing postings to respond to them.
Assignment 1: Application—Using Grounded Theory

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What is Grounded Theory?
Dr Oestmann
5/2/2016 12:59:25 PM

What is Grounded Theory?

Module 4 Overview
Welcome to week 4 you are half way there and I am sure some of the concepts are beginning to fall into place for you as you begin to look at the whole picture, all the assignment for all 8 weeks connected, all the tips and posts I am making to help connect things for you to make your life easier and to help you ask the bigger questions, critically think, and to look at what is ahead not just in front of you. Keep critically thinking! Ask the open-ended bigger questions, look at how this class can not only teach you qualitative methodology but how you can learn to open your mind to many possibilities/realities, how you can answer your own questions and concerns by looking at the evidence in front of you (tips, announcements, questions and answers, grading rubrics, comments, support, and encouragement all guiding you to not find ONE concrete answer for your question but to see the many realities! If you feel you found the answer you have missed the broad nature of finding and exploring many different stories and realities to gather data (words) for evaluation and analysis.
You have to be willing to take chances, to research things on your own, to find answers and solutions and to learn from every single faculty member you come in contact with (and each of our realities and experiences) to piece together strengths you need to succeed in this degree program, as a doctoral candidate, and utilizing a doctorate degree in the future.
TO ALL ~ What is Grounded Theory?
Many may think they have a Grounded Theory study and do not. This is the least likely qualitative approach anyone would have. It means you have reviewed ALL theories associated with a topic (Theories such as Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis and all other theories of analysis from that time to present; Erikson’s Psychosocial stages of development and all other developmental theories from then until present and their origins; Bowlby’s attachment theory and all other attachment theories until present and their origins; management and leadership theories on success, retention etc., and related topics in the field. There are theories in the literature on everything grounded from an original theory (which we will review in the discussions). This means you have 50+ pages from a literature review (Chapter 2 of your dissertation) from the current research (last 5-7 years) analyzing and evaluating each theory step by step. It means you then have identified a “GAP” in the literature and propose a “New Theory” be developed and have support for that from the research. Less than .1% of any students ever develop a Grounded Theory study or have a New theory like Dr. Freud’s to propose. It is very difficult, it is very long, and it is very hard to for anyone to defend. Trust me, no one in this class has a Grounded Theory Study. All studies and phenomenon being discussed are either case study or phenomenology methodology so stay focused on that.
Again, all studies in this class that have been discussed have been case study methodology or phenomenology. Review these qualitative approaches and look at what is specifically required from Research texts books on these methodologies not from class lecture notes. This will save you tons of time when you actually get to the dissertation process and think you have something and you have to start all over.
Welcome to week 4 and the world of Grounded Theory! Be advised this methodology is not often used, is not recommended for the dissertation process and is a very long and difficult road to navigate. It is good to know the foundations and what it is however as it helps you see how “theory” guides what you choose to do. This week, take away, a supportive theory from your field of study that would support, be the backbone of, your research question(s) and support the significance of your study.

Grounded Theory is not something you are likely to ever do…..
Grounded Theory is ….not something you are likely to do. This is not suitable for a dissertation and takes a very long time.
This is not a figure it out as you go theory. Read my posts on what it actually is….
If you are doing a quantitative dissertation more than likely you will be doing survey methods (find a valid and reliable survey tool to measure something, create variables, find a population that is assessable to gather the data at one time like a conference, meeting, etc.).
If you are doing a qualitative methods dissertation most like you will be dong a phenomenology study (only one set of data is needed; interviews).
The goal of a dissertation is to show your expertise in one methodology and topic area. It is not to be creative, make things really complicated (mixed methods). What is the only “good” dissertation? A DONE dissertation.
Be mindful of the time it takes to do things, the amount of time the “process” takes for approvals, reviews, permissions, and how much time and money you want to spend on this….
Dr. Jo
TO ALL ~ For this grounded theory exercise you would word your work this way:
After reviewing all the peer reviewed research and published dissertations on _____________________the theory that stands out on this topic is________________________. The GAP in the research presented is________________________and I propose to explore this as a “New Theory” to contribute to the field of ______________________.

I’m looking for your understanding and ability to distinguish this from case study and phenomenology. Using my wording and templates like in case study and phenomenology will guide you to understand the differences in these methodologies.
Grounded Theory does not require any subjects, but does require analysis from which to posit a new theory.The Lit Review must be extensive (60+ pages) and you must make a case for why the existing theories are lacking. Process includes human actions/interactions and consequences leading to a new proposed theory that currently do not exist. Data collection must include triangulation of data (3 sources) for validity & reliability of conclusions. Coding of data into groups and categories identifying interrelationships and continued interweaving of data. Strong analysis, evaluation, and synthesis needed to construct a proposed new theory from the categories and interrelationships.

Grounded Theory Example
My grounded theory example is Italian cooking…..I want to read EVERY Italian cookbook, talk to every Italian Chef, Read everything I can in the research about authentic Italian cooking and ingredients and find what is “missing” in the world in print on Italian cooking.*Follow this example and at the end state you understand how complicated grounded theory is that is all you need to do this week to earn the points associated with this in the grading rubric.
After reviewing all the peer reviewed research and published dissertations on Italian Cooking the theory that stands out on this topic originates in Coltibuono culinary tradition established by Lorenza de Medici & Organic Tuscany Cooking.
The GAP in the research presented is Authentic Organic Italian cooking without gluten and dairy….So I propose this new theory: “A Grounded Theory Study: Authentic Organic Italian Cooking Without Gluten and Dairy” which will be a contribution to the culinary arts. I will not have participants for this study and will collect data from: Tuscany Cooking Classes, field notes & observations of Chefs at the Tuscany School of Culinary Arts.
Grounded Theory does not require any subjects, but does require analysis from which to posit a new theory.
The Lit Review must be extensive (60+ pages) and you must make a case for why the existing theories are lacking. Process includes human actions/interactions and consequences leading to a new proposed theory that currently do not exist.
Data collection must include triangulation of data (3 sources) for validity & reliability of conclusions. Coding of data into groups and categories identifying interrelationships and continued interweaving of data. Strong analysis, evaluation, and synthesis needed to construct a proposed new theory from the categories and interrelationships.

All the best, Dr. Jo


Application—Using Grounded Theory
Shirley Layne
5/25/2016 7:41:11 AM

Application—Using Grounded Theory
Shirley Layne
Argosy University
Phoenix Arizona
The Phenomenon
The Phenomenon – “My experiences as a substitute teacher helped me to be able to observe disruptive students at schools. Disruptive students at schools is a phenomenon in America. The present issue with disruptive students at schools was the confrontation of a school resource officer and a disruptive student at a school in South Carolina” in (Layne, 2016).
After reviewing all the peer reviewed research and published dissertations on disruptive students in schools the theories that stands out on this topic are social theories and intergroup contact theory. The social theory that stands out on this topic originates in A Construction of Bullying in a Primary School in an Underprivileged Community: An Ecological Case Study established by Timm and Eskell-Blokland. The intergroup contact theory that stands out on this topic originates When Might Peer Aggression, Victimization, and Conflict Have Its Largest Impact? Microcontextual Considerations established by Nishina and Bellmore. The GAP in the research presented is peer victimization as a factor that contributed to incidents of students’ disruptive behaviors at schools and so I propose to explore this as a “New Theory” to contribute to the field of social psychological theory. The concept to write on the grounded theory sample was taken from (Oestmann, 2016.p.1).
The Research Question
The Research Question: Is the exploration of how the impact of a disruptive student at a school in South Carolina made a school resource officer confront the disruptive student and the incident reached national awareness on disruptive students at schools in America?
Grounded Theory Example
Grounded Theory Example
My grounded theory example is peer victimization as a factor that contributed to incidents of students’ disruptive behaviors at schools. I want to read every book and study on peer victimization, talk to a school resource officer, read everything I can in the research about peer victimization and find out what is “missing” in the world in print on peer victimization. The concept to write on the grounded theory sample was taken from (Oestmann.2016.p.1).

The Sample
The Sample – 1 school resource officer.

The Data Collection Method
The Data Collection Method – “The data collection will be 3 sources, the
1. “I will do an interview” ( with the resource officer;
2. Review the resource officer’s issues with disruptive students at the school from school logs. “[(transcripts )]” ( and camera recordings of incidents with disruptive students “[(video of interviews)] from the last 20 years” (;
3. Physical observations of the resource officer at work at the school in Layne, (2016).
The data collection has a triangulation of data (3 sources) for validity & reliability of conclusions. “Data collection must include triangulation of data (3 sources) for validity & reliability of conclusions. Coding of data into groups and categories identifying interrelationships and continued interweaving of data. Strong analysis, evaluation, and synthesis needed to construct a proposed new theory from the categories and interrelationships” (Oestmann, et al., 2016.p.1).
I understand how complicated grounded theory is.

Module 4 Overview

A third approach to qualitative research is grounded theory. This approach was first developed by Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss. In grounded theory, the researcher begins with a topic or area of study, but no preconceived idea of what may result from the research. Theory is allowed to develop as the research proceeds. In this approach, theory is grounded in field research and successive field observation is analyzed in conjunction with previous observations. According to Strauss and Corbin (1998), “Grounded theories, because they are drawn from data, are likely to offer insight, enhance understanding, and provide a meaningful guide to action” (p. 12). In addition, observation skills will be discussed. These skills will be used In Module 5 as part of the Field Observation project.
Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Grounded Theory

Grounded theory does not seek to prove or disprove a predetermined hypothesis, which is commonly found in quantitative research. Rather, as information is gathered, theories are developed from the ground up. This inductive approach is unique to qualitative inquiry. By examining the pieces, a picture begins to emerge from the collected data. Researchers then collect and examine additional information, code and analyze it, and gradually identify a working theory.
As with previous qualitative approaches, coding is an important element in data collection and analysis in grounded theory. Three types of coding are used in grounded theory research, open coding, axial coding, and selective coding. Open coding is the initial identification of general themes. The next step is axial coding, which includes assigning categories and subcategories to the data. The final step is selective coding where identification of specific core categories is made.
Certain skills and attributes are needed to conduct grounded theory research. According to Strauss and Corbin (1998, p. 7), they are:
1. The ability to step back and critically analyze situations
2. The ability to recognize the tendency toward bias
3. The ability to think abstractly
4. The ability to be flexible and open to helpful criticism
5. Sensitivity to the words and actions of respondents
6. A sense of absorption and devotion to the work process.
Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Examples of Grounded Theory

Grounded theory researchers begin with a question, or series of questions about a particular research scenario. These questions guide the researcher and help to frame the context of the study and the collection of data. The following are examples of grounded theory research questions in education, psychology, and business:
1. What was the experience of school for young people who left school early?
2. How did the school context impact on their wellbeing?
3. How has their decision to leave school early impacted on their wellbeing? (Lee & Breen, 2007)
[What was] the experience of both patients on MDRT and their health care providers, including their perceptions of what the challenges are, what helps people stay on treatment, and what each person’s role is in the treatment process? (Alfonso, Toulson, Bermbach, Erkine, & Montaner, 2009)
What are the career experiences of women with sensory and physical disabilities who have achieved vocational success? (what does it look like) (Noonan, Gallor, et al., 2004)
Alfonso, V., Toulson, A., Bermbach, N., Erkine, Y., & Montaner, J. (2009). Psychosocial issues influencing treatment adherence in patients on multidrug rescue therapy: Perspectives from patients and their health care providers. AIDS Patient Care & STDs, 23(2), 119-126.
Lee, T., & Breen, L. (2007). Young people’s perceptions and experiences of leaving high school early: An exploration. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 17, 329-346.
Noonan, B. M., Gallor, S. M., et al. (2004). Challenge and success: A qualitative study of the career development of highly achieving women with physical and sensory disabilities. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 51(1), 68-80.

Observation Skills (1 of 2)

In qualitative research, there are two very broad categories of observation, i.e., participant observation and non-participant observation. Participant observation, particularly in ethnographic research, is usually one among multiple methods of gathering data. In addition to observation, the researcher may also utilize interviews, documents, and artifacts to collect information.
The difficulties and barriers involved in conducting a study using participant observation are significant. The researcher must find a way to gain access to, and in some cases, join a social group that is usually from a different culture. The researcher will sometimes obtain “key informants” who can assist introduction and gain access to the group. The transition from outside researcher to insider is a difficult transition that must be built upon trust. Even once accepted, there may continue to be ethical issues related to intruding into the private lives of those being studied.
Participant observation can be thought of on a continuum, which at one end puts the researcher as a complete “outsider” to the culture-sharing group being studied, to being an “insider” at the other end of the continuum. Non-participant observation typically entails using observational methods and skills without direct interaction with those being studied. In ethnographic studies, the researcher may report information from the views of the informants (emic), or may report from his or her personal point of view (etic). The qualitative researcher will need to decide if the stance is taken from the inside or outside, as participant or observer, or some combination of both.
For many, one of the more attractive features of doing qualitative research is the opportunity to be creative. Particularly in the conduct of making observations, the qualitative researcher may want to use all the senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell as vehicles of data collection. Although sight and sound are the most commonly used senses in conducting interviews and observations, the other senses are also conduits of consciousness which can be harvested for their contributions to understanding. Rich, detailed observations can provide the reader with a feeling of having been there. This sensation of familiarity is the ultimate goal of providing “thick description” in writing up observations. As with reflexivity, where the researcher needs to be aware of their own values and biases, the researcher also needs to be in tune with their own senses when conducting observations. This subjectivity of the researcher’s perspective, quite different from that of the quantitative researcher, is something to be acknowledged, understood, and appreciated.
Observation Skills (2 of 2)

Observer and Observed: Unity and Separation
An important awareness that qualitative researchers tend to recognize is that the process of observation affects that which is being observed. In other words, it is understood that there is an unavoidable interdependence between the observer and that which is observed. Self-awareness and awareness of others are the foundations for this understanding. As a qualitative researcher, you must remain self-reflective. You must continuously recognize throughout the research process, and in some cases even long after the study is over, that your involvement and immersion in the study has affected those being studied, your findings, and yourself. Ever more frequently, the self-disclosure of these possible effects is included in the methods section of the research study. Ethical issues that come into play in these circumstances will be addressed in subsequent lectures.
As a qualitative researcher doing fieldwork, you will likely find yourself in the throes of an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, you are often interested in getting as immersed as possible in your research topic, and as close to your research participants as appropriate. On the other hand, it’s necessary to be clear that your role is to do research. It’s important for you to recognize that the participants in the study are also observing you. The resolution of this dilemma rests in your ability to be as involved as possible in the relationships within the research setting, while maintaining awareness that your role as researcher is clearly defined by the purpose of your research activities.
Module 4 Readings and Assignments
Complete the following reading early in the week:
• Module 4 online lectures
• From your course textbook, Qualitative inquiry & research design, read the following chapters:
o Introducing and focusing the study

6 Introducing and Focusing the Study

The beginning of a study, I have often said, is the most important part of a research project. If the purpose of the study is unclear, if the research questions are vague, and if the research problem or issue is not clearly identified, then a reader has difficulty following the remainder of the study. Consider a qualitative research journal article that you have recently read. Did it read quickly? If so, that is usually an indication that the study is well tied together: The problem leads to certain research questions, and the data collection naturally follows, and then the data analysis and interpretation relate closely to the questions, which, in turn, help the reader to understand the research problem. Often the logic is back and forth between these components in an integrated, consistent manner so that all parts interrelate (Morse & Richards, 2002). This integration of all parts of a good qualitative introduction begins with the identification of a clear problem that needs to be studied. It then advances the primary intent of the study, called the purpose of the study. Of all parts of a research project, the purpose statement is most important. It sets the stage for the entire article and conveys what the author hopes to accomplish in the study. It is so important, I believe, that I have scripted out a purpose statement that you might use in your qualitative project. All you need to do is to insert several components into this statement to have a clear, short, and concise qualitative purpose statement that will be easy for readers to follow. Then, the qualitative research questions extend and often narrow the purpose statement into questions that will be answered during the course of the study. In this chapter, I will discuss how to compose a good problem statement for a qualitative study, how to compose a clear purpose statement, and how to further specify the research through qualitative research questions. Moreover, I will suggest how these sections of an introduction can be adjusted to fit all five of the approaches to qualitative inquiry addressed in this book.

• How can the problem statement be best written to reflect one of the approaches to qualitative research?
• How can the purpose statement be best written to convey the orientation of an approach to research?
• How can a central question be written so that it encodes and foreshadows an approach to qualitative research?
• How can subquestions be presented so that they subdivide the central question into several parts?


How does one begin a qualitative study? Have you realized that all good research begins with an issue or problem that needs to be resolved? Qualitative studies begin with an introduction advancing the research problem or issue in a study. The term problem may be a misnomer, and individuals unfamiliar with writing research may struggle with this writing passage. Rather than calling this passage the “problem,” it might be clearer if I call it the “need for the study” or “creating a rationale for the need for the study.” The intent of a research problem in qualitative research is to provide a rationale or need for studying a particular issue or “problem.” This research problem discussion begins a qualitative study. But the actual research problem is framed within several other components in an opening paragraph in a good qualitative study. Here I want to analyze what these opening paragraphs might look like and to illustrate how they might be tailored to fit one of the five approaches.

Consider designing an introduction to a qualitative study. First examine in Figure 6.1 the model that I designed for a multiple case study of teen smoking in high schools. In the marginal notes on the left of this passage, you will see several topics that characterize content advanced in this introduction. My ideas for structuring a good introduction came from early study of opening passages in good research articles (see Creswell, 2009). I felt that implicit within good introductions was a model or template that authors were using. I called this model a “deficiencies model of an introduction” (Creswell, 2009, p. 100) and referred to it by this name because it centered on deficiencies in the current literature, and how studies were crafted to add to a body of literature. I know now that qualitative studies not only add to the literature, but they can give voice to under-represented groups, probe a deep understanding of a central phenomenon, and lead to specific outcomes such as stories, the essence of a phenomenon, the generation of theory, the cultural life of a group, and an in-depth analysis of a case. You will see in Figure 6.1 the five elements of a good introduction: the topic, the research problem, the evidence from the literature about the problem, the deficiencies in the evidence, and the importance of the problem for select audiences. Added as a final sixth element in this statement would be the purpose statement, a topic to be covered shortly in this chapter.

These components of a good introduction are as follows:

1. Begin with sentences or a paragraph that creates reader interest and that advances the topic or general subject matter of the research study. A good first sentence—called a narrative hook in literature composition circles—would create reader interest through the use of stating timely topics, advancing a key controversy, using numbers, or citing a leading study. I would stay away from quotes for the first sentence because they not only often require the reader to focus in on the key idea of the quote, but they also need appropriate lead-in and lead-out features. Proceed beyond the first sentence to advance a general discussion about the topic being addressed in the study.
2. Discuss the research problem or issue that leads to a need for the study. Readers simply need to be told about the issue or concern that you plan on addressing in your qualitative project. Another way to frame the research problem is to view it as an argument as to why the topic you wish to study matters. In this way you can present to the reader the study’s importance (Ravitch & Riggan, 2012). Research methods books (e.g., Creswell, 2012; Marshall & Rossman, 2010) advance several sources for locating research problems. Research problems are found in personal experience with an issue, a job-related problem, an advisor’s research agenda, or the scholarly literature. I like to think about the research problem as coming from “real life” issues or from a gap in the literature, or both. “Real life” problems might be that students struggle with their ethnic identity given the demands of friends, family, and schools, such as in Chan’s (2010) study (see Appendix B). Individuals struggle to make sense of the disease of AIDS/HIV (Anderson & Spencer, 2002; see Appendix C). The need for a study also comes from certain deficiencies or gaps in the existing scholarly literature. Authors mention these gaps in “future research” sections or in “introductions” of their published studies. As suggested by Barritt (1986), the rationale is not the discovery of new elements, as in natural scientific study, but rather the heightening of awareness for experiences, which has been forgotten and overlooked. By heightening awareness and creating dialogue, it is hoped research can lead to better understanding of the way things appear to someone else and through that insight lead to improvements in practice (Barritt, 1986, p. 20). Besides dialogue and understanding, a qualitative study may lead to an in-depth understanding, fill a void in existing literature, establish a new line of thinking, lift up the voices of individuals who have been marginalized in our society, or assess an issue with an understudied group or population.
Figure 6.1 Sample Research Problem Section (Introduction) to a Study

(Adapted from McVea, Harter, McEntarffer, & Creswell, 1999)
3. Briefly summarize the recent evidence, the scholarly literature that has addressed this research problem. Has anyone directly studied this problem? Or has anyone studied this problem in a general sense or by discussing a closely related topic? Although opinions differ about the extent of literature review needed before a study begins, qualitative texts (e.g., Creswell, 2012; Marshall & Rossman, 2010) refer to the need to review the literature so that one can provide the rationale for the problem and position one’s study within the ongoing literature about the topic. I have found it helpful to visually depict where my study can be positioned into the larger literature. For example, one might develop a visual or figure—a research map (Creswell, 2009)—of existing literature and show in this figure the topics addressed in the literature and how one’s proposed research fits into or extends the existing literature. I also see this section as not providing detail about any one study, such as what one finds in a complete literature review, but as a statement about the general literature—the groups of literature, if you will—that have addressed the problem. If no groups of literature have addressed the problem, then discuss the extant literature that is closest to the topic. Hopefully a good qualitative study has not already been done, and no studies directly address the topic being proposed in the present study.
4. Next, indicate in what ways the current literature or discussions are deficient in understanding the problem. Mention several reasons, such as inadequate methods of data collection, a need for research, or inadequate research. It is here, in the deficiencies section of an introduction, that information can be inserted that relates to one of the five qualitative approaches. In a problem statement for a narrative study, for example, writers can mention how individual stories need to be told to gain personal experiences about the research problem. In a phenomenological study, the researcher makes the case that a need exists to know more about a particular phenomenon and the common experiences of individuals with the phenomenon. For a grounded theory study, authors state that we need a theory that explains a process because existing theories are inadequate, are nonexistent for the population under study, or need to be modified for an existing population. In an ethnographic study, the problem statement advances why it is important to describe and to interpret the cultural behavior of a certain group of people or how a group is marginalized and kept silent by others. For a case study, the researcher might discuss how the study of a case or cases can help inform the issue or concern. In all of these illustrations the researcher presents the research problem as relating to the particular approach to qualitative research taken in the study.
5. Discuss how audiences or stakeholders will profit from your study that addresses the problem. Consider different types of audiences and point out, for each one, the ways they will benefit from the study. These audiences could be other researchers, policymakers, practitioners in the field, or students.

At this point the introduction proceeds on to the purpose statement. But at this point a reader has a clear understanding of the problem leading to a need for the study, and is encouraged enough to read on to see what the overall intent of the study might be (purpose) as well as the types of questions (research questions) that will be answered in the study.

This interrelationship between design and approach continues with the purpose statement, a statement that provides the major objective or intent, or “road map,” to the study. As the most important statement in an entire qualitative study, the purpose statement needs to be carefully constructed and written in clear and concise language. Unfortunately, all too many writers leave this statement implicit, causing readers extra work in interpreting and following a study. This need not be the case, so I created a “script” of this statement (Creswell, 1994, 2009), a statement containing several sentences and blanks that an individual fills in:

The purpose of this ______________ (narrative, phenomenological, grounded theory, ethnographic, case) study is (was? will be?) to _______________ (understand? describe? develop? discover?) the _______________ (central phenomenon of the study) for ______________ (the participants) at ____________ (the site). At this stage in the research, the ______________ (central phenomenon) will be generally defined as ______________ (a general definition of the central concept).

As I show in the script, several terms can be used to encode a passage for a specific approach to qualitative research. In the purpose statement:

• The writer identifies the specific qualitative approach used in the study by mentioning the type. The name of the approach comes first in the passage, thus foreshadowing the inquiry approach for data collection, analysis, and report writing.
• The writer encodes the passage with words that indicate the action of the researcher and the focus of the approach to research. For example, I associate certain words with qualitative research, such as understand experiences (useful in narrative studies), describe (useful in case studies, ethnographies, and phenomenologies), meaning ascribed (associated with phenomenologies), develop or generate (useful in grounded theory), and discover (useful in all approaches). I identify several words that a researcher would include in a purpose statement to encode the purpose statement for the approach chosen (see Table 6.1). These words indicate not only researchers’ actions but also the foci and outcomes of the studies.
• The writer identifies the central phenomenon. The central phenomenon is the one central concept being explored or examined in the research study. I generally recommend that qualitative researchers focus on only one concept (e.g., the campus reaction to the gunman, or the values of the sXers) at the beginning of a study. Comparing groups or looking for linkages can be included in the study as one gains experiences in the field and one proceeds on with analysis after initial exploration of the central phenomenon.
• The writer foreshadows the participants and the site for the study, whether the participants are one individual (i.e., narrative or case study), several individuals (i.e., grounded theory or phenomenology), a group (i.e., ethnography), or a site (i.e., program, event, activity, or place in a case study).

I also suggest including a general definition for the central phenomenon. This definition is a tentative, preliminary definition that the researcher intends to use at the outset of the study. The definition may be difficult to determine with any specificity in advance. But, for example, in a narrative study, a writer might define the types of stories to be collected (e.g., life stages, childhood memories, the transition from adolescence to adulthood, attendance at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting). In a phenomenology, the central phenomenon to be explored might be specified such as the meaning of grief, anger, or even chess playing (Aanstoos, 1985). In grounded theory, the central phenomenon might be identified as a concept central to the process being examined. In an ethnography, the writer might identify the key cultural concepts (often drawn from cultural concepts in anthropology) being examined such as roles, behaviors, acculturation, communication, myths, stories, or other concepts that the researcher plans to take into the field at the beginning of the study. Finally, in a case study such as an “intrinsic” case study (Stake, 1995), the writer might define the boundaries of the case, specifying how the case is bounded in time and place. If an “instrumental” case study is being examined, then the researcher might specify and define generally the issue being examined in the case.
Table 6.1 Words to Use in Encoding the Purpose Statement

Several examples of purpose statements follow that illustrate the encoding and foreshadowing of the five approaches to research:
Example 6.1 A Narrative Example

Notice in the following example how the purpose statement focuses on a single individual and conveys a life history of the individual:

The author describes and analyzes the process of eliciting the life history of a man with mental retardation. (Angrosino, 1994, p. 14)

Example 6.2 A Phenomenological Example

See in the following example how the exploration is clearly of a single phenomenon—the role of these individuals as fathers:

The present study was designed to explore the beliefs, attitudes, and needs that current and expectant adolescent fathers and young men who are fathers of children born to adolescent mothers have regarding their role as a father. (Lemay, Cashman, Elfenbein, & Felice, 2010, p. 222)

Example 6.3 A Ground Theory Example

In the following example, the researchers are interested in studying a process around leadership identity that leads to the advancement of a theory:

The purpose of this study was to understand the processes a person experiences in creating a leadership identity. (Komives, Owen, Longerbeam, Mainella, & Osteen, 2005, p. 594)

Example 6.4 An Ethnographic Example

From an ethnography of “ballpark” culture, the author creates a description of the employees as a culture-sharing group:

This article examines how the work and the talk of stadium employees reinforce certain meanings of baseball in society, and it reveals how the work and the talk create and maintain ballpark culture. (Trujillo, 1992, p. 351)

Example 6.5 A Case Study Example

In this multiple case study, the focus is on understanding the issue of the integration of technology:

The purpose of this study was to describe the ways in which three urban elementary schools, in partnership with a local, publicly funded multipurpose university, used a similar array of material and human resources to improve their integration of technology. (Staples, Pugach, & Himes, 2005, p. 287)


The intent of qualitative research questions is to narrow the purpose to several questions that will be addressed in the study. I distinguish between the purpose statement and research questions so that we can clearly see how they are conceptualized and composed; other authors may combine them or more typically state only a purpose statement in a journal article and leave out the research questions. However, in many types of qualitative studies, such as dissertations and theses, the research questions are distinct and stated separately from the purpose statement. Once again, I find that these questions provide an opportunity to encode and foreshadow an approach to inquiry.
The Central Question

Some writers offer suggestions for writing qualitative research questions (e.g., Creswell, 2012; Marshall & Rossman, 2010). Qualitative research questions are open-ended, evolving, and nondirectional. They restate the purpose of the study in more specific terms and typically start with a word such as what or how rather than why in order to explore a central phenomenon. They are few in number (five to seven) and posed in various forms, from the “grand tour” (Spradley, 1979, 1980) that asks, “Tell me about yourself,” to more specific questions.

I recommend that a researcher reduce her or his entire study to a single, overarching central question and several subquestions. Drafting this central question often takes considerable work because of its breadth and the tendency of some to form specific questions based on traditional training. To reach the overarching central question, I ask qualitative researchers to state the broadest question they could possibly pose to address their research problem.

This central question can be encoded with the language of each of the five approaches to inquiry. Morse (1994) speaks directly to this issue as she reviews the types of research questions. Although she does not refer to narratives or case studies, she mentions that one finds “descriptive” questions of cultures in ethnographies, “process” questions in grounded theory studies, and “meaning” questions in phenomenological studies. For example, I searched through the five studies presented in Chapter 5 to see if I could find or imagine their central research questions. I recognized immediately that the authors of these journal articles typically did not provide central questions, but instead presented purpose statements, as is often the case in journal article reports. Still, it is helpful to consider what their central questions, if asked, might have been.

In the narrative study of the Chinese immigrant student (Chan, 2010; see Appendix B), I did not find a central question, but it might have been “What are the conflicting stories of ethnic identity that Ai Mei experienced in her school, with her peers, and with her family?” This would have been the most general question that could have been addressed in the study, and it focused on gathering Ai Mei’s stories. In the phenomenological study of how persons living with AIDS represent and image their disease, Anderson and Spencer (2002; see Appendix C) also did not pose a central question, but it might have been “What meaning do 41 men and 17 women with a diagnosis of AIDS ascribe to their illness?” This central question in phenomenology implies that all of the individuals diagnosed with AIDS have something in common that provides meaning for their lives. In the grounded theory study of the process of integrating physical activity into the lifestyle of African American women (Harley et al., 2009; see Appendix D), a central question was not asked, but if it had been, it might have been “What behavioral process theory explains the integration of physical activity into the lifestyle of 15 African American women?” In this study, the authors seek to generate a theory that helps to explain the process of integrating physical activity into lifestyles. In the ethnographic study of the sXe movement by Haenfler (2004; see Appendix E), again no research question was advanced, but it might have been “What are the core values of the straight edge movement, and how do the members construct and understand their subjective experiences of being a part of the subculture?” This question asks first for a description of the core values and then for an understanding of experiences (that are presented as themes in the study). Finally, in our case study of a campus response to a gunman incident (Asmussen & Creswell, 1995; see Appendix F), we asked five central guiding questions in our introduction: “What happened? Who was involved in response to the incident? What themes of response emerged during the eight-month period that followed this incident? What theoretical constructs helped us understand the campus response, and what constructs were unique to this case?” (p. 576). This example illustrates how we were interested first in simply describing individuals’ experiences and then in developing themes that represented responses of individuals on the campuses.

As these examples illustrate, authors may or may not pose a central question, although one lies implicit if not explicit in all studies. For writing journal articles, central questions may be used less than purpose statements to guide the research. However, for individuals’ graduate research, such as theses or dissertations, the trend is toward writing both purpose statements and central questions.

An author typically presents a small number of subquestions that further specify the central question into some areas for inquiry. Here are some suggestions for writing these subquestions:

• State a small number of subquestions to further refine the central question. I generally recommend five to seven subquestions. New questions may arise during data collection, and, as with all qualitative research questions, they may change or evolve into new questions as the research proceeds.
• Consider the subquestions as a means of subdividing the central question into several parts. Ask yourself, “If the central question were divided into some areas that I would like to explore, what would the areas or parts be?” A good illustration comes from ethnography. Wolcott (2008a) said that the grand tour or central question such as “What is going on here?” can only be addressed when fleshed out with detail: “In terms of what?” (p. 74).
• Write the subquestions to begin with “how” or “what” words in a similar manner as the central question.
• Keep the subquestions open-ended like the central question.
• Use the subquestions to form the core questions asked during the data collection, such as in the interviews or in the observations.

You can write the subquestions focused on further analyzing the central phenomenon that relates to the type of qualitative research being used. In a narrative study, these questions may further probe the meaning of stories. In a phenomenology, it will help to establish the components of the “essence” of the study. In a grounded theory, it will help to detail the emerging theory, and in an ethnography, it will detail the aspects of the culture-sharing group you plan to study, such as members’ rituals, their communication, their economic way of life, and so forth. In a case study, the subquestions will address the elements of the case or the issue that you seek to understand.

Here are some examples of subquestions used in qualitative studies:

A central question such as “What does it mean to be a college professor?” would be analyzed in subquestions on topics like “What does it mean to be a college professor in the classroom? As a researcher?”

To illustrate issue subquestions in a study, Gritz (1995, p. 4) examines “teacher professionalism” as it is understood by practicing elementary classroom teachers in her phenomenology study. She poses the following central question and subquestions:

Central question:

• What does it mean (to practitioners) to be a professional teacher?


• What do professional teachers do?
• What don’t professional teachers do?
• What does a person do who exemplifies the term teacher professionalism?
• What is difficult or easy about being a professional educator?
• How or when did you first become aware of being a professional?

For grounded theory, for example, in Mastera’s (1995) dissertation proposal, she advances a study of the process of revising the general education curriculum in three private baccalaureate colleges. Her plan calls for subquestions. Her central question, “What is the theory that explains the change process in the revision of general education curricula on three college campuses?” is followed by a subquestion, “How does the chief academic officer participate in the process on each campus?”

In using good research question format for our gunman case study (Asmussen & Creswell, 1995), I would redraft the questions presented in the article. To foreshadow the case of a single campus and individuals on it, I would pose the central question—“What was the campus response to the gunman incident at the Midwestern university?”—and then I would present the subquestions guiding my study: “How did the administration respond?” “How did the counselors respond?” “How did the students who were not in the room with the gunman respond?” In this way, I could have described how each group responded and subdivided the “campus response” down into some manageable subparts for description and theme development.

In this chapter, I addressed three topics related to introducing and focusing a qualitative study: the problem statement, the purpose statement, and the research questions. Although I discussed general features of designing each section in a qualitative study, I related the topics to the five approaches advanced in this book. The problem statement should indicate the topic, the research problem, the literature about the problem, the deficiencies in this literature, and the audience who will profit from learning about the problem. It is in the deficiencies section that an author can insert specific information related to his or her approach. For example, authors can advance the need for stories to be told, the need to find the “essence” of the experience, the need to develop a theory, the need to portray the life of a culture-sharing group, and the need to use a case to explore a specific issue. A script may be used to construct the purpose statement. This script should include the type of qualitative approach being used and incorporate words that signal the use of one of the five approaches. The research questions divide into one central question and about five to seven subquestions that subdivide the central questions into several parts of inquiry. The central question can be encoded to accomplish the intent of one of the approaches, such as the development of stories in narrative projects or the generation of a theory in grounded theory. Subquestions also can be used in the data collection process as the key questions asked during an interview or an observation.
Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (2010). Designing qualitative research (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Maxwell, J. (2005). Qualitative research design: An interactive approach (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: A sourcebook of new methods (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Stake, R. (1995). The art of case study research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Wolcott, H. F. (2008). Ethnography: A way of seeing (2nd ed.). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.

1. Consider how you would write about the research problem or issue in your study in an introductory passage to a study. State the issue in a couple of sentences, and then discuss the research literature that will provide evidence for a need for studying the problem. Finally, within the context of one of the five approaches to research, what rationale exists for studying the problem that reflects your approach to research?
2. Try out the script in this chapter for writing a purpose statement using one of the approaches. Now adopt a different approach and write the purpose statement using the second approach.
3. The challenge in writing a good central question is not writing it too broad or too narrow. Consider four key elements of a central question: the central phenomenon, the participants, the site, and the approach to inquiry. Write it in an open, evolving, nondirectional way, starting with the word how or what. Keep the question short. You might first write your central phenomenon that you wish to explore. Then put the words what is before the central phenomenon. Examine what you have written to determine whether it will be a satisfactory central question written as the broadest question that you could ask in your study.
4. Write several subquestions. Subdivide your central question into several subtopics. Consider these subtopics the types of questions that you would ask a participant.
7 Data Collection

A typical reaction to thinking about qualitative data collection is to focus in on the actual types of data and the procedures for gathering them. Data collection, however, involves much more. It means gaining permissions, conducting a good qualitative sampling strategy, developing means for recording information both digitally and on paper, storing the data, and anticipating ethical issues that may arise. Also, in the actual forms of data collection, researchers often opt for only conducting interviews and observations. As will be seen in this chapter, the array of qualitative sources of data are ever expanding, and I encourage researchers to use newer, innovative methods in addition to the standard interviews and observations. In addition, these new forms of data and the steps in the process of collecting qualitative data need to be sensitive to the outcomes expected for each of the five different approaches to qualitative research.

I find it useful to visualize the phases of data collection common to all approaches. A “circle” of interrelated activities best displays this process, a process of engaging in activities that include but go beyond collecting data. I begin this chapter by presenting this circle of activities, briefly introducing each activity. These activities are locating a site or an individual, gaining access and making rapport, sampling purposefully, collecting data, recording information, exploring field issues, and storing data. Then I explore how these activities differ in the five approaches to inquiry, and I end with a few summary comments about comparing the data collection activities across the five approaches.

• What are the steps in the overall data collection process of qualitative research?
• What are typical access and rapport issues?
• How does one select people or places to study?
• What type of information typically is collected?
• How is information recorded?
• What are common issues in collecting data?
• How is information typically stored?
• How are the five approaches both similar and different during data collection?


I visualize data collection as a series of interrelated activities aimed at gathering good information to answer emerging research questions. As shown in Figure 7.1, a qualitative researcher engages in a series of activities in the process of collecting data. Although I start with locating a site or an individual to study, an investigator may begin at another entry point in the circle. Most importantly, I want the researcher to consider the multiple phases in collecting data, phases that extend beyond the typical reference point of conducting interviews or making observations.
Figure 7.1 Data Collection Activities

An important step in the process is to find people or places to study and to gain access to and establish rapport with participants so that they will provide good data. A closely interrelated step in the process involves determining a strategy for the purposeful sampling of individuals or sites. This is not a probability sample that will enable a researcher to determine statistical inferences to a population; rather, it is a purposeful sample that will intentionally sample a group of people that can best inform the researcher about the research problem under examination. Thus, the researcher needs to determine which type of purposeful sampling will be best to use.

Once the inquirer selects the sites or people, decisions need to be made about the most appropriate data collection approaches. Increasingly, a qualitative researcher has more choices regarding data collection, such as e-mail messages and online data gathering, and typically the researcher will collect data from more than one source. To collect this information, the researcher develops protocols or written forms for recording the information and needs to develop some forms for recording the data, such as interview or observational protocols. Also, the researcher needs to anticipate issues of data collection, called “field issues,” which may be a problem, such as having inadequate data, needing to prematurely leave the field or site, or contributing to lost information. Finally, a qualitative researcher must decide how he or she will store data so that they can easily be found and protected from damage or loss.

I now turn to each of these data collection activities, and I address each for general procedures and within each approach to inquiry. As shown in Table 7.1, these activities are both different and similar across the five approaches to inquiry.
The Site or Individual

In a narrative study, one needs to find one or more individuals to study, individuals who are accessible, willing to provide information, and distinctive for their accomplishments and ordinariness or who shed light on a specific phenomenon or issue being explored. Plummer (1983) recommends two sources of individuals to study. The pragmatic approach is where individuals are met on a chance encounter, emerge from a wider study, or are volunteers. Alternatively, one might identify a “marginal person” who lives in conflicting cultures, a “great person” who impacts the age in which he or she lives, or an “ordinary person” who provides an example of a large population. An alternative perspective is available from Gergen (1994), who suggests that narratives “come into existence” (p. 280) not as a product of an individual, but as a facet of relationships, as a part of culture, as reflected in social roles such as gender and age. Thus, to ask which individuals will participate is not to focus on the right question. Instead, narrative researchers need to focus on the stories to emerge, recognizing that all people have stories to tell. Also instructive in considering the individual in narrative research is to consider whether first-order or second-order narratives are the focus of inquiry (Elliott, 2005). In first-order narratives, individuals tell stories about themselves and their own experiences, while in second-order narratives, researchers construct a narrative about other people’s experiences (e.g., biography) or present a collective story that represents the lives of many.
Table 7.1 Data Collection Activities by Five Approaches

In a phenomenological study, the participants may be located at a single site, although they need not be. Most importantly, they must be individuals who have all experienced the phenomenon being explored and can articulate their lived experiences. The more diverse the characteristics of the individuals, the more difficult it will be for the researcher to find common experiences, themes, and the overall essence of the experience for all participants. In a grounded theory study, the individuals may not be located at a single site; in fact, if they are dispersed, they can provide important contextual information useful in developing categories in the axial coding phase of research. They need to be individuals who have participated in the process or action the researcher is studying in the grounded theory study. For example, in Creswell and Brown (1992), we interviewed 32 department chairpersons located across the United States who had mentored faculty in their departments. In an ethnographic study, a single site, in which an intact culture-sharing group has developed shared values, beliefs, and assumptions, is often important. The researcher needs to identify a group (or an individual or individuals representative of a group) to study, preferably one to which the inquirer is a “stranger” (Agar, 1986) and can gain access. For a case study, the researcher needs to select a site or sites to study, such as programs, events, processes, activities, individuals, or several individuals. Although Stake (1995) refers to an individual as an appropriate “case,” I turn to the narrative biographical approach or the life history approach in studying a single individual. However, the study of multiple individuals, each defined as a case and considered a collective case study, is acceptable practice.

A question that students often ask is whether they can study their own organization, place of work, or themselves. Such a study may raise issues of power and risk to the researcher, the participants, and the site. To study one’s own workplace, for example, raises questions about whether good data can be collected when the act of data collection may introduce a power imbalance between the researcher and the individuals being studied. Although studying one’s own “backyard” is often convenient and eliminates many obstacles to collecting data, researchers can jeopardize their jobs if they report unfavorable data or if participants disclose private information that might negatively influence the organization or workplace. A hallmark of all good qualitative research is the report of multiple perspectives that range over the entire spectrum of perspectives (see the section in Chapter 3 on the characteristics of qualitative research). I am not alone in sounding this cautionary note about studying one’s own organization or workplace. Glesne and Peshkin (1992) question research that examines “your own backyard—within your own institution or agency, or among friends or colleagues” (p. 21), and they suggest that such information is “dangerous knowledge” that is political and risky for an “inside” investigator. When it becomes important to study one’s own organization or workplace, I typically recommend that multiple strategies of validation (see Chapter 10) be used to ensure that the account is accurate and insightful.

Studying yourself can be a different matter. As mentioned in Chapter 4, autoethnography provides an approach or method for studying yourself. Several helpful books are available on authoethnography that discuss how personal stories are blended with larger cultural issues (see Ellis, 2004; Muncey, 2010). Ellis’s (1993) story of the experiences of her brother’s sudden death illustrates the power of personal emotion and the use of cultural perspectives around one’s own experiences. I recommend that individuals wanting to study themselves and their own experiences turn to autoethnography or biographical memoir for scholarly procedures in how to conduct their studies.
Access and Rapport

Qualitative research involves the study of a research site(s) and gaining permission to study the site in a way that will enable the easy collection of data. This means obtaining approval from university or college institutional review boards as well as individuals at the research site. It also means finding individuals who can provide access to the research site and facilitate the collection of data.
Institutional review boards.

Gaining access to sites and individuals also involves several steps. Regardless of the approach to inquiry, permissions need to be sought from a human subjects review board, a process in which campus committees review research studies for their potential harmful impact on and risk to participants. This process involves submitting to the board a proposal that details the procedures in the project. Most qualitative studies are exempt from a lengthy review (e.g., the expedited or full review), but studies involving individuals as minors (i.e., 18 years or under) or studies of high-risk, sensitive populations (e.g., HIV-positive individuals) require a thorough review, a process involving detailed, lengthy applications and an extended time for review. Because many review boards are sometimes more familiar with the quantitative approaches to social and human science research than they are with qualitative approaches, the qualitative project description may need to conform to some of the standard procedures and language of quantitative research (e.g., research questions, results) as well as provide information about the protection of human subjects. To the review board, it might be argued, qualitative interviews, if unstructured, may actually provide participants considerable control over the interview process (Corbin & Morse, 2003). It is helpful to examine a sample consent form that participants need to review and sign in a qualitative study. An example is shown in Figure 7.2.
Figure 7.2 Sample Human Subjects Consent-to-Pa Form

This consent form often requires that specific elements be included, such as

• the right of participants to voluntarily withdraw from the study at any time;
• the central purpose of the study and the procedures to be used in data collection;
• the protection of the confidentiality of the respondents;
• the known risks associated with participation in the study;
• the expected benefits to accrue to the participants in the study; and
• the signature of the participant as well as the researcher.

Access and rapport within the five approaches.

The permissions and building of rapport will differ depending on the type of qualitative approach being used. For a narrative study, inquirers gain information from individuals by obtaining their permission to participate in the study. Study participants should be appraised of the motivation of the researcher for their selection, granted anonymity (if they desire it), and told by the researcher about the purpose of the study. This disclosure helps build rapport. Access to biographical documents and archives requires permission and perhaps travel to distant libraries.

In a phenomenological study in which the sample includes individuals who have experienced the phenomenon, it is also important to obtain participants’ written permission to be studied. In the Anderson and Spencer (2002; see Appendix C) study of the patients’ images of AIDS, 58 men and women participated in the project at three sites dedicated to persons with HIV/AIDS: a hospital clinic, a long-term care facility, and a residence. These were all individuals with a diagnosis of AIDS, 18 years of age or older, able to communicate in English, and with a Mini-Mental Status exam score above 22. In such a study, it was important to obtain permission to have access to the vulnerable individuals participating in the study.

In a grounded theory study, the participants need to provide permission to be studied, while the researcher should have established rapport with the participants so that they will disclose detailed perspectives about responding to an action or a process. The grounded theorist starts with a homogeneous sample, individuals who have commonly experienced the action or process. In an ethnography, access typically begins with a “gatekeeper,” an individual who is a member of or has insider status with a cultural group. This gatekeeper is the initial contact for the researcher and leads the researcher to other participants (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995). Approaching this gatekeeper and the cultural system slowly is wise advice for “strangers” studying the culture. For both ethnographies and case studies, gatekeepers require information about the studies that often includes answers from the researchers to the following questions, as Bogdan and Biklen (1992) suggest:

• Why was the site chosen for study?
• What will be done at the site during the research study? How much time will be spent at the site by the researchers?
• Will the researcher’s presence be disruptive?
• How will the results be reported?
• What will the gatekeeper, the participants, and the site gain from the study? (reciprocity)

Purposeful Sampling Strategy

Three considerations go into the purposeful sampling approach in qualitative research, and these considerations vary depending on the specific approach. They are the decision as to whom to select as participants (or sites) for the study, the specific type of sampling strategy, and the size of the sample to be studied.
Participants in the sample.

In a narrative study, the researcher reflects more on whom to sample—the individual may be convenient to study because she or he is available, a politically important individual who attracts attention or is marginalized, or a typical, ordinary person. All of the individuals need to have stories to tell about their lived experiences. Inquirers may select several options, depending on whether the person is marginal, great, or ordinary (Plummer, 1983). Vonnie Lee, who consented to participate and provided insightful information about individuals with mental retardation (Angrosino, 1994), was convenient to study but also was a critical case to illustrate the types of challenges surrounding the issues of mental retardation in our society. Ai Mei Zhang was a Chinese immigrant student in Canada who could inform an understanding of the ethnic identity through student, teacher, and parent narratives (Chan, 2010; see Appendix B).

I have found, however, a much more narrow range of sampling strategies for phenomenological studies. It is essential that all participants have experience of the phenomenon being studied. Criterion sampling works well when all individuals studied represent people who have experienced the phenomenon. In a grounded theory study, the researcher chooses participants who can contribute to the development of the theory. Strauss and Corbin (1998) refer to theoretical sampling, which is a process of sampling individuals that can contribute to building the opening and axial coding of the theory. This begins with selecting and studying a homogeneous sample of individuals (e.g., all women who have experienced childhood abuse) and then, after initially developing the theory, selecting and studying a heterogeneous sample (e.g., types of support groups other than women who have experienced childhood abuse). The rationale for studying this heterogeneous sample is to confirm or disconfirm the conditions, both contextual and intervening, under which the model holds.

In ethnography, once the investigator selects a site with a cultural group, the next decision is who and what will be studied. Thus, within-culture sampling proceeds, and several authors offer suggestions for this procedure. Fetterman (2010) recommends proceeding with the big net approach, where at first the researcher mingles with everyone. Ethnographers rely on their judgment to select members of the subculture or unit based on their research questions. They take advantage of opportunities (i.e., opportunistic sampling; Miles & Huberman, 1994) or establish criteria for studying select individuals (criterion sampling). The criteria for selecting who and what to study, according to Hammersley and Atkinson (1995), are based on gaining some perspective on chronological time in the social life of the group, people representative of the culture-sharing group in terms of demographics, and the contexts that lead to different forms of behavior.

In a case study, I prefer to select unusual cases in collective case studies and employ maximum variation as a sampling strategy to represent diverse cases and to fully describe multiple perspectives about the cases. Extreme and deviant cases may comprise my collective case study, such as the study of the unusual gunman incident on the university campus (Asmussen & Creswell, 1995; see Appendix F).
Types of sampling.

The concept of purposeful sampling is used in qualitative research. This means that the inquirer selects individuals and sites for study because they can purposefully inform an understanding of the research problem and central phenomenon in the study. Decisions need to be made about who or what should be sampled, what form the sampling will take, and how many people or sites need to be sampled. Further, the researchers need to decide if the sampling will be consistent with the information within one of the five approaches to inquiry.

I will begin with some general remarks about sampling and then turn to sampling within each of the five approaches. The decision about who or what should be sampled can benefit from the conceptualization of Marshall and Rossman (2010), who provide an example of sampling four aspects: events, settings, actors, and artifacts. They also note that sampling can change during a study and that researchers need to be flexible, but despite this, researchers need to plan ahead as much as possible for their sampling strategy. I like to think as well in terms of levels of sampling in qualitative research. Researchers can sample at the site level, at the event or process level, and at the participant level. In a good plan for a qualitative study, one or more of these levels might be present, and each one needs to be identified.

On the question of what form the sampling will take, we need to note that there are several qualitative sampling strategies available (see Table 7.2 for a list of possibilities). These strategies have names and definitions, and they can be described in research reports. Also, researchers might use one or more of the strategies in a single study. Looking down the list, maximum variation sampling is listed first because it is a popular approach in qualitative studies. This approach consists of determining in advance some criteria that differentiate the sites or participants, and then selecting sites or participants that are quite different on the criteria. This approach is often selected because when a researcher maximizes differences at the beginning of the study, it increases the likelihood that the findings will reflect differences or different perspectives—an ideal in qualitative research. Other sampling strategies frequently used are critical cases, which provide specific information about a problem, and convenience cases, which represent sites or individuals from which the researcher can access and easily collect data.
Sample size.

The size question is an equally important decision to sampling strategy in the data collection process. One general guideline for sample size in qualitative research is not only to study a few sites or individuals but also to collect extensive detail about each site or individual studied. The intent in qualitative research is not to generalize the information (except in some forms of case study research), but to elucidate the particular, the specific (Pinnegar & Daynes, 2007). Beyond these general suggestions, each of the five approaches to research raises specific sample size considerations.

In narrative research, I have found many examples with one or two individuals, unless a larger pool of participants is used to develop a collective story (Huber & Whelan, 1999). In phenomenology, I have seen the number of participants range from 1 (Dukes, 1984) up to 325 (Polkinghorne, 1989). Dukes (1984) recommends studying 3 to 10 subjects, and one phenomenology, Riemen (1986), studied 10 individuals. In grounded theory, I recommend including 20 to 30 individuals in order to develop a well-saturated theory, but this number may be much larger (Charmaz, 2006). In ethnography, I like well-defined studies of single culture-sharing groups, with numerous artifacts, interviews, and observations collected until the workings of the cultural group are clear. For case study research, I would not include more than 4 or 5 case studies in a single study. This number should provide ample opportunity to identify themes of the cases as well as conduct cross-case theme analysis. Wolcott (2008a) has recommended that any case over 1 dilutes the level of detail that a researcher can provide.
Forms of Data

New forms of qualitative data continually emerge in the literature (see Creswell, 2012), but all forms might be grouped into four basic types of information: observations (ranging from nonparticipant to participant), inter views (ranging from closed-ended to open-ended), documents (ranging from private to public), and audiovisual materials (including materials such as photographs, compact discs, and videotapes). Over the years, I have kept an evolving list of data types, as shown in Figure 7.3.
Table 7.2 Typology of Sampling Strategies in Qualitative Inquiry

Type of Sampling


Maximum variation

Documents diverse variations of individuals or sites based on specific characteristics


Focuses, reduces, simplifies, and facilitates group interviewing

Critical case

Permits logical generalization and maximum application of information to other cases

Theory based

Find examples of a theoretical construct and thereby elaborate on and examine it

Confirming and disconfirming cases

Elaborate on initial analysis, seek exceptions, looking for variation

Snowball or chain

Identifies cases of interest from people who know people who know what cases are information-rich

Extreme or deviant case

Learn from highly unusual manifestations of the phenomenon of interest

Typical case

Highlights what is normal or average


Information-rich cases that manifest the phenomenon intensely but not extremely

Politically important

Attracts desired attention or avoids attracting undesired attention

Random purposeful

Adds credibility to sample when potential purposeful sample is too large

Stratified purposeful

Illustrates subgroups and facilitates comparisons


All cases that meet some criterion; useful for quality assurance


Follow new leads; taking advantage of the unexpected

Combination or mixed

Triangulation, flexibility; meets multiple interests and needs


Saves time, money, and effort, but at the expense of information and credibility

Source: Miles & Huberman (1994, p. 28). Reprinted with permission from SAGE Publications.

I organize my list into the four basic types, although some forms may not be easily placed into one category or the other. In recent years, new forms of data have emerged, such as journaling in narrative story writing, using text from e-mail messages, and observing through examining videotapes and photographs.

Krueger and Casey (2009) discuss the use of focus groups on the Internet, including chat room focus groups and bulletin board groups. They discuss how to manage the Internet groups as well as how to develop questions for the groups. In addition, Stewart and Williams (2005) discuss using online focus groups for social research. They reviewed both synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (non-real-time) applications highlighting new developments such as virtual reality applications as well as their advantages (participants can be questioned over long periods of time, larger numbers can be managed, and more heated and open exchanges occur). Problems arise with online focus groups, such as obtaining complete informed consent, recruiting individuals to participate, and choosing times to convene given different international time zones.

Common formats of online data collection for qualitative research include virtual focus groups and web-based interviews via e-mail or text-based chat rooms, weblogs and life journals (such as open-ended diaries online), and Internet message boards (Garcia, Standlee, Bechkoff, & Cui, 2009; James & Busher, 2007; Nicholas et al., 2010). Some researchers also have conducted advanced qualitative studies online, such as ethnography research (Garcia et al., 2009). They collected data through e-mail, chat room interactions, instant messaging, videoconferencing, and the images and sound of the websites. Qualitative data collection via the Internet has the advantages of cost and time efficiency in terms of reduced costs for travel and data transcription. It also provides participants with time and space flexibility that allows them more time to consider and respond to requests for information. Thus, they can provide a deeper reflection on the discussed topics (Nicholas et al., 2010). Furthermore, online data collection helps create a nonthreatening and comfortable environment, and provides greater ease for participants discussing sensitive issues (Nicholas et al., 2010). More importantly, online data collection offers an alternative for hard-to-reach groups (due to practical constraints, disability, or language or communication barriers) who may be marginalized from qualitative research (James & Busher, 2007).
Figure 7.3 A Compendium of Data Collection Approaches in Qualitative Research

There are, however, increased ethical concerns with online data collection, such as participants’ privacy protection, new power differentials, ownership of the data, authenticity, and trust in the data collected (James & Busher, 2007; Nicholas et al., 2010). Moreover, web-based research brings new requirements to both participants and researchers. For instance, participants are required to have some technical skills, access to the Internet, and necessary reading and writing proficiency. In using online information, researchers have to adapt to a new way of observation by watching texts on a screen, by strengthening their skills in interpreting textual data, and in improving online interview skills (Garcia et al., 2009; Nicholas et al., 2010).

Despite problems in innovative data collection such as these, I encourage individuals designing qualitative projects to include new and creative data collection methods that will encourage readers and editors to examine their studies. Researchers need to consider visual ethnography (Pink, 2001), or the possibilities of narrative research to include living stories, metaphorical visual narratives, and digital archives (see Clandinin, 2006). I like the technique of “photo elicitation” in which participants are shown pictures (their own or those taken by the researcher) and asked by the inquirer to discuss the contents of the pictures as in Photovoice (Wang & Burris, 1994). Ziller (1990), for example, handed one loaded Polaroid camera each to 40 male and 40 female fourth graders in Florida and West Germany and asked them to take pictures of images that represented war and peace.

The particular approach to research often directs a qualitative researcher’s attention toward preferred approaches to data collection, although these preferred approaches cannot be seen as rigid guidelines. For a narrative study, Czarniawska (2004) mentions three ways to collect data for stories: recording spontaneous incidents of storytelling, eliciting stories through interviews, and asking for stories through such mediums as the Internet. Clandinin and Connelly (2000) suggest collecting field texts through a wide array of sources—autobiographies, journals, researcher field notes, letters, conversations, interviews, stories of families, documents, photographs, and personal-family-social artifacts. For a phenomenological study, the process of collecting information involves primarily in-depth interviews (see, e.g., the discussion about the long interview in McCracken, 1988) with as many as 10 individuals. The important point is to describe the meaning of the phenomenon for a small number of individuals who have experienced it. Often multiple interviews are conducted with the each of the research participants. Besides interviewing and self-reflection, Polkinghorne (1989) advocates gathering information from depictions of the experience outside the context of the research projects, such as descriptions drawn from novelists, poets, painters, and choreographers. I recommend Lauterbach (1993), the study of wished-for babies from mothers, as an especially rich example of phenomenological research using diverse forms of data collection.

Interviews play a central role in the data collection in a grounded theory study. In the study Brown and I conducted with academic chairpersons (Creswell & Brown, 1992), each of our interviews with 33 individuals lasted approximately an hour. Other data forms besides interviewing, such as participant observation, researcher reflection or journaling (memoing), participant journaling, and focus groups, may be used to help develop the theory (Morrow and Smith, 1995, used these forms in their study of women’s childhood abuse). However, in my experience, these multiple data forms often play a secondary role to interviewing in grounded theory studies.

In an ethnographic study, the investigator collects descriptions of behavior through observations, interviewing, documents, and artifacts (Fetterman, 2010; Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995; Spradley, 1980), although observing and interviewing appear to be the most popular forms of ethnographic data collection. Ethnography has the distinction among the five approaches, I believe, of advocating the use of quantitative surveys and tests and measures as part of data collection. For example, examine the wide array of forms of data in ethnography as advanced by LeCompte and Schensul (1999). They reviewed ethnographic data collection techniques of observation, tests and repeated measures, sample surveys, interviews, content analysis of secondary or visual data, elicitation methods, audiovisual information, spatial mapping, and network research. Participant observation, for example, offers possibilities for the researcher on a continuum from being a complete outsider to being a complete insider (Jorgensen, 1989). The approach of changing one’s role from that of an outsider to that of an insider through the course of the ethnographic study is well documented in field research (Jorgensen, 1989). Wolcott’s (1994b) study of the Principal Selection Committee illustrates an outsider perspective, as he observed and recorded events in the process of selecting a principal for a school without becoming an active participant in the committee’s conversations and activities.

Like ethnography, case study data collection involves a wide array of procedures as the researcher builds an in-depth picture of the case. I am reminded of the multiple forms of data collection recommended by Yin (2009) in his book about case studies. He referred to six forms: documents, archival records, interviews, direct observation, participant observation, and physical artifacts. Because of the extensive data collection in the gunman case study, Asmussen and I presented a matrix of information sources for the reader (Asmussen & Creswell, 1995; see Appendix F). This matrix contained four types of data (interviews, observations, documents, and audiovisual materials) in the columns and identified specific forms of information (e.g., students at large, central administration) in the rows. Our intent was to convey through this matrix the depth and multiple forms of data collection, thus inferring the complexity of our case. The use of a matrix, which is especially applicable in an information-rich case study, might serve the inquirer equally well in all approaches of inquiry.

Of all the data collection sources in Figure 7.3, interviewing and observing deserve special attention because they are frequently used in all five of the approaches to research. Entire books are available on these two topics (e.g., Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009; and Rubin & Rubin, 2012, on interviewing; Spradley, 1980, and Angrosino, 2007, on observing); thus I highlight only basic procedures that I recommend to prospective interviewers and observers.

One might view interviewing as a series of steps in a procedure. Several authors have advanced the steps necessary in conducting qualitative interviews, such as Kvale and Brinkmann (2009) and Rubin and Rubin (2012). The Kvale and Brinkmann (2009) seven stages of an interview inquiry report a logical sequence of stages from thematizing the inquiry, to designing the study, to interviewing, to transcribing the interview, to analyzing the data, to verifying the validity, to reliability and generalizability of the findings, and finally to reporting the study. The Rubin and Rubin (2012) seven steps, called the responsive interviewing model, are similar in scope to Kvale and Brinkmann (2009), but they view the sequence as not fixed, allowing the researcher to change questions asked, the sites chosen, and the situations to study. Both approaches to the stages of interviewing sweep across the many phases of research from deciding on a topic to the actual writing of the study. In my approach, presented here, I focus on the data collection process in some detail, recognizing that this process is embedded within a larger sequence of research. In the data collection process, I view the steps for interviewing as follows:

• Decide on the research questions that will be answered by interviews. These questions are open-ended, general, and focused on understanding your central phenomenon in the study.
• Identify interviewees who can best answer these questions based on one of the purposeful sampling procedures mentioned in the preceding discussion (see Miles & Huberman, 1994).
• Determine what type of interview is practical and will net the most useful information to answer research questions. Assess the types available, such as a telephone interview, a focus group interview, or a one-on-one interview. A telephone interview provides the best source of information when the researcher does not have direct access to individuals. The drawbacks of this approach are that the researcher cannot see the informal communication and must incur phone expenses. Focus groups are advantageous when the interaction among interviewees will likely yield the best information, when interviewees are similar and cooperative with each other, when time to collect information is limited, and when individuals interviewed one-on-one may be hesitant to provide information (Krueger & Casey, 2009; Morgan, 1988; Stewart & Shamdasani, 1990). With this approach, however, care must be taken to encourage all participants to talk and to monitor individuals who may dominate the conversation. For one-on-one interviewing, the researcher needs individuals who are not hesitant to speak and share ideas, and needs to determine a setting in which this is possible. The less articulate, shy interviewee may present the researcher with a challenge and less than adequate data.
• Use adequate recording procedures when conducting one-on-one or focus group interviews. I recommend equipment such as a lapel mic for both the interviewer and the interviewee or an adequate mic sensitive to the acoustics of the room for audiotaping the interviews.
• Design and use an interview protocol, or interview guide (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009), a form about four or five pages in length (with space to write in answers), with approximately five to seven open-ended questions and ample space between the questions to write responses to the interviewee’s comments (see the sample protocol in Figure 7.4 below). How are questions developed? The questions are often the subquestions in the research study, phrased in a way that interviewees can understand. These might be seen as the core of the interview protocol, bounded on the front end by questions to invite the interviewee to open up and talk and located at the end by questions about “Whom should I talk to in order to learn more?” or comments thanking the participants for their time for the interview.
Figure 7.4 Sample Interview Protocol or Guide
• Refine the interview questions and the procedures further through pilot testing. Sampson (2004), in an ethnographic study of boat pilots aboard cargo vessels, recommends the use of a pilot test to refine and develop research instruments, assess the degrees of observer bias, frame questions, collect background information, and adapt research procedures. During her pilot testing, Sampson participated at the site, kept detailed field notes, and conducted detailed tape-recorded, confidential interviews. In case study research, Yin (2009) also recommends a pilot test to refine data collection plans and develop relevant lines of questions. These pilot cases are selected on the basis of convenience, access, and geographic proximity.
• Determine the place for conducting the interview. Find, if possible, a quiet location free from distractions. Ascertain if the physical setting lends itself to audiotaping, a necessity, I believe, in accurately recording information.
• After arriving at the interview site, obtain consent from the interviewee to participate in the study. Have the interviewee complete a consent form for the human relations review board. Go over the purpose of the study, the amount of time that will be needed to complete the interview, and plans for using the results from the interview (offer a copy of the report or an abstract of it to the interviewee).
• During the interview, use good interview procedures. Stay to the questions, complete the interview within the time specified (if possible), be respectful and courteous, and offer few questions and advice. This last point may be the most important, and it is a reminder of how a good interviewer is a good listener rather than a frequent speaker during an interview. Also, record information on the interview protocol in the event that the audio-recording does not work. Recognize that quickly inscribed notes may be incomplete and partial because of the difficulty of asking questions and writing answers at the same time.


Observation is one of the key tools for collecting data in qualitative research. It is the act of noting a phenomenon in the field setting through the five senses of the observer, often with an instrument, and recording it for scientific purposes (Angrosino, 2007). The observations are based on your research purpose and questions. You may watch physical setting, participants, activities, interactions, conversations, and your own behaviors during the observation. Use your senses, including sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. You should realize that writing down everything is impossible. Thus, you may start the observation broadly and then concentrate on research questions.

To one degree or another, the observer is usually involved in that which he or she is observing. Given the focus on the two forms of engagement in terms of participating and observing, we usually distinguish observations into four types:

• Complete participant. The researcher is fully engaged with the people he or she is observing. This may help him or her establish greater rapport with the people being observed (Angrosino, 2007).
• Participant as observer. The researcher is participating in the activity at the site. The participant role is more salient than the researcher role. This may help the researcher gain insider views and subjective data. However, it may be distracting for the researcher to record data when he or she is integrated into the activity.
• Nonparticipant/observer as participant. The researcher is an outsider of the group under study, watching and taking field notes from a distance. He or she can record data without direct involvement with activity or people.
• Complete observer. The researcher is neither seen nor noticed by the people under study.

As a good qualitative observer, you may change your role during an observation, such as starting as a nonparticipant and then moving into the participant role, or vice versa.

Observing in a setting is a special skill that requires addressing issues such as the potential deception of the people being interviewed, impression management, and the potential marginality of the researcher in a strange setting (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995). Like interviewing, I also see observing as a series of steps:

• Select a site to be observed. Obtain the required permissions needed to gain access to the site.
• At the site, identify who or what to observe, when, and for how long. A gatekeeper helps in this process.
• Determine, initially, a role to be assumed as an observer. This role can range from that of a complete participant (going native) to that of a complete observer. I especially like the procedure of being an outsider initially, followed by becoming an insider over time.
• Design an observational protocol as a method for recording notes in the field. Include in this protocol both descriptive and reflective notes (i.e., notes about your experiences, hunches, and learnings). Make sure this is headed by the date, place, and time of observation (Angrosino, 2007).
• Record aspects such as portraits of the informant, the physical setting, particular events and activities, and your own reactions (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992). Describe what happened and also reflect on these aspects, including personal reflections, insights, ideas, confusions, hunches, initial interpretations, and breakthroughs.
• During the observation, have someone introduce you if you are an outsider, be passive and friendly, and start with limited objectives in the first few sessions of observation. The early observational sessions may be times in which to take few notes and simply observe.
• After observing, slowly withdraw from the site, thanking the participants and informing them of the use of the data and their accessibility to the study.
• Prepare your full notes immediately after the observation. Give thick and rich narrative description of the people and events under observation.

Recording Procedures

In discussing observation and interviewing procedures, I mention the use of a protocol, a predesigned form used to record information collected during an observation or interview. The interview protocol enables a person to take notes during the interview about the responses of the interviewee. It also helps a researcher organize thoughts on items such as headings, information about starting the interview, concluding ideas, information on ending the interview, and thanking the respondent. In Figure 7.4, I provided the interview protocol used in the gunman case study (Asmussen & Creswell, 1995; see Appendix F).

Besides the five open-ended questions in the study, this form contains several features I recommend. The instructions for using the interview protocol are as follows:

• Use a header to record essential information about the project and as a reminder to go over the purpose of the study with the interviewee. This heading might also include information about confidentiality and address aspects included in the consent form.
• Place space between the questions in the protocol form. Recognize that an individual may not always respond directly to the questions being asked. For example, a researcher may ask Question 2, but the interviewee’s response may be to Question 4. Be prepared to write notes on all of the questions as the interviewee speaks.
• Memorize the questions and their order to minimize losing eye contact with the participant. Provide appropriate verbal transitions from one question to the next.
• Write out the closing comments that thank the individual for the interview and request follow-up information, if needed, from him or her.

During an observation, use an observational protocol to record information. As shown in Figure 7.5, this protocol contains notes taken by one of my students on a class visit by Harry Wolcott. I provide only one page of the protocol, but this is sufficient for one to see what it includes. It has a header giving information about the observational session, and then includes a “descriptive notes” section for recording a description of activities. The section with a box around it in the “descriptive notes” column indicates the observer’s attempt to summarize, in chronological fashion, the flow of activities in the classroom. This can be useful information for developing a chronology of the ways the activities unfolded during the class session. There is also a “reflective notes” section for notes about the process, reflections on activities, and summary conclusions about activities for later theme development. A line down the center of the page divides descriptive notes from reflective notes. A visual sketch of the setting and a label for it provide additional useful information.
Figure 7.5 Sample Observational Protocol

Whether a researcher uses an observational or interview protocol, the essential process is recording information or, as Lofland and Lofland (1995) state it, “logging data” (p. 66). This process involves recording information through various forms, such as observational field notes, interview write-ups, mapping, census taking, photographing, sound recording, and documents. An informal process may occur in recording information composed of initial “jottings” (Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw, 1995), daily logs or summaries, and descriptive summaries (see Sanjek, 1990, for examples of field notes). These forms of recording information are popular in narrative research, ethnographies, and case studies.
Field Issues

Researchers engaged in studies within all five approaches face issues in the field when gathering data that need to be anticipated. During the last several years, the number of books and articles on field issues has expanded considerably as interpretive frameworks (see Chapter 2) have been widely discussed. Beginning researchers are often overwhelmed by the amount of time needed to collect qualitative data and the richness of the data encountered. As a practical recommendation, I suggest that beginners start with limited data collection and engage in a pilot project to gain some initial experiences (Sampson, 2004). This limited data collection might consist of one or two interviews or observations, so that researchers can estimate the time needed to collect data.

One way to think about and anticipate the types of issues that may arise during data collection is to view the issues as they relate to several aspects of data collection, such as entry and access, the types of information collected, and potential ethical issues.
Access to the organization.

Gaining access to organizations, sites, and individuals to study has its own challenges. Convincing individuals to participate in the study, building trust and credibility at the field site, and getting people from a site to respond are all important access challenges. Factors related to considering the appropriateness of a site need to be considered as well (see Weis & Fine, 2000). For example, researchers may choose a site that is one in which they have a vested interest (e.g., employed at the site, a study of superiors or subordinates at the site) that would limit ability to develop diverse perspectives on coding data or developing themes. A researcher’s own particular “stance” within the group may keep him or her from acknowledging all dimensions of the experiences. The researchers may hear or see something uncomfortable when they collect data. In addition, participants may be fearful that their issues will be exposed to people outside their community, and this may make them unwilling to accept the researcher’s interpretation of the situation.

Also related to access is the issue of working with an institutional review board that may not be familiar with unstructured interviews in qualitative research and the risks associated with these interviews (Corbin & Morse, 2003). Weis and Fine (2000) raised the important question of whether the response of the institutional review board to a project influences the researcher’s telling of the narrative story.

The types of challenges experienced during observations will closely relate to the role of the inquirer in observation, such as whether the researcher assumes a participant, nonparticipant, or middle-ground position. There are challenges as well with the mechanics of observing, such as remembering to take field notes, recording quotes accurately for inclusion in field notes, determining the best timing for moving from a nonparticipant to a participant (if this role change is desired), keeping from being overwhelmed at the site with information, and learning how to funnel the observations from the broad picture to a narrower one in time. Participant observation has attracted several commentaries by writers (Ezeh, 2003; Labaree, 2002). Labaree (2002), who was a participant in an academic senate on a campus, notes the advantages of this role but also discusses the dilemmas of entering the field, disclosing oneself to the participants, sharing relationships with other individuals, and attempting to disengage from the site. Ezeh (2003), a Nigerian, studied the Orring, a little-known minority ethnic group in Nigeria. Although his initial contact with the group was supportive, the more the researcher became integrated into the host community, the more he experienced human relations problems, such as being accused of spying, pressured to be more generous in his material gifts, and suspected of trysts with women. Ezeh concluded that being of the same nationality was no guarantee of a lack of challenges at the site.

Challenges in qualitative interviewing often focus on the mechanics of conducting the interview. Roulston, deMarrais, and Lewis (2003) chronicle the challenges in interviewing by postgraduate students during a 15-day intensive course. These challenges related to unexpected participant behaviors and students’ ability to create good instructions, phrase and negotiate questions, deal with sensitive issues, and develop transcriptions. Suoninen and Jokinen (2005), from the field of social work, ask whether the phrasing of our interview questions leads to subtle persuasive questions, responses, or explanations.

Undoubtedly, conducting interviews is taxing, especially for inexperienced researchers engaged in studies that require extensive interviewing, such as phenomenology, grounded theory, and case study research. Equipment issues loom large as a problem in interviewing, and both recording and transcribing equipment need to be organized in advance of the interview. The process of questioning during an interview (e.g., saying “little,” handling “emotional outbursts,” using “icebreakers”) includes problems that an interviewer must address. Many inexperienced researchers express surprise at the difficulty of conducting interviews and the lengthy process involved in transcribing audiotapes from the interviews. In addition, in phenomenological interviews, asking appropriate questions and relying on participants to discuss the meaning of their experiences require patience and skill on the part of the researcher.

Recent discussions about qualitative interviewing highlight the importance of reflecting about the relationship that exists between the interviewer and the interviewee (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2009; Nunkoosing, 2005; Weis & Fine, 2000). Kvale and Brinkmann (2009), for example, discuss the power asymmetry in which the research interview should not be regarded as a completely open and free dialogue between egalitarian partners. Instead, the nature of an interview sets up an unequal power dynamic between the interviewer and the interviewee. In this dynamic, the interview is “ruled” by the interviewer. The interview is dialogue that is conducted one-way, provides information for the researcher, is based on the researcher’s agenda, leads to the researcher’s interpretations, and contains “counter control” elements by the interviewee who withholds information. To correct for this asymmetry, Kvale and Brinkmann (2009) suggest more collaborative interviewing, where the researcher and the participant approach equality in questioning, interpreting, and reporting. Nunkoosing (2005) extends the discussion by reflecting on the problems of power and resistance, distinguishing truth from authenticity, the impossibility of consent, and projection of the interviewers’ own self (their status, race, culture, and gender). Weis and Fine (2000) raise additional questions for consideration: Are your interviewees able to articulate the forces that interrupt, suppress, or oppress them? Do they erase their history, approaches, and cultural identity? Do they choose not to expose their history or go on record about the difficult aspects of their lives? These questions and the points raised about the nature of the interviewer-interviewee relationship cannot be easily answered with pragmatic decisions that encompass all interview situations. They do, however, sensitize us to important challenges in qualitative interviewing that need to be anticipated.
Documents and audiovisual materials.

In document research, the issues involve locating materials, often at sites far away, and obtaining permission to use the materials. For biographers, the primary form of data collection might be archival research from documents. When researchers ask participants in a study to keep journals, additional field issues emerge. Journaling is a popular data collection process in case studies and narrative research. What instructions should be given to individuals prior to writing in their journals? Are all participants equally comfortable with journaling? Is it appropriate, for example, with small children who express themselves well verbally but have limited writing skills? The researcher also may have difficulty reading the handwriting of participants who journal. Recording on videotape raises issues for the qualitative researcher such as keeping disturbing room sounds to a minimum, deciding on the best location for the camera, and determining whether to provide close-up shots or distant shots.
Ethical issues.

Regardless of the approach to qualitative inquiry, a qualitative researcher faces many ethical issues that surface during data collection in the field and in analysis and dissemination of qualitative reports. In Chapter 3, we visited some of these issues, but ethical issues loom large in the data collection phase of qualitative research. Lipson (1994) groups ethical issues into informed consent procedures; deception or covert activities; confidentiality toward participants, sponsors, and colleagues; benefits of research to participants over risks; and participant requests that go beyond social norms. The criteria of the American Anthropological Association (1967) (see also Glesne & Peshkin, 1992) reflect appropriate standards. A researcher protects the anonymity of the informants, for example, by assigning numbers or aliases to individuals. A researcher develops case studies of individuals that represent a composite picture rather than an individual picture. Furthermore, to gain support from participants, a qualitative researcher conveys to participants that they are participating in a study, explains the purpose of the study, and does not engage in deception about the nature of the study. What if the study is on a sensitive topic and the participants decline to be involved if they are aware of the topic? In terms of this issue of disclosure of the researcher, widely discussed in cultural anthropology (e.g., Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995), the researcher presents general information, not specific information about the study. Another issue likely to develop is when participants share information “off the record.” Although in most instances this information is deleted from analysis by the researcher, the issue becomes problematic when the information, if reported, harms individuals. I am reminded of a researcher who studied incarcerated Native Americans and learned about a potential “breakout” during one of the interviews. This researcher concluded that it would be a breach of faith with the participants if she reported the matter, and she kept quiet. Fortunately, the breakout did not occur.

A final ethical issue is whether the researcher shares personal experiences with participants in an interview setting such as in a case study, a phenomenology, or an ethnography. This sharing minimizes the “bracketing” that is essential to construct the meaning of participants in a phenomenology and reduces information shared by participants in case studies and ethnographies.
Storing Data

I am surprised at how little attention is given in books and articles to storing qualitative data. The approach to storage will reflect the type of information collected, which varies by approach to inquiry. In writing a narrative life history, the researcher needs to develop a filing system for the “wad of handwritten notes or a tape” (Plummer, 1983, p. 98). Davidson’s (1996) suggestion about backing up information collected and noting changes made to the database is sound advice for all types of research studies. With extensive use of computers in qualitative research, more attention will likely be given to how qualitative data are organized and stored, whether the data are field notes, transcripts, or rough jottings. With extremely large databases being used by some qualitative researchers, this aspect assumes major importance.

Some principles about data storage and handling that are especially well suited for qualitative research include the following:

• Always develop backup copies of computer files (Davidson, 1996).
• Use high-quality tapes for audio-recording information during interviews. Also, make sure that the size of the tapes fits the transcriber’s machine.
• Develop a master list of types of information gathered.
• Protect the anonymity of participants by masking their names in the data.
• Develop a data collection matrix as a visual means of locating and identifying information for a study.


Returning again to Table 7.1, there are both differences and similarities among the activities of data collection for the five approaches to inquiry. Turning to differences, certain approaches seem more directed toward specific types of data collection than others. For case and narrative studies, the researcher uses multiple forms of data to build the in-depth case or the storied experiences. For grounded theory studies and phenomenological projects, inquirers rely primarily on interviews as data. Ethnographers highlight the importance of participant observation and interviews, but, as noted earlier, they may use many different sources of information. Unquestionably, some mixing of forms occurs, but in general these patterns of collection by approach hold true. Case study writers employ multiple forms of data collection.

Second, the unit of analysis for data collection varies. Narrative researchers, phenomenologists, and ground theorists study individuals; case study researchers examine groups of individuals participating in an event or activity or an organization; and ethnographers study entire cultural systems or some subcultures of the systems.

Third, I found the amount of discussion about field issues to vary among the five approaches. Ethnographers have written extensively about field issues (e.g., Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995). This may reflect historical concerns about imbalanced power relationships, imposing objective, external standards on participants, and failures to be sensitive to marginalized groups. Narrative researchers are less specific about field issues, although their concerns are mounting about how to conduct the interview (Elliott, 2005). Across all approaches, ethical issues are widely discussed.

Fourth, the approaches vary in their intrusiveness of data collection. Conducting interviews seems less intrusive in phenomenological projects and grounded theory studies than in the high level of access needed in personal narratives, the prolonged stays in the field in ethnographies, and the immersion into programs or events in case studies.

These differences do not lessen some important similarities that need to be observed. All qualitative studies sponsored by public institutions need to be approved by a human subjects review board. Also, the use of interviews and observations is central to many of the approaches. Furthermore, the recording devices, such as observational and interview protocols, can be similar regardless of approach (although specific questions on each protocol will reflect the language of the approach). Finally, the issue of data storage of information is closely related to the form of data collection, and the basic objective of researchers, regardless of approach, is to develop some filing and storing system for organized retrieval of information.

In this chapter, I addressed several components of the data collection process. The researcher attends to locating a site or person to study; gaining access to and building rapport at the site or with the individual; sampling purposefully using one or more of the many approaches to sampling in qualitative research; collecting information through many forms, such as interviews, observations, documents, and audiovisual materials and newer forms emerging in the literature; establishing approaches for recording information such as the use of interview or observational protocols; anticipating and addressing field issues ranging from access to ethical concerns; and developing a system for storing and handling the databases. The five approaches to inquiry differ in the diversity of information collected, the unit of study being examined, the extent of field issues discussed in the literature, and the intrusiveness of the data collection effort. Researchers, regardless of approach, need approval from review boards, engage in similar data collection of interviews and observations, and use recording protocols and forms for storing data.

For a discussion about purposeful sampling strategies:
Creswell, J. W. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: A sourcebook of new methods (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

For interviewing:
Gubrium, J. F., & Holstein, J. A. (2003). Postmodern interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Krueger, R. A., & Casey, M. A. (2009). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Kvale, S., & Brinkmann, S. (2009). InterViews: Learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
McCracken, G. (1988). The long interview. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Rubin, H. J., & Rubin, I. S. (2012). Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
For discussions about making observations and taking field notes:
Angrosino, M. V. (2007). Doing ethnographic and observational research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Bernard, H. R. (1994). Research methods in anthropology: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Bogdewic, S. P. (1992). Participant observation. In B. F. Crabtree & W. L. Miller (Eds.), Doing qualitative research (pp. 45–69). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Emerson, R. M., Fretz, R. I., & Shaw, L. L. (1995). Writing ethnographic fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hammersley, M., & Atkinson, P. (1995). Ethnography: Principles in practice (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.
Jorgensen, D. L. (1989). Participant observation: A methodology for human studies. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Sanjek, R. (1990). Fieldnotes: The makings of anthropology. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

For information about the issues and use of documents:
Prior, L. (2003). Using documents in social research. London: Sage.

For a discussion of field relations and ethical issues:
Hammersley, M., & Atkinson, P. (1995). Ethnography: Principles in practice (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.
Kvale, S. (2006). Dominance through interviews and dialogues. Qualitative Inquiry, 12, 480–500.
Lofland, J., & Lofland, L. H. (1995). Analyzing social settings: A guide to qualitative observation and analysis (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Mertens, D. M., & Ginsberg, P. E. (2009). The handbook of social research ethics. Los Angeles: Sage.
Nunkoosing, K. (2005). The problems with interviews. Qualitative Health Research, 15, 698–706.

1. Gain some experience in collecting data for your project. Design an interview or an observational protocol for your study. Conduct either an interview or an observation and record the information on the protocol you have developed. After this experience, identify issues that posed challenges during this data collection.
2. It is helpful to design the data collection activities for a project. Examine Figure 7.1 for the seven activities. Develop a matrix that describes data collection for all seven activities for your project. Provide detail in this matrix for each of the seven activities.

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