The Many Faces of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is not any one thing. It is clearly not any one method but it is also not any one technique or process. Much of the diversity in how and in what manner qualitative research Many facesis utilized can be attributed to the researcher’s particular discipline or field of study. This is because each area of study brings with it its own set of priorities and concerns that mandate a particular qualitative approach. Importantly, this provides an opportunity for all qualitative researchers to extend their reach to learn from other researchers both within and outside their own disciplines. By broadening their boundaries and world view of what constitutes qualitative research, researchers can make better – more informed – choices in the development and implementation of their research designs.

Here are just a few examples of how the qualitative-research focus can vary across different disciplines and how that can translate into the need for particular techniques or emphases in the research design.

Discipline Special Focus/Sensitivity Technique/Approach
Sociology Disaster victims – Low-income families & minorities (see Peek & Fothergill, 2009). · Focus group recruitment via key informants who create “buy in” with victimized groups such as Muslims.

· Small, “friendship” focus groups so that participants who are traumatized by disaster may be comfortable talking about the events.

· “Spontaneous” focus group recruitment that allows any victim access to group participation (beyond the usual group-size limit) because of victims’ urgent need to share their experiences.

Health care Life changes due to illness & people with disabilities. · Storytelling over time (longitudinal research) to fully understand the impact of cancer treatments, the experiences of living with a debilitating illness such as fibromyalgia, and the like.

· Giving appropriate access to the research for people who are blind, deaf, or otherwise physically disabled. For example, providing ramps at facility locations and modifying a face-to-face or online study for the phone.

Marketing research Behavior & attitudes in the fast-changing & complex world of consumerism. · Quick adoption of “the latest” in technology that serves to speed up the research process, e.g., online bulletin boards, mobile research.

· Quick adoption of the most recent thinking about purchase behavior that promises to offer new, more predictable insights, e.g., abandoning traditional methods for in-the-moment mobile research and paying attention to what people do, not what they say.

· Likewise, researchers may distance themselves from what people say (the rational responses to questions) and attempt to gain more meaningful insights by circumventing the rational mind via projective techniques, eye tracking, neuro-feedback, and the like.

Psychology Emotional & psychological issues. Vulnerable/hard-to-reach population segments. · Creating a “safe” research (group, IDI) environment, e.g., by stating “ground rules” to assure participants that all comments are safe from criticism and public disclosure.

· Likewise, “democratic and balanced” group facilitation.

· Opt-in vs. “forced” recruitment allowing participants to respond to promotional material rather than being screened and asked by a recruiter to participate in the research.

· Special attention to follow-up “thank you’s” such as “hanging back” after a focus group to allow the moderator to personally thank the participants while also enabling them to speak privately with the moderator.

Peek, L., & Fothergill, A. (2009). Using focus groups: Lessons from studying daycare centers, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. Qualitative Research, 9(1), 31–59.

Image captured from:


  1. Reblogged this on Telling your story to grow your business. and commented:
    Good article to expand our thinking about letting the situation determine the method in qualitative research, instead of the other way around.

    We tend to do it the same way, over and over again, without asking ourselves what might work better?

    I particularly like the idea of long-term storytelling to record the journeys of cancer patients or those with other debilitating illnesses.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.