Distinguishing Qualitative Research Methods from Paradigm Orientation

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 17-20).

A good deal has been written about paradigms in qualitative Method from Paradigm Orientationresearch as they relate to assessing quality (Greene, 1994; Lather, 2004; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Morrow, 2005; Patton, 1978; Ponterotto, 2013; Rolfe, 2006). Some scholars, such as Rolfe (2006), start from the premise that

“any attempt to establish a consensus on quality criteria for qualitative research is unlikely to succeed for the simple reason that there is no unified body or theory [i.e., an accepted paradigm], methodology or method that can collectively be described as qualitative research; indeed, [I believe] that the very idea of qualitative research is open to question” (p. 305).

Rolfe opines that “if there is no unified qualitative research paradigm, then it makes little sense to attempt to establish a set of generic criteria for making quality judgments about qualitative research studies” (2006, p. 304). This line of thinking, however, confounds attention to methods and attention to theory, when each deserves to be considered separately.

While the idea that there is no paradigm capable of encompassing all of qualitative research has merit in its own right, it has nothing to do with how well the methods that are used to generate qualitative research data and findings are conceptualized, implemented, and evaluated.

The belief that qualitative research design—its procedures and various components—transcends or is otherwise separate from a discussion of paradigm orientations has been discussed elsewhere in Research Design Review and is an idea shared by many scholars. For example, it is an idea espoused by Morse et al. (2002), who believe that “core research procedures . . . can act as a self-correcting mechanism to ensure the quality of the project” (p. 14), a consideration that goes beyond the debate about paradigms. Morse et al.’s position is supported by Patton (1999, 2002) when he stresses the need to focus on the “appropriateness of methods” rather than the “adherence to some absolute orthodoxy that declares one or the other approach to be inherently preferred” (1999, p. 1206). It is also a position consistent with Miles and Huberman (1984), who state that “it is important not to confuse the systematic use of tools with one’s epistemological position” (p. 21).

Ponterotto (2013) and Morrow (2005) champion the same view when they talk about specific aspects of qualitative research design that transcend paradigm orientation—such as ethical concerns and researcher competencies (Ponterotto), and the subjective nature of qualitative research along with the adequacy and interpretation of data (Morrow). Furthermore, Guba and Lincoln (1994) support the idea of the distinctiveness of methodological issues in relation to philosophical paradigms, distinguishing “questions of method” from “questions of paradigm” (p. 105); as does Lincoln et al. (2011), who identify two kinds of rigor—the “application of method” and the “salience to one interpretation over another” (p. 120); and others who maintain the notion that validity and validation pertain throughout the research process regardless of approach (Creswell, 2013; Brinkmann & Kvale, 2015; Morse et al., 2002; Whittemore, Chase, & Mandle, 2001).

The Total Quality Framework (TQF) focuses on issues related to the methodological choices that qualitative researchers make (or fail to make) in their efforts to generate data that are fit for the purposes for which a study is intended. In this way, the TQF is directed at the basic question of “How is qualitative research conducted?” and supported by the idea that

If, philosophically, the goodness of qualitative research is of ultimate concern, and if it is agreed that qualitative research can, in fact, serve worthwhile (i.e., “good”) purposes, then logically it would serve those purposes only to the degree that it is done well, regardless of the specific objectives that qualitative researchers are striving to address. (Roller & Lavrakas, p. 20)


Brinkmann, S., & Kvale, S. (2015). Interviews: Learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry & research design (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Greene, J. C. (1994). Qualitative program evaluation: Practice and promise. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 530–544). Sage Publications.

Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1994). Competing paradigms in qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 105–117). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Lather, P. (2004). Critical inquiry in qualitative research: Feminist and poststructual perspectives: Science “after truth.” In K. DeMarrais & S. D. Lapan (Eds.), Foundations for research: Methods of inquiry in education and the social sciences (pp. 203–215). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Lincoln, Y. S., Lynham, S. A., & Guba, E. G. (2011). Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences, revisited. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (pp. 97–128). Sage Publications.

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1984). Drawing valid meaning from qualitative data: Toward a shared craft. Educational Researcher, 13(5), 20–30.

Morrow, S. L. (2005). Quality and trustworthiness in qualitative research in counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(2), 250–260.

Morse, J. M., Barrett, M., Mayan, M., Olson, K., & Spiers, J. (2002). Verification strategies for establishing reliability and validity in qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1(2), 13–22.

Patton, M. Q. (1978). Utilization-focused evaluation. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Patton, M. Q. (1999). Enhancing the quality and credibility of qualitative analysis. Health Services Research, 34(5 Pt 2), 1189–1208.

Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Ponterotto, J. G. (2013). Qualitative research in multicultural psychology: Philosophical underpinnings, popular approaches, and ethical considerations. Qualitative Psychology, 1(S).

Rolfe, G. (2006). Validity, trustworthiness and rigour: Quality and the idea of qualitative research. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 53(3), 304–310.

Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.

Whittemore, R., Chase, S. K., & Mandle, C. L. (2001). Validity in qualitative research. Qualitative Health Research, 11(4), 522–537.


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