qualitative methods

Generalizability in Case Study Research

Portions of the following article are modified excerpts from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 307-326)

Case study research has been the focus of several articles in Research Design Review. These articles range from discussions on case-centered research (i.e., case study and narrative research) generally — “Multi-method & Case-centered Research: When the Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts,” “Lighting a Path to Guide Case-Centered Research Design: A Six-Step Approach,” and “Ethical Considerations in Case-Centered Qualitative Research” — to articles where the subject matter is specific to case study research — “Case Study Research: An Internal-External Classification.”generalizability

One of the controversies associated with case study research designs centers on “generalization” and the extent to which the data can explain phenomena or situations outside and beyond the specific scope of a particular study. On the one hand, there are researchers such as Yin (2014) who espouse “analytical generalization” whereby the researcher compares (or “generalizes”) case study data to existing theory1. From Yin’s perspective, case study research is driven by the need to develop or test theory, giving single- as well as multiple-case study research explanatory powers — “Some of the best and most famous case studies have been explanatory case studies” (Yin, 2014, p. 7).

Diane Vaughan’s research is a case study referenced by Yin (2014) as an example of a single-case research design that resulted in outcomes that provided broader implications (i.e., “generalized”) to similar contexts outside the case. In both The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA (1996) and “The Trickle-Down Effect: Policy Decisions, Risky Work, and the Challenger Tragedy” (1997), Vaughan describes the findings and conclusions from her study of the circumstances that led to the Challenger disaster in 1986. By way of scrutinizing archival documents and conducting interviews, Vaughan “reconstructed the history of decision making” and ultimately discovered “an incremental descent into poor judgment” (1996, p. xiii). More broadly, Vaughan used this study to Read Full Text

In-depth Interview Data: Achieving Quality From Cooperation

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 75-77)

cooperationAn important aspect related to Scope within the Credibility component of the Total Quality Framework (TQF) for qualitative research design is the extent to which the researcher is successful in gaining cooperation from the participants. In an in-depth interview (IDI) study, the researcher is concerned with the impact that the proportion of selected interviewees not interviewed or only partially interviewed has on the integrity of the data. This is the domain of research that is often termed “nonresponse.” If this proportion is large and/or if the group that is selected but not interviewed differs in meaningful ways from those who are interviewed, bias can infiltrate the final data of an IDI study and compromise the credibility of the research.

To avoid this, qualitative researchers need to give serious a priori thought to how they will gain high and representative levels of cooperation from the persons they have selected to interview, and how individuals who do not cooperate may differ in past experiences, attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge compared to interviewees. The researcher must keep in mind that bias may enter into the outcomes, and the credibility of the study’s findings and interpretations thereby weakened, if the characteristics of those in the sample who do not cooperate with an IDI study are correlated with the key topics the study is investigating. Likewise, qualitative researchers using the IDI method should also constantly monitor the representativeness of the group of selected participants that does cooperate and watch whether the characteristics of that group deviate from the characteristics of the target population. This may be difficult in the case of the email IDI (or other asynchronous text-based mode) where the interviewer must stay alert to the consistency of participants’ responses and recognize when the identity of the interviewee may have changed (i.e., someone other than the recruited research participant is the one now responding). For instance, in an email IDI study among Read Full Text

Limitations of the Focus Group Method: An Overview

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 112-113).


The interactive, dynamic nature of group discussions (see “Strengths of the Focus Group Method: An Overview”) may also present a potential limitation to the method. The exchange of information and ideas may have the focus group limitationspositive effect of eliciting new insights, but it may also have the damaging effect of unwittingly influencing responses from participants who are reluctant to voice dissenting opinions and just want to go along with the prevailing mood. Although a professional moderator can often identify the more introverted or shy participants in a group and use rapport-building techniques to encourage their candidness, these attempts are not always successful and the research outcomes may reflect more agreement on an issue than is actually warranted. Whether the nonexistence of differing attitudes among group participants is due to the reluctance of people to speak their minds or an honest reflection of personal points of view, some researchers can easily fall into the trap of believing that this lack of opposing attitudes is the same as a group consensus. As stated by Sim (1998, p. 348), “the absence of diversity in the data does not reliably indicate an underlying consensus” but is rather a possible product of the group environment, which may mask individual opinions.

Alongside the potential downside of group dynamics is the critical role of the moderator. Professional moderators trained in the complexities of group interviewing are essential to the success Read Full Text