qualitative research design

Qualitative Data Analysis: The Unit of Analysis

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 262-263).

As discussed in two earlier articles in Research Design Review (see “The Important Role of ‘Buckets’ in Qualitative Data Analysis” and “Finding Connections & Making Sense of Qualitative Data”), the selection of the unit of analysis is one of the  first steps in the qualitative data analysis process. The “unit of analysis” refers to the portion of content that will be the basis for decisions made during the development of codes. For example, in textual content analyses, the unit of analysis may be at the level of a word, a sentence (Milne & Adler, 1999), a paragraph, an article or chapter, an entire edition or volume, a complete response to an interview question, entire diaries from research participants, or some other level of text. The unit of analysis may not be defined by the content per se but rather by a characteristic of the content originator (e.g., person’s age), or the unit of analysis might be at the individual level with, for example, each participant in an in-depth interview (IDI) study treated as a case. Whatever the unit of analysis, the researcher will make coding decisions based on various elements of the content, including length, complexity, manifest meanings, and latent meanings based on such nebulous variables as the person’s tone or manner.

Deciding on the unit of analysis is a very important decision because it guides the development of codes as well as the coding process. If a weak unit of analysis is chosen, one of two outcomes may result: 1) If the unit chosen is too precise (i.e., at too much of a micro-level than what is actually needed), the researcher will set in motion Read Full Text

Case-Centered Research in Education: Bridging the Cultural Divide

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 329-331). This excerpt discusses a case study illustrating how the author utilized many Total Quality Framework (TQF) design considerations, e.g., disclosure of the sampling method, a discussion of researcher bias, and processing plus verification procedures, that ultimately led to useful outcomes.

Bridging the cultural divideMultiple methods and case-centered qualitative research is the subject of other articles in Research Design Review – see “Multi-method & Case-centered Research: When the Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts.” Multiple methods, of course, refers to combining two or more qualitative methods to investigate a research question. Case-centered research is

A term coined by Mishler (1996, 1999) to denote a research approach that preserves the “unity and coherence” of research subjects throughout data collection and analysis. It consists of two fundamental and unique components: (a) a focus on the investigation of “complex” social units or entities (also known as “case[s]”) in their entirety (i.e., not just one aspect captured at one moment in time), and (b) an emphasis on maintaining the cohesiveness of this entity throughout the research process. Two prominent case-centered approaches are case study research and narrative research. (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, p. 350).

The following case study is from Auerbach (2002) who used multiple methods within a case-centered narrative study design to explore schooling and communication with educators among working-class Latino parents in urban Los Angeles. This case is discussed around the four components of the TQF – Credibility, Analyzability, Transparency, and Usefulness.


The purpose of this research was to explore the problems that Latino parents in urban Los Angeles face related to the schooling of their children and communication with educators. More specifically, this research utilized one particular college-access program for high school students to investigate the use of storytelling among a marginalized group of working-class Latino parents to examine whether “listening to the stories of parents of color may help urban educators and policy makers bridge the divide between students’ home cultures and the culture of school” (p. 1370).


A case-centered approach is a popular form of qualitative research among educational researchers. Stake (1995), Qi (2009), Bennett et al. (2012), Clandinin and Connelly (1998; Connelly & Clandinin, 1990), and Randall (2012) are just a few of the researchers who have applied either case study or narrative research to issues in education. The study presented here is another example of case-centered research in an educational setting. This was a fitting approach, given the researcher’s access to and involvement with the “Futures Project”—a longitudinal study conducted in conjunction with
an experimental college-access program for high school students—which fostered a case-centered study design relying on multiple methods within a narrative framework.


The target population for this study was parents of high school students participating in the Futures Project. This project was conducted in partnership with UCLA to trace the trajectories of 30 students who participated in an experimental college-access program. The researcher used Read Full Text

Building Rapport & Engagement in the Focus Group Method

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 150-152).

The ability to quickly build rapport with focus group participants and then maintain it throughout the discussion session is a necessary skill of all Rapport building in focus groupsmoderators. Regardless of mode (in-person, telephone, or online), focus group moderators must learn how to effectively engage participants to generate accurate and complete information. Rapport building for the moderator begins even before the start of a group discussion, when he/she welcomes the participants as they arrive at the facility (for an in-person discussion), on the teleconference line (for a telephone focus group), or in the virtual focus group room (for an online discussion), and it continues beyond the introductory remarks during which the moderator acknowledges aspects of the discussion environment that may not be readily apparent (e.g., the presence of observers, the microphone or other device being used to audio record the discussion), states a few ground rules for the session, and allows participants to ask any questions or make comments before the start of the discussion. In the in-person mode, the moderator’s rapport building goes beyond what he/she says to participants to make them feel at ease to also include the physical environment. For example, business executives might feel comfortable and willing to talk sitting around a standard conference table; however, in order to build rapport and stimulate engagement among a group of teenagers, the moderator needs to select a site where teens will feel that they can relax and freely discuss the issues. This might be a standard focus group facility with a living or recreation room setup (i.e., a room with couches, bean bags, and rugs on the floor for sitting) or an unconventional location such as someone’s home or the city park.

Another aspect of the physical environment in in-person discussions that impacts rapport and consequently the quality of the data gathered is the seating arrangement. For instance, Krueger and Casey (2009) recommend that the moderator position a shy participant Read Full Text