What is Qualitative Research?

Myburgh, Poggenpoel & Der Linde (2001) opened a debate of preference in quantitative or qualitative research. Either camp argues its valid points, however, qualitative researchers add one more and very important position: the measure of the personal attitude. The authors pointed out that quantitative researchers when following the quantitative research steps appropriately “objectify the human being” and if the research is about humans and their attitudes and interrelations such is unacceptable. This additional point argues and accepts our humanity as being the important criteria for making future decisions.

The qualitative research thus makes sense when dealing with the human beings (Myburgh et al. , 2001). Perhaps the readers might perceive an important distinction: the quantitative research is necessary but it is better and safer to conduct when the researchers are not dealing with the human beings. There is no point in argument that each of us views the environment using unique perception. Objectifying such worldview does not and will not serve the scientific purpose neither will be accurate. If the research is about finding the right answers, then accuracy is very importance.

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Thus approaching the human attitudes from the blanket approach defies any logic. When the qualitative research is used within an organization to cause an qualitative change, the researcher(s) must consider the unique perspectives of the employees on all levels. Such perspectives can be gathered with one-on-one interviews specially designed for different purposes. Poole (1998) elaborated on three purposes researched by others earlier: reframing, cognitive reorientation, and paradigm shift. Each purpose is and can be accomplished by working with individual people, one at a time.

The size of change is irrelevant; articulation and clear understanding by all participants of the process is. According to Nadler (1999), interview methods of data collection for qualitative diagnosis purposes are used mostly when an organization engages outside consultants for development purposes and for gathering feedback. Internal teams and/or change agents also use sometimes interview methodology. One-on-one interviews have the major advantage of providing an opportunity for face-to-face interaction with the participants of the organization.

In qualitative diagnosis studies, interviews may form the first step as well as the last stage of diagnosis (Nadler, 1999). The types of one-on-one interviews might include exploratory, hypotheses testing, and change inducing/idea testing. Some details of interview methods of qualitative diagnosis are presented (excerpted from Beaumont, 2001). Interviews can be used for the following purposes: Sensing the organization and identifying general areas of strengths and weaknesses for further diagnosis. Probing for details and getting deeper insights into a given problem or issue bothering an organization. Testing out the success potential of new ideas/actions/decisions and assessing preparedness e. g. the attitudes of people to an open appraisal system, how do they react to computerization of personnel information system and their reactions to a newly proposed reward system.  Generation of ideas for strengthening the existing systems and processes as to improve the suggestion scheme and to improve work environment.

Assessing the general level of health and climate of the organization using structured or semi-structured interviews/questionnaire. Structure Of Interviews The interviews may range from highly structured forms to totally unstructured. Galbraith (1978) argued that normally unstructured interview methodology is used for exploratory diagnosis purposes. In exploratory diagnosis the interviewer may simply open the interview session by saying that he or she is trying to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and the interviewee may talk about anything he/she sees as the strength or weakness.

In such cases the interviewee may reveal a lot of significant information about strengths and weaknesses. The lack of specific structure serves as an advantage to probe for unexpected opinions or feedback about the environment or other people. Unstructured interviews also could be used for probing in relation to specific issues. In such probing every question asked by the interviewer depends on the responses given by the interviewee earlier. Unstructured interviews require skilled interviewers, as Galbraith (1978) strongly suggested.

Semi-structured interviews may consist of a list of pre-determined set of questions the interviewer has with him/her while highly structured interviews appear to be like formal questionnaires (Galbraith, 1978). They may in fact take the form of verbal administration of questions or ask a series of open – ended questions, which have been pre-determined. These forms of interviews are useful if the respondent might feel intimidated by the questions or if the respondent is likely to give better quality responses in the verbal interview settings than doing so in writing, idea generating, influencing, probing for more insights, etc.

Interviews For Qualitative Diagnosis Bacharach, Bamberger & Sonnenstuhl (1996) viewed qualitative diagnosis as the important part of the qualitative change. In diagnosis, the top management may provide all needed information while their subordinates may have more limited scope of things occurring within the company or feel more insecure, hence may not be willing to volunteer information. Alternately, they may distort data depending on their attitudes toward the top management. Therefore it is very important for the interviewer to establish credibility and build rapport with all levels of employees.

Before interviews are conducted it is useful and even necessary for the top management to legitimize the diagnostic study by informing all those who are to participate in it Bacharach et al. suggested. Such a legitimization could be done either through an announcement giving details of the study, its purposes, the interviewing team members and the help they need from the employees etc. After such a legitimization, in the interview process itself, the interviewers should clarify once again the purposes and assure the confidentiality of responses.

Aggressive postures trying to impress the interviewee by talking about the closeness of the interviewer to top management, lecturing, demanding, criticizing others, expression of interviewer’s opinions even before the interviewee starts are behaviors that hinder rapport building (Yin, 2003; Nadler, 1999). According to these researchers, starting with general and non-threatening issues, talking about the background of the interviewer himself, getting to know’ each other, pleasantries etc. elp in establishing rapport. The above-mentioned researchers also suggested using open-ended questions, information seeking questions and suggestive questions saying that mentioned help in probing and discovering many unknowns. Sometimes during the interview process paraphrasing the responses given by the interviewee may help in improving the listening process and understanding process (Yin, 2003). As a welcome component, the peaceful atmosphere can often enhance the quality of data collected, as Yin suggested.

In case of probing interviews, the interviewer should constantly guard himself against the danger of putting ideas into the mind of the interviewee. Normally after interviewing a few, the interviewer starts developing hypothesis. Presenting these hypotheses impatiently to the subsequent interviewers may endanger the diagnostic process (ibid). Analyze And Use Interview Data One-on-one interview data are relatively more difficult to code and analyze as compared to questionnaire data.

These difficulties are due to more subjective scales and variables that are being used. Since interview data are qualitative data, after a few interviews are completed it may be useful to develop a coding/analysis scheme. It is useful to categories all responses into those coding categories. Number of person giving a particular response, pointing out a particular weakness, or suggesting a particular hypothesis etc. can be indicated. The greatest advantage of interviews is the amount of insight it can provide into processes.

Many hypotheses can be generated and tested spontaneously during interviews (ibid). Variables Studied/Diagnosed Yin also explained (2003) that interviews can be used to study any subjective variables/dimensions for diagnosis purposes and all the variable measurements can be studied using interviews. More softer the dimensions more useful are the interviews. Qualitative norms, values, management styles, communication, decision-making, job-involvement, team work, etc. are the variables that are normally studied using interview methodology.

From among the variables that come up during interviews, any significant variables, insecurity, long range planning, lack of co-ordination etc could be taken for an in-depth analysis (ibid). Case Study According to Yin (2003), instead of following a concrete protocol to test a few variables, case study methodology examines in-depth of longitudinal formation a single event or a participant – a case. Such approach provides a sharpened view behind the causes of the event or the reasons why event had happened.

He specifically talks about the case study as a research strategy elevating it into the rank of the methodology. His rational is in that that the case study helps to investigate the specific event within the frame of the hypotheses in the real-life context but cannot be specifically attributed to the qualitative research. It is due that the case study methodology can mean quite a few things on the spectrum of investigation to obtain evidence or information and as the result can become a mix between quantitative and qualitative evidence gathering procedures (Yin, 2003).

He did provide a detailed look in the methodology of case study. He discussed a case study as just another tactic available used to extract information from the participants. The amount of information extracted is directly related to the purpose of the study. The situational context plays an important role in determining and acting upon the purpose. It s understood that effective embedding of all units of analysis require the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods thus proving the point that both can become integral parts of the systemic approach.

After all, the achievement of complete understanding is more important that the type of instrument being used. Langhout (2003) disagreed with Yin in one important point. She thought that many researchers usually choose in between quantitative or qualitative methods as their major research methodology. She did agree that case study, as qualitative research, can be very effective when study of the first steps of the new phenomenon is needed, thus implying that such serves as the initial if not the support role in the entire research procedure.

She does agree with Yin in believing that qualitative research (I. e. case study methodology) can also be useful “ when the researcher is interested in understanding the participants’ interpretations of the results and when participants’ voices are considered to be important. ” (Langhout, 2003) but states that, in particular, case study methodology is applied in those cases when quantitative methods are not possible, like in a case of a multivariate. All in all, she gave an impression that if there is a choice the quantitative method is preferable.

We also understand that the common opinion among the researchers denote case study methodology to those cases when the individual participants can benefit from their own empowerment thus improving the chance for the enhancement of the whole structure. In this structure the case study procedures are usually conducted when the number of participants is small and when the results of the structured procedure can be used for the benefit of individual participants or that of the entire structure (either for information purpose gathering to understand the problem situation or to cause structural changes).

According to more common opinion (Yin, 2003 and Langhout, 2003), case study methodology is used often in community and organizational psychology research of which can facilitate the empowerment of individuals to “highlighting participant voice, presenting participant strengths, and examining context” (Langhout, 2003). The paradigm used is to view the instruments integration to afford the systemic line of attack in order to achieve better understanding. The key here is the systemic thinking thus avoiding compartmentalized application of any method, however emphasis hereto is on qualitative methodology.

Yin (2003) discussed a number of types of a case study. Certainly, we understand that each type directly relates to the investigative purpose. For example, the exploratory case study bears in its purpose an initial (prior to the large-scale investigation) step which, so to speak, sets the mood of the investigative directives. Such helps to illuminate the goals, the purposes, initial questions, and set hypotheses. The researchers must avoid the tendency to set premature conclusions and always remember that the purpose of this particular type is preliminary investigation.

During the critical instance case studies, the researchers attempt to answer cause-and-effect questions focusing their attention on one a a few specific sets of the case. It is rather more of utilizing the detailed look of the reasons and causative effects behind ”Why did that happen? ” If the critical instance case study involves the effect of the specific event component, the program effect case study focuses more on the global picture of the entire program and, i. e. the impact of individual causative events on to the entire program.

Researchers performing this particular procedure can make inferences of the reasons of the causative events affect. As the name implies, the prospective case study brings the researcher into the possibility of the prospect or future prediction of a set of hypotheses. In other words, the evolution of the on-going social events is considered allowing the possibility of extrapolation of the events. Cumulative case studies consider all findings in retrospect and bring the researcher’s focus into the results of prior collected data and/or possible extrapolations of the future investigative directions.

Such findings can be recorded in narrative case format in which the researcher simply writes a standard form of a narrative summarizing all the findings into a plausible an readable form. Extrapolations and inferences with the directions into the possible directions of the research in the future are usually included into narrative case study. Yin’s earlier work (Tellis, 1997) identified different classification terminology. He was discussing exploratory, explanatory, and descriptive. According to Tellis (1997), other researchers (Stake, 1995) named three other types: intrinsic, instrumental, and collective.

It is not so difficult to see the purpose of the case study structure when it is embedded in to its name. Like exploratory case studies were designed to explore the information to provide grounds and framework for more structured designs. Tellis suggested it to be a “prelude to the social research. ” Explanatory case studies perhaps have been designed to explain the causal effects, to focus on the search for the reasons behind which the specific event had happened. Descriptive case studies probably were there to describe the findings, to report the conclusion.

We can see here that these three types of cases can be used as a system with them arranged chronologically and sequentially. The order of such proposed arrangement is logical for indeed the researcher needs first to explore, that to explain, and then to report. One can imagine that such an organization can be used in any kind of situation, from the school setting to the corporate organizational structure. However, there is more that one type of case study organization has been described (ibid). Tellis elaborated also on what he called a triangulation organization.

His secondary sources suggested that such an organization helps researchers by organizing sequentially, chronologically, and in materially (i. e. data, investigators, theory). Thus triangulation can be understood as an alternative explanation of protocol that connects for example data with investigators and with appropriate theories. According to Tellis explanations, the purpose for naming a protocol is to assign a descriptive label to help with semantics and at the same time to direct the report readers to the fact of validity behind the case study.

The validity is established through and with objectivity which in turn, can be achieved through multiple data sources (ibid). The doer of the case study as well as the reader of it must have a common denominator, and that is the meaning behind the case rather than the person or the location. Further in his article Tellis described four different types of triangulations (1997). They are data source triangulation, investigator triangulation, theory triangulation, and methodological triangulation.

Again, as the names suggest it is not so difficult to know the purpose behind semantics. Data source triangulation, for example, implies to test the same data against different context and observing whether the context would change the results or results would remain the same, regardless. Investigator triangulation implies on the situations when it is necessary for several different investigators to examine the same case, thus increasing objectivity, and thus increasing validity.

Under theory triangulation, several different investigators with different theoretical viewpoints (emphasized) would examine the same phenomenon. Since each has a different theoretical perspective, each would try to find the explanation that would fit his or her viewpoint. Such an interesting organization might yield different explanations to the same phenomenon. In methodological organization, several different methodologies would follow each other in sequence thus increasing and enhancing the explanation behind the reasons to the events.