The method used is determined by the type of study design. Designs are often based on theoretical or philosophical perspectives on the topic, and dictated by the research question. An attempt is made to have the data represent the wholeness of the individuals subjective experience rather than reduce to distinct variables.

Qualitative designs are less structured than quantitative designs.


  1. describe phenomenon,
  2. sensitize others to the experience of phenomenon, 
  3. develop research instruments, and
  4. create theoretical explanatory model.

Methods of data collection: Non numerical data is collected via interviews, observational methods, analysis of written diaries, collecting artifacts, and other related methods. Methods are generally more subjective in nature as the investigator seeks the participants view of phenomenon of interest or description of experiences.

Theoretical Sampling – Researcher collects, codes and analyzes data and then decides what data to collect in order to develop grounded theory.

Sample size is determined by generated data and analysis of data. Collection and analysis continues until categories are saturated and only thin areas exist between categories.  Numbers of participants in qualitative research are not based on a normal distribution, nor is a randomized or representative sample used.  Participants are added until saturation occurs, and then data collection terminates.  Saturation occurs when no new descriptions and interpretations are coming from study participants.

Trustworthiness – gained by multiple data gathers, triangulation, saturation, member checks, reflexivity, audit trail and peer debriefing.

Interviews can be guided by a developed list of topics, or an open ended questionnaire administered by skilled interviewers. Skilled interviewer can probe subject’s responses thus decreasing possibility of vague answers. Mock interviews may occur before beginning study so proficiency in note taking and questioning can be developed.  We ask groups doing qualitative proposals to write up one or more brief mock interviews to flesh out the method section of the proposal.

Audio and video recordings are used to enhance interview. Must consider interviewer and interviewee sensitivity to equipment. Must get permission before taping. It is necessary to review and transcribe tapes simultaneously to determine analytical categories, subsequent data collection and any follow up questions.

Observation is used in ethnographic research. Directly observe participants in natural settings and participate in their lifestyles.
Due to active role in research process, those studied often are called informants, respondents or participants rather than subjects.



The researcher is the primary study "instrument".  This design directs the researcher toward an understanding of self as person as well as the participant as a person. [Heideggerian phenomenologists (existentialists) believe the person is a self within a body. Husserlian phenomenologists believe while self and world are mutually shaping, it is possible to bracket oneself from one’s belief, to see the world firsthand in a naïve way.]

Broad question asked is "What is the meaning of one’s lived experience?"  Only reliable source of information for this question is the person (informant, participant).  Thus, person interprets action or experience for researcher and then, researcher must interpret explanation provided by the person.

Prior to collecting data, researcher conducts a reflective self assessment and articulates assumptions, knowledge, and ideas they bring to the research project.  This is the researcher's way of dealing with thier own bias.

Data are collected through variety of means: observation, interactive interviews, videotape, and written descriptions by subjects.

Analysis begins when the first data are collected and will guide decisions related to further data collection.

Outcome of analysis is a theoretical statement responding to the research question.

Examples of data [often direct quotes from informants] validate theoretical statement.

Grounded Theory

Means that the theory developed from research is "grounded" or has its roots in data from which it was derived.  It is used frequently to study areas in which little previous research has been conducted and in gaining a new viewpoint in familiar areas of research.

Based on symbolic interaction theory which holds views in common with phenomenology.

Researcher goes into the field to view the world as informants do. Focus on interaction under study.
Symbolic Interaction Theory

Explores how people define reality and how their beliefs are related to their actions. Reality is created by people through attaching meanings to situations. Meaning is expressed in terms of symbols such as words, religious objects, and clothing. These symbolic meanings are the basis for actions and interactions. As these meanings are different for each individual; cannot completely know symbolic meanings of another individual.

Group life based on consensus and shared meanings. Interaction may lead to redefinition and new meanings and can result in redefinition of self.

Interaction is focus of observation in grounded theory research.

Data for Grounded Theory is generated from participant observation, informal interviewing and formal interviewing. Usually results in large amounts of handwritten notes and/or typed interview transcripts which contain data to be sorted and anlyzed. The process is initiated by coding and categorizing data.

Steps in grounded theory research occur simultaneously. Researcher observes, collects data, organizes data, and forms theory all at same time. This is a constant comparative

Process where every piece of data is compared with every other piece.

At the beginning general questions are asked. As the theory begins to emerge, the researcher asks more specific questions to elicit information needed to saturate developing codes and categories.
Modes of Nursing Inquiry

1. Descriptive

  • Must proceed all other modes. 
  • Ideal for beginning researcher. 
  • Answers questions such as; What is going on? How are activities organized? What roles are evident? What are steps in a process? What does client do in particular setting?
2. Discovery
  • Leads to identification of patterns in life experiences of individuals.
  • Relates patterns to each other.
  • Substantive theory developed (explains a particular social world).
3. Emergent Fit
  • Enables researcher to 
    • focus on selected portion of the theory
    • build on previous work
    • establish research program around particular social process
4. Intervention
  • Used to test relationships of substantive theory
  • Demands deep involvement on part of researcher

Grounded theory examines much broader scope of dimensions than usually possible with quantitative research. Can allow for greater understanding and thus more control of professional practice.



Ethnographic means "portrait of people."

Purpose is to describe a culture through examining various cultural characteristics.

Data collection or data gathering techniques include; participant observation and interviews.

Participant observation – described previously.

Field plus personal notes are written as investigator interacts with culture under study. Interaction between researcher and informants becomes source of data.

Two basic research approaches in ethnography; emic and etic.
Steps of Ethnographic Research
  1. Identification of culture to be studied
  2. Identification of significant variables within the culture
  3. Literature review
  4. Gaining entrance
  5. Cultural immersion
  6. Acquiring informants
  7. Gathering data
  8. Analysis of data
  9. Description of culture
  10. Theory development

Interviews are done with an attempt to obtain the emic (internal) view.

Other sources of data for ethnographic research include documents, life history, films, photographs and artifacts. No analysis of data is made at this point.

Analysis involves identifying meanings attributed to objects and events by members of the culture.


Research data sources are retrospective.  Primary question is "Where have we come from, who are we, where are we going?"

Although questions do not change, answers do.

Most ancient form of history is Myth.

Provides an image of and legitimizes existing order

History moved beyond myths to chronicling of events such as great deeds, victories, and stories about peoples. Descriptions blurred distinction between real and ideal.

Then moved to comparing histories, selecting histories based on values, identifying patters of regularity and change.

More recently, there has been a move to interpretive history, an effort to make sense out of it, to search for meaning.

Methods of historical research includes:

  1. Formulating an idea
  2. Developing research questions
  3. Developing an inventory of sources
  4. Clarifying validity and reliability of data
  5. Developing a research outline
  6. Conducting data collection and analysis

Quality of historical study is related to quality of archival retrieval of primary sources. Primary and secondary sources are used. Validity and reliability of sources are crucial to levels of generalizations generated as findings of the study.

Data sources – libraries, historical societies, museums, and archives.