Qualitative Techniques

Qualitative techniques for data collection are suited for the exploratory studies when little is know about the phenomena. That is, these techniques are well suited for the early stage of the five-step logical path for the programmatic research (McGrath, 1964).  However, these techniques are not suited for the testing theories or making causal inferences, as they do not allow for manipulation or control of variables. As Lee et al (1999) suggest, qualitative techniques are well suited for the purpose of description, interpretation, and explanation but are not suited for issues of prevalence, generalizability, and calibration.

Some qualitative techniques for gathering data were discussed in the Lee, Mitchell, and Sablynski 1999 paper:

  1. Observation:
    • Relatively passive and nonintrusive, mainly to acquaint the researcher with the site and its members. Used early in a qualitative study. Two variants of this technique: take an organizational training course or to function as an actual employee.
    • Direct, Systematic Behavioral Observation
      • Use this method when the research question deals with overt behavior
      • Involve explicit, systematic procedures for observing, recording, and categorizing behavior
      • Choice of behavioral units to record is critical
      • Considerable training required to achieve reliability in coding behavior
      • Can either be a “fly on the wall” or become an active participant
  2. Access archival records
    • Also passive and nonintrusive. Although “archival records” may not be a study’s main source of data, they can effectively confirm, supplement, or elaborate upon one’s more primary information. Potential problems include reactivity of measures, reliability of data, and construct validity of measures such as documents and records.
  3. Interviews
    • More active and intrusive, used most frequently. Vary in duration, formality, number of people interviewed at one time, and how data are recorded. Researchers should decide ahead of time re duration, formality, number of people interviewed at one time, and how data are recorded AND be able to explain these decisions during peer review process.  One potential con: the observed and/or the examined people are almost always aware that they are being monitored.
  4. Questionnaires
    • More active and intrusive. Because questionnaires reduce spontaneity, inhibit free-flowing speech, and constrain ones’ manner, they provide more supplemental (rather than primary) data, similar to archival records. Nevertheless, questionnaires can “orient” the respondent and get everyone “on the same page.”
If interview and questionnaires are employed, Sackett & Larson discussed issues related to measures:
  • Rely on self-reports or reports about another person or entity
  • Interviews and questionnaires are conceptually similar; choice between is based on situation-specific, pragmatic considerations
  • Can be used as a substitute for direct observation (demographics), as a tool to assess internal states such as attitudes (because these are not directly observable, or as a measure of perceptions.
Qualitative techniques offer the following strengths:
  • Frees researchers from geographic concerns
  • Saves time and money in comparison to observation
However, it also has the following weaknesses
  • Ambiguities about direction of causality
  • Problems with common method variance
Qualitative techniques are not popular. Pratt 2008 and Hannah & Lautsch 2011 addressed why scholars do not employ qualitative techniques:
  • Uncertainty about how to conduct good qualitative research, even among qualitative researchers
  • Lack of consensus in evaluating qualitative research, which makes it hard to publish:
    • Overly high standards for qualitative research (higher than for quantitative research) → harder to get accepted for publication. Requirements re theory development are much higher compared to quant papers.
    • Inappropriate standards, i.e., quantitative standards are inappropriately applied to qualitative research.
(Adapted from group and course notes)
(Flashcards and other resources here)
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