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LEAH IRUNGU L50/12632/2018
2. ANGELINE KIOKO L50/12631/2018
3. GEOFFREY OCHIENG L50/12973/2018
4. HARRISON MUEMA L50/12537/2018
5. BRIAN KAGURU L50/8430/2017
6. VALERIE NEKESA L50/12987/2018
7. BONIFACE YEBEI L50/12440/2018
8. CYPRIAN MURIUKI L50/12426/2018
9. CAROLINE WANJIKU L50/13692/2018
10. HANNAH MUSAU L50/12578/2018

The qualitative research method involves the use of qualitative data, such as interviews,
documents and observation, in order to understand and explain a social phenomenon. It is
the development of concepts which help us to understand social phenomena in natural
(rather than experimental) settings, giving due emphasis to the meanings, experiences and
views of the participants.
This paper attempts to extensively explain qualitative research design, the different types
and their characteristics, steps involved in conducting qualitative research, the strengths
and limitations of each type together with the ethical issues that arise in qualitative
The paper also gives us examples of when and how to use qualitative research methods.

Objectives of the Paper

 For the learners to acquire an in depth understanding of qualitative research
 For the learners to be have a clear understanding of the differences between
qualitative and quantitative research
 For the learners to clearly differentiate and understand the different types,
characteristics and steps involved in conducting qualitative research designs.


Qualitative research refers to a type of research that aims at the study of things in their
natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret a phenomenon in terms of the
meanings people bring to them. It obtains data through open-ended and conversational
It is used to gain an understanding of underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations. It
provides insights into the problem or helps to develop ideas or hypotheses for potential
quantitative research.
Qualitative research method is used to understand people's beliefs, experiences, attitudes,
behavior, and interaction as it focuses on the "why" rather than the "what" of social
phenomena and relies on the direct experiences of human beings. It generates non-
numerical data.
Qualitative research design can be defined as any methodology or approach that provides
a framework for systematic collection, analyzing and interpreting qualitative data for the
purpose of understanding a phenomenon intensively. (Wambugu et al., 2015)
Qualitative data is defined as the data that approximates and characterizes. It can be
observed and recorded. This data type is non-numerical in nature.

Characteristics of Qualitative Research design.

 A qualitative researcher immerses her/himself in the field, in natural surroundings.
The contexts of inquiry are not contrived; they are natural. Nothing is predefined
or taken for granted.
 Those who are studied, speak for themselves, to provide their perspectives in
words and other actions. Therefore, qualitative research is an interactive process
in which the persons studied teach the researcher about their lives.
 The qualitative researcher is an integral part of the data, without the active
participation of the researcher, no data exists.
 The design of the study evolves during the research, and can be adjusted or
changed as it progresses.

 There is no single reality in qualitative research, it is subjective and exist only in
reference to the observer. Hence the use of this method by social constructivists
who hold that there is no one objective reality that is waiting to be discovered,
they are multiple and from different aspects of life.

Principles of a good Qualitative Research

These are the aspects that are looked at to ascertain whether a qualitative research is
worthy and trustable.
 Transferability: transferability in qualitative research can be defined as the degree
to which the results of a research can apply or transfer beyond the bounds of the
project. Transferability implies that results of the research study can be
applicable to similar situations or individuals. It points out to the external validity
of the research. The knowledge which was obtained in context will be relevant in
another and investigators who carry out research in another context will be able to
utilize certain concepts which were initially developed. However, readers of
research are advised to make associations between elements of research and their
own experience. For example, for a researcher doing a qualitative research on the
causes of the rising teenage pregnancies in Kilifi County should ensure that their
work can be used by a researcher probing the same problem in another county like
 Credibility: Both the researcher and their work should be credible, in that both are
convincing, reliable and consistent. The qualitative research should include the
information of the researcher and factors that could have affected or influenced
the research process. The researcher should maintain professionalism as they try
to make sense of the information they have collected. He/she should review the
data severally to see if categories, themes, constructs, explanations, interpretations
and conclusions make sense and really reflect the nature of the phenomenon being
investigated. This is by spending enough time in research context to become
familiar with it, to use different sources of data and being a keen observer.

 Triangulation: Triangulation means using more than one method to collect data
on the same topic. This is a way of assuring the validity of research through the
use of a variety of methods to collect data on the same topic, which involves
different types of samples as well as methods of data collection. However, the
purpose of triangulation is not necessarily to cross-validate data but rather to
capture different dimensions of the same phenomenon. This ensures that an
account is rich, robust, comprehensive and well developed. (Wambugu et al.,
2015). The benefits of triangulation include “increasing confidence in research
data, creating innovative ways of understanding a phenomenon, revealing unique
findings, challenging or integrating theories, and providing a clearer
understanding of the problem” (Thurmond, 2001, p. 254).
 Confirmability: Confirmability in Qualitative Research means the degree to
which the outcomes could be confirmed or corroborated by other people. An audit
trail along with triangulation and the keeping of a reflective journal are techniques
for establishing confirmability. The audit trail looks at the complete set of records
and documents that are produced and accumulated during the research
process. An independent external researcher is normally used to do the audit trail.
 Dependability: This is important because it establishes the research study’s
findings as consistent and repeatable. Researchers aim to verify that their findings
are consistent with the raw data they collected. They want to make sure that if
some other researchers were to look over the data, they would arrive at similar
findings, interpretations, and conclusions about the data. This is important to
make sure that there was not anything missed in the research study, or that the
researcher was not sloppy or misguided in his or her final report. An inquiry audit
is done to ascertain the dependability. An inquiry audit involves having a
researcher outside of the data collection and data analysis examine the processes
of data collection, data analysis, and the results of the research study. This is done
to confirm the accuracy of the findings and to ensure the findings are supported
by the data collected.
 Context: Keeping things in context is a cardinal principle of qualitative analysis
because methods, results and conclusions of qualitative analysis are context-
dependent. Therefore, they must be carefully reported in reference to certain

situations, certain people and certain time periods, as well as the purpose for
which the data are applicable.

Strengths of Qualitative Research design.

 The researcher gains an insider's view of the field because of close interactions
with different participants. This allows the researcher to find issues that are often
 Qualitative analysis allows for ambiguities/contradictions in the data, which are a
reflection of social reality (Denscombe, 2010).
 Qualitative descriptions can play the important role of suggesting possible
relationships, causes, effects and dynamic processes.

Limitations of Qualitative research

 A lot of money is used hence qualitative designs do not generally draw samples
from large-scale data sets.
 The problem of adequate validity or reliability is a major criticism. Because of the
subjective nature of qualitative data and its origin in single contexts, it is difficult
to apply conventional standards of reliability and validity. For example, because
of the central role played by the researcher in the generation of data, it is not
possible to replicate qualitative studies. Also, contexts, situations, events,
conditions, and interactions cannot be replicated to any extent nor can
generalizations be made to a wider context than the one studied with any
 The time required for data collection, analysis and interpretation are lengthy as
the researcher has to keenly observe for a period of time to ensure that the
information is credible, an immense amount of time may be used when doing one
on one interviews with the participants and the likes.
 Analysis of qualitative data is difficult and expert knowledge of an area is
necessary to try to interpret qualitative data, and great care must be taken when
doing so.

The Process of Qualitative Research

Different researchers use different steps in doing a qualitative research depending on
maybe the nature of their research or the context in which they are building their research

on. However, there are key steps which every researcher tends to follow. Some of these
steps are: (Johnson & Christensen 2012)
1. Deciding/ identifying the research question: this brings forth the phenomena in
which one wishes to study. For example, one might want to answer the question
“why teenage girls are falling pregnant?” this prompts the researcher to do a
research to find out why.
2. Design of the study: This helps identify the ‘who’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ of
the research. Who will be the participants of this study, where will you collect the
data from for example from their home, school etc, when will you collect the data;
is it during the holidays, after work hours etc, and what methods of data collection
will one use.
3. Collect data: The qualitative researcher should assume the role of an unobtrusive
observer and have little impact on the settings being observed—whether it be
watching participants use existing products at home or in a more controlled lab
environment. The researcher also supplements the observation with in depth
interview of the selected participants. Qualitative researchers often use small
samples. Collection of data is done as the research goes on.

Methods of data collection in qualitative research

 Observation - This entails the systematic noting and recording of events,
behaviours, and objects in the social setting chosen for study. In most of the cases
the researcher makes no special effort to have a particular role in the setting; to be
tolerated as an unobtrusive observer is enough.
 In-depth Interviews - Qualitative, in-depth interviews are more like conversations
than formal events with predetermined response categories. The researcher
explores a few general topics to help uncover the participant’s views but
otherwise respects how the participant frames and structures the responses. The
most important aspect of the interviewer’s approach is conveying the attitude that
the participant’s views are valuable and useful.
 Focus groups – This involves a group of 5 – 10 people who are interviewed
together in one setting and on one phenomenon. Though the individual
perspective of every person in that group is taken into account. The interviewer
creates a supportive environment, asking focused questions to encourage

discussion and the expression of differing opinions and points of view. These
interviews may be conducted several times with different individuals so that the
researcher can identify trends in the perceptions and opinions expressed.
 Life Histories and narrative inquiries which may rely on journal records,
photographs, letters, autobiographical writing, e-mail messages and others.

4. Analysing data: This involves analysing the information collected from different
sources. Comparing and contrasting it, interpreting meaningful patterns or themes,
providing a detailed description and drawing a conclusion from the findings
generated. The data analysis depends on the questions the researcher wants to
answer and the resources available.
5. Validate findings: This can be done by triangulating using other methods
including surveys and additional sources. Conducting an audit trail can also be
used to validate the data.
6. Reporting one’s findings

Types of Qualitative Research Designs

1. Narratives or Biography Designs
2. Phenomenology
3. Case Study
4. Ethnography
5. Grounded Theory

The term narrative carries different meanings and is used in a variety of ways by various
disciplines mostly synonymously with story. The word narrative comes from the verb
‘’narrate’’ which means to tell a story. When narrators tell a story, they tell of an
individual’s experience. They position characters in space and time and, in a broad sense,
give order to and make sense of what happened—or what is imagined to have happened.
Therefore, narratives attempt to explain what has occurred; they lay out why things are
the way they are or have become the way they are. According to Bruner (2002), a

narrative involves a sequence of events, mental states, occurrences having human beings
as characters or actors.
According to (Squire et al, 2013) the definition of ‘narrative’ is in dispute, since narrative
research offers no overall rules about suitable materials or modes of investigation, or the
best level at which to study stories. Narrative research design studies a single person
focusing on gathering of data through a collection of stories based on an individual’s
experience and the meanings he or she attributes to them. One of the challenges of
narrative design is that the researcher needs to collect extensive information about the
participant and have a clear understanding of the context of the individual’s life in an
objective manner.

Types of Narrative Research

 Biography – The researcher writes and records the experiences of another
person’s life.
 Autobiography- It is written and recorded by the individual who is the subject of
the study
 Life history -A narrative of an individual’s whole life experienced.
 Oral history- Personal reflections of events and their effects passed on from one
individual or several individuals.
 Personal accounts or narratives
 Narrative interviews
 Documents of life stories and histories

Characteristics of Narrative Research

a. Narrative research design focuses on the life experience of one individual or a few
selected individuals rather than a large group.
b. Restorying which is also known as retelling or remapping. This is the process of
gathering stories, reviewing them and rewriting the story in a chronological sequence.
c. It is a literary form of qualitative research that places special emphasis on writing.
(Greswell, 2008) Stories can be attained throughout various means including
interviews, informal observations, conversations, journals, letters etc.
d. It explores stories of individuals in order to be able to tell their life stories.
Understanding an individual’s history or past experiences will help explain the impact
on their present and future experiences.

e. Narratives use coding field texts to come up with themes and categories. Information
that is gathered from the stories is coded into themes or categories. About five to
seven themes are identified and can be combined into passages of the story.
f. There is emphasis on developing a relationship between the researcher and the
individual being studied. (Pinnegar and Daynes, 2007) The researcher must also be
aware that the relationship they develop with the participants. It should be mutual.
Both the researcher and the individual should gain from the research.
g. Narrative research design also focuses on the importance of learning from the
participant. The participant and the researcher work together to reduce the gap
between the narrative told and the narrative reported.

Steps in conducting Narrative Research

1. Identify a phenomenon that addresses a problem of choice.
Like any other research, it is important to identify a gap which is the research
problem the researcher is going to find a solution for.
2. Select an individual to learn about the phenomena.
3. Collect stories from the individual that reflect personal experiences
4. Write a story about the participants personal experiences.
5. Validate the accuracy of the report.
6. Collaborate with the participant in all phases of the research.
7. Retell the participants story to reflect their personal experiences and have them
tell the story.

When to use narratives.

 Narratives are used when individuals want to tell their stories and the researcher
wants to report them. Narratives are frequently used to illuminate the voices and
experiences of marginalized or excluded populations and individuals
 They are also used when the participants feel that their stories are important and
they have a voice for example in biographies.
 Narratives are also used when the stories follow a chronology of events.
 When there is a need to reduce commonly held perception, narratives are used.
Narrative data provide rich description and reveal meanings embedded not only in

the content of the story but also in the words and images (symbols) used to tell the


Definition of phenomenology
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1995) defines Phenomenology as the study of
structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary (1978) explains Phenomenology as the study of the
development of human consciousness and self-awareness as a preface to or a part of

Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching (CIRT) Faculty, Grand Canyon
University, Arizona 1949 summarizes and defines phenomenology as a
qualitative research method that is used to describe how human beings experience a
certain incident. It allows the researcher to delve into the perceptions, perspectives,
understandings, and feelings of those people who have actually experienced or lived the
phenomenon or situation of interest.

It is a broad discipline and method of inquiry in philosophy, developed largely by the

German philosophers Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976),
which is based on the premise that reality consists of objects and events otherwise known
as "phenomena” as they are perceived or understood in the human consciousness.
Phenomenology has its roots in a 20th century philosophical movement based on the work
of the philosopher Edmund Husserl. As research tool, phenomenology is based on the
academic disciplines of philosophy and psychology and has become a widely accepted
method for describing human experiences.

Therefore, phenomenology can be defined as the direct investigation and description

of phenomena as consciously experienced by people living those experiences.

Phenomenological research is typically conducted through the use of in-depth interviews
of small samples of participants. By studying the perspectives of multiple
participants, a researcher can begin to make generalizations regarding what it is
like to experience a certain phenomenon from the perspective of those that have
lived the experience. A phenomenological study attempts to set aside biases and
preconceived assumptions about human experiences, feelings, and responses to a
particular situation.

CIRT Faculty, Grand Canyon University, Arizona 1949 lists the following as the main
characteristics of phenomenology research:
 It seeks to understand how people experience a particular situation or
 It is conducted primarily through in-depth conversations and interviews; however,
some studies may collect data from diaries, drawings, or observation;
 Small samples sizes, often 10 or less participants, are common in
phenomenological studies;
 Interview questions are open-ended to allow the participants to fully describe the
experience from their own view point;
 Phenomenology is centered on the participants’ experiences with no regard to
social or cultural norms, traditions, or preconceived ideas about the experience;
 It focuses on these four aspects of a lived experience: lived spaced, lived body,
lived time, and lived human relations.
 Data collected is qualitative and analysis includes an attempt to identify themes or
make generalizations regarding how a particular phenomenon is actually perceived
or experienced.

Researchers conducting phenomenological studies are interested in the life experiences of

humans. This type of research can be applied to wide variety of situations and
phenomena. Below are just a few examples of topics that would lend themselves to
phenomenological study:
 How do parents of an autistic child cope with the news that their child has autism?

 What is it like to experience being trapped in a natural disaster, such as a flood or
 How does it feel to live with a life-threatening aneurism?
 What is it like to be a minority in a predominantly white community?
 What is like to survive an airplane crash?
 How do cancer patients cope with a terminal diagnosis?
 What is it like to be a victim of sexual assault?

A phenomenological research study typically follows the four steps listed below:
Bracketing – The process of identifying, and keeping in check, any preconceived beliefs,
opinions or notions about the phenomenon being researched. In this process, the
researcher “brackets out” any presuppositions in an effect to approach the study of the
phenomenon from an unbiased perspective. Bracketing is important to
phenomenological reduction, which is the process of isolating the phenomenon and
separating it from what is already known about it.

Intuition–This requires that the researcher become totally immersed in the study and the
phenomenon and that the researcher remains open to the meaning of the phenomenon as
described by those that experienced it. The process of intuition results in an
understanding of the phenomenon and may require the researcher to vary the data
collection methods or questions until that level of understanding emerges.
Analysis –The process of analyzing data involves the researcher becoming fully
immersed into the rich, descriptive data and using processes such as coding and
categorizing to organize the data. The goal is to develop themes that can be used to
describe the experience from the perspective of those that lived it.
Description – This is the last phase of the process. The researcher will use his or her
understanding of the data to describe and define the phenomenon and communicate it to

Strengths and Limitations of Phenomenology

Clark Moustakas, in his Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks California, 1994 outlines the
following as the strengths and limitations of phenomenology research.
Strengths of Phenomenology:
 Seeks to find the universal nature of an experience and can provide a deeper
 The themes and meanings of an experience emerge from the data. The qualitative
nature of phenomenology allows the researcher to notice trends and look at the big
picture. The data is not fit into a statistical test that confines or restricts the
 Helps to understand a lived experience and brings meaning to it. This may
contribute to the development of new theories, changes in policies or changes in
 Results may help expose misconceptions about an experience. It may be a means to
have the voices of the participants heard which may prompt action or at least
challenge pre-conceived notions and complacency.

Limitations of Phenomenology:
 The research participants must be able to articulate their thoughts and feelings about
the experience being studied. It may be difficult for them to express themselves due
to language barriers, age, cognition, embarrassment and other factors.
 Phenomenology requires researcher interpretation, making phenomenological
reduction an important component to reduce biases, assumptions, and pre-conceived
ideas about an experience or phenomenon. Researcher bias is difficult to determine
or detect.
 Results are not statistically reliable, even with a larger sample size. It does not
produce generalizable data.
 It may be difficult to gain access to participants.
 Presentation of findings may be difficult. The subjectivity of the data may lead to
difficulty in establishing reliability and validity.
 Policy makers may give less credibility to phenomenological study.

 Gathering data and data analysis may be time consuming and laborious.


It is an in-depth examination of a single unit over a defined period of time in its natural
setting or context.

Mitchell (1983) defined a case study as a “detailed examination of an event (or series of
related events) which the analyst believes exhibits the operation of some identified
general theoretical principles.

Yin (1994) defined a case study as “an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary
phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between
phenomenon and context are not clearly evident and relies on multiple sources of

According to Gomm, Hammersley, and Foster (2000), case study refers to research that
investigates a few cases in considerable depth.

A case study is a comprehensive study of a social unit of society, which may be a person,
family group, institution, community or event. A case study focuses attention on a single
unit thoroughly. The aim is to find out the influencing factors of the social unit and the
relationship between these factors and the social unit.


Stake (1995) distinguished different types of case studies as follows.

 An intrinsic case study

It is carried out when one wants to understand a particular case e.g., person, occupation,
specific group. Department, organization, where the case itself is of primary interest in
the exploration.

 Instrumental case study

It is conducted when one has a research question and wants to get insight into the
question by studying a particular case. It provides insight into a particular issue, redraw
generalizations or build theory.

 A collective case study

It refers to extension of an instrumental study to several cases. It involves examining

several studies as either comparison or progressive support for theory.

Yin (1994) suggested three different types of case studies. Depending on the type of
research question, there are;

 Exploratory case study

If the research is mainly focused on “what” questions, it may call for exploratory study.
Explanatory case studies not only explore and describe phenomena but can also be used
to explain causal relationships and to develop theory.

 Descriptive case study

It focuses on covering the background information and accurate description of the case in
question. It is focused and detailed. Propositions and questions about a phenomenon are
carefully scrutinized and articulated at the outset.

 Explanatory case studies

It deals with “how” or “why” questions. Explanatory case studies can be employed to
explain why events occur to build, elaborate, extend or test theory. An example of an
explanatory research would be a study that finds that Christian couples are twice as likely
to divorce as Jewish couples.

Characteristics of a Case Study

According to Kazdin (1982), the major characteristics of case studies are the following:

 They involve the intensive study of an individual, family, typically reported in
narrative form as opposed to the quantified scores on a dependent measure.

 They attempt to convey the nuances of the case, including specific group,
institution, or other level that can be conceived of as a single unit.

 The information is highly detailed, comprehensive, and contains extraneous

influences and special idiosyncratic details.

 The information they examine may be retrospective or archival.

 The number of units to be studied is small.

How to design and conduct a case study

According to Yin (1994), the case-study design must have the following five components:

a. Its research question(s)

b. Its propositions

c. Its unit(s) of analysis

d. A determination of how the data are linked to the propositions

e. criteria to interpret the findings.

The first foundation of the case study is the subject and relevance. In a case study, you
are deliberately trying to isolate a small study group, one individual case or one particular
population. For example, the statistical analysis may have shown that infant mortality
rates in some counties are increasing. A case study on one or two specific counties
becomes a powerful and focused tool for determining the social and economic pressures
driving this. In the design of a case study, it is important to plan and design how you are
going to address the study and make sure that all collected data is relevant. Unlike a
scientific report, there is no strict set of rules so the most important part is making sure

that the study is focused and concise in order to avoid having to wade through a lot of
irrelevant information.

Sources of data

In a typical case study, a researcher collects extensive data on the individual(s),

program(s), or event(s) on which the investigation is focused. These data often include;

 Observations

 Interviews

 Documents (e.g., newspaper articles)

 Past records (e.g., previous test scores)

 Audio-visual materials (e.g., photographs, videotapes, audiotapes)

In many case studies, the researcher spends an extended period of time on site and
regularly interacts with the person or people being studied.

The researcher also records details about the context surrounding the case or cases of
focus, including information about the physical environment and any historical,
economic, and social factors that have bearing on the situation. By portraying such
contexts, the researcher helps others who later read the research report to draw
conclusions about the extent to which the study’s findings might be generalizable to other

How to analyse the results

Analysing results for a case study tends to be more opinion based than statistical
methods. The usual idea is to try and collate your data into a manageable form and
construct a narrative around it.

Use examples in your narrative whilst keeping things concise and interesting. It is useful
to show some numerical data but remember that you are only trying to judge trends and

not analyse every last piece of data. Constantly refer back to your bullet points so that
you do not lose focus. It is always a good idea to assume that a person reading your
research may not possess a lot of knowledge of the subject so try to write accordingly.
Unlike a scientific study which deals with facts, a case study is based on opinion and is
very much designed to provoke reasoned debate. There really is no right or wrong answer
in a case study.


The case study is more at risk with respect to experimenter bias because it involves
considerably more interaction between the researcher and the participant than most other
research methods. In addition, the data in a case study come from the researcher’s
observations of the participant. Although this might also be supplemented by test scores
and more objective measures, it is the researcher who brings all this together in the form
of a descriptive case study of the individual(s) in question.

The small number of individuals examined in these studies makes it unlikely that the
findings will generalize to other people with similar issues or problems. A case study of a
single person diagnosed with a certain disorder is unlikely to be representative of all
individuals with that disorder. Still, the overall contributions of the case study cannot be

Because of its non-experimental approach, it has substantially informed theory, research,

and practice, serving to fulfil the first goal of science, which is to identify issues and
causes that can then be experimentally assessed.

It was developed in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
It originated from anthropology.
It was mainly used by anthropologists to explore primitive cultures different from their

This method is used when a researcher wants to study a group of people to gain a larger
understanding of their lives or specific aspects of their lives.
It involves the collection and analysis of data about different groups.
Agar (1986) described ethnography as “encountering alien worlds and making sense of
Cameron (1990) wrote that ethnography means “learning from people”.
According to Leininger 1985, ethnography can be defined as “the systematic process of
observing, detailing, describing, documenting and analyzing the lifeways or particular
patterns of a culture (or subculture) in order to grasp the life ways or patterns of the
people in their familiar environment.
Wambugu et al (2015) describe it as undertaking extensive fieldwork to LEARN about a
cultural group in which a researcher is interested. It is a labor-intensive exercise that runs
for months or even years of field work and require a certain level of intimacy with
members of cultural group.
In most cases requires the researcher to immerse themselves in a community, carry out
fieldwork in communities of their hosts, observing activities of interest, recording field
notes and observations and participating in activities.
Sanjek (2002) opines that ethnography is a written account focusing on a particular
population, place and time with the deliberate goal of describing it to others. It attempts
to depict the structure and the operations of a society from the viewpoint of that particular
It focuses on the ‘natives’ point of view, his relations to life, to realize his vision of his
world (Malinowski 1922). It recognizes that in each culture, the values are slightly
different; people have different aspirations; different drives; customs which inform their
dreams codes of law and morality; different reward and punishments.
In ethnographic research the researcher frequently lives with the people and becomes a
part of their culture.
An entire cultural group may be studied or a subgroup in the culture. Ethnographic
researchers can study broadly defined cultures (e.g. Kikuyu, Luo, Maasai, Luhya) in what
is usually referred to as a macro-ethnography.

Alternatively, it may focus on more narrowly defined ones (e.g. the culture of refugees in
refugee camps referred to as micro-ethnography).
Ethnographers interview people who are most knowledgeable about the culture. These
people are called key informants. Data is generally collected through participant
observation, interviews and archival research.
Researchers bracket, or make explicit their own personal biases and beliefs, set them
aside and then try to understand the daily lives of individuals as they live them.
Data collection and understanding occurs simultaneously. As understanding of the data
occurs, new questions emerge. The end purpose of ethnography is the development of
cultural theories.
Ethnographers study how people live and how they communicate with each other.

Steps in conducting Ethnography

Singleton and Straits (2005) identified the following stages in an ethnography field
1. Problem Formulation – Defining the main focus of the study by formulating the
problem about which you wish to learn more from.

2. Selecting a research setting – The first question is knowing and deciding where
to begin from. The setting should permit clear observation. It is also helpful to
select a setting that you can readily fit in but does not mean that you are
intimately familiar with.

3. Gaining Access – How do you get into a group that you wish to study? You may
need to seek formal permission which can be facilitated if you have a friend who
can vouch for you.

4. Presenting oneself – You need to decide how you will present yourself to those in
the field. What roles will you need to adopt and relate to others? How active will
you be participating in other peoples’ lives?

5. Gathering and recording information – Sometimes it can be difficult to record

and gather data at the same time. What are the types of information that should be

recorded or taken as field notes? Always carry a notepad for brief jottings because
it is not always possible to fully record your observations while in the field.

What should we do with all the data?

Ethnographers can collect great quantities of material to describe what people believe and
how they behave in everyday situations; therefore, data analysis and interpretation can be
challenging (Roper & Shapira, 2000)
The data analysis should also begin while the data are being collected so that the
researcher can discover additional themes.
Roper & Shapira have suggested the following strategies for ethnography analysis.
1. Coding for Descriptive labels – Since the materials collected are in the form of
written words, those words must first be grouped into meaningful categories or
descriptive labels then organized to compare, contrast and identify patterns. First
level coding is done to reduce the data into a manageable size. Before one begins
the coding process, it may be helpful to formulate basic domains that can
categorize a broad range of phenomena.

2. Sorting for patterns – It entails sorting the descriptive labels/categories into

smaller sets. One begins to develop themes for those groupings and a sense of
possible connections between the information.

3. Identifying outliers – Cases, situations and events that do not fit with the rest of
the findings may be identified and set aside.

4. Generalizing constructs and theories – The patterns or connected findings are

related to theories in order to make sense of the complex data collected. Existing
literature is also reviewed.

5. Memoing with reflective remarks - Memos are insights or ideas that one has
about the data. They are written so that the researcher can know if anything needs
further clarification or testing. It also helps the researcher to keep track of their
assumptions, biases and opinions throughout the whole research process.


1. Realist Ethnography-world is assumed as to exists as a knowable entity, which
an ethnographer can abstract observational material. It refers to the assumptions
that some kind of ethnographic work has been done and the observations made
are reported as a first-hand witness. This type of ethnographic account seeks to
represent the reality of a whole world or form of life.
2. Critical Ethnography- (subjects themselves are the focus, social justice, critical
analysis). It calls for the factual account of experience in the course of fieldwork
and within the limits of an ethnographer’s ethical responsibility. The ethnographer
has to “resist domestication”.
3. Confessional Ethnography-Relies on confessional tales and incorporates the
much reflection on the role of the ethnographer on the setting.
4. Autoethnography-Focuses on the life of the ethnographer in doing ethnography.
5. Ethnographic novel-It is the description of a people’s way of life, i.e., their
habits, customs, and points of difference through the addition of character and
6. Virtual Ethnography- (also known as cyber ethnography and commonly as
online ethnography or e-ethnography) It is the application of ethnographic
methods to the study of mediated interactions and cultures.

Limitations of Ethnography

● It requires basic knowledge on cultural anthropology and a strong understanding

on socio-cultural system.

● Subjects may not act naturally during a short study. Longer studies normally
counter-act this because the subjects grow to trust the researcher.

● Collection of data using this method tends to be time-consuming.

● The narratives are written in a story-telling approach.

● Researcher may go native and end up being compromised in the study

● Researcher may have an impact on the subject under observation therefore

altering certain elements.


Grounded theory (GT) is a systematic methodology in the social sciences involving the
construction of theories through methodical gathering and analysis of data. Grounded
theory is a research methodology which operates inductively, in contrast to the
hypothetic-deductive approach.

According to Opie (2004), grounded theory is a process of collecting qualitative data and
undertaking data analysis to generate categories (a theory) to explain a phenomenon of
interested. As the theory is generated from the collected data, it could not be a
discrepancy from truth.

Similarly, Creswell (2012) viewed grounded theory as a powerful tool when a researcher
needs a broad theory or explanation of a natural phenomenon. Creswell (2012) also
viewed that the emerging theory is “grounded” or rooted in the data, thus it will provide a
more sophisticated explanation than a theory derived from other studies. Thus, grounded
theory design can be used when the current available theories fail to describe the
phenomenon of interest (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Apart from creating new theories,
grounded theory could be viewed as a process to examine data in order to discover
theories that are contained within (Bound, 2011).

Origin of Grounded Theory

Grounded theory was originally developed by two sociologists, Barney Glaser and
Anselm Strauss. They were unhappy about the way in which existing theories dominated
sociological research. They argued that researchers needed a method that would allow
them to move from data to theory, so that new theories could emerge. Such theories
would be specific to the context in which they had been developed. They would be
‘grounded’ in the data from which they had emerged rather than rely on analytical
constructs, categories or variables from pre-existing theories.

Grounded theory involves the progressive identification and integration of categories of
meaning from data. It is both the process of category identification and integration (as
method) and its product (as theory). Grounded theory as method provides us with
guidelines on how to identify categories, how to make links between categories and how
to establish relationships between them. Grounded theory as theory is the end-product of
this process; it provides us with an explanatory framework with which to understand the
phenomenon under investigation.

Types of Grounded Theory Designs

To produce high quality grounded theory research, a researcher needs to understand the
grounded theory paradigm and the nature of the study. As advised by Mills et al. (2006),
researchers should select a research design paradigm that is parallel with their beliefs
about the nature of the phenomenon of interest.

Grounded theories are classified according to design and below are the three dominant
grounded theory designs;

The systematic Design

This type of grounded theory design is broadly applied in educational research (Creswell,
2012). A typical systematic design in grounded theory is composed of three stages of
coding, namely open coding, axial coding, and selective coding (Creswell, 2012). In the
first stage of coding, open coding, a grounded theorist is required to construct initial
categories of information about the studied subject by segmenting the collected data
(Creswell, 2012). To do so, the grounded theorist needs to identify the important words or
phrases and label them by using a suitable term (Birks & Mills, 2011). Later, all collected
data are classified into the corresponding categories. According to Waller & Myrick
(2008), a grounded theorist might code the data in multiple possible ways and use memos
to construct an emergent concept or theory during data analysis. In short, open coding is
the initial stage of forming emergent theory or conceptualization.

The Emerging Design.
Glaser (1992) emphasized that the generated theories should be guided from the collected
data itself and they are more valuable as compared to the operation on a set of preset
categories (as cited in Creswell, 2012). Hence, Robson (2002) claimed that the emerging
design is especially suitable to be applied to study ‘real world’ which seems relatively
complex, poorly controlled, and messy (as cited in Wright, 2009). Wright (2009), who
has also adopted the emerging design to study adult education, concluded that data
analysis is the core component in this research design as the researchers are requested to
‘listen’ and immerse themselves in the data.

The Constructive Design.

This design is developed by Kathy Charmaz (Hallberg, 2006). Constructivists viewed that
multiple social realities occur simultaneously rather that a single reality (Hallberg, 2006).
The design advocator, Charmaz (2008a), viewed that the constructivist design has
advantages in addressing why questions and preserving the complexity of social life.
Charmaz (1990, 2000, 2006) paid more attention in individuals’ principles, opinions,
beliefs, sensations, expectations, and philosophy rather than truths and explaining acts (as
cited in Creswell, 2012). In other words, constructivist design emphasizes the values and
beliefs of the researchers. Thus, constructivist design gives a new interaction between
researchers and participants and this on-going interaction will continue contributing to
data construction (Hallberg, 2006).

Key Characteristics of Grounded Theory

Major characteristics of typical grounded theory research widely utilized by grounded

theorists include;

 Process Approach Corbin and Strauss (2008) viewed that the research process in
grounded theory research is a series of interactions and outcomes among a group

of people regarding the studied phenomenon (as cited in Creswell, 2012). In
educational research, some examples of the said phenomenon include AIDS
prevention, the first-year teaching life of a new teacher or the leadership of a
school principal.

 Theoretical Sampling Theoretical sampling refers to the on-going process of

coding the data, comparing the data, and grouping similar data to build categories
and core categories (Jones & Alony, 2011). The purpose of theoretical sampling is
to systematically direct the grounded theorists to choose the most important data
for the studied phenomenon (Jones & Alony, 2011). According to Brown et al.
(2002), theoretical sampling can be stopped when theoretical saturation is

 Constant Comparative One of the fundamental features of grounded theory

pertains to constant comparative (Moghaddam, 2006). As implied by the name,
constant comparison is the process of comparing like with like, to trace out the
emerging pattern and theory (Goulding, 2002). Besides, Hallberg (2006) viewed
the constant comparative method as the ‘core category’ of a grounded theory
design because all the collected data are compared constantly to find out their
commonalities and variations.

 A Core Category The core category (or central category) portrays the main
theme of a study (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). According to Hallberg (2006), a core
category can be viewed as the integration of other major derived categories into a
theory that is rooted in the collected data. Thus, Birks and Mills (2011) proposed
that a grounded theorist should choose a core category that is able to explain the
rooted theory as a whole. Several criteria for choosing the core category have
been pointed out by Strauss (1987) including:

 The core category can be related to other major categories,

 It should emerge frequently in the data.

 The generated explanation must be logical and consistent when comparing to the
major categories.
 The core category should be named sufficiently so that it can be used in other
relevant studies,
 The generated theory should have explanatory power.
 The generated explanation should have the ability to hold among various
conditions (as cited in Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

 Theory Generation The outcome of grounded theory research is to construct a

theory that explains a studied phenomenon from the collected data. Since the
generated theory is close to the data, it does not have an excellent ability for
generalization, thus it could not be applied widely for many situations and people,
as believed by Creswell (2012). Creswell (2012) further pointed out that the
resultant theory can be presented in three forms: (i) as a visual coding paradigm,
(ii) as a series or hypothesis, (iii) or as a narrative story. Brown et al. (2002)
viewed that building ‘story’ is a crucial aspect in generating theory as it is capable
of expressing the most salient factors of the actual data in narrative sentences.

 Memos Grounded theorists create memos about the collected data. Mavetera &
Kroeze (2009) argued that memo writing is a good idea to record emergent
concepts or ideas throughout the research process. These types of memos are
known as theoretical memos. Documentation of these ideas and thoughts would
prevent paralysis in the process of generating theories as memo writing is helpful
to direct researchers into data and questions that need further exploration.

Data Collection and Data Analysis in Grounded Theory

To ensure rich data, the data collection stage is a crucial stage to obtain different kinds of
sources as an endeavor to develop explicit theories. In general, data could be collected in
forms of interviews, observations, focus group discussion, and documents. Of these,
interviews arguably the most frequently reported method (Egan, 2002). Egan (2002)

proposed that an effective interview should be lengthy at the beginning stage of a study
and be more specific and focus on the topic of interest during the final stage.

General Steps in Grounded Theory Design Research

Grounded theory research steps are summarized as follows:

a) Step 1: Decide whether a Grounded Theory.
Design Suits the Research Problem. Grounded theory is applicable to generate a new
theory or adjust an existing theory, giving a more explicit explanation to a studied
process, and to discover a general perception of the interactions and actions among
human being. Grounded theory also appropriate for sensitive topics or when participants
request to protect their privacy. Goulding (1999) viewed that grounded theory is also
suitable to elicit a theory that receives only a little attention in previous studies or has
been overlooked in the literature.

b) Step 2: Plan a Feasible Process to Study.

As discussed before, grounded theory research aims to generate theory for a topic of
interest in reality. To accomplish the goal, researchers need to recognize a tentative
process in the early stage. The tentative process, however, is changeable during the
research. The tentative process should follow from the nature of the research problems
and questions that needed to be resolved by the researchers.

c) Step 3: Seek Approval and Access.

As the nature of research, grounded theory research also requires researchers to get the
agreement from the interested institutions and interviewees to seek the approval to collect
data. For instance, in a study with intellectual disabilities adults conducted by Carey
(2010), to get access to the participants, the researcher needs to provide the details of the
study to the ethics committees, including aim of the study, interview questions, and
observation guides.

d) Step 4: Theoretical Sampling.

Theoretical sampling is one of the key fundamental concepts in grounded theory, in
which it requests researchers keep returning to the original data sources to attain in-depth
data. Hence, the researchers need to collect data continuously until the developed
categories are saturated and an explicit theory is developed successfully. Thus, Charmaz
(2008b) viewed that theoretical sampling is a process of collecting data which will
contribute to the illumination of the theoretical categories and consequently construct the
emergent theory.

e) Step 5: Code the Data.

During the data collection process, all the data need to be coded. Data coding process
aims to guide researchers to determine what data to collect next. The researchers also
need to compare the collected data and group the data into the corresponding categories
based on their commonalities. Several developed categories may meet the needs of
typical grounded theory research; however, it depends on the complexity of the studied

f) Step 6: Use Selective Coding and Develop the Theory.

In this step, a grounded theorist needs to triangulate and delineate the relationships
between categories in the coding paradigm logically. This step also refines the developed
axial coding paradigm and presents it as a conceptual model or a theory of the studied
phenomenon. Writing a story to show the emerged interrelationships among categories, as
well as describe them narratively, are suggested.

g) Step 7: Validate the Emerging Theory.

To generate an understandable theory to the public, a grounded theorist needs to render
the studied events in the correct sequence. To check the data against categories, the
researcher asks questions relevant to certain categories, and return to the data to seek
evidence. After forming a theory, the researcher is required to validate the theory by
comparing it with extant theories that found in the current available literature.

h) Step 8: Write a Grounded Theory Report.

Since the grounded theory report is more systematic as compared to other qualitative
research, for examples ethnography and narrative research, the structures of a grounded
theory research should be more scientific. Besides, the problem statement, methods,
discussion, and findings should be included as well.

The Strengths and Limitations of the Grounded Theory

Unique to grounded theory, according to Bryant (2002), grounded theory takes
researchers’ perceptions into account in the research process. In other words, grounded
theory offers opportunities to the researchers to use their values and understanding in
order to generate a new theory for a very complex phenomenon. This statement greatly
manifests the benefits of the grounded theory that allowing researchers to develop a more
rigorous theory since many others qualitative research methods are designed to examine
an existing theory. Martin & Turner
(1986) viewed that grounded theory is a theory discovery method that enables the
researcher to generate a theory for a process by grounding the theory from the collected
data (as cited in Jones & Alony, 2011).

Cho & Lee (2014) stated that grounded theory permits researchers to have a glance at the
studied phenomena with Asian Social Science Vol. 11, No. 12; 2015
264 new angles and construct new perspectives without restriction on extant theories.
Thus, grounded theorists are able to understand the studied phenomena holistically, Cho
& Lee (2014) further added.

Grounded theory provides greater freedom and flexibility for researchers (Jones & Alony,
2011). Potrata (2010), however, has rethought whether the freedom and flexibility would
contribute to potential harm in grounded theory research. Potrata (2010) concluded that a
set of less rigid guidelines should be outlined for novice researchers, but greater freedom
is allowed for skilled and experienced researchers.

As is the case with all research methods, grounded theory does have several limitations.
The most widely raised criticism of the grounded theory method concerns its
epistemological roots. It has been argued that grounded theory subscribes to a positivist
epistemology and that it sidesteps questions of reflexivity. For researchers in psychology,
another shortcoming of grounded theory is its preoccupation with uncovering social
processes, which limits its applicability to more phenomenological research questions.


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