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Qualitative research


There are several different strategies or approaches that you can take with qualitative research.

These are listed below with some example book titles available from Student and Library Services

Note these are multidisciplinary but there may be other books that concentrate on taking a perspective from a specific subject area (e.g. education, nursing, business or psychology etc.)

Search Discovery for more books :

Action research

Action research is a set of strategies that uses iterative cycles of action and research to solve a practical problem, rather than research for its own sake. It starts with a practical problem with the outcome being action to solve this problem.


  • Can help improve efficiency and service delivery and with solving a practical real-world problem.
  • The research is done as part of practice and is not separate from it. This allows for research to be conducted by practitioners.


  • Can be a complex procedure with possible unknown outcomes.
  • It can be difficult to generalise to other situations.
  • The practitioner may have a vested interest in the outcome.

Case Studies

A research strategy which looks at one or several cases in a detailed, in-depth and holistic way. It can consider an individual, a group or an event.


  • Allows for a lot of detail to be collected that may not be obtainable from other methods. In-depth research can lead to valuable insights.
  • Holistic viewpoint.
  • It makes use of a naturally occurring situation.


  • It can be difficult to generalise to more general situations as the research is very focussed on one specific case.
  • Obtaining access for a case study can be difficult.
  • It focuses on the process rather than an measurable end product. it provides a description rather than an analyses or evaluation.


Ethnography focuses on uncovering the shared meanings which develop among a group of people. It involves describing a culture and gaining an understanding of their way of life from their own point of view.


  • It is based on detailed direct observation in the field.
  • Can encourage the researcher to look beyond the obvious.
  • Can see things through the eyes of the members of that culture.
  • The role of the researcher's self-awareness is acknowledged.


  • Gaining access to a population can be a challenge.
  • The research is usually over a long time-scale.
  • There are ethical issues, especially with intrusion and privacy.
  • Findings are hard to replicate (unreliable).
  • Findings can be stand-alone descriptions with no coherent framework.


Grounded theory

Grounded theory is a research strategy and also a way of analysing data. It is used to generate explanatory theory from the data collected i.e. theories are grounded in (developed from) the data.


  • Good for small-scale research.
  • Good for exploratory research.
  • Grounded in real world and not speculative.
  • Accepted rationale and adaptable.
  • Aids theorizing.


  •  Difficult to plan precisely and anticipate an end-point.
  • Explanations can be separated from context.
  • Analysis is complex.
  • Any theory developed from the process is not liable to be refuted by later facts that may not fit. It is not open to alternative interpretation.
  • It assumes that there is a theory waiting to be discovered by collecting the data.
  • Generalisations are theoretical only.

Narrative research

This approach concerns researching the human experience with various approaches such as story-telling, life-history and biography. Researchers are looking at the meaning from these stories, considering how people create themselves and reality through the narrative.


  • The stories can provide unique information / perspective about how someone has interpreted an event and their values.
  • You can get in-depth data, as well as deeper meaning and reflection.
  • Can give a voice to marginalised groups.


  • Stories can be difficult to interpret.
  • It is important that you 'protect' your participant.
  • Not generalisable to populations.


This approach allows researchers to get an in-depth insight into how people experience their situation. The emphasis is on describing an authentic experience from the point of view of the participants.


  • It can lend it-self to small-scale research.
  • It relates to everyday life and this is something that everyone can generally relate to.
  • Can reflect the complexity of the real world.


  • Can be criticised for a lack of scientific rigour.
  • Too descriptive.
  • Issues with being able to generalise.

Mixed methods

This strategy is based on using a mixture of research methods, designs, strategies and analysis. Most often this involves combining qualitative and quantitative methods within a single research project.


  • Can improve the accuracy of your findings (triangulation of findings).
  • Gives a more complete picture of what you are researching.
  • Problem driven rather than theoretical.
  • Can compensate for the strengths or weaknesses of an individual approach.


  • Can extend the time and cost of your research.
  • The researcher needs to have developed skills in more than one method.
  • Findings may not corroborate each other.