Research Genres

Research Genres, image courtesy of US Army

Research Genres

by Dr. Sharon Short
I am delighted and grateful that I was able to conduct my dissertation study in an environment where qualitative research is respected. This is not always the case. One of the students in my program mentioned to a colleague that she was planning a qualitative study, to which this individual responded, “Oh, then it isn’t real research.” Recognition of ethnographies, life stories, case studies, and the like as “real” research is joyfully welcomed by students of the social sciences who know that numbers are incapable of telling all there is to know about a subject, concept, or phenomenon. Having said this, however, I can appreciate scholars within the hard sciences questioning the legitimacy of an approach to research that allows such an astonishing array of options.
Qualitative inquiry has become an umbrella category for a bewildering variety of research procedures and reporting forms. These variations of qualitative approaches are sometimes identified as research traditions or research genres, and as many as 45 different types have been cataloged. Naturally, some of these traditions have become more thoroughly developed than others and are more widely known and applied than others. According to Jacob (1987), each such tradition or genre “forms a coherent whole, comprising internally consistent assumptions about human nature and society, foci of study, and methodology” (p. 1), somewhat like sports games that each adhere to their own sets of rules.
Since there are so many different “games” to choose from within the qualitative paradigm, and since each one requires expertise in its own unique assumptions and practices in order to be employed effectively, scholars recommend that researchers (especially novice researchers) select one or at most two of these genres within which to become knowledgeable and proficient. Furthermore, they encourage adherence to one genre as a whole rather than selectively using elements from different ones, at least until one has become very experienced.
Therefore, the next decision after one has committed to a qualitative research paradigm is to determine the most appropriate research genre for one’s research question. I found the following resources particularly helpful in understanding and selecting the genre within which to conduct my study.  See the following sources for more insights!
Sources:
Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Glesne, C., & Peshkin, A. (1992). Becoming qualitative researchers: An introduction. White Plains, NY: Longman.
Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education (Rev. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Jacob, E. (1987). Qualitative research traditions: A review. Review of Educational Research, 57(1), 1-50.
Piantanida, M., & Garman, N. B. (1999). The qualitative dissertation: A guide for students and faculty. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Qualitative Research Sampling

Qualitative Research

Qualitative Research Sampling

By Sharon Warkentin Short
To me, one of the most intriguing aspects of qualitative research is the selection of the sample with whom to conduct the study. In contrast to the probability or random sampling that is standard for quantitative investigations, qualitative researchers generally rely on “nonprobabilistic” (Merriam, 1998) or nonrandom sampling to determine their research participants. That is to say, rather than selecting individuals or groups in such a way that each member of the population under study has an equal chance of being chosen, qualitative inquirers deliberately seek out respondents who have the most to contribute: “the goal is to select cases that are likely to be ‘information-rich’ with respect to the purposes of the study” (Gall et al., 2003, p. 165). This selection approach has sometimes been labeled “purposive” or “purposeful sampling” (Merriam, 1998).
An instructive way to think about purposeful sampling is to view such participants as panels of experts in a specific area (Maxwell, 2005), comparable to medical specialists who are consulted regarding a difficult case. In that situation, the goal is not to get an average opinion from an entire population of doctors, but rather to hear what these particularly qualified people have to say (Merriam, 1998). At least fifteen different varieties of purposeful samples have been identified (Gall et al., 2003).
For my research I decided that an intensity sample was the best choice. Described as “cases that manifest the phenomenon of interest intensely but not extremely” (Gall et al., 2003, p. 178), such informants can be expected to provide ample useful data without seeming so rare or exceptional that subsequent readers of the research might feel the study has nothing relevant to say to them.
When I was first exposed to the whole area of nonrandom research sampling, I was very skeptical, because it sounded so contradictory to the tenets of objective, scientific research. However, it was the analogy of the panel of medical experts that convinced me. I realized that, for my study, I was not trying to discover what “average” children, or children in general, thought about Bible stories; I wanted to watch closely how one particular group of children in one Sunday school responded to the stories. The sample that I eventually studied constituted an intensity sample in that their church was field-testing a new children’s curriculum organized around the metanarrative of the Bible. This meant that the teaching materials were explicitly focused on Bible stories, and the volunteers and staff were committed to using the materials as effectively as possible. In this program they were more involved with the Bible stories than a typical Sunday school class might have been, but their involvement was not out of reach for most churches.
Sources:
Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2003). Educational research: An introduction (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Maxwell, J. A. (2005). Qualitative research design: An interactive approach (2nd ed.). Vol. 41. Applied Social Research Methods Series. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education (Rev. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Qualitative Research Sampling

 Qualitative Research Sample. Photo Courtesy Charles Chen on Flickr

Image Courtesy of Charles Chen on Flickr

Qualitative Research Sampling

By Dr. Sharon Warkentin Short
To me, one of the most intriguing aspects of qualitative research is the selection of the sample with whom to conduct the study. In contrast to the probability or random sampling that is standard for quantitative investigations, qualitative researchers generally rely on “nonprobabilistic” (Merriam, 1998) or nonrandom sampling to determine their research participants. That is to say, rather than selecting individuals or groups in such a way that each member of the population under study has an equal chance of being chosen, qualitative inquirers deliberately seek out respondents who have the most to contribute: “the goal is to select cases that are likely to be ‘information-rich’ with respect to the purposes of the study” (Gall et al., 2003, p. 165). This selection approach has sometimes been labeled “purposive” or “purposeful sampling” (Merriam, 1998).
Purposeful Sampling Revisited
An instructive way to think about purposeful sampling is to view such participants as panels of experts in a specific area (Maxwell, 2005), comparable to medical specialists who are consulted regarding a difficult case. In that situation, the goal is not to get an average opinion from an entire population of doctors, but rather to hear what these particularly qualified people have to say (Merriam, 1998). At least fifteen different varieties of purposeful samples have been identified (Gall et al., 2003).
For my research I decided that an intensity sample was the best choice. Described as “cases that manifest the phenomenon of interest intensely but not extremely” (Gall et al., 2003, p. 178), such informants can be expected to provide ample useful data without seeming so rare or exceptional that subsequent readers of the research might feel the study has nothing relevant to say to them.
Non-Random Research Sampling
When I was first exposed to the whole area of nonrandom research sampling, I was very skeptical, because it sounded so contradictory to the tenets of objective, scientific research. However, it was the analogy of the panel of medical experts that convinced me. I realized that, for my study, I was not trying to discover what “average” children, or children in general, thought about Bible stories; I wanted to watch closely how one particular group of children in one Sunday school responded to the stories. The sample that I eventually studied constituted an intensity sample in that their church was field-testing a new children’s curriculum organized around the metanarrative of the Bible. This meant that the teaching materials were explicitly focused on Bible stories, and the volunteers and staff were committed to using the materials as effectively as possible. In this program they were more involved with the Bible stories than a typical Sunday school class might have been, but their involvement was not out of reach for most churches.
 
Sources:
Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P., & Borg, W. R. (2003). Educational research: An introduction (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Maxwell, J. A. (2005). Qualitative research design: An interactive approach (2nd ed.). Vol. 41. Applied Social Research Methods Series. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education (Rev. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.