Qualitative Research in Practice: Examples for Discussion and Analysis / Edition 1

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Qualitative research (QR) is the method of inquiry that seeks to understand social phenomena within the context of the participants' perspectives and experiences. The research methods of QR are more flexible, responsive, and open to contextual interpretation than in quantitative research, which uses inventory, questionnaire, or numerical data to draw conclusions. In Qualitative Research in Practice, Sharan Merriam combines discussions of the types of QR with examples of research studies and reflections by the researchers themselves. An important resource for students and practitioners of QR, the book may be used as a companion to any general text on QR. Set out in a workbook format, this collection of writings combines discussions of all types of qualitative research with relevant examples and analysis by the researchers themselves. the text offers a handy resource for all those interested in qualitative research regardless of discipline or experience.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...will undoubtedly grace the bookshelves of qualitative researchers for years to come." (TCRecord.org, 10/29/02)

"...Merriam crafted a niche book that complements the many theoretical, how-to, and case study inquiry books...." (Journal of College Student Development, August 2003)

Qualitative research (QR) is the method of research that seeks to understand social phenomena within the context of participants' perspectives and experiences. This work combines discussion of the types of QR with examples of research studies and reflections by contributors on their personal experience in engaging in QR. It presents basic information about the nature of QR and discusses guidelines for evaluating this method of research. The book may be used as a companion to any general text on QR. Merriam teaches adult education at the University of Georgia. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787958954
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 5/28/2002
  • Series: Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 431,383
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Sharan B. Merriam is a professor of adult education at the University of Georgia in Athens. She is the author, coauthor or editor of more than fifteen books on adult education and/or qualitative research including Learning in Adulthood, Lifelines, The Profession and Practice of Adult Education, Qualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education and The New Update on Adult Learning Theory.

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Read an Excerpt

Qualitative Research in Practice

Examples for Discussion and Analysis

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7879-5895-6

Chapter One

Introduction to Qualitative Research

Sharan B. Merriam

Drawing from a long tradition in anthropology, sociology, and clinical psychology, qualitative research has, in the last twenty years, achieved status and visibility in the social sciences and helping professions. Reports of qualitative research studies can be found at conferences, on the World Wide Web, and in journals in social work, nursing, counseling, family relations, administration, health, community services, management, all subfields of education, and even medicine. In addition, there are numerous methodological texts on qualitative research available in fields as disparate as gerontology (Reinharz & Rowles, 1988) and organizational science and management (Lee, 1999).

What is the nature of qualitative inquiry that it has captured the attention of so many? The purpose of this chapter is to explain what qualitative research is, how it differs from the more familiar positivist or quantitative research, what variations exist within the qualitative paradigm itself, and how one goes about conducting a qualitative study. This chapter and the following chapter on evaluating and assessing qualitative research offer the backdrop for exploring the collection of qualitative studies and author commentaries that follow.

The Nature of Qualitative Research

The key to understanding qualitativeresearch lies with the idea that meaning is socially constructed by individuals in interaction with their world. The world, or reality, is not the fixed, single, agreed upon, or measurable phenomenon that it is assumed to be in positivist, quantitative research. Instead, there are multiple constructions and interpretations of reality that are in flux and that change over time. Qualitative researchers are interested in understanding what those interpretations are at a particular point in time and in a particular context. Learning how individuals experience and interact with their social world, the meaning it has for them, is considered an interpretive qualitative approach. If you were interested in studying the placement of a child in foster care, for example, you might focus on understanding the experience from the perspective of the child, the foster family, the agency involved, or all three.

Drawing from critical social theory, you might also investigate how the social and political aspects of the situation shape the reality; that is, how larger contextual factors affect the ways in which individuals construct reality. This would be a critical qualitative approach. Using the same example of placement of a child in foster care, from a critical qualitative perspective you would be interested in how the social institution of the placement agency, or the foster family, is structured such that the interests of some members and classes of society are served and perpetuated at the expense of others. Whose interests are being served by this placement? How do power, privilege, and oppression play out? Critical social science research has its own variations. Much of feminist research draws from critical theory, as does participatory or participatory action research, a form of research that involves participants in the design and implementation of a study. Some critical research incorporates a strong emancipatory agenda along with critique; that is, the overall objective is to empower participants in the process of conducting the investigation.

Another, more recent, philosophical stance is called postmodern or poststructural. Here researchers question all aspects of the construction of reality, what it is and what it is not, how it is organized, and so on. As Bruner (1993, p. 1) writes, meaning is "radically plural, always open, and ... politics [is] in every account." For example, a poststructural inquiry would question and "disrupt" the dichotomies (for example foster-nonfoster family, child-adult) inherent in the research problem above. Lather (1992) lays out these three overarching theoretical perspectives in terms of understanding (interpretive), emancipation (critical and feminist are included here), and deconstruction (postmodern). Although I have included examples of critical and postmodern studies in this volume, the emphasis is on interpretive qualitative research studies.

As a qualitative researcher, you can approach an investigation from any of the philosophical or theoretical stances outlined above. Your particular stance will determine the specific research design that you employ for actually carrying out your study. If your primary interest is in understanding a phenomenon, you have many options, the most common being grounded theory, phenomenology, narrative, ethnography, case study, or just a basic interpretive study. Critical, feminist, postmodern, and participatory studies all have goals that include but go beyond understanding.

Several key characteristics cut across the various interpretive qualitative research designs (also called forms, types, or genres by various authors). The first characteristic is that researchers strive to understand the meaning people have constructed about their world and their experiences; that is, how do people make sense of their experience? As Patton (1985, p. 1) explains: Qualitative research "is an effort to understand situations in their uniqueness as part of a particular context and the interactions there. This understanding is an end in itself, so that it is not attempting to predict what may happen in the future necessarily, but to understand the nature of that setting-what it means for participants to be in that setting, what their lives are like, what's going on for them, what their meanings are, what the world looks like in that particular setting.... The analysis strives for depth of understanding."

A second characteristic of all forms of qualitative research is that the researcher is the primary instrument for data collection and data analysis. Since understanding is the goal of this research, the human instrument, which is able to be immediately responsive and adaptive, would seem to be the ideal means of collecting and analyzing data. Other advantages are that the researcher can expand his or her understanding through nonverbal as well as verbal communication, process information (data) immediately, clarify and summarize material, check with respondents for accuracy of interpretation, and explore unusual or unanticipated responses.

However, the human instrument has shortcomings and biases that might have an impact on the study. Rather than trying to eliminate these biases or "subjectivities," it is important to identify them and monitor them as to how they may be shaping the collection and interpretation of data. Peshkin (1988, p. 18) goes so far as to make the case that one's subjectivities "can be seen as virtuous, for it is the basis of researchers making a distinctive contribution, one that results from the unique configuration of their personal qualities joined to the data they have collected."

Often qualitative researchers undertake a qualitative study because there is a lack of theory or an existing theory fails to adequately explain a phenomenon. Therefore, another important characteristic of qualitative research is that the process is inductive; that is, researchers gather data to build concepts, hypotheses, or theories rather than deductively deriving postulates or hypotheses to be tested (as in positivist research). In attempting to understand the meaning a phenomenon has for those involved, qualitative researchers build toward theory from observations and intuitive understandings gleaned from being in the field. Typically, findings inductively derived from the data in a qualitative study are in the form of themes, categories, typologies, concepts, tentative hypotheses, and even substantive theory.

Finally, the product of a qualitative inquiry is richly descriptive. Words and pictures rather than numbers are used to convey what the researcher has learned about a phenomenon. There are likely to be descriptions of the context, the participants involved, the activities of interest. In addition, data in the form of quotes from documents, field notes, and participant interviews, excerpts from videotapes, electronic communication, or a combination thereof are always included in support of the findings of the study. These quotes and excerpts contribute to the descriptive nature of qualitative research.

In summary, qualitative research attempts to understand and make sense of phenomena from the participant's perspective. The researcher can approach the phenomenon from an interpretive, critical, or postmodern stance. All qualitative research is characterized by the search for meaning and understanding, the researcher as the primary instrument of data collection and analysis, an inductive investigative strategy, and a richly descriptive end product.

Distinguishing Among Types of Qualitative Research

From education to anthropology to management science, researchers, students, and practitioners are conducting qualitative studies. It is not surprising, then, that different disciplines and fields ask different questions and have evolved somewhat different strategies and procedures. Writers of qualitative texts have organized the diversity of forms of qualitative research in various ways. Patton (1990), for example, presents ten orientations to qualitative research according to the different kinds of questions researchers from different disciplines might ask. Creswell (1998) has identified five "traditions"-biography, phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and case study. Tesch (1990) lists forty-five approaches divided into designs (for example, case study), data analysis techniques (for example, discourse analysis), and disciplinary orientation (for example, ethnography). Denzin and Lincoln (2000) identify eight research strategies of case study, ethnography, phenomenology, grounded theory, biographical, historical, participatory, and clinical. They write that qualitative research "does not belong to a single discipline. Nor does qualitative research have a distinct set of methods that are entirely its own" (p. 6).

Given the variety of qualitative research designs or strategies, I have chosen to organize this resource book around eight of the more commonly used approaches to doing qualitative research: basic interpretive, phenomenology, grounded theory, case study, ethnography, narrative analysis, critical, and postmodern-poststructural. These and other types of qualitative research do have some attributes in common that result in their falling under the umbrella concept of "qualitative." However, they each have a somewhat different focus, resulting in variations in how the research question might be asked, sample selection, data collection and analysis, and write-up. Following is a short description of each of the eight types. More thorough discussions of each type of qualitative research, along with examples and author commentaries, can be found in Part Two.

Basic Interpretive Qualitative Study. A basic interpretive and descriptive qualitative study exemplifies all the characteristics of qualitative research discussed above; that is, the researcher is interested in understanding how participants make meaning of a situation or phenomenon, this meaning is mediated through the researcher as instrument, the strategy is inductive, and the outcome is descriptive. In conducting a basic qualitative study, you seek to discover and understand a phenomenon, a process, the perspectives and worldviews of the people involved, or a combination of these. Data are collected through interviews, observations, or document analysis. These data are inductively analyzed to identify the recurring patterns or common themes that cut across the data. A rich, descriptive account of the findings is presented and discussed, using references to the literature that framed the study in the first place. For example, Levinson and Levinson's (1996) study of women's development is situated in the literature on adult growth and development. The authors interviewed fifteen homemakers, fifteen corporate businesswomen, and fifteen academics. Findings of women's developmental patterns parallel their earlier study of male development in which forty men in midlife were interviewed. Levinson and Levinson found that the basic structure or underlying pattern of a woman's life evolves through periods of tumultuous, structure-building phases alternating with stable periods of development.

Phenomenology. Because phenomenology as a school of philosophical thought underpins all qualitative research, some assume that all qualitative research is phenomenological, and certainly in one sense it is. However, even though the phenomenological notions of experience and understanding run through all qualitative research, one could also engage in a phenomenological study using its own "tools" or inquiry techniques that differentiate it from other types of qualitative inquiry.

In the same way that ethnography focuses on culture, a phenomenological study focuses on the essence or structure of an experience. Phenomenologists are interested in showing how complex meanings are built out of simple units of direct experience. This form of inquiry is an attempt to deal with inner experiences unprobed in everyday life. According to Patton (1990), this type of research is based on "the assumption that there is an essence or essences to shared experience.... The experiences of different people are bracketed, analyzed, and compared to identify the essences of the phenomenon, for example, the essences of loneliness, the essence of being a mother, or the essence of being a participant in a particular program" (p. 70, emphasis in original).

In order to understand the essence or structure of an experience, the researcher temporarily has to put aside, or "bracket," personal attitudes or beliefs about the phenomenon. With belief temporarily suspended, consciousness itself becomes heightened, allowing the researcher to intuit or see the essence of the phenomenon. Examples of phenomenological studies include Howard's (1994) study of the experience of first-time computer users and Healy's (2001) recent study of insight meditation as a transformational learning experience.

Grounded Theory. It can be argued that Glaser and Strauss' 1967 book, The Discovery of Grounded Theory, launched, or at least was key in the development of qualitative research as a viable research paradigm. The goal of this type of qualitative study is to derive inductively from data a theory that is "grounded" in the data-hence, grounded theory. Grounded theory research emphasizes discovery with description and verification as secondary concerns.


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All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


The Editor.

The Contributors.

Part One: The Nature of Qualitative Inquiry.

1. Introduction to Qualitative Research (Sharan B. Merriam).

2. Assessing and Evaluating Qualitative Research (Sharan B. Merriam).

Part Two: Examples of Qualitative Research for Discussion and Analysis.


3. How Cultural Values Shape Learning inOlder Adulthood: The Case of Malaysia (Sharan B. Merriam, Mazanah Muhamad).

Do All These People Have To Be Here? Reflections on Collecting Data in Another Culture (Sharan B. Merriam).

4. Spirituality and Emancipatory Adult Educationin Women Adult Educators for Social Change (Elizabeth J. Tisdell).

Researching One s Passions: The Perils and Possibilities (Elizabeth J. Tisdell).


5. A Phenomenological Study ofIn-Church and Televised Worship (Richard F. Wolff).

Self-Reflection: An Essential Qualityfor Phenomenological Researchers (Richard F. Wolff).

6. A Phenomenological Investigationof Good Supervision Events (Vaughn E. Worthen, Brian W. McNeill).

Phenomenological Researchand the Making of Meaning (Vaughn E. Worthen).


7. Development of Professional SchoolCounselor Identity: A Grounded Theory (Pamelia E. Brott, Jane E. Myers).

My Journey with Grounded Theory Research (Pamelia E. Brott).

8. A Conceptual Model of MultipleDimensions of Identity (Susan R. Jones, Marylu K. McEwen).

Becoming Grounded inGrounded Theory Methodology (Susan R. Jones).


9. The Role of the School in the Assimilation ofImmigrant Children: A Case Study of Arab-Americans (Ernestine K. Enomoto, Mary Antony Bair).

Reflections of Our Own Inner Lives (Ernestine K. Enomoto, Mary Antony Bair).

10. Jermaine: A Critical Case Study of aGifted Black Child Living in Rural Poverty (Thomas P. Hebert, Teresa M. Beardsley).

Reflections on My Research Experiencewith Jermaine and His Community (Thomas P. Hebert).


11. The Ethnography of an Electronic Bar:The Lesbian Cafe (Shelley J. Correll).

Reflections of a Novice Researcher (Shelley J. Correll).

12. Hard and Heavy: Gender and Powerin a Heavy Metal Music Subculture (Leigh Krenske, Jim McKay).

You re Researching What? The Importance of Self in Ethnographic Research (Leigh Krenske).


13. Stories of One s Own:Nonunitary Subjectivity in Narrative Representation (Leslie Rebecca Bloom).

From Self to Society: Reflections onthe Power of Narrative Inquiry (Leslie Rebecca Bloom).

14. Cathy: The Wrong Side of the Tank (Juanita Johnson-Bailey).

Dancing Between the Swords:My Foray into Constructing Narratives (Juanita Johnson-Bailey).


15. Tootle: A Parable of Schooling and Destiny (Nicholas C. Burbules).

Tootle Revisited: Fifteen Years Down the Track (Nicholas C. Burbules).

16. The Politics of Consumer EducationMaterials Used in Adult Literacy Classrooms (Jennifer A. Sandlin).

Structure and Subjectivity:Reflections on Critical Research (Jennifer A. Sandlin).


17. Exposed Methodology:The Body as a Deconstructive Practice (Wanda S. Pillow).

Looking Back to Move Forward: Reflections onHow I Did Research Impacts What I Know Now (Wanda S. Pillow).

18. Methodology in the Fold andthe Irruption of Transgressive Data (Elizabeth A. St. Pierre).

Troubling the Categories of Qualitative Inquiry (Elizabeth A. St. Pierre).

19. Reflections on Doing Qualitative Research (Sharan B. Merriam).

Name Index.

Subject Index.

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