Home Up Data Tools Data Tools 2 Reliability Historical Descriptive Experimental Qualitative

Research Design in Occupational Education
Copyright 1997. James P. Key. Oklahoma State University
Except for those materials which are supplied by different departments of the University
(ex. IRB, Thesis Handbook) and references used by permission.





 Qualitative research is a generic term for investigative methodologies described as ethnographic, naturalistic, anthropological, field, or participant observer research. It emphasizes the importance of looking at variables in the natural setting in which they are found. Interaction between variables is important. Detailed data is gathered through open ended questions that provide direct quotations. The interviewer is an integral part of the investigation (Jacob, 1988). This differs from quantitative research which attempts to gather data by objective methods to provide information about relations, comparisons, and predictions and attempts to remove the investigator from the investigation (Smith, 1983).



Purpose: Understanding - Seeks to understand people’s interpretations.

Reality: Dynamic - Reality changes with changes in people’s perceptions.

Viewpoint: Insider - Reality is what people perceive it to be.

Values: Value bound - Values will have an impact and should be understood and taken into account when conducting and reporting research.

Focus: Holistic - A total or complete picture is sought.

Orientation: Discovery - Theories and hypotheses are evolved from data as collected.

Data: Subjective - Data are perceptions of the people in the environment.

Instrumentation: Human - The human person is the primary collection instrument.

Conditions: Naturalistic - Investigations are conducted under natural conditions.

Results: Valid - The focus is on design and procedures to gain "real," "rich," and "deep" data.



Produces more in-depth, comprehensive information.
Uses subjective information and participant observation to describe the context, or natural setting, of the variables under consideration, as well as the interactions of the different variables in the context. It seeks a wide understanding of the entire situation.


The very subjectivity of the inquiry leads to difficulties in establishing the reliability and validity of the approaches and information.
It is very difficult to prevent or detect researcher induced bias.
Its scope is limited due to the in-depth, comprehensive data gathering approaches required.


Holistic Description

When conducting qualitative research, the investigator seeks to gain a total or complete picture. According to Stainback and Stainback (1988), a holistic description of events, procedures, and philosophies occurring in natural settings is often needed to make accurate situational decisions. This differs from quantitative research in which selected, pre-defined variables are studied.



The purpose of corroboration is not to confirm whether people’s perceptions are accurate or true reflections of a situation but rather to ensure that the research findings accurately reflect people’s perceptions, whatever they may be. The purpose of corroboration is to help researchers increase their understanding of the probability that their findings will be seen as credible or worthy of consideration by others (Stainback & Stainback, 1988).



One process involved in corroboration is triangulation. Denzin (1978) has identified several types of triangulation. One type involves the convergence of multiple data sources. Another type is methodological triangulation, which involves the convergence of data from multiple data collection sources. A third triangulation procedure is investigator triangulation, in which multiple researchers are involved in an investigation. Related to investigator triangulation is researcher-participant corroboration, which has also been referred to as cross-examination.

Other procedures can be used to improve understanding and/or the credibility of a study. These include research or inquiry audit, peer debriefing, and the seeking of negative cases in the field that might disconfirm interpretations.


Participant Observation

Systematically seeks out and organizes data concerning what is being studied based on a social science theory and methodology rather than focusing on achieving a situationally defined goal.
Keeps detailed records of what occurs, including those things characteristically taken for granted.
Periodically detaches self from the situation to review records from the neutral position of a social scientist.
Constantly monitors observations and records for evidence of personal bias or prejudice.


Five Types of Participant Observation

External Participation constitutes the lowest degree of involvement in observation. This type of observation can be done by observing situations on television or videotape.
Passive Participation means the researcher is present at the scene of action but does not interact or participate. The researcher finds an observation post and assumes the role of a bystander or spectator.
Balanced Participation means that the researcher maintains a balance between being an insider and being an outsider. The researcher observes and participates in some activities, but does not participate fully in all activities.
Active Participation means that the researcher generally does what others in the setting do. While beginning with observation to learn the rules, as they are learned the researcher becomes actively engaged in the activities of the setting.
Total Participation means the researcher is a natural participant. This is the highest level of involvement and usually comes about when the researcher studies something in which he or she is already a natural participant.



The researcher should control his reactions. The purpose of the interview is to find out what views people hold; their views should be unbiased by evaluative responses on the researcher’s part.
The researcher should choose an interview environment and conditions in which the participants feel comfortable, secure, and at ease enough to speak openly about their point of view.
The researcher should avoid presenting "yes" or "no" questions which tend to stifle detail.
The researcher should be flexible in his or her approach to the informants.
Group interviews can be useful, particularly in initial interviews.
The researcher should consider to what degree the interview questioning is "recursive." As applied to interviewing, what has been said in an interview is used to determine or define further questioning.


Case Study

Case studies are detailed investigations of individuals, groups, institutions or other social units. The researcher conducting a case study attempts to analyze the variables relevant to the subject under study (Polit and Hungler, 1983). The principle difference between case studies and other research studies is that the focus of attention is the individual case and not the whole population of cases. Most studies search for what is common and pervasive. However, in the case study, the focus may not be on generalization but on understanding the particulars of that case in its complexity. A case study focuses on a bounded system, usually under natural conditions, so that the system can be understood in its own habitat (Stake, 1988).



Maintaining The Validity Of Qualitative Research

Be a listener. The subject(s) of qualitative research should provide the majority of the research input. It is the researcher’s task to properly interpret the responses of the subject(s).
Record accurately. All records should be maintained in the form of detailed notes or electronic recordings. These records should also be developed during rather than after the data gathering session.
Initiate writing early. It is suggested that the researcher make a rough draft of the study before ever going into the field to collect data. This allows a record to be made when needed. The researcher is more prepared now to focus the data gathering phase on that information that will meet the specific identified needs of the project.
Include the primary data in the final report. The inclusion of primary data in the final report allows the reader to see exactly the basis upon which the researcher’s conclusions were made. In short, it is better to include too much detail than too little.
Include all data in the final report. The researcher should not leave out pieces of information from the final report because she/he cannot interpret that data. In these cases, the reader should be allowed to develop his/her conclusions.
Be candid. The researcher should not spend too much time attempting to keep her/his own feelings and personal reactions out of the study. If there is relevance in the researcher’s feelings to the matter at hand, these feelings should be revealed.
Seek feedback. The researcher should allow others to critique the research manuscript following the developmental process. Professional colleagues and research subjects should be included in this process to ensure that information is reported accurately and completely.
Attempt to achieve balance. The researcher should attempt to achieve a balance between perceived importance and actual importance. Often, the information reveals a difference in anticipated and real areas of study significance.
Write accurately. Incorrect grammar, misspelled words, statement inconsistency, etc. jeopardize the validity of an otherwise good study.

Wolcott, H.R. (1990). Qualitative inquiry in education: The continuing debate.


Assessment of Trustworthiness

Researchers need alternative models appropriate to qualitative designs to ensure rigor without sacrificing the relevance of qualitative research. Guba’s model describes four general criteria for evaluation of research and then defines each from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective.


Qualitative Approach

Quantitative Approach

Truth value


Internal Validity



External Validity








Strategies With Which to Establish Trustworthiness




Prolonged and varied field experience


Time sampling


Reflexivity (field journal)




Member checking


Peer examination


Interview technique


Establishing authority of researcher


Structural coherence


Referential adequacy


Nominated sample


Comparison of sample to demographic data


Time sample


Dense description


Dependability audit


Dense description of research methods


Stepwise replication




Peer examination


Code-recode procedure


Confirmability audit





Krefting, L. (1991). Rigor in qualitative research: The assessment of trustworthiness. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 45(3), 214-222.


Characteristics of Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Point of Comparisons

Qualitative Research

Quantitative Research

Focus of research

Quality (nature, essence)

Quantity (how much, how many)

Philosophical roots

Phenomenology, symbolic interaction

Positivism, logical empiricism

Associated phrases

Fieldwork, ethnographic, naturalistic, grounded, subjective

Experimental, empirical, statistical

Goal of investigation

Understanding, description, discovery, hypothesis generating

Prediction, control, description, confirmation, hypothesis testing

Design characteristics

Flexible, evolving, emergent

Predetermined, structured


Natural, familiar

Unfamiliar, artificial


Small, non-random, theoretical

Large, random, representative

Data collection

Researcher as primary instrument, interviews, observations

Inanimate instruments (scales, tests, surveys, questionnaires, computers)

Mode of analysis

Inductive (by researcher)

Deductive (by statistical methods)


Comprehensive, holistic, expansive

Precise, narrow, reductionist

Merriam, S.B. (1988). Case study research in education: A qualitative approach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 18.



1. Briefly define and describe qualitative research.

2. List two advantages of qualitative research.

3. List three disadvantages of qualitative research.

4. Define holistic description.

5. Define corroboration.

6. Define triangulation.

7. List the five types of participant observation.

8. Define case study.

9. List the methods of maintaining validity of qualitative research.

10. List the four criteria for evaluation of qualitative research.

11. List ways to establish trustworthiness for each strategy in Guba’s model.

12. List twelve comparisons between qualitative and quantitative research.

Home Up Data Tools Data Tools 2 Reliability Historical Descriptive Experimental Qualitative