Beginning Research | Action Research | Case Study | Interviews | Observation Techniques | Education Research in the Postmodern
Evaluation Research in Education | Narrative| Presentations | Qualitative Research | Quantitative Methods | Questionnaires | Writing up Research
Originally prepared by Professor Peter Woods.
Component now run by Dr. Nick Pratt.
© P Woods, Faculty of Education, University of Plymouth, 2006
Parts of this component were previously published by the Open University in Section 6 of its Study Guide for E835 Educational Research in Action, 1996. We are grateful to the OU for permission to re-use this material.
- FEATURES OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH
- METHODS OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCH
- QUALITATIVE ANALYSIS
- FURTHER READING
There is a wide range of approaches to qualitative research. Atkinson et al (1998), for example, outline seven different approaches used in British educational research deriving from symbolic interactionism, anthropology, sociolinguistics, ethnomethodology, qualitative evaluation, neo-Marxist ethnography, and feminism. In addition, a number of terms are often used interchangeably, such as 'ethnography', 'case study', 'qualitative research', though each, in fact, has its own particular meaning (Click here to visit the section on Qualitative Approaches in The Research Methods Knowledge Base). In effect, however, most qualitative approaches have:
[Component leader's note: It is worth noting that I now tend to use the term 'interpretive research' to avoid confusion between the notion of 'qualitative data' (data which is qualitative in nature) and a 'qualitative stance' to research (which describes a paradigmatic position. You can read more about this disctinction in the beginning research component.]
Qualitative researchers are interested in life as it is lived in real situations. This has a number of implications:
|Can you see any problems with this advocacy
of naturalism? Make brief notes on problems arising from the researcher a) studying, and
b) representing natural events.
When you have done this, see my comments by clicking on Naturalism.
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The qualitative researcher seeks to discover the meanings that participants attach to their behaviour, how they interpret situations, and what their perspectives are on particular issues. Some students might see school not as a place for learning but more as an arena for socialising. Some might conform in some lessons, and be disruptive in others. This disruption might perhaps be functional for the student, earning status within the peer group. In some research I did with Lynda Measor (Measor and Woods, 1984), a secondary school was attempting to dissolve gender boundaries by having a common curriculum, but pupils 're-gendered' them. Boys used cakes as weapons and a sewing machine as a train. Girls protested about nasty smells and unisex goggles in physical science. Behaviour that is often represented as 'meaningless' or 'mindless' is redolent with meaning if we can only discover what it is.
|Consider the scenario below. Place
yourself in the position of a) the pupils and b) the teachers, and contrast their points
of view. How might different understandings of the situation be at the bottom of the
When you have completed this exercise, see my comments by clicking on Perspectives.
Of all the techniques used by gang members to communicate rejection of authority, by far the most subtle and annoying to teachers is demeanour. Both white and Negro gang members have developed a uniform and highly stylised complex of body movements that communicate a casual and disdainful aloofness to anyone making normative claims on their behaviour. The complex is referred to by a gang member as 'looking cool', and it is part of a repertoire of stances that include 'looking bad' and 'looking tore down'. The essential ingredients of 'looking cool' are a walking pace that is a little too slow for the occasion, a straight back, shoulders slightly stooped, hands in pockets, and eyes that carefully avert any party to the interaction. There are also clothing aids which enhance the effect such as boot and shoe taps and a hat if the scene takes place indoors. (Werthman, 1963, pp. 56-7)
The researcher's point of entry to understanding here was the boys' references to 'looking cool', which he then 'unpacked' by close observation of their behaviour. You might be familiar with a number of such cues from pupils from your own experiences, such as 'having a laugh', 'dossing or swotting', 'bunking off', 'being picked on' or 'shown up'.
Specialist terminology is not the only clue. Subjects might use the same language as the researcher but mean different things by it. Pupils' understandings of 'work' for example have been shown to vary among different groups. The words still have to be interpreted, therefore. In essence, the researcher aims for 'shared meanings, when one feels part of the culture and can interpret words and gestures as they do' (Wax, 1971).
|You are observing a lesson in a classroom
when you see a student hitting another student. How might you interpret this behaviour?
What possible meanings could it have? How would you find out?
When you have completed this exercise, see my comments by clicking on Meanings.
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Educational research in the 1950s and 60s was mostly concerned with relating 'input' factors, such as parents' social class, with 'output' factors, such as academic achievement. What went on in between was largely neglected. Qualitative research, which has become more popular since the 1970s, was directed towards unpacking the 'black box' of the school and the complex processes that went on within it. There is a focus on how things happen, how they develop, on becoming. Everyday life is an ever-changing picture, there is no settled state. Action is a continuous process of meaning attribution, which is always emerging, in a state of flux, and subject to change. Typical subjects for enquiry might be how a group culture forms and develops, how particular roles are perceived and performed, how a class of students and their teacher negotiate the basis on which the class will be conducted, how a student becomes deviant, how a particular piece of school policy is formulated and implemented, how transitions are managed.
Quantitative and qualitative methods can work well together here. For example, quantitative methods can show, by before and after tests, what change has occurred; and, by surveys, how generally and frequently it occurred. Qualitative methods can reveal in fine detail just how change occurred in day-to-day activities, negotiations and decisions.
Equally, quantitative and qualitative methods can be a useful check on each other. For example, the vast amount of research on pupils' inter-ethnic association, using quantitative techniques, had found pupils preferring their own ethnic group and not forming many inter-ethnic friendships. But Denscombe et al (1986), using a range of methods including extended observation of free association in classrooms and playground, found a high degree of inter-ethnic association in the schools of their research, which supported teachers' own observations. This, of course, could be a product of the particular schools studied, but it is also possible that the earlier studies failed to capture the complexity of the situation and the understandings of those within it. There could have been many forms of interaction, between and within ethnic groups, varying with time, situations, persons, and in the nature and degree of 'friendship' - itself a concept about which children hold different understandings.
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As noted earlier, qualitative researchers do not, on the whole, start with a theory which they aim to test, though there is no reason why they should not do so if they wish. They mainly work the other way round, seeking to generate theory from the data. Theory is then said to be 'grounded' in the data. Grounded theory became popular in the UK during the 1970s, when it was beginning to be felt that too much theory in social and educational research was far removed from the realities of social life (click here to see more on grounded theory).
The research on differentiation and polarisation over the years is an example of both the generation and testing of theory using qualitative methods. It has taken this form:
This, then, is an example of how qualitative researchers can build on each other's work in a theoretically productive way.
Not all qualitative researchers are concerned to test theory in this way. Some would argue that their aim is to understand the quality of social life. In pursuit of this they produce richly detailed material. This has been termed 'thick description', which
Goes beyond mere fact and surface appearances. It presents detail, context, emotion and the webs of social relationships that join persons to one another. Thick description evokes emotionality and self-feelings. It inserts history into experience. It establishes the significance of an experience, or the sequence of events, for the person or persons in question. In thick description, the voices, feelings, actions and meanings of interacting individuals are heard. (Denzin, 1989, p. 83)
Thick description often contains new ideas or concepts that cast new light on the activity under study, and which might help us understand similar activity elsewhere. I will say more about this in the analysis section.
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The main methods employed in qualitative research are observation, interviews, and documentary analysis.
For a useful video example of how one professional researcher planned and organised her (large scale) research project, click here.
[Note that this will take you to the excellent materials at VResORT and you will need to create a free account here before viewing them. It is well worth doing this and only takes a minute.]
In seeking to explore the natural scene, the qualitative researcher aims to be as unobtrusive as possible, so that neither research presence nor methods disturb the situation. This is why participant observation is one of the favoured approaches. Here, the researcher adopts a recognised role within the institution or group. Researchers have become, amongst other things, teachers, gang-members, pupils, nudists, hippies, bread salesmen, and medical students.
The advantages of participant observation are:-
The disadvantages are:-
It might be more difficult to make the situation 'strange', especially if one is a member of the institution before starting the research. Indeed there is a danger of 'going native' - an over-identification with people's views so that one's perspective as a researcher is submerged beneath them. One must work hard to achieve 'analytic distance' from the role, to set aside taken-for-granted assumptions and to see oneself in the role. The cultivation of reflectivity, and keeping personal diaries, have helped here.
It adds to the demands on the researcher. Qualitative research in any form is demanding, typically presenting a mass of confusing and intricate data. Participation adds to this, taking up valuable time and adding to one's responsibilities.
There is a possibility of conflict between one's role as a participant and one's role as a researcher.
Some have therefore preferred non-participant observation, which today is the more common mode. Here, the researcher has only the role of researcher and observes situations of interest in that capacity. A lesson might be observed from the back of a classroom, or a playground from behind the sidelines. The researcher adopts 'fly on the wall' techniques to observe things as undisturbed by his or her presence as possible.
This mode is less taxing, and is a defence against 'going native', but of course it lacks the benefits of participation. There are also practical and ethical problems about being a 'fly on the wall'. A kind of halfway position is that of involved observation. Here the researcher has none of the responsibilities of a formal role, but takes part in activities from time to time, for example 'helping out' in the classroom, 'blending in' to the playground. In some ways, this is a more natural role for the qualitative researcher to take. Epstein (1998) discusses some of the pros and cons of this in her research on pupil perspectives, where she adopted a least adult role.
What and how you observe depends very much on your subject of study. You may already have a clearly defined focus - for example, contrasting a teacher's treatment of boys and girls, examining girls' playground games, studying a particular pupil's reaction to lessons. The task then is to capture as much of the detail and interaction as possible, through making notes, tape-recording, photography, filming. The benefits of the last three are that they record elements of the action (too complex and manifold to take in at first gaze) which can than be studied in detail later. However, it is not always possible or desirable to do all of these. Also, they have to be done as unobtrusively as possible. For this reason, qualitative researchers are often only able to scribble notes on bits of paper at the time, writing them up more fully at the earliest convenience. Typically, a day's research is followed by an evening's writing up of fieldnotes.
If the subject of study is more general - for example, teacher or pupil culture or subcultures, school ethos, teaching methods, teacher-pupil relations - a wider net has to be cast in the early stages. One looks for what are major issues or prominent themes to the people concerned, and gradually comes to focus on those and fill out their detail. Cues to these can be incidents that disrupt the normal flow of events, or strange behaviour (like the blazer-ripping incident), or subjects' own distinctive behaviour or terminology (like 'looking cool'). Researchers often have the feeling of 'hanging around' and 'muddling through' this period, but it is surprising how quickly and eventually how strongly the lines of focus emerge with sustained observation.
Researchers who prefer more security from the beginning might consider systematic observation. This involves using an observation schedule whereby teacher and/or pupil behaviour is coded according to certain predetermined categories at regular intervals.
The strengths of systematic observation are:-
It is relatively free of observer bias. It can establish frequencies, and is strong on objective measures which involve low inference on the part of the observer.
Reliability can be strong. Where teams of researchers have used this approach, 80% reliability has been established among them.
Generalisability. Once you have devised your instrument, large samples can be covered.
It is precise. There is no 'hanging around' or 'muddling through'.
It provides a structure for the research.
The weaknesses are:-
There is a measure of unreliability. Qualitative material might be misrepresented through the use of measurement techniques.
Much of the interaction is missed.
It usually ignores the temporal and spatial context in which the data is collected.
It is not good for generating fresh insights.
The pre-specification of categories predetermines what is to be discovered and allows only partial description.
It ignores process, flux, development, and change.
There has been lively debate about the pros and cons of systematic and unsystematic observation (see, for example, Part 1 of Hammersley, 1993). In general, systematic observation is a useful technique (its best known usage being on the 'ORACLE' researches - see Galton and Simon, 1980), and can be particularly strong where used in conjunction with more purely qualitative techniques.
See also the Observation Techniques component.
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A great deal of qualitative material comes from talking with people whether it be through formal interviews or casual conversations. If interviews are going to tap into the depths of reality of the situation and discover subjects' meanings and understandings, it is essential for the researcher:
The best technique for this is the unstructured interview. Here, the researcher has some general ideas about the topics of the interview, and may have an aide memoire of points that might arise in discussion for use as prompts, if necessary. But the hope is that those points will come up in the natural course of the discussion as the interviewee talks. Care is needed, therefore, to avoid leading questions or suggesting outcomes, and skill is called for in discovering what the interviewee really thinks. The researcher aims to appear natural, not someone with a special role, but one who engages with interviewees on a person-to-person basis. Attention will be paid to where the interview is held, arrangement of seating, how the researcher dresses, manner of approach, all in the interests of equality. There might be a certain amount of pleasant chat before getting into explaining what the research is about. If rapport has been established, there should not be a difficulty in getting people to talk. The problem, rather, might be that they talk too inconsequentially, or off the subject, or vaguely. There are a number of techniques researchers use in the natural course of the conversation to aid clarity, depth and validity. Here are some:
The researcher engages in 'active' listening, which shows the interviewee that close attention is being paid to what they say; and also tries to keep the interviewee focused on the subject, as unobtrusively as possible. Something of the researcher's self - perhaps involving some similar or contrasting experiences to those of the interviewee - is also put into the interaction in the interests of sustaining rapport and encouraging more discussion. In this sense, the unstructured interview is a process of constructing reality to which both parties contribute. A large amount of data is generated, and if possible, it is a great advantage if the interview can be tape recorded for later transcription. How this is then analysed I discuss below.
As with observation, it may be that the researcher begins with a more focused study and wishes to know certain things. In these cases a structured interview might be more appropriate. Here the researcher decides the structure of the interview and sets out with predetermined questions. As with systematic observation, this is less naturalistic. Within the spaces, the same techniques as above might apply, but there is clearly not as much scope for the interviewee to generate the agenda. For this reason, some researchers use semi-structured interviews - interviews which have some pre-set questions, but allow more scope for open-ended answers.
Both kinds of interview might be used in the same research. For example, the initial stage of a project might be exploratory and expansive. But once certain issues have been identified, the researcher might use more focused interviews. They are still grounded in the reality of the situation.
See also the component on Interviews.
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Where qualitative research is seeking to generalise about general issues, representative or 'naturalistic' sampling is desirable. This covers places, times and persons. Thus, if we were studying teachers' or pupils' perspectives, or the culture of a group, we would need to consider them in different settings, since behaviour can differ markedly in different situations - for example, the formal circumstances of a teacher's classroom or office, the staffroom, different classrooms, the informal ambience of a pub, and the personal stronghold of the teacher's home. The same point applies to time. Weekly and yearly cycles, for example, are critical in schools. If our research sampled at just the beginnings and/or ends of terms, weeks or days, we would end up with a distorted study if we were to claim our results applied more generally. Again, if we are seeking to represent a group in our findings (the 'English Department', the 'Year 10 Girls'), we should ensure that we have sampled across that group according to some appropriate criteria, such as age, gender, ethnicity, experience.
Representative sampling cannot always be achieved in qualitative research because of a) the initially largely exploratory nature of the research; b) problems of negotiating access; c) the sheer weight of work and problems of gathering and processing data using only one set of eyes and ears. Often, one has to make do with an opportunity sample in those areas where access is offered; or a snowball sample, where the sample is developed through personal contact and recommendation as the research proceeds. In these cases, the basis of the sampling must be made clear and no inappropriate generalising claims made for the findings.
Documents are a useful source of data in qualitative research, but they have to be treated with care. The most widely used are official documents, personal documents, and questionnaires.
Official documents include registers, timetables, minutes of meetings, planning papers, lesson plans and notes, confidential documents on pupils, school handbooks, newspapers and journals, school records, files and statistics, notice boards, exhibitions, official letters, textbooks, exercise books, examination papers, work cards, blackboard work, photographs. Any of these might give useful information, but they do not all provide an objective truth. They have to be contextualised within the circumstances of their construction. Registers of attendance, for example, do not contain 'concealed' absences. Delinquency rates are notoriously unreliable, being subject to different and varying interpretations of the rules. School and teacher records on disruption might be incomplete. It is not something one necessarily wishes other people to know about. The number and nature of notices around a school can tell us a great deal about school ethos and policy. Punishment books, a presentation of examination results, official minutes of meetings might all present a truth of a kind, but perhaps not the complete truth. The task for the researcher is not to take such documents at face value, but to find out how they were constructed, and how they are used and interpreted. They can thus be a useful way in to observation and interview.
Some documentation is more objective. Colin Lacey (1976, p. 60), commenting on his research methods in his Hightown Grammar study, said that while his core methods were participant observation and observation 'the most important breakthrough for me was the combining of methods', which included a key use of documents:
The observation and description of classrooms led quickly to a need for more exact information about individuals within the class. I used school documents to produce a ledger of information on each boy, for example, address, father's occupation, previous school, academic record, and so on. I built on this record as more information became available from questionnaires.
Documents can help reconstruct events, and give information about social relationships. Burgess (1984), for example, found official letters 'indispensable' in the course of his study. These included letters between the headteacher and governors and LEA officials, letters between teachers and parents, and notes circulated around teachers. Similarly, a school's official brochure can tell you a great deal about projected school ethos (which may or may not accord with reality), sometimes as much from its omissions as from what it contains. School reports ostensibly give an evaluation of a pupils' progress, but they also are cultural products which might tell us more about the teachers and the school than about the pupil.
The use of documents closely associated with teaching, such as textbooks and work-sheets is a popular subject for study. Why are some effective, and some not? Effective in what ways?
Among these are diaries, creative writing exercises, pupils' 'rough' books, graffiti, personal letters and notes. If these have already been created, they are part of the 'natural' situation, and can tell the researcher a great deal about pupil and teacher behaviour, culture and perspectives. In studies that I have been connected with I have found out a great deal from these kind of documents, on, for example:
Diaries are frequently used in qualitative research. Their very nature speaks to the features outlined in the first section above. They are 'natural', they contain personal meanings and understandings, and they are processual. In a sense, they are observing and interviewing by proxy. Where subjects agree to keep diaries in areas where they are appropriate, they can provide personal insights not attainable by other means. The researcher's range is broadened, and more data is provided to enhance, fill out and/or challenge data gained in other ways. Ball (1981, p. 100), for example, found that in his research 'material from diaries kept by some of the pupils demonstrated both a lack of subtlety in the sociometric instruments and the degree to which the collection of sociometric data could be socially constrained'.
Again, care would need to be taken in how diaries are interpreted. The researcher needs to know the basis and motivation on which they were compiled. They are particularly strong, therefore, where used in conjunction with other methods. For example, one extension of the method is the 'diary-interview', where the diary is made the basis for an interview where the aim is to check for clarity, completeness, validity, etc.
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Questionnaires are not among the most prominent methods in qualitative research, because they commonly require subjects to respond to a stimulus, and thus they are not acting naturally. However, they have their uses, especially as a means of collecting information from a wider sample than can be reached by personal interview. Though the information is necessarily more limited, it can still be very useful. For example, where certain clearly defined facts or opinions have been identified by more qualitative methods, a questionnaire can explore how generally these apply, if that is a matter of interest. Ideally, there would then be a qualitative 'check' on a sample of questionnaire replies to see if respondents were interpreting items in the way intended. Alternatively, a questionnaire might be used in the first instance, followed by qualitative techniques on a sample as a check and to fill out certain features of the questionnaire replies. Interaction among techniques in this way is typical of qualitative research.
In order to accord with the features of qualitative research outlined above, one would need to take into account the questions of:-
See also the component on Questionnaires in Education Research.
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Some qualitative researchers are not concerned about validity as it is commonly understood, preferring to aim for 'understanding', which might be achieved by what Harry Wolcott (1994) calls 'rigorous subjectivity' - using the methods discussed above.
What I seek is something else, a quality that points more to identifying critical elements and wringing plausible interpretations from them, something one can pursue without becoming obsessed with finding the right or ultimate answer, the correct version, the Truth. (Ibid. pp. 366-7)
The quest is not so much with 'getting it right' as getting it 'differently contoured and nuanced' (Richardson 1994, p. 521). To some, there are many overlapping truths operating at different levels and constantly subject to change.
Whichever approach one adopts, however, validity or rigour in qualitative research commonly depends on:
As discussed above, the less the researcher disturbs the scene, the longer spent in it, and the deeper the penetration of the research, the more the representation of it might be claimed to be authentic. Subjects are not 'playing up' to the researcher, they are not doing things differently because the researcher is there, they are going about their lives as they always do. Of course it is difficult to be completely unobtrusive, but that is the aim.
If we are aiming to understand the meanings and perspectives of those being studied, how better to judge if our understandings are accurate and full than by giving our accounts back to those involved and asking them to judge? There is nothing more heartening for a qualitative researcher to hear than something like, 'It's really good. I've read through most of it. I think that you have really captured what it's like for black kids at school' (Mac an Ghaill , 1988, p. 142). The satisfying thing here is that one has 'captured what it's like', one has grasped the experiences, feelings, problems, and managed to convey them to others. In some ways this is an artistic pursuit, not unlike the task artists set themselves.
At other times, we are reminded of deficiencies in what we do. The same researcher received this comment from another student: 'You can't really know, feel, what it's like for a black woman. That's why I think that although what you have done is good, I think black women should carry out their own studies' (Op.cit. p. 144).
Respondent validation may not always be appropriate or desirable. For example, where the research touches on the micro-politics of the institution, subjects might see the research primarily as either aiding or damaging their interests, and respond accordingly. While these responses could still be useful if properly contextualised, the researcher could personally be drawn into the power struggle and end up in a difficult position.
Triangles possess enormous strength. Amongst other things, they make the basic frames of bicycles, gates and house roofs. Triangulation enables extraordinary precision in measuring the height of mountains and astronomical distances. It is also a strength in research. The most common forms of triangulation in qualitative work are:
One of the commonest forms of triangulation is to combine interviews with observation. Observation will test and fill out accounts given in interviews, and vice versa. Others have been mentioned above.
a) discuss with the teacher beforehand what content and approach was planned for the lesson;
b) observe the lesson as it happens;
c) discuss with the teacher afterwards what had happened and why, if aims had been achieved, modified, etc.
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The main ethical debates in qualitative research revolve around the tensions between covert and overt research, and between the public's right to know and the subject's right to privacy. Clearly, some practices that might be extremely unobtrusive, such as observing through a one-way mirror, concealed tape-recording, or telephone-tapping are just not permissible - and might lead to criminal proceedings! Participant observation has, on occasions, been likened to 'spying' or 'voyeurism'. There is a temptation, too, for some researchers to negotiate access into an institution, carry out observations that he or she requires, persuade subjects to 'spill the beans', and then 'cut and run'. Such practice runs against the principle of 'informed consent' (people agreeing to take part in research on the basis of knowledge of what it is about); invades privacy; involves deception, all of which is inimical to generating qualities of trust and rapport, essential ingredients for this kind of research. As Dean (1954, p. 233) states,
A person becomes accepted as a participant observer more because of the kind of person he turns out to be in the eyes of the field contacts than because of what the research represents to them. Field contacts want to be reassured that the research worker is a 'good guy' and can be trusted not 'to do them dirt' with what he finds out.
This might not cover research in institutions like 'Dotheboys Hall' (I would not wish to be seen as a 'good guy' in some circumstances!), but for educational research in general at the present time, one needs to cultivate relationships along these lines. Soltis (1989, p. 129) feels researchers should observe the 'non-negotiable' values of 'honesty, fairness, respect for persons and beneficence'. In practical terms, this means, for example, not harming the institution or the persons one is researching, if possible leaving them in a better rather than a worse condition, protecting their identities in disseminating the research (through, for example, the use of pseudonyms), obtaining permission to view and film activities, record interviews, and to use documents owned by others. Respondent validation can be seen to have an ethical dimension.
However, in some forms of practice, many decisions must constantly be made that contain the dilemma that observing these non-negotiable values in one form means not doing so in others (see Burgess, 1985). Discussing these through with other researchers helps to clarify the issue.
Click here to see the University of Plymouth guidelines on ethics and some advice on how to respond.
|You should now read three articles that
epitomise the principles so far discussed. They are (click on the titles or
obtain copies from the library):
1. 'Problems of sociological fieldwork: a review of the methodology of Hightown Grammar', by C. Lacey, in Hammersley, M and Woods, P (eds) The Process of Schooling, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.
In reading this, you should pay particular attention to the combining of methods and their integration in the analysis.
2. 'Primary teachers talking: a reflexive account of longitudinal research', by J. Nias, in Walford, G (ed) Doing Educational Research, London, Routledge.
A good example of the operationalisation of qualitative criteria, and the personal experiences of the researcher.
3. The chapter on 'Ethics' from the book by Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. (1995) Ethnography: Principles in Practice, (Second Edition), London, Routledge.
When you have read the articles, spend a little time in compiling two lists of a) the potential strengths, and b) the potential weaknesses of qualitative research. When you have done this, see my comments by clicking on Qualitative Research Assessed.
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In summary, qualitative research is strong for :
The attention to detail, the ability to embrace both verbal and non-verbal behaviour, to penetrate fronts, discover meanings, and reveal the subtlety and complexity of cases or issues.
Portraying perspectives and conveying feelings and experiences.
Encompassing processes and natural environments.
Actions are contextualised within situations and time.
Theory is generated from the empirical data, and consequently there is 'closeness of fit' between theory and data.
Although this kind of research is sometimes criticised for not being generalisable, there are two ways in which it is, namely a) through the theory that is generated. Such theory then becomes available to others to test and apply - see the example above on differentiation-polarisation; and b) though it might be only a single case study, it might contribute to an archive of studies on a particular issue which then become reinterpreted. Hargreaves (1988), for example, working from a number of existing qualitative studies that had researched the social circumstances of teaching, developed a different explanation of teaching quality from 'official' ones which placed emphasis on the personal qualities of teachers. Ball (1987) similarly drew on a number of qualitative studies to generate a theory of school organisation.
Other strengths, emerging from the Nias reading, are: a) the way her own self (experience, disposition, interests) related to the research and gave her opportunities to advance the work; b) how the quality of her data 'challenged' her to search for interconnections, and how she found 'unexpected reefs' under her feet; c) the benefits of time to think; d) the nature of qualitative data as a seed-bed for ideas, and chaos as a prelude to creativity; e) the recognition of weaknesses in the study, but f) seeing the main strength as the insights the research generated and how they will be used by others. As a matter of interest, the insights of Nias' (1989) research have been extensively used by others throughout the world.
As for difficulties and weaknesses:
It has been argued that single qualitative studies cannot provide grounds for generalising across cases - though see above.
Immersion in the depths of a qualitative study can lead to either or both 'going native' (see above) and 'macro blindness', that is to say the researcher might offer explanations in terms of the situation under observation, oblivious to more powerful forces operating on the situation from outside.
Qualitative research can be a high-risk, low-yield enterprise. It can take time to negotiate access, assemble a sample, develop trust and rapport, find out what is 'going on' or what people are thinking. 'Hanging around' and 'muddling through' can bring worries. Maybe one will not find 'reefs beneath one's feet' and drown in the maelstrom as a result!
Qualitative studies are often accused of being impressionistic, subjective, biased, idiosyncratic and lacking in precision. Some of the bias comes through, typically, in the rhetorical presentation of accounts (Atkinson, 1990). Researchers might use a number of rhetorical devices, such as metaphor, jargon, 'loaded' terminology, selected and variable use of transcript, quotations, selective use of examples, to subtly persuade the reader to the author's line of argument. However, although this is a charge that might be made of particular studies, it is not an essential one of the approach. As we have seen above, there are procedures available to establish validity and rigour, and these should be demonstrated in the presentation.
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In qualitative research, analysis frequently takes place at the same time as data collection. Many consider it a mistake to go on accumulating data without examining it from time to time to see if any major themes or patterns are emerging. If there are, these will direct future data gathering in the process known as 'progressive focusing'. Lacey explains this very well with his 'escalation of insights' in Problems of sociological fieldwork, which you read earlier . If this is not done, the researcher risks becoming swamped in data that become increasingly more difficult to analyse. In order to make sense of the data, much may have to be jettisoned - which means a lot of time and work might have been wasted, as well as a lower quality product. Harry Wolcott (1999) maintains that one of the main problems in qualitative work is having too much data rather than not enough.
Analysis, therefore, begins almost immediately, with 'primary analysis'. Later on, after more data collection in interaction with primary analysis, a second stage occurs with 'category and concept formation'. The research might stop at this point, depending on the aims, or it might proceed to a third stage, the 'generation of theory'. I shall consider each of these.
As interview transcripts are made, or fieldnotes of observation compiled, or documents assembled, the researcher continuously examines the data, perhaps highlighting certain points in the text or writing comments in the margins. These might identify what seem to be important points, and note contradictions and inconsistencies, any common themes that seem to be emerging, references to related literature, comparisons and contrasts with other data and so on.. Many of these first attempts at speculative analysis will probably be discarded later, but some ideas will no doubt take shape as further data collection and analysis proceed. Much of this early activity may appear chaotic and uncoordinated, but as Nias notes, chaos is a prolific seedbed for ideas.
Sometimes, the notes one makes may be little more than a scribbled comment; at other times, particularly as the research goes on, one might write longer notes or memos, perhaps summarising parts of data that go together but have come from different sources, or rehearsing ideas at greater length. The following three examples illustrate the range of these preliminary reflections.
Click here to see a page of an interview marked up by the researcher, where the phrases in boxes have been highlighted for comment in the margins.
The following extract affords another kind of initial analysis. The researcher took notes at an interview with a teacher in a secondary school about the members of his form (this one was not taped) and wrote them up the same evening as fully as he could. A few days later, when time permitted, he reflected on the teachers' comments, adding some notes to them. This is one brief extract:
Teacher: Tim Brown - very disappointing. I noted a decline last year and I spoke to him about it; and he's a right lout, isn't he? Always shuffling around with his hands in his pockets, instead of being a nice young man, as he was
Researcher's reflections: Immediately he reveals his conception of the ideal pupil, at least the behavioural one. Note the importance of appearance and the choice of terminology - a 'right lout' is counterpoised to a 'nice young man' - and a great deal seems to be inferred from his appearance and demeanour. There is a great deal of this among the staff he could be subscribing to my double standard hypothesis and assuming that kids may well be different at school from what they are at home; it is what he expects that is important, and the very fact that he sees fit to divide his comment into 'academic' and 'behaviour'. So I conclude, tentatively, that he is subscribing to the prevailing image of the ideal pupil and that his choice of words and unqualified use of them is an indication of his commitment to that ideal.
This is a more considered memo, reflecting on a range of data. It was sent by Lynda Measor to me in the course of our research on Teacher Careers (Sikes, Measor and Woods, 1985). This research investigated teachers' views of their careers and the influences operating on it, and employed 'life history' interviewing. Thus a series of interviews were held with each teacher in the sample covering the whole range of their lives. The memo illustrates the emergence of a new theme, carrying with it a sense of excitement at a new discovery, speculation at the possibilities, but also hesitancy in case, after further consideration, it is not such a good idea after all!
A new idea, and as yet not very well thought out, but here goes. Also I'm not certain if it has been used and talked about by interactionists as I'll try and indicate later. I know the bibliography in other fields - mainly political theory actually. I'm working towards a notion of 'special events' in the individual's life. This would connect into the theme B we have discussed, that of 'critical periods'.
How did I come across the idea? As I'm building up numbers of interviews, that is I interview the same person lots of times, I've noticed that they repeat their account of certain incidents, usually fairly important ones in their lives. The other salient factor is that the account is given in the same words each time, with remarkably little variation. In addition, this kind of repeating of tales is elicited most often when there has been a gap in my interviewing of a few weeks, so the narrative has gone cold. They cannot immediately recall exactly what they told me before. Then I got the repetition of incidents, and the repetition of phrases, e.g.:
Explanations and ideas
It might simply be that the repetition of incidents is due to lapses in memory, especially as people are getting older, that would not be surprising. But there is a problem there, because it fails to explain why these incidents should be repeated in exactly the same phraseology. Why doesn't the lapse of memory extend to that too? Why is it that it is only certain things, certain incidents that get repeated?
So maybe we can work towards a notion of 'special events' in people's lives, 'key incidents', yes, around which pivotal decisions revolve, incidents which lead to major decisions or directions being taken.
But it seems to me that there is something else of interest too, and that is what people make of these incidents. A range of devices seem to be employed to make these incidents 'special' or more accurately 'more special'. I'm afraid I delve back into folkloric stuff again; people seem to make a kind of mystique hang around these incidents and events, they make them out of the ordinary, they bestow special 'meaning' and special 'status' upon them. They seem to do this by a variety of oral devices, storytelling, ornate tale-making devices, which have the effect of drawing the listener's attention to them. Humour is used too, or more accurately 'wit'; humorous short phrases surround the telling of the event, and again these act as a signal flag, what Lewis called an 'alerting factor'. I'm also reminded of Sykes' material you found in the article on tale telling in the factory - some of those devices seem to be at work.
The device seems at a theoretical level to be involved with putting meaning, organisation, shape to a life, trying to understand a career? I picked up the idea of 'special event' however from political theory (again I'm afraid it's my thesis material). It comes from people like Sorel and Edelman. They discuss it in terms of the political life of a nation, and point to the way that particular events in the nation's history become special. Bastille Day to the French, and the taking of the Winter Palace to the Russians. It's a bit harder to do for England but maybe the Battle of Britain, or Dunkirk, as an example. These events do get a lot of attention anyway; they are meant to have meaning for the citizens of a nation, in that sense they are 'special'. But for political theorists it is the secondary devices which describe them which are equally significant. It is the film, a TV repetitious coverage, and the telling the tale again and again by many media, which helps build up the mystique. Telling the tale, reciting events, helps make the thing 'remade', 'different', and special. In fact there is more to this from classical theorists, especially those on Greece, with a whole lot of stuff about 'Kerygma', which might, I suppose, be relevant. It's all about events - real events, being seen as revealing underlying purposes and directions. In a people like the British, who have been very affected by Judaic-Christian and then Darwinian notions of onward progress and purpose underlying it, we might be able to see something of that socialisation. Anyway, that might be getting too fanciful. You may think the whole thing is too fanciful.
(Measor, 1983, personal communication)
We did not consider the idea fanciful. In fact, Pat Sikes, who was conducting interviews in a different area of the country, was able to provide further substantiation from her own data and the theme was written up as one of the key features of a teacher's careers (Chapter 2 'Critical Phases and Incidents' of Teacher Careers: Crises and Continuities, by Sikes, Measor and Woods, 1985). Discovery of the theme was made possible by certain clues - repetition of the incident, use of the same words, the actual choice of words, and perhaps the way in which they are said.
Other clues might be irregularities that one observes, strange events, certain things that people say, things that get people excited, angry, surprised. In the researcher is the recognition that 'something is up', prompting the use of a 'detective's nose' for finding more clues and divining their meaning. For example, Measor and Woods (1984) were cued in to the importance of the myths that surrounded school transfer through a number of pupils prefacing their comments with remarks such as: 'I have heard that '; 'They tell me that '; 'There is this story that '. Clearly, these accounts were connected and there was a special quality to them.
In The Divided School (Woods, 1979), my examination of 'teacher survival' (i.e. teacher continuance in teaching) led to the theory that, in situations where constraints on action exceeded the expectations of strong commitment to teaching, a struggle for survival would result. The theory was initiated by some observations of what appeared to me to be very strange behaviour. One of these was a chemistry class where the teacher taught for seventy minutes what in many respects seemed an exemplary lesson, except that the whole class ignored him, a fact that could not have escaped his attention. Then, even more curiously, in the last ten minutes teacher and class did come together as he dictated some notes and they dutifully and silently recorded them in their exercise books. In another instance, a teacher showed a class a film, even though it was the wrong film that had been delivered and nothing remotely to do with the subject he was teaching. Why did people behave in such strange ways?
Inconsistencies and contrasts are other matters that arouse interest. Why, for example, should teachers change character so completely between staffroom and classroom, as Lacey (1970) noted? Why do they lay claim to certain values and beliefs in one situation and act out values and beliefs of strong contrast in another? Why do they behave with such irrationality and pettiness on occasions? Why do pupils 'work' with one teacher and 'raise hell' with another, as Turner (1983) noticed. Anything that strikes us as odd can be a lead in to analysis.
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Most qualitative researchers arrive at a point where their data has to be organised in some kind of systematic way, if only for analytic purposes. That is to say that, while there is a recognition that all is fluid, processual, multiperspectival, and a bit chaotic, in order to understand it we impose some kind of order on the data. Note that it is not essential to do this. These days some qualitative researchers, particularly of a postmodernist persuasion, are experimenting with a number of different ways of presenting their work in the interests of representing more faithfully the multi-layeredness of social life, the many different truths that might apply, and people's feelings and heartfelt experiences. These approaches are still very much in the minority and under development, so I shall concentrate here on the tried and tested conventional approach - organisation by category. (For information about computer software that is available to help you with this visit section 10 'How do I analyse the data?' in the RESINED component on Interviews in Education Research.)
A popular way of doing this is through identifying major categories in the data under which the data can be subsumed. This is not as easy as it sounds. All the data have to be included. The categories have to be exclusive, that is to say data must fit within one and one alone, and the categories should be on the same level of analysis. One usually has to have several shots at this before coming to the most appropriate arrangement, reading and re-reading notes and transcripts, and experimenting with a number of formulations. It may be helpful to summarise data in some way, tabulate them on a chart, or construct figures, or sketch diagrams. Such distillation helps one to encapsulate more of the material in a glance.
The following are some typical examples of categorisation.
The first part of Paul Willis' influential book Learning to Labour (1977) was entitled 'Elements of a culture', concerning a group of boys at a secondary school who called themselves 'the lads'. It was divided into sections, each concerned with a major feature of the lads' culture that Willis had identified from his observations of and discussions with them. They were:-
Under these headings, Willis reconstructed the lads' outlook on life, using liberal portions of fieldnotes and transcript to build up a graphic and evocative picture. Notice that the categories include a mixture of the lads' own terms, which alerted the researcher to major areas of importance to the lads, and Willis' own summarising features.
In the article '"Sussing out" teachers: pupils as data gatherers', Beynon (1984) observed a class of boys during all their lessons in the first half-term of their first year at comprehensive school. He was interested in 'initial encounters' between boys and their teachers, and came to focus on 'the strategies the boys employed to find out about classrooms and categorise teachers; the specific nature of the knowledge they required; and the means they employed to (in their words) suss-out teachers' (p. 121). He found there was a main group of boys who used a wide variety of 'sussing' strategies. One of his first tasks, therefore, was to organise his data and identify the kinds of strategies. He found six major groups:
He divided each of these into sub-categories. For example, 'joking' consisted of:-
This, then, shows an organisation of data using categories and subcategories, each being graphically described by classroom observations, notes and recorded dialogue and interaction. The effect is to re-create 'what it was like' for these pupils and their teachers and to show the considerable depth and range of their 'sussing' activities. 'Sussing' is an important activity in initial encounters, being the pupils' main means of finding things out about the teachers, how far they will allow them to develop their own culture, what rules will be imposed or negotiated, in short how they are to conduct their lives together. How teachers respond to 'sussing', therefore, is an important aspect - and test - of their professionalism. We need a comprehensive view of the 'sussing' if we are to develop theory from it, and this is what Beynon provides.
Neither of the above are concerned with interconnections among the categories. This might be appropriate as far as they are concerned as these are summative categories describing entities - in these cases, cultures and strategies. Sometimes, however, we need to consider priorities and relationships among categories. This is what Gannaway (1976) did in 'Making sense of school'. The issue was what makes an effective teacher in the eyes of the pupils. A number of qualitative studies had already identified some prominent features, such as keeping order, being fair, humour, understanding, making pupils work, but had not established any interconnections. Gannaway produced a more dynamic model:-
|You are now asked to attempt your own
analysis of an interview. The interview in question is one of a series that was
carried out in researching an outstandingly successful school production of the musical Godspell
. This was one of the critical events in teaching and learning reported in
Woods (1993). The aim of the research was to find out what were the actual educational
benefits of generally recognised outstanding educational events, and how were they
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Many qualitative studies do not go beyond the construction of models and typologies. This ordered, descriptive detail is a perfectly legitimate pursuit. As we have seen, it takes considerable work, skill and insight to achieve this level of description, and the results are valuable. But we might want to go on from asking what and how questions to why questions. What we saw in the second stage of analysis above, was how Willis lads and Beynons boys behaved interesting, but we would like to know why they behaved like that.
If we take sussing-out as an example, the first imperative is to understand events from the point of view of the participants and try to discover the pupils intentions. We would also want to know exactly when and where sussing-out took place, under what sort of circumstances, and with whom. Is it limited to initial encounters between teachers and pupils? If it is occurring at other times, another explanation is required. Are all pupils and teachers involved, or only some? What proportion of the pupils behaviour is taken up with this kind of activity?
Then, what are the consequences of sussing-out? The theory proposed would lead us to expect that where the required knowledge was ascertained by the boys, where teachers justified their claims to being able to teach and to control, different, more settled behaviour would ensue. If it does not ensue, it may mean that the behaviour was not sussing-out at all. We would have to consider alternative theories, such as the behaviour being a cultural product (for example of male, working class or ethnic culture) Willis explanation for his lads, or an institutional product (for example, of school organisation, such as streaming or setting perhaps having some relation with the differentiation-polarisation theories discussed earlier). It may of course be that more than one theory is relevant, and we would then have to consider their inter-relationship. Here, it can be seen how the development of theory might lead back into more data collection as one tests out possibilities and fills in areas that demand more knowledge.
Types of theory
It is useful to see theories on two dimensions. The first is Glaser and Strausss (1967) distinction between substantive and formal theory. The former is theory that applies to a particular case; formal theory is at a higher level of abstraction and applies to a generality of cases. For example, in my study of Lowfield Secondary School (1967), I developed a substantive theory of teacher survival strategies. The theory sought to explain the behaviour of teachers in that particular school. It could apply to other schools, but in that wider context, survival strategies are seen to belong to a more general concept of coping strategies. This concept, in turn, can be applied to other personnel (such as pupils) and other areas of social activity than education. The theory is becoming more formalised.
The second dimension is that of micro-macro. Qualitative research lends itself more readily to micro research, which is concerned with activity within classrooms and schools, interaction between people, local situations, case studies. The examples cited so far in this text are all micro research, with the exception of Willis (1977). Willis used his description of the lads to develop a theory in the second part of his book which related the lads school culture to working-class culture. He argues that the latter not only operates as an external influence, through, say, families, but is actually re-created, produced and transformed by the lads in response to the school situation, which has similarities to the work situation. The school counter-culture, therefore, has similarities to shop-floor culture in the factories, with its violence and aggression, its masculinity, group solidity, kiddings and pisstakes. This is why, almost triumphantly, working-class kids choose working-class jobs. This, then, is a macro theory, since its basis is social-class relations at the level of society as a whole. One of the problems here is the further one ventures into the macro area the less grounded ones theory becomes, simply because it is getting further from the ground! But this is no reason why qualitative researchers should not develop theory in this area. The counter charge is that researchers who limit their gaze to particular situations are myopic! The imperative in both cases is for researchers to make their work as rigorous and grounded as possible. With this in view, qualitative researchers have, on occasions, strengthened or modified existing macro theory. Andy Hargreaves (1992) article Time and teachers work: an analysis of the intensification thesis is a good example of this. Another article of Hargreaves (1988), on Teaching Quality, shows how a researcher can use an accumulation of qualitative studies to generate an alternative theory to that in force at the time, with sharply contrasting implications for educational policy. Have a look at these articles if you have time.
Hammersley and Atkinson (1995 pp. 237-8) in consequence identify four broad types of theory:-
As Hammersley and Atkinson point out, these are all worthy forms of theory, but researchers would need to be clear about which type (or types, since more than one might be involved) they were developing as it would have implications for the conduct of the research.
The development of theory proceeds typically through comparative analysis. As we saw earlier, instances are compared across a range of situations, over a period of time, among a number of people and through a variety of methods. Comparisons are being made all the time in checking data, testing an idea, bringing out the distinctive elements of a category, establishing generalities within a group. Any of these could spark off ideas about why, which would bring more comparisons to test and refine that idea.
Theorising goes on throughout the study. As soon as one begins to identify significant events or words, and goes on to develop categories and concepts, one is building up essential components of theory. The researcher becomes steeped in data, but at the same time cultivates analytical distance to enable thinking about the data and to allow the imagination to work to see patterns in the detail, or how apparently unrelated items might be connected. A variety of devices might be used to aid this distancing, for example, a research diary containing personal reflections on the research, ones own involvement in and feelings about it; further marginal comments on fieldnotes, as new thoughts occur on re-reading them in the light of later work; writing memos and notes; playing with the data by making different kinds of summaries, figures, tables, diagrams, all of which might help us to see an overview or interconnections.
Consulting the literature is an integral part of theory development, and the main way of making comparisons outside the study. This is what I did in working towards a theory of how teachers placed pupils into certain types. I examined my own data in the light of existing theories (Hargreaves et al., 1975; Keddie, 1971). My teachers did not appear to typify pupils in the same way as Hargreaves teachers. This could be the result of different research methods, or different circumstances. I favoured the latter explanation, which meant that both studies were equally valid, and with some help from the Keddie analysis developed what I hoped was a more comprehensive theory (see Woods, 1979, pp. 173-9).
Consulting colleagues, for their funds of knowledge and as academic sounding-boards, is also helpful and another source of comparison. It might be done by discussion (the mere fact of trying to articulate an idea helps to give it shape), by circulating papers, or by giving seminars.
Another important factor is time. The deeper the involvement, the longer the association, the wider the field of contacts and knowledge, the more intense the reflection, the stronger the promise of groundedness. As Nias remarks in the reading recommended earlier:
The fact that I have worked for so long on the material has enabled my ideas to grow slowly, albeit painfully. They have emerged, separated, recombined, been tested against one another and against those of other people, been rejected, refined, re-shaped. I have had the opportunity to think a great deal over 15 years about the lives and professional biographies of primary teachers and about their experience of teaching as work. My conclusions, though they are in the last resort those of an outsider, are both truly grounded and have had the benefit of slow ripening in a challenging professional climate. (Nias, 1991, p. 162)
Nias reminds us that a great deal of thinking has to go into this process and that this is frequently painful, though ultimately highly rewarding. Wrestling with mounds of accumulating material, searching for themes and indicators that will make some sense of it all, taking some apparently promising routes, only to find they are blind alleys, writing more and more notes and memos, re-reading notes and literature for signs and clues, doing more field work to fill in holes or test an incipient theory, presenting tentative papers which receive criticism as well as appreciation if one is lucky all these are part of the generation of theory.
We are often aided throughout the research by chance occurrences. An unforeseen event, an overheard remark, a fortuitous meeting all can spark off new lines of thought and enquiry. They can stimulate new ideas about analysis and theory just as well as they can open up new avenues for data collection. We have to make sure that we take advantage of these chance happenings, that we recognise the possibilities, and that we try to ensure opportunities for them to happen. Let me give some examples from the critical events research - click here to read an extract from:
Woods, 1998, pp.44-6 on Serendipity from Woods, P. (1998) Critical moments in the "Creative Teaching" research in G. Walford (ed.) Doing Research about Education, London, Routledge,
or obtain a copy from the library.
To see theory in ones data requires not only perspicuity in appreciating the data, but also imagination in what to do with it. One of the best statements on this is that of C. Wright Mills (1959), talking about the sociological imagination, which
In considerable part consists of the capacity to shift from one perspective to another, and in the process to build up an adequate view of a total society and of its components. It is this imagination, of course, that sets off the social scientist from the mere technician. Adequate technicians can be trained in a few years. The sociological imagination can also be cultivated; certainly it seldom occurs without a great deal of often routine work. Yet there is an unexpected quality about it, perhaps because its essence is the combination of ideas that no one expected were combinable There is a playfulness of mind back of such combining as well as a truly fierce drive to make sense of the world, which the technician as such usually lacks. Perhaps he is too well trained, too precisely trained. Since no one can be trained only in what is already known, training sometimes incapacitates one from learning new ways; it makes one rebel against what is bound to be at first loose and even sloppy. But you must cling to vague images and notions, if they are yours, and you must work them out. For it is in such forms that original ideas, if any, almost always first appear. (pp. 232-3)
Here, then, is another reason for not getting bogged down in data, for standing back from it from time to time and letting ones imagination loose on its deeper meanings. Checks and tests will follow later, but the research will not get far off the ground without some imaginative insight.
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(NB Only for those University of Plymouth students undertaking the Research in Education module as part of the preparation for the submission of a MA dissertation proposal)
Tasks, once completed, should be sent to email@example.com, making clear:
It will then be passed on to the component leader (and copied to your supervisor). The component leader will get back to you with comments and advice which we hope will be educative and which will help you in preparing your dissertation proposal once you are ready. (Remember that these tasks are formative and that it is the proposal which forms the summative assessment for the MERS501 (resined) module.) This email address is checked daily so please use it for all correspondence about RESINED other than that directed to particular individuals for specific reasons.
Before tackling either of the two tasks (B or C) you might want to consider...
... the relationship between qualitative and quantitative approaches. Click here to go to The Qualitative Debate at The Research Methods Knowledge Base.
Task B (Data Collection)
Ensure that you have read the sections above on Methods of Qualitative Research and followed up some of the links and recommended readings before completing this task. The book by Mason (2002) is particularly useful as a starting point in my view.
Consider your own potential research project. How might you begin to collect qualitative data for this? In order to answer this question, consider:
Write a response for this task in relation to these questions (above), and in doing so also consider the following more general points too:
Task C (Data Analysis)
To do this task it is best to have completed Task B above first, even if you have not submitted it for formative feedback. Also, make sure that you have studied the section on data analysis, including the links and references, above.
In relation to your own project plans and specifically any response you have made to task B above, consider how you will analyse the data you might collect. In doing this, use the following questions to guide you.
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Those in bold are particularly good introductions to qualitative research.
Delamont, S. (1992) Fieldwork in Educational Settings: Methods, pitfalls and perspectives, London, Falmer.
(A highly readable guide for beginning qualitative researchers)
Denscombe, M. (1998) The Good Research Guide: for small-scale social research projects, Buckingham, Open University Press
(Good for small-scale projects)
Hammersley, M. and Atkinson, P. (1995) Ethnography: Principles in practice (2nd edition), London, Routledge.
(The classic text on ethnography, drawing on research in all areas of social life rather than just education)
Hitchcock, G. and Hughes, D. (1995) Research and the Teacher ;
A qualitative introduction to school-based research (2nd edition) ,
(A comprehensive and excellent introduction to qualitative research, with particular reference to education, which covers all the areas discussed in this module, and more besides)
Mason, J. (2002) Qualitative researching, London, Sage.
Maykut, P. & Morehouse, R. (1994) Beginning Qualitative Research. A Philosophic and Practical Guide, London, Falmer Press.
Robson, C. (2002) Real world research : a resource for social scientists and practitioner-researchers, Oxford, Blackwell.
Walford, G. (ed.) (1991) Doing Educational Research, London, Routledge.
(Semi-autobiographical accounts of the research of thirteen major educationists, concerned with the personal and practical aspects of the research process)
Walford, G. (ed.) (1998) Doing Research about Education, London, Routledge.
(A follow-up to the 1991 collection focusing on the issues and realities of the late 1990s)
Walford, G. (ed.) (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001), Studies in Educational Ethnography, London, Jai Press
(This series of books, published annually, is the best source for recent and current examples of educational ethnographic research, mainly in the UK. Each volume focuses on a particular theme)
Woods, P. (1986) Inside Schools: Ethnography in Educational Research, London, Routledge.
(Written especially for teachers, for whom the author believes qualitative research is easily accessible)
Woods, P. (1996) Researching the Art of Teaching: Ethnography for educational use, London, Routledge.
(Qualitative research as an art form, albeit governed by scientific principles)
Woods, P. (1999) Successful Writing for Qualitative Researchers, London, Routledge.
(Covers the analysis, theory, and writing-up stages of qualitative research)
Trochim, William M. The Research Methods Knowledge Base, 2nd Edition. Internet WWW page, at URL: <http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/> (version current as of November 1, 2000).
Barrett, Elizabeth; Lally, Vic; Purcell, S & Thresh, Robert (1999) Signposts for Educational Research CD-ROM: A Multimedia Resource for the Beginning Researcher. Sage Publications, London.
Abraham, J. (1989) Testing Hargreaves and Laceys differentiation-polarisation theory in a settled comprehensive, The British Journal of Sociology, 40, 1, 46-81.
Atkinson, P. (1990) The Ethnographic Imagination: textual constructions of reality, London, Routledge.
Atkinson, P., Delamont, S. and Hammersley, M. (1988) Qualitative research traditions: a British response to Jacob, Review of Educational Research, 58, 2, pp. 231Ó50.
Ball, S.J. (1981) Beachside Comprehensive, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Ball, S.J. (1987) The Micro-Politics of the School: Towards a theory of school organisation, London: Methuen.
Becker, H.S. (1971) Footnote added to the paper by Wax, M. and Wax, R. 'Great tradition, little tradition and formal education', in Wax, M. et al. (eds) Anthropological Perspectives On Education, New York, Basin Books, pp.3-27.
Berger, P. L. (1966) Invitation to Sociology, New York, Doubleday.
Best, D. (1991) Creativity: education in the spirit of enquiry, British Journal of Educational Studies, 34, 3, pp. 260-278.
Beynon, J. (1984) "Sussing out" teachers: pupils as data gatherers in Hammersley, M. and Woods, P. (eds) Life in School: the sociology of pupil culture, Milton Keynes, The Open University Press.
Blumer, H. (1976) The methodological position of symbolic interactionism in Hammersley, M. and Woods, P. (eds) The Process of Schooling, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Burgess, R.G. (1985) The Whole Truth? Some Ethical Problems of Research in the Comprehensive School, in Burgess, R.G. (ed.), Field Methods in the Study of Education, Lewes, Falmer Press.
Burke, J. (1986) Concordia Sixth Form College: a sociological case study based on history and ethnography, D.Phil. thesis, University of Sussex.
Dean, J. P.(1954) Participant observation and interviewing in Doby, J., Suchman, E.A., McKinnet, J.C., Francis, R.G. and Dean,, J.P. (eds) An introduction to Social Research, Harrisburg, Pa., The Stackpole Co., pp. 225-252.
Denscombe, M., Szule, H., Patrick, C. and Wood, A. (1986) Ethnicity and friendship: the contrast between sociometric research and fieldwork observation in primary school classrooms, British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 221-235.
Denzin, N. (1989) Interpretive Interactionism, London, Sage.
Epstein, D. (1998) "Are you a girl or a teacher?" The "Least Adult" role in research about gender and sexuality in a primary school, in G. Walford (ed.) Doing Research about Education, London, Falmer.
Fine, D.A. and Deegan, J.G. (1996) Three principles of serendip: Insight, chance and discovery in qualitative research, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 9, 4, pp. 434-47.
Foster, P.M. (1990) Policy and Practice in Multicultural and Anti-Racist Education: a case study of a multi-ethnic comprehensive school, Milton Keynes, Open University Press.
Galton, M. and Simon, B. (eds) (1980) Progress and Performance in the Primary Classroom, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Gannaway, H. (1976) Making sense of school in STUBBS, M. and DELAMONT, S. (eds) Explorations in Classroom Observation, London, Wiley.
Glaser, B.G. and Strauss, A.L. (1967) The Discovery of Grounded Theory, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
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