Inside Stories: Qualitative Research Reflections

Inside Stories: Qualitative Research Reflections

Inside Stories: Qualitative Research Reflections

Inside Stories: Qualitative Research Reflections


Although articles reporting research studies are helpful in acquainting students with methodological approaches, they often make the process look so straightforward, clean, and effortless. It is rare to find an article that tells the "real" story behind the finished product. By having real researchers tell their own stories of "mucking around" with methodological and ethical issues in qualitative research, we get a more realistic, human story of the process. This is a collection of such stories. Authors were asked to describe their own experiences with methodological and ethical struggles as they engaged in their work.

Each of the essays offers insight into the research approach used as well as particular issues which became apparent during the research process. Key issues raised by the authors include early learnings; gaining entry; overlapping, conflicting roles, and the boundaries of these roles; differential power relationships; who tells the story and whose story is told; ethical concerns related to confidentiality; and the influence of a researcher's particular philosophy or theoretical framework on his or her research. Throughout the book we see scholars whose personal stories or autobiographies intersect closely with their research projects.

de Marrais introduces a unique framework to help students gain an overview of qualitative research methods and the underpinnings and processes in these approaches. This framework is centered on the ways we understand phenomena using qualitative research approaches that engage archival knowledge, narrative knowledge, or observational knowledge.


"Can you recommend a book I can read that will tell me how to do qualitative research?"

I hear questions like this one regularly at my university and in the context of national meetings. Usually the question is followed by an explanation of how the individual is about to embark on a qualitative research study for a dissertation with no prior training in qualitative approaches. Time is short and panic is about to set in. There are still many institutions today that do not, or are unable to, offer qualitative research courses in their graduate programs. Students at those institutions who are interested in pursuing research questions that demand a qualitative approach are left to find support where they can. My usual response is to urge students to take courses or workshops in qualitative research wherever they can be found. At the very least, I'll share a bibliography of research methods books and articles. Student questions like these would not have been so frequent a decade ago when students were more likely to be expected to conduct quantitative studies in their graduate programs. It has just been in recent years that we have seen such enthusiasm for, and acceptance of, qualitative research methods.

Although anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and other social scientists have been engaged in qualitative inquiry for most of the century, in the past 10 or 15 years we have seen tremendous and growing interest in qualitative research approaches in fields such as psychology, education, nursing, business, human ecology, social work, and others. Scholars have turned to qualitative methods to better understand human behaviors, communications, perceptions, and motivations.

In some universities qualitative research programs have been developed and are quite successful in preparing students to engage in this type of research. Usually the courses are available in just one or two departments across the campus. Courses that originally drew a dozen or so students in the early 1980s are now overflowing with students. Recently a colleague of mine described his Introduction to Qualitative Research course as having 120 students enrolled. He manages these huge numbers with the help of teaching assistants. Faculty in some colleges are discussing or enacting policies that require all doctoral students to take courses in both quantitative and qualitative approaches to research. While this is a commendable idea, it is unlikely that teachers will be able to work effectively with such large numbers of students.

Despite these changes, there are still colleges where students do not have access to experts and/or courses in qualitative research methodology. The student quoted . . .

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