Research Methods in Health: Investigating Health and Health Services

By Ann Bowling | Go to book overview

Section V

Qualitative and combined
research methods, and
their analysis

INTRODUCTION

This section describes the main qualitative research methods, as well as those which combine both qualitative and quantitative approaches. While unstructured interviewing and focus group techniques are qualitative methods of data collection, other methods can combine approaches. Some methods, such as observational studies, can be carried out in an unstructured or structured way. Both are included here because the approaches can be combined in a single study. Other methods, such as case studies, consensus methods and action research, often use triangulated qualitative and quantitative approaches to data collection. Document research can involve the qualitative extraction of data from records (as in the analysis and presentation of narratives as evidence) or a highly structured and quantitative approach. The distinction between qualitative and quantitative research can also be blurred at the analysis stage, as some investigators employ a variety of methods to interpret qualitative data (from highly structured content analyses using a computer software package to unstructured narrative analyses).

In sociology, there is often an interplay between qualitative research observations and the development and refinement of the hypotheses, and consequently the categories to be used in the analysis. The categories for coding the data are often developed during and after the data collection phases, and this is therefore an inductive approach. It was pointed out earlier, see Chapter 5, that this is known as grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss 1967). One strength of qualitative methods is that the investigator is free to shift his or her focus as the data collection progresses – as long as the process does not become disorganised and lose its rigour. The preference for hypothesis generation rather than hypothesis testing should not be assigned too rigorously, as otherwise qualitative research will be restricted to speculation, and at some stage hypotheses will require testing (see Silverman 1993). Because of the interplay between the stages of qualitative research, and the tendency

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