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Five Qualitative Approaches in Qualitative Research

Definition of Qualitative Research

Qualitative Research is concerned on non-numerical data such text, video, and audio. The goal of this research design is to describe, understand or interpret the meanings of concepts, opinions, or experiences. This research design is commonly used in social sciences, humanities, health sciences, and other related fields. In most cases, the manner of data gathering involves interview, focus group discussion, or participant observation; dependent on the approach used by the researcher/s.

Data collection methods, as mentioned, vary on the research approach used by the researcher/s. One can use observation where the researcher records he or she has seen, heard, or encountered in the field; commonly known as field notes. A researcher can also opt to use focus group discussion (FGD). It is a comprehensive group discussion where asking questions and generating discussion happen among a carefully selected individuals. Another method is interview. Interview is a one-to-one conversations between the researcher and the participants where questions are personally asked to them. Survey can also be an option for data collection in a qualitative research. It is done through distributing a well-prepared, validated questionnaires with an open-ended questions. Some researchers also employ the participant observation method where the researchers immerse himself or herself to the field to learn about the activities of the people under study in the natural setting through observing and participating in those activities.

5 Approaches in Qualitative Research

There are 5 commonly used approaches in qualitative research. These qualitative approaches are narrative research, phenomenological research, grounded theory research, ethnographic research, and case study research.

1. Narrative Research. It involves examining how stories are told to understand how participants perceive and make sense of their experiences. It aims to explore and conceptualize human experience as it is represented in textual form. There are many types of narrative research, the following are examples: (a) oral history, (b) life history, (c) autoethnography, and (d) biographical study.

2. Phenomenological Research. It is an approach to research that seeks to describe the essence of a phenomenon by exploring it from the perspective of those who have experienced it. The goal of phenomenological research is to describe the meaning of an experience—both in terms of what was experienced and how it was experienced. There are two main types of phenomenological research, the descriptive phenomenological research and the interpretive phenomenological research.

3. Grounded Theory. It is an approach where researcher gathers rich data on a topic of interest to move beyond description and to generate or discover a theory for a process or action. The general explanation or theory generated must be based from the views of large number of participants.

4. Ethnographic Research. It focuses on an entire culture-sharing group involving many people who interact over time. In this research, the researcher aims to describe and interpret the shared and earned patterns of values, beliefs, behaviors, and language of the culture-sharing group.

5. Case Study Research. It involves the study of a case within a real-life, contemporary context or setting; and is used to generate an in-depth, multi-faceted understanding of a complex issue in its real-life context.

Differences of 5 Qualitative Approaches

Creswell (2013) had contrasted the 5 approaches on qualitative research based on the following aspects (a) focus, (b) types of problem best suited for design, (c) discipline background, (d) unit of analysis, (e) data collection forms, (f) data analysis strategies, and (g) written report.


Narrative: Exploring the life of an individual

Phenomenology: Understanding the essence of the lived experience

Grounded Theory: Developing a theory grounded in data from the field

Ethnography: Describing and interpreting a culture-sharing group

Case Study: Developing an in-depth description and analysis of a case or multiple case

Type of Problem Best Suited For Design

Narrative: Needing to tell stories of individual experiences

Phenomenology: Needing to describe the essence of a lived phenomenon

Grounded Theory: Grounding a theory in the views of the participants

Ethnography: Describing and interpreting the shared patterns of culture of a group

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Case Study: Providing an in-depth understanding of a case or cases

Discipline Background

Narrative Research: Drawing from the humanities, including anthropology, literature, history, psychology, and sociology

Phenomenology: Drawing from philosophy, psychology, and education

Grounded Theory: Drawing from sociology

Ethnography: Drawing from ethnography, and sociology

Case Study: Drawing from psychology, law, political science and medicine

Unit of Analysis

Narrative: Studying one or more individuals

Phenomenology: Studying several individuals who have shared the experience

Grounded Theory: Studying a process, an action, or an interaction involving many individuals

Ethnography: Studying group that shares the same culture

Case Study: Studying an event, a program, an activity, or more than one individual

Data Collection Forms

Narrative: Using primarily interviews and documents

Phenomenology: Using primarily interviews with individuals, although documents, observations, and art may also be considered

Grounded Theory: Using primarily interviews with 20-60 individuals

Ethnography: Using primarily observations and interviews, but perhaps collecting other sources during extended time in the field

Case Study: Using multiple sources, such as interviews, observations, documents, and artifacts

Data Analysis Strategies

Narrative; Analyzing data for stories, "restorying" stories, and developing themes, often using a chronology

Phenomenology: Analyzing data for significant statements, meaning units, textual and structural description, and description of the essence

Grounded theory: Analyzing data through open coding, axial coding, and selective coding

Ethnography: Analyzing data through description of the culture-sharing group and themes about the group

Case Study: Analyzing data through description of the case and themes of the case as well as cross-case themes

Written Report

Narrative: Developing a narrative about the stories of an individual's life

Phenomenology: Describing the essence of the lived experience

Grounded Theory: Generating a theory illustrated in a figure

Ethnography: Describing how a culture-sharing group works

Case Study: Developing a detailed analysis of one or more cases

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