Research Methods
Qualitative research
Session outline
Qualitative methods
In-depth interviews
Group interviews and
focus groups
Delphi technique
Definition qualitative methods
‘an array of interpretative techniques
which seek to describe, decode,
translate and otherwise come to terms
with the meaning, not the frequency, of
certain more or less naturally occurring
phenomena in the social world ‘
Maanen in Easterby-Smith, 1993:71)
Preferences of qualitative
researchers (Hammersley, 1992)
qualitative data - words, images, rather than
naturally occurring data – e.g. observation
(rather than experiment)
meanings rather than behaviour - ‘attempting to
document the world from the point of view of the
people studied’
a rejection of natural science as a model
a preference for induction
‘grounded theory’, rather than theory testing
Qualitative Research
No one definition, however main features
A preference for qualitative data
words, observations, images, rather than numbers
Documenting the world from the point of view of the
people studied
Collection of ‘rich’, in-depth data, therefore
qualitative research often small scale – eg. Case
Differs from quantitative research in epistemology,
methodology, and the methods used
Qualitative Research Design
Researcher is the instrument of data
 Social Skills such as building rapport,
listening, essential
 Selection of research respondents
 Access, role and ethical issues
 Analysis of data
Qualitative research questions
Not hypothesis testing, therefore more open
and not pre-judging outcome
Home and holiday behaviour differences: Northern
lads in Ibiza
Hotel managers attitudes towards environmental
Social meaning of holidays for young families
Impacts of tourists on the local population
Sustainable development priorities in tourism
development strategies: an analysis of three UK
National Parks
Planning Qualitative Research 1
flexible research design
research questions rather than
importance of research process and
your position within that:
access to the group
 gatekeepers and informers
 ethical issues - informed consent;
anonymity, confidentiality, use/abuse of
Planning qualitative research 2
analysis of qualitative data
ongoing through data collection
narrative rather than statistical
description and theorising
Issues to consider
Doesn’t the researcher’s presence affect the
behaviour of the people being researched?
 Don’t people simply lie when answering
researcher’s questions?
 How do you know if what is true in one case
study will be true in another?
 How do you know that the researcher isn’t
biased, and just finding what they want to find?
 How can you be sure that qualitative research
findings are true?
1. In-depth interview: what it is
Usually conducted with a relatively small
number of subjects
 Interview guided by a checklist of topics
rather than a formal questionnaire
 Interviews often tape-recorded and
verbatim transcript prepared
 Can take ½ hour and may extend over
several hours; repeat interviews possible
In-depth interviews
Idea behind them & distinction from
 Organising the interview (structure)
 Relationship with respondents
 Recording the interview
 Using the data
 Characteristics of good interviews
Recognising Limitations
Can be
 time consuming and expensive
 inefficient, biased, unpredictable…
 hard to pre-test
 difficult to standardise and replicate
 and then difficult to analyse
We must devise strategies to minimise
these problems and maximise the gain
from their ability to offer a greater
understanding of the complexities of
social reality.
The Underpinnings
The challenge of interviewing is to unlock
the perspective of every interviewee
 in a search for mutual understanding
 typically in the form of a friendly
Surveys vs
A little about a lot /
 All respond to
exactly the same
 Descriptive patterns
 Directive interviewer
 A lot about a little /
 Asked to respond to
same topics in
different ways
 Explore links
between feelings,
attitudes, behaviour
 Interviewer as guide
Interviewing is not as easy as it looks. It
requires thought and careful planning.
 As two commentators recently noted,
interviewing is ‘as easy as writing a book
- most of us have basic literacy skills but
few attain literary art’ (Powney and Watts
in Robson, 1995: 228).
Process to plan an interview
Identify the objectives
Decide whether to
undertake individual
or group interviews
Determine the most
appropriate structure
- fully structured,
semi-structured or
(informal). Think
about the implications
of your choice
prepare an interview
schedule (if appropriate)
pilot and refine the
research instrument (if
keep a full record of the
note the relevance to
interviewees - sell the idea
the ethical implications of
your study
How structured?
Highly structured vs free form
 Clarity of purpose
 Standard wording abandoned in favour
of flowing conversation
 Language of respondent
 Learn script, but be flexible
Comparing types of interviews
(adapted from Finn et al, 2001:75)
Type of
Answers to same
questions increase
Data easily analysed
Little flexibility. Pre-determined
questions might not be relevant.
Standardised wording might
Combines flexibility
with comparability
Bias may increase as
interviewer selects questions to
probe and might inhibit
Interviewer can adapt,
interviewee is allowed
to express in own
words. Interviewer’s
Comparability reduced, data
analysis more difficult. Data
quality depends on listening and
communicating skills of
Relationship with respondent
Escape authoritarianism of
questionnaires - more equal relationship
 Home ground?
 Rapport & Empathy
 Listen, guide & probe
When recording, think of
Do it, but think… and make sure you’re
 Recording should allow transcription.
 Transcription should allow for coding
 Coding should lead to synthesis
 Synthesis should allow for analysis
Important Characteristics
1. Know your
2. Establish rapport
3. Listen to
4. Read between the
5. Accept the value
of respondent’s
6. Pick up on issues
raised by respondent
7. Probe, explore,
8. Recall & relate to
what has been said
9. Allow space to answer
- don’t fear silence
10. Avoid irrelevant
Interview skills
think about the motivations of interviewees and their
 listen more than you speak
 build trust - know about the company/organisation,
telephone and then send a letter, use appropriate
language (student/researcher, interview/discussion),
show interest and enthusiasm
 ask straightforward questions
 consider the location of the interview
 begin with the general (things people know - build
 keep to time
Probes to focus the discussion
basic probe - repeat the question if the interviewee is
going off the point.
 explanatory probes e.g. ‘What did you mean by that?’
‘What makes you say that?’
 focused probes for specific information e.g. ‘What
sort of...?’
 silent probe - pause and let them break the silence
 drawing out e.g. ‘Tell me more about that...’ or ‘What
happened then...?’
 mirroring or reflecting - express what the interviewee
has said for clarification or to prompt them to review
 NOTE: be careful with prompts - use the same ones
with everyone (perhaps have a list prepared).
2. Group interviews/ focus
Similar to in-depth interviews but conducted
with a group
Interaction between subjects takes place was
well as interaction between interviewer and
Researcher is facilitator or just observer
Use when particular group is important in a
study but small group, or cannot be easily
identified as group
Possible strong characters dominating group
5/12 participants, justify choices. Tape/video
record it, then transcribe and group answers.
3. Un/participant observation
“A participant observer gathers data by
participating in the daily life of the group
or organisation he [sic] studies. He
watches the people he is studying to see
what situations they ordinarily meet and
how they behave in them. He enters into
conversation with some or all of the
participants in these situations and
discovers their interpretations of the
event he has observed.” (Becker)
What does this mean in research
Researcher gathers information by being
an actual participant or an observer or
 Researcher may be known by the
subjects as a researcher or may be
 Difficulty in keeping accurate records:
what to record, and how to record it?
 Researcher involvement
Some thoughts on PO
“Participant observation is the only method I
know that enables the researchers to get close
to the realities of social life. Its deficiencies in
producing quantitative data are more than
made up for by its ability to minimise the
distance between researchers and their
subjects of study.” (Gans)
 “A central paradox of the participant
observation method is to seek information by
not asking questions.” (Frankenburg)
When to Use
Originally used to learn from the
unfamiliar ‘primitive’ societies, e.g.
anthropological studies of tourism
impacts on undeveloped societies
 More recently applied to the familiar, e.g.
consumer behaviour in travel agencies
or researchers in their own leisure
 Clear limitations for undergraduate
Issues to Consider
Disclosure - Do you tell
 Stance - Observe or
 Role - What can you ‘do’ to
fit in?
 Getting ‘in’ - How do you
make contact?
 Rapport - How close
should you get?
Questioning - Should
Sampling - Are they
Proof - Can you
demonstrate causal
links? Can you draw
Ethics - spying?
Observing What?
Actors and their relationships
 Doing what with what consequences
 Use of space
 Time - what happens when for how long
 Impact of key events
 Feelings - theirs and yours
 ........etc.
PO assessed
Less bias because of
internal checks
More responsive /
Deals with realities
of life
Explores in greater
Lacks reliability &
Not generalisable
Observer bias
“Going native”
Lack of
4. Delphi technique
Named after classical Greek Delphi oracle.
Gathering and analysing information from a
panel of experts about future trends.
Experts complete questionnaire indicating
views of likelihood of certain developments
taking place.
Views collated and circulated to panel
members for further comment, process can
be repeated a number of times before final
results collected
Need to consider questionnaire design and
analysis, and qualitative data analysis at the
5. Ethnography
Utilises a number of techniques, not a
single technique. Borrowed from
 BUT: How feasible is it to use more than
one research method in an
undergraduate dissertation??
Summary: What can Qualitative
Research do? (Creswell, 1994)
Qual res. is useful in situations where:
there is a lack of research and theory,
so that little is known about the concepts
 nature of the phenomenon may not be
suitable for quantitative measures
 need to explore and describe the
phenomenon, and to develop theory
Suggested reading
Besides the key books already suggested, you
should consider reading this debate about theory
and interpretation of data :
Denzin, N.K. and Lincoln, Y.S. (Eds) (1998)
Strategies of qualitative inquiry. London:Sage
 Mason, J (1998) Qualitative researching.
London: Sage.
 Yin, R.K (1994) Case study research: design
and methods. 2nd edition. London: Sage.
The following four short papers provide a good example of
conflicting perspectives relating to the same research
issue. They are also fun to read because the debate gets
a bit personal!
Slattery, P (1996) International development of hotel
chains. In Kotas R et al (eds) The international hospitality
business. London:Cassell.
Hughes, H (1994) The structural theory of demand: a
International Journal of Hospitality
Management. 12(4) : 309-311.
Slattery, P (1994) The structural theory of business
demand:a reply to Hughes. International Journal of
Hospitality Management. 13 (2): 173-176.
Hughes, H (1995) The structural theory of business
demand:a rejoinder to Slattery. International Journal of
Hospitality Management. 14 (2):117-118.

Qualitative Research - CIRCLE International