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How to design a Qualitative research study

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How to design a Qualitative research project

Creating a qualitative research project can feel overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to start, especially if you are aiming to explore complex or difficult experiences or concepts in your study. However, by breaking the process down into simple questions, you will find that you’re ready to start collecting data sooner than you think. This article offers a series of questions that you can use as a guide to design your qualitative research project. 

A. What is the question that you want to answer? 

The first step in designing your research is working out exactly what you want to investigate. The best way to do this is to read widely in your area of interest. When reading, consider the questions that have already been asked and answered in your field, and identify the questions that you think need richer and more in-depth study. After developing a strong and solid understanding of the current state of research in your area, you will be able to identify exactly what your project is going to focus on. 

B. What is your philosophical stance?

It is also important to be aware of the philosophical or theoretical perspectives that you are taking to your research. For example, will you be taking a positivist approach or a constructionist one? Reading thoroughly around your subject will introduce you to the common approaches that most studies in your field take. This in turn will help you to understand the lens through which you are seeing your own research and will guide any analysis and interpretations that you go on to make.

C. How will you answer the question? 

The next part of the project that you should focus on is the methodology. In other words, how are you going to answer the question that you have identified in the first step? One of the best ways to identify this is to read papers from similar studies in the field. Consider which methods are used by others, and how you can adapt these to suit your own questions.

D. How will you gather the data?

Interviews are a popular way of gathering data in qualitative work. However, they do not suit everyone. You could, for example, also use online surveys or ethnographic methods. Consider what will best suit your participants or the sources under study and the questions that you want to explore.

E. How will you analyse the data?

In qualitative work, the method for collecting your data and analysing it may be linked. For example, if you are using Discourse Analysis, you may be likely to use semi-structured interviews. However, other methodological approaches might necessitate a completely different style of collecting data, such as participant observation or working directly with written texts.

It’s important to consider this before you start your data collection. Reading similar studies in your area and understanding the philosophy or theoretical framework around which your research is shaped will help you to narrow this down.

Next steps

Now that you have designed the project, the next step is to collect the data and eventually move on to analysis to discover what your data and results have to say.


Read next (fourth/final) in series: Deciding when and how to use a mixed-methods design

Read previous (second) in series: How to design a quantitative research study


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