‘What are the most important factors in your life?’or ‘Why do you prefer listening to heavy metal music more than other music genres?’
or applied to the study of entrepreneurship: ‘What challenges are encountered by people who switch careers and become entrepreneurs later in life?’ or ‘How do entrepreneurs manage volunteer retention in prosocial business venturing?’
In order to answer these questions, it would be most appropriate to turn to qualitative research. However, qualitative research is not a single body of methods and techniques that help you to understand real world phenomena. Instead qualitative research is characterized by a wide variety of qualitative approaches to inquiry, i.e. research designs, including numerous, sometimes competing, paradigm (worldviews). Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to first clarify the research approach, often called the research design, you follow when conducting a qualitative research project. Therefore, the first session on qualitative research will familiarize you with some of the more common qualitative research designs.
Ones you have gained clarity on the research design and you have formulated a research question that you want to study, you are confronted with an important question: ‘What kind of data should I collect?’
Oftentimes, in qualitative research the data is collected from multiple sources that can be categorized as interview data, observations and secondary data, such as reports and statistics. As secondary data is collected by someone other than the researcher him-/herself, we have dedicated two sessions to develop a more systematic approach to collecting interview data and data from non-participant observations. You might still wonder, is asking people their opinions really ‘research’?
Miles, Huberman and Saldana (2014, p. 24) clarify that “qualitative data are a source of well-grounded, rich descriptions and explanations of human processes. With qualitative data, one can preserve chronological flow, see which events led to which consequences, and derive fruitful explanations. Then, too, good qualitative data are more likely to lead to serendipitous findings and to new integrations; they help researchers get beyond initial conceptions and generate or revise conceptual frameworks. Finally, the findings from well analysed qualitative studies have a quality of ‘undeniability’. Words, especially organized into incidents or stories, have a concrete, vivid, and meaningful flavour that often proves far more convincing to a reader—another researcher, a policymaker, or a practitioner—than pages of summarized numbers.”
Thus, after finishing the qualitative research module you can confidently say, yes qualitative research is a scientific mode of inquiry that can help us to understand the world. However, we are still missing an important part of qualitative research, that is qualitative data analysis. While this demands several courses, in one module we want you to at least get a glimpse of the methodological repertoire that has been developed, and is constantly developing. Put simply, we want you to get a better understanding of how we can draw valid and trustworthy meaning from qualitative data and what methods of analysis we can use that are practical and will get us knowledge that we and others can rely on.