Qualitative Research Issues

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Biggest ethical dilemma faced by qualitative researchers

The biggest ethical dilemma in qualitative research is the researchers’ responsibility over disclosure of information. The decision on whether to disclose information to any interested party to a research or even to conceal information from concerned individuals and groups forms the basis of the dilemma. Every research activity is aimed at finding solutions and researchers’ interest will be to find the necessary information. As a result, there may be a need to conceal some information to ensure a smooth research process. Similarly, results of the research might be of public interest and prompt for disclosure, to the compromise of a group’s interest.

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Concealing information or even the researcher’s identity has in the past been a tool to the success of major research activities. Similarly, research participants are supposed to be informed of the nature of the research before they can consent to be part of such activities. Further, a guarantee of privacy should be offered to the participants before the research. Full disclosure of the extent of confidentiality should also be made before the commencement of the research. A researcher is therefore expected either to consider the success of the research at the expense of ethics of disclosure or to prioritize ethics (Berg and Lune, 2011).

Primary reasons for using qualitative research and questions addressed by qualitative research

Qualitative research is aimed at investigations on existing relationships. Every research initiative will therefore be based on goals and reasons for making conclusions and recommendations. As Flick and Steinke explain, the major reasons for qualitative research are “description, test of hypothesis and theory development” (2004, p. 150). This is because qualitative research activities are explorative.

They, as a result, seek to describe relationships, investigate the significance of such relationships, and develop a basis for explaining the identified or existing relationships. A research initiative to investigate trends in the prevalence of AIDS rates across age groups may for example be undertaken with the objective of exploring descriptive statistics such as mean, mode, and median across the considered age groups. Similarly, investigating trends among or within the groups may call for a test of hypothesis for establishing confidence through tests of significance on investigated trends. Qualitative research, through validating hypotheses, is also used as a basis for establishing theories (Flick and Steinke, 2004).

Since research questions offer directions to exploring research objectives, they are supposed to be aligned to the objectives and reasons for the particular research. Qualitative research, therefore, addresses questions on descriptive statistics, tests of significance, and theory development (Flick and Steinke, 2004)

Triangulation of methods and their benefits

Triangulation of methods refers to the application of many approaches towards establishing the findings of the research. The method is based on the concept that the application of many methods yields more accurate conclusions. The triangulation concept is derived from surveying methods in which many lines are used in the estimation of points. The concept is therefore mapped onto statistical qualitative research to use different approaches such as sampling techniques, analytical approaches, and diversification of samples in research. Triangulation of methods may also be understood in its literal meaning as the use of a variety of methods in research activity (Berg and Lune, 2011).

There exist a variety of classes of triangulation. Data triangulation for instance refers to the use of approaches such as “time, space, and person” (Berg and Lune, 2011, p. 7). While time triangulation refers to the consideration of data from different time frames, space triangulation refers to physical or geographical consideration and person triangulations consider the nature and type of sample used in research. Other classes include “investigator, theory, and methodological triangulations” (Berg and Lune, 2011, p. 7). The benefits of triangulations are therefore its broader scope of research and a resultant accuracy in results and conclusions (Berg and Lune, 2011).

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Sampling strategies for qualitative research

Sampling strategies form one of the distinctions between qualitative and quantitative research approaches. The most commonly used sampling strategies in qualitative research are “criterion based” sampling and “theoretical sampling” (Ritchie and Lewis, 2003, p. 78, 80). Criterion, as a basis for sampling, is used in cases where the participants in the research possess defined properties that are relevant to the research.

The main objective of this strategy is to obtain adequate representation through the selected sample. An element will for example be selected to represent a particular geographical area, group, or behavioral characteristic. Criterion-based sampling is further divided into several classes which include “homogeneous sampling, heterogeneous sampling, extreme case sampling, intensive sampling, typical case sampling, stratified purposive sampling and critical case sampling” (Ritchie and Lewis, 2003, p. 79, 80).

Since criterion-based sampling relies on the purpose of the research, the particular sampling approach used is identified before the commencement of the research, and the decision is usually based on the objectives of the research. The theoretical sampling strategy is on the other hand based on the capacity of the participants to make significant contributions to the results of the research (Ritchie and Lewis, 2003)

Strengths and weakness of qualitative research

Qualitative research has both strengths and weaknesses. One of the strengths is its extensive understanding that it offers to the subject of research. The explorative nature of qualitative research that involves extensive analysis of background information as well as collected data offers a basis for understanding. Further, a summary of the research results through descriptive statistics facilitates a deeper understanding. The nature of the research that induces confidence through the reliable test of hypothesis also draws interest for closer attention and understanding. Another advantage of qualitative research is its flexible nature.

The numerous strategies and techniques at different stages of research are easily interchangeable. As a result, approaches and methods can be substituted at any stage of the research (Rubbin and Babbie, 2009).

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Weaknesses that have been associated with qualitative research include generalization in presentation and biasness due to formed opinion or conflict of interest on the part of a researcher. Generalization of reports for instance leads to loss of precision especially in cases where varying opinions exist across samples. Similarly, a researcher may be biased at any point of the research to influence an outcome. Biasness can be induced during sample selection or data collection stages (Rubbin and Babbie, 2009).

Possible problems faced in qualitative research

There are several problems faced in qualitative research. These problems range from the research process to the research environment. One of the already identified problems is the researcher’s ability to “adopt and adapt” to different research strategies and methods (Barbour, 2007). The main reason why the availability of many options is a challenge to many researchers is the intersection of concepts in research strategies.

This particularly makes it difficult for a researcher to identify the most suitable approach to use. Another significant challenge in qualitative research is a conflict of interest in which a researcher’s motive shifts to exalting himself instead of paying attention to the subject of research. When attention is shifted, the chances of biasness become higher. The financial interest of researchers has also developed to be a major challenge in qualitative research.

This is particularly encountered in sponsored research activities where a researcher is dependent on and is subjected to forces from other interested parties. As a result, a researcher may be influenced by compromising and being biased to favor the parties. Researchers are therefore expected to be strong enough and independent to shun down such forces leading to biasness (Barbour, 2007).


Barbour, R. (2007). Introducing Qualitative Research: A Student’s Guide to the Craft of Doing Qualitative Research. London, UK: SAGE.

Berg, B., and Lune, H. (2011). Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. New York, NY: Allyn & Bacon.

Flick, U., Kardorff, E. and Steinke, I. (2004). A companion to qualitative research. London, UK: SAGE.

Ritchie, J. and Lewis, J. (2003). Qualitative research practice: a guide for social science students and researchers. London, UK: SAGE.

Rubbin, A. and Babbie, E. (2009). Essential Research Methods for Social Work. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

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