develop a proposal

Develop a Research Proposal

Planning the Methodology - The Qualitative Pathway

Research Process | Student Resources

If you are on this path, you have decided that the overall design of your project will take a qualitative approach.   

As described before in Elements of the Proposal, there are three main types of qualitative research designs.  You will need to decide which one is most appropriate for your research questions.

Historical research describes past events, problems, issues and facts.  Data are gathered from written or oral descriptions of past events, artifacts, etc.  It describes “what was” in an attempt to recreate the past.  It is different from a report in that it involves interpretation of events and its influence on the present.  It answers the question: “What was the situation?”  

  • A study of the factors leading to the historical development and growth of cooperative learning
  • A study of the effects of the historical decisions of the United States Supreme Court on American prisons
  • A study of the evolution of print journalism in the United States through a study of collections of newspapers 

Ethnographic research develops in-depth analytical descriptions of current systems, processes, and phenomena and/or understandings of the shared beliefs and practices of a particular group or culture.  This type of design collects extensive narrative data (non-numerical data) based on many variables over an extended period of time in a natural setting within a specific context. The background, development, current conditions, and environmental interaction of one or more individuals, groups, communities, businesses or institutions is observed, recorded, and analyzed for patterns in relation to internal and external influences.  It is a complete description of present phenomena. 

  • A case study of parental involvement at a specific magnet school
  • A multi-case study of children of drug addicts who excel despite early childhoods in poor environments 
  • A psychological case study with extensive notes based on observations of and interviews with immigrant workers
  • A study of primate behavior in the wild measuring the amount of time an animal engaged in a specific behavior

Narrative research focuses on studying a single person and gathering data through the collection of stories that are used to construct a narrative about the individual’s experience and the meanings he/she attributes to them.

  • A study of the experiences of an autistic student who has moved from a self-contained program to an inclusion setting
  • A study of the experiences of a high school track star who has been moved on to a championship-winning university track team

Open the file Crafting the Proposal:  III. The Methodology (Qualitative Path) and save it to your computer.  Select and mark which one of the three types of research design you think your investigation will be.

Now it is time to consider your actual procedure.  Most qualitative designs follow a similar structure in their steps because these designs are inductive in their reasoning.  Inductive reasoning starts with research questions, but does not usually form an hypothesis. The researcher selects a general topic and then begins collecting information in the systematic processes and procedures of an investigation.  The data collected during the investigation creates the hypothesis for the researcher in this research design model. 

research process

Qualitative research builds theory.  Using inductive reasoning, cases are selected by a sampling process in which the researcher identifies new cases that are similar to previous cases. When these cases generate no new insights, the process is repeated with newly selected cases that yield different insights, again until no new insights are noted.

Here are some suggested steps:

  1. Identify a general research question.
  2. Conduct a literature review to determine current theory and studies. 
  3. Select parameters of study: Choose main methods, sites, and subjects for research. Determine methods of documentation of data and access to subjects.
  4. Determine methods of collection of data: Decide what you will collect data on: questions, behaviors to observe, issues to look for in documents (interview/observation guide), how much (# of questions, # of interviews/observations, etc.).
  5. Clarify your role as researcher.  Determine whether you will be obtrusive or unobtrusive, objective or involved.
  6. Study the ethical implications of the study.  Consider issues of confidentiality and sensitivity.
  7. Begin to collect data and continue until you begin to see the same, repeated information, and stop finding new information.
  8. Compare patterns of first case with those of second case.  Develop a working hypothesis as common patterns emerge across studies.
  9. Interpret data.  Look for concepts and theories in what has been collected so far. Formulate additional research questions and modification of questions, based on analysis. 
  10. Continue theoretical sampling. Collect further data to address revisions.
  11. Review relevant literature when patterns appear to stabilize.
  12. Link relevant literature to the empirically, evidence- grounded hypotheses.
  13. Test theoretical formulations derived from preceding step.
  14. Revise theory and knowledge formulations as needed to fit new patterns viewed in each subsequent step.
  15. Repeat as needed until...

The process ends when the researcher reaches “theoretical saturation,” the point at which no new data are emerging . Through this procedure emerging theories are grounded in data and are linked to other theories and research .

When cases do not fit into the common pattern (“negative” cases), researchers typically assess each to determine whether the case is a result of expected variation, the researcher's failure to consider the total range of behavior or situations that might fit a particular category, or truly exceptional (Marlow, 1993). In the presentation of findings, “negative” cases and common patterns are illustrated.

16.  Then...Verify your data.  Complete conceptual and theoretical work to make your findings.  Present your findings in an appropriate form to your audience.

Because qualitative research often is not seen as objective in its methods, convincing your audience that your methods and results are reliable and trustworthy is also part of your proposal's methodology section.  For each step in your procedures, be prepared to prove that your study is reliable and valid.

     Ex:  The researchers want to study how recent immigrants adapted to the manner in which students interact with each other in inner-city high schools. They will train high school students from each immigrant culture to collect observational and interview data.  They explain that they chose this method of data collection because they assume that the students would be able to obtain more valid data than adult researchers could obtain.  This explanation appears reasonable, and therefore it contributes to the chain of evidence supporting the soundness of the study's findings.

student resources

Here are some great resources that may assist you in designing and completing your investigation.

Now you need to go to your planning guide to being to think about and plan for your own qualitative methodology.  There are several more steps for you to complete before you have had the chance to think through every element, but you should begin to record your ideas now.  You can continue to revise your ideas as you move through these steps.

Back to Planning the Methodology