HL Only!

Theory and Practice

Distinguish between qualitative and quantitative data

  • Quantitative - used to extrapolate beyond sample tested (usually measured in numbers)
  • Qualitative - rich data that is highly descriptive (usually some form of text generated by participant)

Explain strengths and limitations of a qualitative approach to research

  • Rich data
  • Good for investigating complex situations (e.g. Phineas Gage, Genie)
  • Tends to be more experimentally valid if the individual studied remains in their environment
  • Time-consuming
  • Tons of data to deal with so analysis can be problematic
  • Interpreting results can be affected by the experimenter - use reflexivity to minimize this

To what extent can findings be generalized from qualitative studies?

  • Representative generalization - Individual studied is not representative of the population
  • Inferential generaliztion - because individual is rare and unique we cannot extrapolate the findings to the general population
  • Theoretical generalization - data may be used to generate a theory (inductive) or to confirm one (hypothetico-deductive)

Discuss ethical considerations in qualitative research

  • Informed consent (Genie)
  • Protecting individuals from psychological and physical harm
  • Anonymity and confidentiality must be maintained

Discuss sampling techniques appropriate to qualitative research

  • Purposive sampling
  • Snowball sampling - less time and energy required
  • Convenience sampling

Explain effects of participant expectations and researcher bias in qualitative research

  • Participants expectations - participant behaves in a way to please the researcher
  • Researcher bias - beliefs affect interpretation of participant behavior

Explain the important of credibility in qualitative research

  • Credibility is related to internal validity and how well the data reflects the beliefs/opinions/meanings of the participants
  • Importance of peer-review
  • Using other researchers' interpretations to validate conclusions

Explain the effect of triangulation on the credibility of qualitative research

  • Method triangulation - using different techniques to gather data - could be qualitative and quantitative (e.g. IAT and observation to investigate racial bias)
  • Data triangulation - use data gathered from various qualitative methods (e.g. interview and observation to investigate prejudice)
  • Researcher triangulation - use multiple researchers to agree on interpretations (Bandura did this)
  • Theory triangulation - use several theories to analyze the data
  • Space triangulation - use more than one setting/culture
  • Some researchers argue you can never have an accurate account because of the nature of subjective experience
  • Fielding & Fielding argue that the purest data and subsequent explanation arises from one method
    • Example - single malt whiskey is pure and tastes better than a blended whiskey

Explain reflexivity in qualitative research

  • Important that researcher is aware of his/her own beliefs so they do not affect the interpretation of behavior
  • Researcher must reflect on his/her own beliefs and attempt to separate them if they are not to affect the data
  • Willig's (2001) two forms of reflexivity
    • Personal reflexivity - values, beliefs, experiences, political faction, socioeconomic class, personal interest in the results can influence the research both professionally and personally
    • Epistemological reflexivity - related to how data was gathered, limited understanding of a particular group of people can restrict the amount of data gathered


Evaluate semi-structured, focus group and narrative interviews

  • Good for collecting data on socially sensitive subjects (e.g. sexual preferences, views on racism) because it is one-on-one
  • Should be less biased by researcher's preconceptions
  • Because it is an open-ended approach, participants can elaborate and clarify
  • The theme is chosen in advance so non-relevant material is avoided
  • Data analysis is time-consuming
  • One-on-one situation can be considered artificial which calls into question ecological validity
Focus Groups
  • Fast and convenient way to collect data from individuals concurrently
  • Provides natural setting which can give ecological validity
  • Uncovers knowledge and experience about what, how and why they think about a particular topic through the register (vocabulary, metaphors, sentence structure) they use
  • Can reveal cultural values and group norms
  • Not always appropriate for a research question (e.g. sexual preferences or fetishes)
  • Participants may not disclose all relevant information for fear of embarrassment or being judged
  • Conformity can confound the results
  • Ethical issues in conducting focus groups in non-free environments like prisons and nursing homes (informed consent, no freedom to choose)
Narrative Interviews
  • Good at elucidating complexity of individual experience because it shows how humans construct meaning in their lives
  • Can be used for all kinds of people as it only requires everyday speech - education level
  • Tons of data to analyze which is time-consuming to transcribe and analyze

Discuss considerations involved before, during and after an interview


Explain how researchers use inductive content analysis on interview transcripts

  • Themes are extracted by identifying patterns in words used, recurring symbols in pictures and properties of speech like pitch and emphasis


Evaluate participant, non-participant, naturalistic, overt and covert observations

  • Researcher becomes part of the group
  • Participates in their rituals etc
  • Researcher notes their experience of the people and attempts to gain insight into how the target group thinks and why they behave the way they do
  • Combines emic (subjective participant view) with etic (objective observer interpretation)
  • Rich knowledge on inner-workings of a group that cannot be gained via other methods
  • Can help avoid researcher bias because the researcher becomes part of the group and thus attempts to understand the social processes instead of imposing their own views (if researcher did do this, his/her cover would be blown and ruin the study)
  • Holistic interpretation because many aspects and perspectives of the group are considered for analysis

Discuss considerations involved in setting up and carrying out an observation

Discuss how researchers analyze data obtained in observational research

Case studies

Evaluate the use of case studies in research

  • Types of case study (Willig, 2001)
    • Intrinsic - interesting in and of themselves (e.g. Genie)
    • Instrumental - tend to have more practical use
    • Descriptive - provides detail of a phenomenon
    • Explanatory - describe and provide possible explanations for phenomenon
  • Case study is not a research method but a research strategy
  • Case studies tend to use triangulation
  • Provides opportunity to study phenomena that would be unethical to cause deliberately
  • Rich insight into social and group processes
  • Can stimulate new lines of research previously neglected because no rare individual or group was available to study
  • If case study findings contradict existing theories, new theories can be developed
  • Defining a case study is problematic (Willig, 2001)
  • Researcher bias can affect interpretation of data
  • Memory distortions in narrative interviews
  • Social desirability effects in focus groups
Ethical Considerations
  • Anonymize individuals in the case study by giving them a pseudonym to protect their identity
  • Investigating certain phenomena can be traumatic to recall
    • Child soldiers recalling what it was like to be young and murder individuals could cause feelings of anxiety, depression or guilt
    • Must ensure psychological well-being of individuals is maintained

Explain how a case study could be used to investigate a problem in an organization or group

  • Investigating the psychological effects of child soldiers who have grown up
  • Use a mixture of surveys to assess mood and anxiety levels, narrative interviews to gain perspective on the personal experience of the soldiers and focus groups to see how they behave in groups
  • Use inductive content analysis to determine themes and draw any conclusions

Discuss the extent to which findings can be generalized from a single case study

  • Quantitative researchers argue that case studies cannot be replicated and cannot be used for prediction so the results cannot be generalized
  • Small sample sizes in case studies are not statistically representative so they cannot be generalized
    • Hammersley (1992) argues that evidence from other studies that provide converging evidence to previous case studies allow some generalization to individuals similar to those used in the studies
  • Single case study can be used for inferential generalization
    • If findings can be applicable to similar settings e.g. teaching strategies in one school by one teacher as a possible link to improving children's motivation to learn
    • Further research will be necessary to gain further support for the teaching strategy hypothesis to rule out that it was not the teacher's personality (e.g. enthusiasm for the subject) or the diligence and eagerness to learn of the students
  • Yin (1994) claims that single case studies have theoretical generalization but cannot be extrapolated to the general population

Additional Resources