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Approaches to Qualitative Research

Ethnography is a research method where the researcher observes and/ or immerses themselves within the community with which they are conducting research. Ethnography has its roots in cultural anthropology but has wide-ranging applications across a range of disciplines.

Immersion and observation enable the researcher to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the nuances and complexities of a community. As a result, these studies are often longitudinal and can span over a year, which has implications for funding and usability. Ethnography can make use of many methods of collecting data such as interviews, observation and surveys that further the researchers understanding.

Autoethnography is where the researcher utilises self-reflective skills and writing to explore their own lived experience to connect their own experience to wider cultural and political issues and wider social issues. Marechal (2010 defined autoethnography as a method that involves 'self-observation' and 'reflexive investigation' This is particularly important in the therapeutic fields.

Case Study

Understanding the lived experience of an individual, organisation, event or entity.

Sample size     1

The case study has been one of the most used research methods in therapeutic work for its ability to offer an in depth insight into an individuals psyche and the therapeutic process for longer cases and a snapshot to illustrate or draw attention to a particular aspect of the indiviudal and work.


Case study may use a range of methods over an extended period of time to track a process

Narrative Enquiry


Concerned with -            Individual experience and sequence.

Average Sample Size -      1-2 people

The narrative approach to research is concerned with weaving together a sequence of events, usually from a small number of individuals to form a cohesive narrative. The interviews used for this type of study would be in-depth, alongside reading documents that link to the narrative and theme being explored. The researcher then looks for recurrent themes in an attempt to look at the question, how does an individual narrative influence the larger influences in society that gave rise to the story in the first place. These type of studies are often longitudinal in design, taking place over weeks, months or years.


The reporting of a narrative study does not have to be chronological. Narratives may be grouped by themes and highlight relevant strengths and also challenges and how these were overcome, which then plays into the bigger narrative

Grounded Theory

Aim - to develop a new or expand on an existing theory from data obtained from within the field.

Sample size - 20 - 60


Grounded theory aims to investigate and provide an explanation or look at the event being studied. This type of study may start with a literature review and interviews to look at the existing theory and create preliminary data. These are established through both open and closed questions which are then coded to help identify the themes that are brought to light. This data then provides a direction with which to develop theory and establish it. As they use larger sample sizes the results can be generalised more and can be seen as more credible than smaller sample studies.

Phenomenological Enquiry

Concerned with -                People who have experienced a phenomenon

Average Sample Size -         2-25

Phenomenological research is concerned with describing an identified phenomenon, activity or event. A combination of methods may be used depending on what is appropriate for the phenomenon being studied, such as literature reviews, watching documentaries and videos, visiting places and people, conducting interviews

It is predominantly concerned with participants perspectives and insights into themselves and the situation to provide the depth and richness of the study.

Autoethnography/ Ethnography

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