Qualitative Approaches

RR graphic - no words.jpgQualitative Approaches

This module describes the most common types of qualitative research approaches and discusses how to select an appropriate approach.

 Learning Objectives:

  • List the common types of qualitative research design approaches.
  • Compare and contrast qualitative approaches.
  • Describe how to choose the appropriate approach for a research problem.


Once a researcher has decided that their research question will provide data that is qualitative in nature, the next step is to choose the appropriate qualitative approach for their research design.  The approach chosen will take into account the purpose of the research, the role of the researcher, the data collected, method of data analysis and how the results will be presented. The most common approaches include narrative, phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and case study.  The following chart summarizes the characteristics of each approach.  This chart, in combination with the resource links on this page, will be helpful in determining the appropriate approach for your research.

approaches chart 4.PNG

The chart above compares and contrasts common qualitative approaches.  Once you understand the types of approaches, the next step is to identify the type of approach that is most suitable for a particular research question.  Following are examples of research questions for each type of approach.

  • Narrative:   A study of the life of Mother Theresa.
  • Phenomenology: What is it like to be an inmate in a penitentiary?
  • Grounded Theory: A description of the relationship between a doctor and a nurse.
  • Ethnography: A study of Native Americans living on reservations.
  • Case Study: The effects of the flipped classroom teaching style on the motivation of middle school science students in Lincoln High School.

The following Slideshare presentation further discusses these approaches, as well as the basics of qualitative research and specific methods that can be applied when you using these approaches.  This is a comprehensive presentation that will set the stage for future modules as you consider how to apply one of these approaches to your research.

Suggested Readings:

  • Bryman, A. (2012). Social research methods. Oxford university press.
  • Creswell, J. W. (2012). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Sage.
  • Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage Publications, Incorporated.
  • Kothari, C. R. (2004). Research methodology: methods and techniques. New Age International.
  • Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods . SAGE Publications, inc.
  • Rich, M., & Ginsburg, K. R. (1999). The reason and rhyme of qualitative research: why, when, and how to use qualitative methods in the study of adolescent health. Journal of Adolescent health, 25(6), 371-378.
  • Sofaer, S. (1999). Qualitative methods: what are they and why use them?. Health services research, 34(5 Pt 2), 1101.
  • Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research.

Resource Links

Qualitative Research Designs - The chart in the following link compares qualitative and quantitative research designs as well as describes the various types of qualitative research approaches. 

Qualitative Approaches - The following resources provides an overview of common qualitative approaches.

Five Qualitative Approaches to Inquiry - The following PDF includes a comprehensive and detailed overview of the five most common qualitative approaches.

Principles of Qualitative Research: Designing a Qualitative Study - The resource below describes qualitative research, its purpose, its approaches and basic methodology in a clear, concise manner.

Viewed 59,669 times