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And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

—T.S. Eliot


The information provided in this chapter will assist the reader to:

  • Identify the characteristics of qualitative research.

  • Explain the qualitative research process.

  • Compare and contrast qualitative research theoretical perspectives, as well as designs.


Qualitative researchers are especially concerned with how people develop meaning out of their lived experiences. Qualitative research is the study of people and events in their natural contexts. Denzin and Lincoln (2008) propose that a great majority of topics, if not all of them, are appropriately suited for qualitative inquiry. The promise of the new frontier originates from researchers asking ordinary questions about their current practice and everyday life. Crabtree and Miller (1992) suggest the most efficient means of deciding if a particular topic should be researched from a qualitative perspective is to ask if the topic has a story that needs to be investigated and shared with larger communities of people. Furthermore, Rossman and Rallis (1998) point out the researcher must consistently be aware of the voice utilized in sharing the research with others. This voice is appropriately described as the interaction between the researcher and participant(s).

More specifically, Kliening and Witt (2000) feel that qualitative methodologies should be directed toward any research that is discovery-based. Patton (2002) suggests that qualitative researchers consider the following areas for inquiry: (1) individual experience(s); (2) meanings individuals place on their experiences; (3) individuals studied within their environmental contexts; and (4) a phenomenon for which standardized instruments have not yet been developed. A moderate amount of emphasis is placed on the participant being able to tell the story of his or her lived experience.

Although qualitative research used to be solely the domain of anthropology, history, and political science, in recent years other traditionally “quantitative” fields such as psychology, sociology, education, healthcare administration, and public health policy are utilizing qualitative methodology to investigate areas of strength and needs. In fact, it seems that many fields are “moving more toward phenomenological approaches and away from experimental approaches, thus becoming less precise but more real” (Yerxa, 2000, p. 201). As part of this movement, it has become apparent that qualitative research methods and designs are useful to health professionals. In the 21st century there is a legitimate place in healthcare research for qualitative methods and there are phenomena within health care that can usefully be studied using naturalistic methods. In exploring client-related healthcare experiences with their clients and the process of therapeutic interaction, healthcare practitioners’ understanding can be significantly increased by conducting research that employs a naturalistic approach (Boxes 8-1, 8-2, and 8-3).


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