Study Designs in Qualitative Research

This article will provide a general idea about the study designs in qualitative research. Qualitative research is commonly used in social sciences, humanity, and education. The below picture shows general steps in designing a qualitative study designs. Qualitative study designs are not based on the process of observation through various techniques. The researcher observes the phenomenon and than analyze it, the last step is to present the conclusions. Sometimes the researcher becomes part of the observation as a participant and otherwise he passively observes the situation.

Qualitative research steps
Steps in a Qualitative Research
Here are some common types of qualitative study designs and their characteristics. These are the msot designs used in qualitative studies. There are also other designs but their use is not very common.

Case study

The case study is used in both qualitative and quantitative studies. Its use is more common in qualitative studies. It is believed that the case studies originated in 1829 by Frederick Le Play. As the name suggests a case study studies the case of a person, situation, event, phenomenon, or group of people. Their use is common in education, science, humanity, and law.

A case is studied with an aim that the  findings of this case can be applied to similar situations or cases. The person studying the case takes the population as one entity and studies it in-depth. The case studied and its findings can be applied to similar cases. The aim of a case study is not generalization but to have in-depth information that can be applied to cases similar to the ones the have been studied.

The techniques most commonly used in the case studies are open-ended and flexible ones. Interviews, open-ended questionnaires, observations, and secondary records are all the different methods that can be combined together to get the data. The analysis of the techniques that have been used should be done together.

The sampling techniques are also non-random mostly, for example, judgmental, purpose, and information-oriented. These sampling techniques help the researcher find the best case he deems fit to be studied. The aim is to find a case that can best reflect the problem that needs attention.

Oral history

In qualitative research, oral interview or oral history is also a study type. Oral history as the name suggests means that you want to collect data about a person, event, situation, or phenomenon through asking a person who knows about it. You assume that there isn’t much information available in books, or other written and media records.

The method to do oral interview/history is to find the persons that can provide information about the event or situation that you want to study. Sometimes it is very difficult to find the right persons to interview as there are not many persons easily available.  Once you decide about the persons you want to interview you schedule an interview and ask related questions. The responses are then analyzed to find the meanings of the data.

There are certain topics that have rare information in books or any other recorded form. The person you are asking question can be the first hand evidence of the situation or he can narrate information as it has been passed to him from someone else. As there is no other way to get the information oral history interview becomes necessary and very useful.

There might be biases in the person’s opinion who is answering your question. Sometimes when there is no other source of data about a topic people easily give false responses which is a big drawback of such studies. If possible you can use other primary or secondary evidences to support the oral interview.

Focus group interview

Focus group interviews are conducted by the market researchers, media people, town planners, political and social researchers. It can be conducted as a major research study design or can be used as part of a study design to facilitate data collection. Focus group interviews are easy to conduct, less expensive and have wider appeal.

The researcher first select a group of people he is interested to include in his focus group interview. The people can be highly skilled people that have knowledge about the topic and they can be some common residents of a community, consumer of a particular product, or people getting a particular treatment etc. The researcher then decides about the place and timings of the group interview. The format of the interview is relaxed and has options for open-ended discussions. The aim is to acquire more information.

The researcher can have as many and as few members in a focus group discussion. The problem may arise with having too many members of the group or having too few. You should consider the requirements of the interview and the availability of the resources and then decide on the number of the member sin the focus group. Usually 8 to 10 members make a good group for the focus group interview.

Participant observation

A participant observation is a type of observation studies. Participant observation is used in qualitative research studies as it gives more freedom of interaction and understanding the situation. In participant observation the person observing the situation become part of it. The design is simple you have to ask permission from the group of people that you want o observe. You have to become part of the activities or event that you are going to observe. You should decide in advance about the ways you are going to use to record the observation. A good rapport with the participant sis necessary it will ensure that the participants are showing their true self during the situation.

Participant observation can only be used in situations where you can become part of it. There are certain situations where you cannot actively become part of the situation and hence participant observation is not possible. In participant observation you should make sure that you use a good method to record the observation. Sometimes being part of the group make you forget about the recording of the observation. Another possible disadvantage is that you can introduce bias in observation. The bias can also be introduced due to your participation when people are aware of your participation they may not show their real self.

In participant observation you become part of the group which gives you more freedom to understand the situation. Participant observation can help you dig deeper about the situation or event under study. It also helps you make better analysis of the situation.

Community discussion forums

Community discussion forums are a very good platform to get in-depth information about a situation in the community. Community discussion forums are so much like focus groups but have a major difference. In focus group you have to select a number of people to participate in the discussion. The people selection is up to you and you select what you deem fit for the situation. On the other hand, in community discussion forums you do not have control over who is going to participate. The number of people participating in a community discussion can be much bigger. You have to inform the specific community about the discussion forum its time, date and venue. People who are interested will come and discuss about the issue, situation, or event.

The major advantage is that you can get in-depth information from real people who are facing or will face a situation. You have a vast number of people that will participate.

The disadvantage is that you cannot control who takes more interest in the discussion, sometimes few people override the discussion. It might also be possible that only few people attend the discussion. There might be several classes living in a community and the discussion is majorly dominated by a single class. The people who attended the discussion may not know the real problems or benefits of the topic under discussion. You should know who is attending the discussion and whether these people are true representatives of the situation. This will help you avoid biases and errors in analysis of this discussion.

It should also be noted that these discussion forums can be created online and now-a-days online forums are very powerful tool to get information. Especially if you want to know about a product you can create an online discussion forum and you will have a lot of people discuss about its benefits and drawbacks. The only problem is that you cannot ensure that the person providing feedback has shown true identity. You can overcome the problem of knowing the member identity by using certain techniques.


  • Kumar, R., (2011) Research Methodology: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners, Sage Publications: 3rd Ed., New Delhi. Pp- 122-126
  • “Oral History Research and Resources”. UC Santa Cruz University Library. <>. Retrieved on 2019/ 1/ 29.



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