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					    Qualitative research

          Sheila Webber
University of Sheffield, Department of
         Information Studies
             August 2002
• Why qualitative research?
• Access
• Collection methods: interview, focus group;
• Approaches: case study; ethnography;
  Action research
• Analysis
• Service quality in libraries
• Summary
           Why qualitative?
• Reveal hidden, unsuspected issues (may be
  asking wrong questions on a questionnaire!)
• Exploring attitudes, emotions, sensitive
  issues, opinions, conceptions
• Exploring context, relationships, processes
• What is “objectivity” anyway?
• Quantitative + qualitative methods can be
  – Triangulation
  – Using data from one exercise to inform another
     Access and understanding
• Need access to your population
• If do not have access, difficult to get good
  sample, or enough time with respondent (or
  any response at all)
• Typical access problems: surveying non-
  users of services; surveying businesses
• Particularly e.g. for case study, important to
  have pre-understanding of culture, language
         Collection methods
• Interviews
• Focus groups
• Observation
  Collection methods: interview
• Good for open ended questions, probing and
  exploring in depth, gaining understanding
• Good where want impression of body
  language, intonation, “whole person”,
  context and setting
• Improved understanding of questions by
• Expensive (time/money: collecting and
• Need good interpersonal skills
    –   create rapport;
    –   active listener;
    –   self-controlled and neutral;
    –   adaptive;
    –   unobtrusive efficiency & control of interview
•   Good planning, structure
•   Closed or open questions
•   Probes
•   Structured, unstructured or semi-structured
• Channels: face-to-face; telephone; email;
• Computer Assisted Personal Interviews;
  Computer Assisted Self Interviews
• Email interview – could build up panel
• Channel choices – body language
  important? Need to survey dispersed
  population? Will channel encourage frank
  speaking? Each has pros and cons
             Focus groups
• Good for “how” “which” and “why” questions
• As group can interact, more options for
  providing insights
• Small groups (e.g. 6-8)
• Moderator and observer
• Taping is recommended
• Setting should be carefully planned and
  controlled – appropriate to aims, topic and
              Focus groups
• Activities which can engage all the group to
  avoid the “let’s go round and each say what
  they think of this” syndrome
• Few questions, but well planned activity to
  maximise interaction and encourage
  participation from all on each question
              Focus groups
• Use of internet chat or bulletin boards –
  they have some uses (good when
  participants dispersed, housebound etc.) but
  also some drawbacks (e.g. more difficult to
  have quick interaction between people)
• Focus groups can help generate questions
  for surveys, or can be used to probe issues
  arising from analysis of quantitative
• May be silent or involve neutral questioning
• May involve active participation of researcher in
• May involve video, audio taping, examining web
  logs etc.
• Important for website usability studies (e.g. using
  “thinking aloud protocols”) also e.g. how do people
  use reference collections
• Often useful to combine examination of data (e.g.
  transaction logs) and observation of what people do

•   Case study
•   Ethnography
•   Action research
•   Phenomenography
                 Case study
• An enquiry (“how”, “why” questions)
  investigating a process, phenomenon
• Has clear boundaries
• Examining events, people, processes in a specific
  context: aim for holistic understanding
• Cases need to be selected carefully but do not have
  to be “typical”
• May use combination of methods (desk research,
  observation, interviews etc.)
• May be linking to thoery; trying to link
                Case study
• Exploratory studies may generate material for
  other types of research
• Could be useful if your customers are
  organisations (e.g. how does company X use
  information in making decisions about Y)
• Could be useful
  – to present to funding bodies to justify service
    changes (gives tangibility and personality)
  – to guide service changes
  – to explain benefits in publicity

• Settings carefully observed and described
  (unlike specific how/why of case studies)
• Population observed and encouraged to
  reveal "realities" of their lives (although
  question as to whether people can reveal
• Researcher aims to integrate into setting
  without disrupting or affecting what is
  going on
     Ethnography: advantages
• May reveal issues that the researcher may
  not have considered (something you would
  never have asked a question about)
• Can contribute information on attitudes, on
  "how", "why", "when"
• Vivid pictures of potential library and
  information users may appeal to decision
  makers – help them to understand issues
               Action research
• When you want to change something, be part of
  the process, but observe
• May be testing hypothesis
• Process
   – Identify something specific you think needs
     investigating / changing
   – Plan actions; you can be part of the action
   – Record and reflect as you go along
   – Get feedback from colleagues, customer, managers etc.
   – Review, report if appropriate
   – Plan changes
   – Start cycle again
   Action research: advantages
• Can be done alongside things you wanted to
  do anyway – but you need to plan ahead
  – Plan time for reflection
  – Involving other people (customers, colleagues)
    in reflection/critique about what is going on
  – Go through the cycle again so you can apply
    what you've learnt from the first iteration
• Very applicable to user education

• Investigating people’s conceptions of a
  phenomenon (e.g. conceptions of
  information literacy)
• About 20 indepth interviews with only a
  few questions and lots of probing
• Aim to identify variation in conceptions –
  textual descriptions of categories plus a
  diagrammatic representation of how
  different conceptions relate to one another

• Cannot assume results can be generalised to
  another population
• Tells you “where people are” – you are
  attempting to understand their viewpoint
• Useful if you are interested in really
  understanding your population and addressing
  diversity of interest/ need
• Interviews and analysis are very time consuming
• Often involves transcription of audio- or
  videotapes - dull and/or expensive!
• Analysing text (or other evidence) for
  themes, concepts, variation
• “Manual” analysis – still very important
• Ethnographic approach involves narrative,
  reflection of researcher may be part of
  narrative, rich in quotations
•   May be more emphasis on coding
    concepts, identifying relationships &
    hierarchies between concepts, textual
•   May go on to identify categories e.g. with
    pen-pictures of different kinds of
    customer (e.g. Early Adopters ; Fast
    Forwarders; Mouse Potatoes; Techno-
    Strivers; New Age nurturers; Sidelined
    Citizens. (Forrester Research 1998)
•   Latter useful for market segmentation
• Qualitative analysis software can aid
  process (though does not replace intellectual
  – NUD*IST and Nvivo
   Service quality in libraries
• Not particularly qualitative research…..
• Uses SERVQUAL approach – looking at
  gap between expectation and
• Large scale exercises in USA
  (LIBQUAL) and Australia in university
• Time consuming but worthwhile
• Helps you understand your market, have
  new insights and avoid assumptions
• Can help you segment your market, target
  your products more effectively, focus
  better on benefits, “talk their language”;
  also may produce striking pictures which
  bring your services to life for funders