Understanding Human Behavior Through Qualitative Research Design

Understanding Human Behavior Through Qualitative Research Design

By: Eneng Elis AisahPicture 003


Qualitative research is the phenomenon arising from the perspective that human is unique. The uniqueness of human behavior is one major reason in debating the ability of quantitative researchers answering the phenomena (See Holliday 2007, Connole, Smith & Wiseman 1993; Hoepft 1997).

This essay will focus on the qualitative research design. It begins with the definition of qualitative research followed by the distinction between qualitative and quantitative research. Then this will discuss the research paradigm. Later, some methods are discussed. Then data collection techniques are presented. Finally how data has been analyzed and interpreted will be the end of this writing with some brief conclusion.

Definition and Distinction

Although there are no exact definitions, Marshall and Rossman (2006), Denzin and Lincoln (2003) clearly give us understanding that qualitative research fits with the nature of social science. It regarded that multi-variety of human behavior is as important as their social setting.

There are some criteria of qualitative research derived from some experts with synthesizing (see Holliday, Connole, Smith and Wiseman 1993, Marshall and Rossman 2006, Denzin and Lincholin 2003, Hancock 2002). The object of the study in qualitative research is social process and meaning within. The setting of the qualitative research is as nature as daily life. Researcher and the objective have an intimate relation. The framework of the research is flexible. The process of inquiry is inductive.  The data collection and analysis is simultaneous occurrence/ongoing process. Furthermore, the most important thing, qualitative research is in line with the development of knowledge because the use of theory holds significant factor in its validity and reliability.

In contrast, Hatch and Farhady 1989; Connole, Smith and Wiseman 1993; Holliday 2007; Denzin and Lincoln 2003; Borden & Abbott 2008; Neil 2007 argued quantitative research is to observe phenomena in terms of variable by counting, classifying and constructing statistical formula. The setting is tightly controlled by presenting sampling of population. Data is in the form of number and statistics. Researcher tends to remain objectively separated from objects. Furthermore, theory is accepted to test hypotheses. Therefore, this research regarded as the most efficient research. However, the generalization in interpreting findings misses the contextually touch of phenomena.

Nevertheless both qualitative and quantitative research design may not be viewed as the opposite design that defeats each other. The major concerns of employing particular research design whether qualitative or quantitative is much more concerns with the problems and questions that need to be analyzed (Emilia 2008; Hatch and Farhady 1989).

Research Paradigms

Research can be regarded as logical reasoning –system logic including inductive and deductive method (Trochim 2006). There are four well-known paradigms in research respectively empiricism, interpretive, critical and the latest post structural/post modernism (Connole, Smith, & Wiseman, 1993).

Empiricism is the umbrella of quantitative research. In some books (Travers 2001, Holliday, Denzin and Lincoln 2003) term ‘positivism’ alternates ‘empiricism although Cannole (1993) describes empiricism as the continuum of positivism. However both assume that world can be perceived objectively (Travers 2001: 10). Knowledge is acquired from observing experiences (Trochim 2006).  Therefore the best way to gain knowledge is by using scientific method (deductive reasoning) (Connole, Smith & Wiseman 1993; Borden & Abbott 2008). Some of well-known methodologies are case study and experimental research.

Since qualitative research explain world through interpreting phenomena not in the terms of numbers, interpretive is regarded as the paradigm of this research (See Denzin and Lincoln 2003; Connole, smith & Wiseman 1990). Interpretivism is commonly regarded as naturalism or post-positivism (Holliday, 2007). It contrasts from empiricist; Interpretive believes the world is very subjective (Connole, Smith & Wiseman 1990) and contextual (Walter, 1997). Furthermore Interpretivists assume that human act as they choose to act (Wiseman 1993) not because of others. Researcher in this approach may employ multi methods- triangulation-which represent the natural of world such as observation, interview and document analysis to eliminate the weakness of data interpretation (Wiseman 1993; Marshall and Rossman 2006; Silverman 2005).

Merely dept-understanding of social phenomena and interpret reason of choose to act is not quite useful in daily life. Human needs their problems to be solved. Therefore everybody may openly be critic, reflective and emancipator (Connole, Smith, & Wiseman, 1993). The critical believes that noting is value free (Emmitt 1995 as quoted by Emilia 2000; Connole, Smith & Wiseman 1993). Ideology distorts all aspect of human life. The truth is hard to uncover. Smith (1993) argues that critical provides means to participate in explaining and challenging domination and intimidation of ideology. Therefore researcher and research are indivisible. The participation’s orientation empowers self growth, raising personal/political consciousness and collective action/struggle (Connole, Smith, & Wiseman, 1993).

The critique to critical paradigm comes from post modernism and post-structuralism. Post – modernists argue that “there is no there until it has been constructed” (Gubrium and Holstein 1997:38 cited by Holliday 2007: 19). This paradigm is not contrast with Critical; rather it is the continuity of emancipatory’s orientation in which gradually constructs social life. Both paradigms underline reality and science are socially constructed, researcher is part of research setting, and investigating must be in reflexive, self-critical, creative dialogue and in analyzing discourse to reveal hidden realities and ideology (Holliday 2007; Lye 2008; Schostack 2008). Therefore the power of hidden ideology in language and education in which rules human life may uncover to avoid domination (Fairclough 1989; Djik 1995; Eriyanto 2001). Methodologies arise from these paradigms are critical discourse analysis, critical thinking and critical pedagogy.

Research Methodolgies

This section will discuss some methodologies that emphasize qualitative research design. However, because there are many methodologies that concerns with this research, in this section I will discuss some of them such as Case Study, Action Research, Critical Discourse Analysis and Critical thinking

Case study is defined as researcher focuses attention to one or more cases (Johnson 1992; Hakim 1987).  A case study tries “to obtain and portray a rich descriptive of meaning and experiences of people in an identical social setting” (Connole, Smith, & Wiseman, 1993). It focuses on the uniqueness of human interest and it can be used as evidence to support theory (Wallace, 1998) in a microscopic context.  It facilitates the researcher with in-depth study of the research with representativeness of population (Hancook, Connole, Smith & Wiseman; Hakim 1987). Punch (1998) as cited by Silverman (2005) underlines some features of case study in which the focuses on boundaries, researcher interest, and seeking to preserve the wholeness and integrity of the case.

Action research is kind of ‘self-reflective inquiry’ (Henry and Kemmis 1985 cited by Wiseman 1993) to develop professionalism by focusing to problems (Wallace 1998). Action research provides diagnostic and therapeutic stages (Wiseman 1993). Henry and Kemmis introduce spiral cycle of doing action research as planning, acting, observing, reflecting and then re-planning, further implementation, observing and reflecting (Connole, Smith & Wiseman 1993: 262).

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is the analytical framework of studying connections between language, power and ideology (Fairclough 1995: 23). This methodology arises in post-structural era. CDA tries to reveals all ideology behind discourse regarded as ‘social practices’ (Fairchlough 1989) and free human from domination of superpower (Eriyanto, 2001). Fairclough assumes that CDA integrates three important aspects; ‘analysis of text; analysis of process of text production, assumption and distribution; and socio-cultural analysis of the discursive event as a whole’ (1995: 23).

The way of thinking is very essential in facing problems in life. However, it is not merely just thinking, rather thinking critically is very crucial way not to solve problems rather to ‘suspend judgment while seeking out all relevant arguments, facts, and reason that promote good decision making’ (Inch, Warnick & Enders 2006: 5) and ‘to the survival of democratic way of life’ (Ennis 1996: xvii). Critical thinking is “a process, the goal of which is to make reasonable decision about what to believe and what to do” (Ennis 1996: xvii). While Fisher argues “critical thinking is the ability to interpret, analyze and evaluate idea and argument through explicit and direct teaching” (Fisher 2001: v).

Data collection techniques

The nature setting of data has been major concern of qualitative research design. Observation, interview, and document/text analysis are regarded as techniques which are suitable for qualitative research design (Marshall & Rossman, 2006) and (Travers, 2001). This section will discuss further about observation, interview and document / text analysis techniques.

Observation is one of most important method in collecting data techniques in qualitative research design (Silverman 2005; Marshall & Rossman 2006; Agrosino & de Pérez 2003). It gives rich information for researcher concerning setting of the research and behavior of participant (Agrosino & de Pérez 2003; Wallace 1998; Silverman 2007). There are three kind of observation; complete participant, the participant-as-observer, the observer-as-participant, and the complete observer (Agrosino & de Pérez 2003; Connole, Smith & Wiseman 1993).  Agrosino & de Pérez argued the most considerable observation in school field is observer-as-participant that allows researcher to interact ‘casually and nondirectively’ with subject (2003: 109). However, Wiseman argues in ethnographic filed participant observer is regarded as the appropriate method to gain comprehensive data (1993:140) and clear understanding of what happened (Emilia 2000). In conclusion, what kind observation is the most important is observation may give us clear understanding and can write field note objectively.

Interview is regarded as the most appropriate method in qualitative inquiry. It based on assumption that “the participant’s perspective on the phenomena of interest should unfold as the participant views it (emic perspective), not as the researcher views it (etic perspective)” (Marshall and Rossman 2006). The forms of interview can be individual, group, questionnaires, survey telephone (Fontana and Hey 2003; Wallace 1998; Williamson, Karp & Dalphin 1977). In addition, it can be structured, unstructured and semi-structured (Fontana and Hey 2003; Wallace 1998). There are some factors that may take into account before having an interview. They are time allocation, how to record data and how to formulate the questions. Emilia in her lecture suggests allocating 15 minutes to interview. She explains time allocation influences the interpretation of data (March 18, 2009). In recording data, tape recorder or camera is the most appropriate one (Wallace 1998; Fontana and Hey 2003). Moreover, Williamson, Karp & Dalphin (1977) suggest some guidelines to formulate and begin questions: introduce aims of the study, begin the questions from the simples to hardest or from broad to personal, determine whether using open-ended questions, or close questions, make sure the participants understand the questions, avoid slant questions, cross-check questions and control the time strictly. Furthermore Fontana and Hey (2003) suggest “never get involved, never deviate from study, never let another person interrupt, never suggest/agree/disagree with an answer, never interpret the meaning of questions and never improvise” (2003:68-69).

Document/text analysis may place in main method in qualitative research or optional depending on the research questions. Field note of observation and interview, other documents such as photographs, text books, demographic data, logs, announcements, letters, dairy, music, speech and etc. give valuable information for research. Marshall and Rossman argue ‘content analysis’ of document seen as the objective, neutral, unobtrusive and nonreactive (2006:108). However, Silverman gives guidelines in text analysis; “limit the data, have a clear analytic approach and show how the element identified as assembles or mutually laminated (2005: 55).

Analysis and Interpretation of Data

After gaining data by using multi-methods, there are some steps to analyze and interpret the data. Wiseman gives two majors steps in analyzing data; “categorization and coding” (1993: 152). Furthermore Marshall and Rossman mention seven phases of analytic procedure: “organizing the data, immersion the data, generating categories and themes, coding the data, offering interpretation through analytic memos, searching for alternative understanding and writing the report” (2006: 156). However, since qualitative research is very subjective, then analyzing and interpretation of data rely upon the researcher’s ability in interpreting the data. Of course, the researcher’s ability in interpreting data depends upon researcher’s comprehension in theory underlines their research.


Involving in research field is not to be an inventor rather being a re-searcher of others’ theory. From explanation of paradigms above we learn that there are three main characteristics of doing qualitative research. Firstly, it facilitates us to understand others’ behavior. Secondly, it facilitates us to be openly critique and criticize.  Last, it facilitates us to emancipate the problems. These characteristics are obviously needed for us to understand others’ behavior. These are very compatible for erecting democratic citizen, particularly in Indonesia.


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