Qualitative Research Designs

Critical to a well-planned study is the consideration of whether qualitative or quantitative research is best suited to the purpose of your study (Bloomberg & Volpe, 2019). Next, you will need to make a thoughtful choice of which research design (also referred to as “traditions” or “genres”) will be the most appropriate fit given the purpose of your study and your worldview. As Bloomberg and Volpe (2019) explain, choice of research design is directly tied to research problem and purpose; thinking along these lines affords a study methodological congruence, whereby all the study’s components are interconnected and interrelated so that the study itself is a cohesive whole rather than the sum of fragmented parts. To achieve this, a researcher will need to think carefully about what research design (tradition or genre) will likely be most appropriate and suitable given the nature of the study they have in mind.

To make the appropriate choice, it is important to first understand the philosophical foundations underlying each of the different designs so that you can make informed decisions in implementing a viable research study (Bloomberg & Volpe, 2019; Marshall & Rossman, 2016; Maxwell, 2013). This is not to say a researcher can just choose the design that they like; rather, their research problem and purpose along with their research questions will help to determine which type of design they ultimately select.

Your research design will determine the actual plan that you use to complete your study: how will you select participants, what interventions will you choose to make, the methods you will apply to data collection and data analysis, and what are you will be measuring. As a graduate-level researcher, it is therefore essential that you master the ability to articulate and justify your selection of an appropriate research design.

Qualitative research designs vary depending on ideology and theory, the focus of interest, degree of interaction between researcher and participants, and participants’ role in the research. Each design also encompasses ways of defining a research topic, critically engaging the literature on that topic, identifying significant research problems, and collecting, analyzing, and presenting the data so that it will be most relevant and meaningful. Just as the research problem, purpose, and research questions must be aligned, the same applies to the choice of qualitative design. The central concept of alignment is discussed in greater detail in Week 5. Go ahead and take a look!

Creswell and Poth (2018) have selected the five principle qualitative research designs: case study, narrative research, phenomenology, grounded theory, and ethnography. To these, Bloomberg and Volpe (2019) have added action research and the critical genres. Note that the three most commonly used designs for qualitative educational research include case study, action research, and phenomenology. A grounded theory design is not one that you will likely use in a graduate research study, as the purpose of this design is to develop or create a theory by repeatedly testing the emergent theory over time to establish its true existence. Ethnography is used more in the social sciences and humanities fields because of its purpose and therefore does not have direct applicability to educational research. With an ethnographic design, the researcher must be fully immersed in the culture to observe and experience it within its natural environment. Immersing yourself into a culture requires substantial time and resources, and so ethnography, along with grounded theory, is also generally not considered an ideal design for graduate studies.

Research designs can overlap and intersect, but it is important that you understand each one as rigorous in its own right. There are some excellent texts that cover qualitative designs in great detail, and it is recommended that once you are familiar with the basic tenets of each of these, and have a clearer idea of a potential design, you seek and explore more comprehensive literature on your design of choice.

In the signature assignment for this course, you will be expected to refer to seminal literature for research designs, so now would be a good time to review the signature assignment and access the Library in search of relevant literature. No need to wait to collect relevant sources until the final weeks of the course. The library offers both introductory and advanced workshops and webinars to show you how to search for scholarly articles and dissertations, place interlibrary loan requests, access information about research methodology and designs, use Google Scholar, and much more. You can register for sessions throughout the month by visiting the NCU Library Events Calendar.


Bloomberg, L. D., & Volpe, M. (2019). Completing your qualitative dissertation: A road map from beginning to end (4th ed.). Sage.

Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N (2018). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (4th ed.). Sage.

Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. (2016). Designing qualitative research (6th ed.). SAGE.

Maxwell J. A. (2013). Qualitative research designs: An interactive approach (3rd ed.). SAGE.

Weekly Resources and Assignments

Review the resources from the Course Resources link, located in the top navigation bar, to prepare for this week’s assignments. The resources may include textbook reading assignments, journal articles, websites, links to tools or software, videos, handouts, rubrics, etc.

This week, you will outline a potential educational research topic of interest. This may be the topic that you began exploring in EDR-8300, or it may be something completely different. You may even have already started to think of an actual research problem and research purpose that fall within your topic area, and you can refer to this as well. The point of this assignment is to explore qualitative research designs, and link your topic (and research problem if possible) to a potential research design, and explain the applicability and relevance of doing so.

This week’s assignment is to develop a white paper that will serve as an educational tool to engage, inform, and convince your audience about the significance and applicability of your chosen research design for a potential study. This week you are provided with an explanation of the function and structure of a white paper (Spotlight on Skills).

Remember, alignment among design and methods is a key consideration in qualitative research. As you will see, the concept of alignment threads its way throughout the research set-up, to ensure that all the different components of the study fit together as an “integrated whole”. In this assignment, you will begin to think about alignment, and this concept will be more fully explored in week 5 of this course. However, to be informed while writing this week’s assignment, please skip ahead and review the material presented in the introduction to week 5 to learn what is meant by alignment in qualitative research.

As you prepare for this week’s assignment, also please be sure to integrate feedback from the EDR-8300 course. The feedback that you received in that course was intended for ongoing improvement, and so it will be useful now. Please note, even though you are recommended to refer back to your work in EDR 8300, you are not permitted to use the same work in this course, as that would constitute self-plagiarism. As such, be careful not to simply copy and paste but rather refer to your instructor’s feedback that was provided so you can revise your work based on that feedback.

You will accomplish several tasks with this assignment, and your paper should be structured to include 4 parts:

  1. Give some thought to what area is a potential of interest to you, based on your personal professional experience and the current research literature. Explain why you are interested in this topic and/or research problem, how it relates to your field of practice or career, and how this topic and/or research problem can be explored by way of qualitative design. (1 page)
  2. Select a design that is aligned with the topic and/or research problem as described above, so that there is a good “fit” between them. Explain why this design was selected as appropriate for the topic/research problem, and describe in detail how you will implement this research design. (1 page)
  3. Critique another research design (or designs) that you considered, and state your argument as to why this other design (or designs) may not be suitable for researching your topic and/or research problem. (1/2 page)
  4. Provide a closing argument that explains how a potential study, based on the research design you have selected, may inform educational practice and/or theory. (1/2 page)

Length: at least 3 pages

References: Include a minimum of 5 scholarly sources.

The completed assignment should address all of the assignment requirements, exhibit evidence of concept knowledge, and demonstrate thoughtful consideration of the content presented in the course.