Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Qualitative Reserch: Five Essential Reads for Doctoral Candidates in the Social Sciences

Obtaining a doctoral degree (doctorate) is probably one of the most remarkable milestones you can achieve in your lifetime because it enables you to gain insight into contemporary research approaches by which you can contribute to the ongoing developments in theory and practice in your respected area of inquiry.

Most probably, the status tag apart, the excitement comes from the fact that a PhD degree cultivates in a person the fine research and thinking skills by which one can make an original contribution to the evolution of knowledge.

Though there are quite a few books available today on qualitative inquiry and research, major universities in the US, UK, Australia, and elsewhere, one way or another, recommend at least five books that are considered a well-blended synthesis of contemporary theory and practice within qualitative inquiry. For a doctoral candidate planning to start their PhD, beginning their coursework, or just thinking about moving on, reading through these (or at least some of these) books can be quite enlightening.

In this post, I offer a succinct introduction to these five books with an aims that the reader would, in short time, find out why these books are so important today for a doctoral candidate in the social sciences.

1. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. Author: John W. Creswell. (2012, 3rd Edition)

In this book, Creswell, a learned and globally renowned research scholar, presents a thorough synthesis of contemporary thought on theory and practice revolving around qualitative research design and the role of five major approaches within qualitative paradigm: (i) Narrative Research, (ii) Phenomenological Research, (iii) Grounded Theory Research, (iv) Ethnographic Research, and (v) Case Study Research.

This volume is not simply a sell-yourself thing. The author situates these approaches within contemporary thought processes and practices. He also takes his reader for a walkthrough from philosophical foundations of these approaches to actually writing a qualitative inquiry choosing one or more of these approaches together.

This book can be a delight for any reader interested in gaining an in-depth insight into qualitative research today with specific reference to the five approaches at hand. Don't miss it!

2. "Stretching" Exercises for Qualitative Researchers. Author: Valerie J. Janesick (2010, 3rd Edition)

Janesick uses the metaphor of stretching exercises to relate the elusiveness of qualitative thinking and its subtleties with a clear aim: clarifying misunderstandings around qualitative research and inculcating its real essence in the reader. The book is structured on four major concepts of qualitative research: (i) observation, (ii) interviews, (iii) the role of the researcher, and (iv) qualitative data analysis. The author also defines many related concepts to form a holistic understanding of qualitative research is. She draws useful comparisons between qualitative research and quantitative inquiry to keep clear many a misunderstanding.

The book stands apart for its metaphoric uniqueness with which it discusses all the major areas of qualitative research and conveniently transfers a robust understanding to the reader. Personally, I believe that this book is a very good complement to Creswell. Grab it. A creative piece.

3. Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods. Author: Michael Quinn Patton (2002, 3rd Edition)

Though Patton has written this book primarily for doctoral students in psychology, perhaps, it would not be naive to claim that it is equally effective for students working in other disciplines. This volume is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive works on qualitative inquiry.

Patton presents a number of examples, metaphors, references, and critical commentary to build on the three important areas of qualitative research and its evaluation: (i) Conceptual issues in qualitative inquiry, (ii) Qualitative designs and data collection, and (iii) Analysis, interpretation, and reporting. The reader simply sways with Patton on an intellectual journey of discovery. The narrative is very powerful yet so convincing. In this volume, such matters as appropriate sample size for a PhD dissertation (something that keeps doctoral students' mind spinning all the time!) are discussed at length.

Personally, I would recommend this read to every doctoral student in qualitative research! 

4. Qualitative research design: An interactive approach. Author: Joseph A. Maxwell (2012, 3rd Edition)

Maxwell's effort is focused on helping the students take a kickstart with qualitative research. More often, this book is recommended to students who are just beginning to sharpen their concepts and skills as qualitative researchers. Maxwell does his job really well. He assists the reader on how to develop a systematic understanding of major concepts from scratch. For this purpose, he offers quite a few interactive exercises that do the wonder. Alongside, he keeps the tempo going by providing real-life examples that add to the gradual development of the student's thought. Miss it at your own risk!

5. Doing Qualitative Research: A Practical Handbook. Author: David Silverman (2013, 3rd Edition)

Silverman takes a project-based approach to doing qualitative research. He not only brings forth the latest developments in qualitative research but also assists his reader in going through different phases of a qualitative research project such as the role of the supervisor in a research endeavor and how to approach your oral exam or defense. I must say that Silverman has come a long way forward to offer a practical guide to doctoral students. Moreover, he provides a useful chapter on Computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS), making it a rounded effort. He also offers effective matrices and grids that a student can use to keep track of their activities as researchers. 

At the end, I would say that no single work of human effort and creativity is perfect. This is the reason we have so many books on the same area and still counting. However, this should also be acknowledged that we together are responsible for the development of this world. I am very hopeful that the set of these five books can nurture fine conceptual and practical research skills in anyone serious in pursuing a career in qualitative research. Good luck.

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