Five Approaches and Theory

FiveApproaches and Theory

TheRole of Theory in the Five Qualitative Approaches

Thereare five main qualitative approaches to research and inquiry:narrative, phenomenology, ethnography and case study. Theory plays acrucial role in each of these qualitative approaches. Generally,theory depends on the methodology and the epistemology chosen by theresearcher (Anfara &amp Mertz, 2006). Different qualitativeapproaches use different theories depending on the methodology andobjective of the research. The researcher chooses the theory to usein respect to the qualitative approach considered in the research.Creswell (2007) suggests that the role of theory varies according tothe qualitative approach. This paper explains the role of eachqualitative approach, and highlights the role played by theory indeveloping a research plan.

Anarrative qualitative approach to inquiry involves the process ofretelling the story of another person over time. It elaborates themeaning of the story and highlights the lessons learned from thestory. Theory is important in a narrative inquiry because it can beused to explain the meaning of the story being explored. Theoryprovides the meaning of the story and enables readers to interpretthe story in a way that can be easily understood. Researchers usetheory to guide their readers towards the understanding of a storytold in the past about a specific issue. Theory provides clearexplanation and propositions that researchers use to explain theirnarratives in a manner that can be easily understood by readers. Wordtheories are essentially important in narrative inquiries becausethey provide explanations in the narrative inquiry. The researcheruses the word theories to explain the meanings of their narrativesand the lessons that can be learned from them.

Thesecond qualitative approach is phenomenology. In this approach, theresearcher explains the experience of participants in a given contextand provides an understanding of a specific phenomenon. For instance,a researcher may inquire about the state of cholera infection inSacramento. It describes the lived experience of a particular groupof people regarding a specific phenomenon. The researcher willunderstand the experience of people on a particular issue throughphenomenology. The role of theory on phenomenology approach iscomplicated because theory can influence the mind of the researcherso that he or she follows a predetermined path in the inquiry. Theabsence of theory leads the researcher to become objective throughthe inquiry. However, theory is essential in science and inquiriesthat are based on disciplines or phenomenon (Tavallaei and Abu Talib,2010). Theory is used in phenomenology to interpret the phenomenon sothat it can be understood in an intelligible manner to human beings.

Thisrole of theory is similar to its role in narrative inquiry becausethey both allow researchers to interpret an issue in anunderstandable manner. The difference between the roles of theory inphenomenology and narrative inquiry is that phenomenology uses theoryto interpret a phenomenon while narrative inquiry uses theory toexplain an existing story. The role of theory in phenomenology isalso similar in some ways to its role in grounded theory.

Thegrounded theory is a qualitative approach which explores an action orprocess in order to come up with theory. The researcher uses theinformation obtained from research to develop and find a theory aspart of the study (Strauss &amp Corbin, 1990). The grounded theorymoves beyond description to include the discovery of theory. Althoughtheory is an outcome of research, theory can also be used in researchto get information needed to come up with another theory. It ismainly used for literature review research whereby theory acts asfunctional platform for forming the background of research (Tavallaeiand Abu Talib, 2010). Therefore, theory gives a researcher ongrounded theory the direction to follow in research in order todevelop a new theory.

Thisqualitative approach is similar to narrative inquiry because theoryis used in both cases to develop the background of research. It alsorelates to phenomenology because in both cases theory helps theresearcher to achieve research objectives. However, grounded theorymay be affected by the problem of preconceived theoretical assumption(Strauss &amp Corbin, 1990). This is similar to the role of theoryin phenomenology where theory may cause predetermined path ofinquiry. In terms of differences, theory is used in narrative andphenomenology to enhance understanding of issues while it is used ingrounded theory just to develop the background of research.

Anotherqualitative approach is Ethnography. This is a thorough descriptionof a group of people through participant observation and a recordingdone using the vernacular of the host community. In this case, theresearcher is interested with the behaviour, language and interactionof the host community (Creswell, 2007). Unlike other qualitativeapproaches, this approach uses theory to select the observed items.It is also used by the researcher to interpret and limit the culturalbiases in the research. Therefore, this research differs fromphenomenology approaches which tend to provide a predetermined pathof inquiry. Instead, it provides mechanisms for the researcher toavoid cultural bias because the approach is concerned with the studyof people’s cultures in different cultural backgrounds (Creswell,2007). The interpretation of information obtained through ethnographydepends on theory instead of the experience of the researcher withthe people as a means of interpretation as it is in the groundedtheory.

Casestudy is also another qualitative approach. It explores events withina given framework determined by time and setting. The purpose of acase study is to explain how an issue occurs. It helps a researcherto discover an issue through one or more cases bound by time andsetting (Yin, 2008). This approach uses theory during the initialstages of research because various parts of the research includingresearch questions, analysis, findings and interpretation rely ontheory significantly. A case study is composed of the theory relatedto the field of study in the research (Yin, 2008). The existingknowledge base in theory helps to form the framework of the casestudy. This is similar to the role of theory in grounded theorybecause theory forms the background of research in both cases. It isalso similar to the role of theory in narrative inquiry because inboth cases theory is used to enhance the understanding of the issueunder study – in the case study and the narrative being studied.

Roleof theory in my qualitative research

Inmy qualitative research plan, I am considering various aspects ofresearch in various elements of my research including researchquestions, literature review, analysis, findings, interpretation anddiscussion. Theory helps in formulating the research question becauseit provides relationships between concepts, constructs andpropositions that help in understanding the problem that should beaddressed in the research. Research questions are formulated to provethe theory or as a way of interpreting the theory(Hammersley, 1995).However, most part of theory in the qualitative research plan will becontained in the literature review where the researcher collects alot of information from theories and interprets them in relation tothe subject of the research.

Theoryis equated to the various methodologies applied in research. in myqualitative research plan, secondary and primary researches will beused together whereby the secondary research will involve collectionof information from a theoretical perspective and then used tointerpret the data collected through primary research. Theories willbe used as the basis of developing methodological, ontological andepistemological premises. Theory is also used to connect thesepremises together in order to form a conclusion about the subjectmatter of the research. The theory to be used in the research is alsoused to specify the set of questions that need to be examined inspecific ways – through methodologies and analysis. Knowledge andmethods will be intertwined in the research by theory becauseknowledge is embedded in theory and methodologies are driven bytheory. However, the research will involve the development ofknowledge(Hammersley, 1995).This should start without theory as the researcher collects facts anddata without being guided by theory. Theory is then used to interpretthe data collected to enhance the understanding of the research’ssubject area.

Inthe introduction section of the research, theory is used to establishthe statement of the problem, the research objectives and researchquestions. In this case, theory is used to form the background of theresearch and introduce the subject area(Tavallaei and Abu Talib, 2010).The statement of the problem will also be based on theory and factsbecause theory explains the facts so that readers can understand theproblem clearly and become interested in the research. The researchquestions and objectives will also be written in consideration totheory. In this case, theory will be used as a background toformulate the questions of the research and its objectives. Theory inthe subject matter of the research enables the researcher toformulate the right questions and objectives for the research.

Theliterature review part is also an import part of the qualitativeresearch plan. It provides a summary of all the theories related tothe subject matter of the research as explained and interpreted byother authors and researchers in the past. This enables theresearcher to identify relevant theories needed to interpret thefindings of the research in subsequent sections of the research.

Analysis,interpretation and discussion also uses theories related to the topicto interpret the findings of the research as collected from secondaryand primary data(Tavallaei and Abu Talib, 2010).The collected data is analysed and the outcome is interpreted usingexisting theories. This ensures that the findings and conclusions ofresearch can be understood and applied successfully in real life. Theresults of my research will be compared with existing theories asevidence to prove the relevance and accuracy of the research.


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Strauss,A., &amp Corbin, J. (1990). Basicsof qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques.NewburyPark, CA: Sage.

Tavallaei,M. and Abu Talib, M. (2010). A General Perspective on Role of Theoryin Qualitative Research. TheJournal of International Social Research,3(11), 570-577.

Yin,R.K. (2008). CaseStudy Research: Design and Methods,California: Sage Publication Inc.