Useful Research Methods While Writing a Dissertation

Two Fundamental Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative


This type of academic research aims at studying the topic from a social standpoint considering human behavior, cultural phenomena, and belief systems. When conducting qualitative research, one may use open-ended questions, interviews, or focus groups to learn about people’s opinions regarding a certain system or behavior.

Ayn O’Reilly, Ph.D., a representative of the School of Public Service Leadership (PSL) research faculty and co-chair of the Scientific Merit Review Committee of PSL, claims qualitative inquiry can be conducted using several efficient approaches. The three of them that are most frequently used include:

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Case Study

“It appears to be the most applicable way for examining work environments,” O’Reilly said. Conducting this research involves utilizing different data sources. They may include interviews, documents, journals, field notes, and probably some elements of quantitative character (detailed information about quantitative research follows). Usually, a case study is focused on a certain issue or problem faced by people of a particular society and studies it from specific points. For instance, a researcher may consider violence at the workplace studying its peculiarities and reasons.


O’Reilly finds it the most difficult form of qualitative research, which usually involves a description of a “lived experience” and further learning of that experience to help organizations or people facing the same problem come up with a better solution. He claims that the researcher is trying to interpret a certain experience according to a particular subject. For instance, one may consider the case of Hurricane Katrina. It does not matter whether it refers to a nurse in a specific and narrow field of medicine, a newly homeless widow, or a member of the National Guard —the researcher should evaluate the experience of anybody engaged in the large-scale event.”

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This type of research is considered more complicated as it involves emotional context. Moreover, O’Reilly explained that one investigating the topic should become “that person” perceiving things in the same way. Undoubtedly, it may be a very useful experience. Before applying this method, during coursework, a researcher will practice conducting this type of research, which includes surveys and interviews with the people related to the phenomenon.

Generic Qualitative Inquiry

One may come across some other names such as generic inquiry or generic qualitative, and so on. O’Reilly has mentioned that it could be a backup approach. Moreover, he states that while conducting this type of inquiry, a researcher has to come up with specific qualitative research questions. However, the study does not fit the description of the requirements of a phenomenology nor case study. Thus, a researcher can apply akin methods, but he or she will not have the possibility to obtain a thorough basis of research available.

Thereby, it seems to be less desirable since the research is not likely to be as inclusive and extensive. The researcher may face the problem of a lack of data to conduct a thorough analysis. O’Reilly claims that it can be an option for somebody who is probably getting their second prominent degree and has already done significant research, or who simply needs to cover a certain subtopic or answer a specific research question.

House advises improving your interview skills while communicating personally or via phone/Skype if you are about to utilize qualitative methods. “However, one should realize his or her own biases when addressing the leading questions. A good researcher should learn when and how it is possible to probe more deeply.”


This type of research is focused on the empirical study of measurable and observable variables. Usually, people use quantitative research to test the hypothesis, predict outcomes, and determine the relations among variables conducting statistical analysis. Ellen Mink, Ph.D., a representative of School of Public Service Leadership research faculty and similarly a co-chair of the Scientific Merit Review Committee of PSL, defines two common sources of data for quantitative research:

Primary Data Collection

Following this approach, a researcher collects a considerable amount of data. Usually, when studying a certain topic, one recruits some participants, obtains their consent, and informs them about the aim of the study. One may collect the quantitative data either personally when communicating with participants or with the help of online surveys.

The advantage of quantitative research is that a researcher may decide what variables encourage them to explore and which way the data will be interpreted during the study. When measuring variables, researchers utilize instruments with psychometric properties (validity and reliability), which have already been set by them. Also, they analyze data using statistical techniques to distinguish and evaluate relationships among different variables.

Secondary Data Analysis

This type of research requires analyzing the data collected by other organizations or researchers statistically. Nowadays, there is a great variety of data sets available for the public, especially for researchers. They include results of large-scale, data repositories or research projects federally funded.

Many researchers may find Secondary data analysis time-saving since they skip the stages of data collection and participant recruitment. Also, it serves as a means of accessing valuable information regarding vulnerable groups of people in an ethical way (considering that it does not require contacting them directly). However, when using this approach, one should come up with own research questions basing only on the data available.

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Therefore, when choosing between using a quantitative or qualitative methodology, one should take into account the nature of the questions raised, the specificity of the field of study, and the possibility of realization of the approach working with the targeted population.

House mentions that there is a wide range of possibilities and variations. Furthermore, he claimed that Ph.D. students have to be resourceful and willing to change their expectations while learning new methods of conducting a study. Researching a dissertation when gaining a doctorate is a continuous learning process.

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