Qualitative Research Design

Uwe Flick (Freie Universität, Berlin) completes his set of handbooks on qualitative research this year with the publication of the two-volume set, The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research Design (Flick, 2022a, 2022b). At over 1,200 pages, this volume is much larger than either of the two prior handbooks on qualitative data collection (Flick, 2018) and qualitative data analysis (Flick, 2014). The handbooks are comprised of 74 chapters arranged in 10 parts (with 5 parts in each of the two volumes).

These are:

Volume 1

  1. Concepts of designing designs in qualitative research
  2. Theories and epistemological contexts of designing qualitative research
  3. Elements of designing qualitative research
  4. Basic designs and research strategies in qualitative research
  5. Mixing methods in designing qualitative research

Volume 2

  • Designing qualitative research for specific kinds of data
  • Designing qualitative online and multimodal research
  • Designing qualitative research for specific groups and areas
  • Designing qualitative research in disciplinary fields
  • Designing qualitative research for impact

Let’s delve into each part of the two volumes. The first volume focuses on the “basics” of qualitative research design and “concepts, theories, and elements”. Part 1 examines approaches to designing qualitative studies from well-known scholars including Mats Alvesson and colleagues (reflexive design), Joseph Maxwell (interactive approaches to design), Martyn Hammersley (emergent design), and choosing among approaches to design (Karen Staller and her co-author). Each of these scholars has written extensively on qualitative research design and methods, and their earlier work is to varying degrees reviewed and expanded upon in these chapters.

Part 2 explores theories and epistemological contexts for designing qualitative research studies. Topics included are constructionism, phenomenology, critical realism, relational ontologies, feminist approaches to research, Queer(ing) methodologies, and decolonizing and Indigenous approaches to research design. The “elements” included in Part 3 encompass a range of topics, including abduction, developing research questions, sampling, the impact of qualitative data analysis software, generalization, research funding, ethical entanglements, and the problems with the use of checklists to assess the quality of qualitative research, among others.

Part 4 provides reviews of various designs used by qualitative researchers, including case studies, longitudinal research, grounded theory, ethnography, use of naturally occurring data, ethnomethodology and conversation analysis, arts-based research, secondary data analysis, and meta-analysis in qualitative research. Several scholars well-known to anyone with a passing familiarity with mixed methods research are represented in Part 5 (Sharlene Hesse-Biber, Julianne Cheek and Janice Morse, and Uwe Flick).

The second volume covers research practices, including data generation and collection, the field, and impact. Data includes interviews (in full disclosure, I was honored to contribute a chapter on interviewing co-authored with Sean Halpin), focus groups, narratives, observation, visual data, video data, documents, and material methods, with a chapter on sociolinguistic ethnography. Online and multimodal research is examined via online newspaper comments, digital practices, social media data, and blogs. Part 8 expands our methodological understanding of how to conduct research with children, the elderly, hard-to-reach groups, and doing research in specific parts of the world (Asia and Latin America). The disciplines referred to in Part 9 include education, social work, psychology, nursing, and disability studies.

The second volume concludes with a series of chapters devoted to discussions of “impact”. These include chapters to do with qualitative research for evaluation, applied research, and policy. Flick concludes this section, and the volumes as a whole with a chapter entitled, “Diversity, ethics, and transparency as continuing challenges in designing qualitative research.” Flick reminds readers of important issues that qualitative researchers must attend to in their research. These include the recognition by qualitative scholars of the need to attend to minoritized groups in ways that refuse to continue the colonization embedded in Western epistemologies. Flick suggests that research must address diversity, equity, and inclusion, with efforts to de-center the researcher and shift to a “more globally reflexive understanding of research” (Volume 2, p. 1235). The implication of a focus on ethics, Flick asserts, is that because “standards for data protection are rising”, that collaborative research across national borders and boundaries is likely to become increasingly complicated, as researchers work with different protocols for ethical review and data protection. Finally, Flick addresses the issue of “transparency”, relating this to the well-used criteria of credibility and trustworthiness for the assessment of quality in qualitative research through various strategies, such as member checks and peer debriefing.

Overall, these handbooks represent a massive effort to bring together key scholars across disciplines and represent multiple theoretical and methodological approaches to qualitative research. The handbooks represent a rich compendium of resources for both novice and experienced researchers wanting to learn about new approaches to designing and conducting qualitative studies, as well as locating updated information on familiar approaches. These volumes would be a great addition to the personal libraries of those who teach qualitative methods as well as reference libraries. Dr. Flick is to be congratulated for bringing together a group of scholars from all over the world to discuss qualitative research – scholars working in Australia and New Zealand, North and South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and Scandinavia are represented.

Intriguingly, one chapter, authored by the virtual scholar known as Amarante Swift — Being creative with resources in qualitative research –represents a collective of scholars (Volume 1). Perhaps the three pathways offered by Swift are a fitting conclusion to this blogpost as a representation of the tremendous diversity encompassed by what it means to design and conduct qualitative studies:

  • Work with every ‘thing’ that is available to achieve your goal.
  • Involve every ‘one’ to build a sustainable network of ‘resourceful’ people.
  • Be every ‘where’ interesting events related to your topic of research may happen (Volume 1, p. 293).

Kathy Roulston


Flick, U. (Ed.). (2014). The SAGE handbook of qualitative data analysis. Sage.

Flick, U. (Ed.). (2018). The SAGE handbook of qualitative data collection. SAGE.

Flick, U. (Ed.). (2022a). The SAGE handbook of qualitative research design (Vol. 1). SAGE.

Flick, U. (Ed.). (2022b). The SAGE handbook of qualitative research design (Vol. 2). SAGE.

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