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Guest author: Viktorija Priļenska (Tallinn University of Technology)
This blog post is intended for PhD students who are in the first year of their studies, and have not been involved in the qualitative research before, as well as for those switching from studies of technical and applied nature, such as architecture, to the studies of sociological and theoretical nature, like urban studies and planning. The blog post provides an overview of some essential books and articles on qualitative research methods, which you MUST read upon commencing your research journey.
The books and articles on research methodology will illuminate your path towards the appropriate research design. Research design is the foundation of your research, which determines the quality of the inquiry and its findings in terms of reliability and validity. I recommend you to start with at least one book which gives a general overview of accepted research methods, and continue with a few books and articles which focus on a specific research method of your choice. I also recommend you to register on web platforms ResearchGate and Academia, as through these platforms you are able to download a lot of publications, which are usually available solely through the university library. Bearing in mind that books on research methods are quite expensive and that PhD students are always short of money, I have provided the links to the web platforms, from where you can download some books and articles on research methods for free in the electronic format.
1) Saunders, Mark, Philip Lewis and Adrian Thornhill, “Research methods for Business Students” (book, 5th edition, 2009, available from Academia).
The must-read book which provides a short and clear overview of research design process, from shaping your research topic and reviewing the literature to research philosophy, strategies (or approaches), data collection and analysis techniques. Although the book is long, it is an easy reading intended for undergraduate students (and used by graduate students) with multiple examples. Furthermore, it is not necessary to read the whole book, but rather a selection of chapters, which are relevant for your research. The essential chapters, in my opinion, are: chapter 3 on reviewing the literature, chapter 4 on research philosophy and chapter 5 on research design.
2) Creswell, John W., “Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches” (book, 3rd edition, 2013, available from Academia).
This is a classic book on qualitative research methods in sociology, which focuses on narrative, phenomenological, grounded theory, ethnographic and case studies. The highlight of the book is chapter 11, where the author describes how one and the same phenomenon is tackled by each of the five aforementioned research approaches.
3) Mason, Jennifer, “Qualitative Researching” (book, 2nd edition, 2002, available here)
While other authors distinguish between qualitative and quantitative research methods, as well as differentiate research strategies (or approaches), Mason adopts holistic and flexible way of researching. Mason suggests that qualitative research benefits from some quantitative input and vice versa, thus, advocating for mixed methods. Instead of classifying research strategies (and approaches), Mason focuses on data collection and analysis techniques, such as interviews, observations and visual representations (photographs, videos, spatial organisation, “cognitive maps”, etc.). I find Mason’s approach and, specifically, her focus on visual representations, quite useful for planning research.
4) Mason, Jeniffer (2006) “Mixing methods in a qualitatively driven way” (article, 2006, available from SAGE Journals)
In her article Mason explains, how does qualitative research benefit from mixing methods, encouraging the researcher to think “outside the box”, build the relationships between macro theories and micro interactions and experiences, as well as extend and complement the logic of enquiry through cross-contextual comparisons. This inspiring article will support your arguments for choosing a mixed method approach.
This book elaborates on the design and application of mixed methods, taking Mason’s arguments further. The authors explore the relationships between qualitative and qualitative methods, as well as the organisation of the mixed method research, introducing the notions of convergent, sequential, embedded, transformative and multiphase research design (chapter 3).
6) Charmaz, Kathy, “Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis” (book, 1st edition, 2006, available from here).
One of the research strategies (or approaches) within qualitative research is referred to as Grounded Theory. This is a holistic research strategy which guides you from framing your research questions, through to data collection and analysis procedures, and writing and presenting your findings. This strategy aims to develop the theory from the data and usually draws upon the array of 20-30 lengthy interviews with the actors experiencing the phenomenon in question. There are several approaches towards Grounded Theory, which are elaborated in Saunders et al. (1) and Creswell (2). Charmaz advocates a flexible, “subjective” approach, which reveals the multiplicity and diversity of realities experienced by the actors and, in her own terms, is somewhat “suggestive, incomplete and inconclusive”.
7) Corbin, Juliet, and Anselm Strauss, “Grounded Theory Research: Procedures, Canons, and Evaluative Criteria” (article, 1990, available from Springer Link; the book, published in 2015, is available here).
Corbin and Strauss represent a rigid and “objective” approach towards Grounded Theory, suggesting the frame for coding procedures culminating into the conditional matrix which enables to identify micro and macro conditions that shape the phenomenon in question. The aforementioned article offers a sneak preview into their approach. There is also a book on the same topic (it is merely about Grounded Theory, rather than about qualitative research, as the title suggests).
8) Wolfswinkel, Joost F., Elfi Furtmueller and Celeste P. M. Wilderom, “Using grounded theory as a method for rigorously reviewing literature” (article, 2011, available from ResearchGate).
Almost every research approach in contemporary academia (except for Grounded Theory) starts with reviewing the literature. However, there is little guidance as how to conduct the review, summarise and report the findings. Wolfswinkel et al. suggest an approach based on the Grounded Theory of Strauss & Corbin to pursue a systematic and transparent inquiry into the published research, which builds on and extends the existing theory. I highly recommend you to go through the article before (or while) reviewing the literature, as this approach will help you to produce a rigorous and meaningful review worth of journal publications.
9) Yin, Robert K., “Case Study Research: Design and Methods” (book, 5th edition, 2014, available from here).
One of the most popular approaches (or strategies) in planning research is case studies. It is a method of inquiry that allows you to understand the relationships between the phenomenon and its context, as well as to use multiple data sources, collection and analysis techniques. The classic books by Yin, continuously republished and extensively cited, will guide you through designing and conducting the case studies.
10) Flyvbjerg, Bent, “Case Study” (book chapter, 2011, available from Academia)
An exemplary case study in urban studies was conducted by Flyvbjerg and resulted into the book “Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice” (book chapter, 2003, available from ResearchGate), where the author examines the Aalborg city planning initiative and interprets it as a metaphor for modernity. In his short article on case studies, Flyvbjerg debunks the misunderstandings about case studies and argues that the case study approach is useful for “generating and testing hypothesis”, and, also, may drive the development of scientific theories, as in the case of famous experiment with the falling coin and feather inside the vacuum tube.
11) Coghlan, David, and Teresa Brannick, “Doing Action Research in Your Organisation” (book, 2nd edition, 2005, available from here).
If you are planning to research the domain of community engagement (aka public participation, civic involvement, etc.), then I recommend you to consider action research, also referred to as “live case study”. It is a research approach where the researcher works in collaboration with other actors, pursuing to change current practices. If you are unsure about the relevance of action research to your topic or do not feel like reading the whole book, then you may go through a short article on the same topic by Coughlan, Paul, and David Coghlan, “Action Research for Operations Management” (article, 2002, available from ResearchGate).
12) Groat, Linda, and David Wang, “Architectural Research Methods” (book, 2nd edition, 2013, available from here).
Last but not least, the book which explores research methods specific to the domain of architecture. It includes chapters on qualitative research and case studies, as well as on quasi-experiments and simulations.
Wishing you an insight-rich PhD journey!
Viktorija Prilenska (web, ResearchGate) is a PhD candidate at Tallinn University of Technology, architect and urban planner, as well as a co-founder, board member and project manager at NGO Urban Narratives. Viktorija holds a Diploma in Architecture from Riga Technical University (2009) and a Master of Science in Urbanism from Delft University of Technology (2012). Her PhD research deals with games for better community engagement in urban planning. Her research interests, also, include planning for sustainable mobility and energy, city branding, and the use of natural phenomena for shaping the built environment. Her professional competences encompass spatial planning from neighbourhood to city, development of building regulations, interior design, design of outdoor structures, and building refurbishment. She is interested in networking with fellow researchers, planners and architects, and for developing research and practice related collaborations.