Psychology 3860F-001

Qualitative Research Methods

If there is a discrepancy between the outline posted below and the outline posted on the OWL course website, the latter shall prevail.


An overview and in-class practice of qualitative research methods including in-depth interviewing, focus groups, naturalistic observation, content analysis, and thematic analysis of textual information. The course includes an introduction to five qualitative research perspectives: grounded theory, phenomenology, narrative psychology, ethnography, and case studies. Students will conduct individual projects.

Antirequisite: Psychology 4991G if taken in 2014/15 and Psychology 3990G if taken in 2015/16. Sociology 3307F/G

Antirequisites are courses that overlap sufficiently in content that only one can be taken for credit. So if you take a course that is an antirequisite to a course previously taken, you will lose credit for the earlier course, regardless of the grade achieved in the most recent course.


Prerequisites: Psychology 2820E or both Psychology 2800E and 2810

3 seminar hours, 0.5 course.


Unless you have either the prerequisites for this course or written special permission from your Dean to enroll in it, you may be removed from this course and it will be deleted from your record. This decision may not be appealed. You will receive no adjustment to your fees in the event that you are dropped from a course for failing to have the necessary prerequisites.


Instructor: Dr. Paul F. Tremblay                                     

Office and Phone Number: Rm 6336 SSC (519-661-2111 ext. 85644)

Office Hours: by appointment                      


 Time and Location of Classes: Thursdays 1:30 to 4:30 (Starts Sep 7)

                                                     Talbot College (TC) Rm 205

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Please contact the course instructor if you require material in an alternate format or if you require any other arrangements to make this course more accessible to you. You may also wish to contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) at 519-661-2111 ext 82147 for any specific question regarding an accommodation.


Suggested readings and supplementary resources consisting mainly of journal articles for each lecture are listed in the 7.0 CLASS SCHEDULE section.


This course provides an overview of qualitative research methods used in Psychology and in the Social and Health Sciences in general. Qualitative methods subsume broad categories of thematic, narrative, language analysis, and naturalistic observation approaches. These methods are valuable for collecting rich textured data and discovering themes and categories from data, meaning from experience and the stories we tell, ways in which language is used for communicating different underlying motives, and in-depth views of human behaviour and social interaction.


The first part of each class will consist of lecture material and discussion on theory and methodology. The second half will be dedicated to hands on class activities such as practicing interviews and focus groups. Taken together, the lectures, class activities and assigned projects will help students develop skills in the areas outlined below.


The qualitative research process from start to finish. The course covers the entire qualitative research process. Students develop and complete a small empirical pilot project from start to finish. In a previous year, students have developed projects on topics of their choice such as “how two cultures affect one’s identity,” “resilience of emergency responders,” “emotion and reasoning in important life decisions,” and “body image in young women.” Opportunities also arise to work on common service projects. For example, in a previous year, students in the course conducted interviews with fourth-year psychology students about their experiences in the Psychology program at Western as part of a curriculum evaluation in the department.


Conducting in-depth interviews. Students will gain extensive experience in conducting one-on-one in-depth interviews through in practice and individual projects. Students also practice other data collection techniques including focus groups and observation methods.


Analytic skills. Data in qualitative methods consist mainly of words, whether from the transcripts of in-depth interviews or focus groups or from archival sources such as newspaper or magazine articles, speeches, songs, movie transcripts, accident reports, or field notes. The next stage is the systematic interpretation of these data using a combination of inductive and deductive thinking. The researcher typically combs through the text, word by word, line by line, or sentence by sentence to extract meaningful units of information and patterns, categories, or themes. These units are evaluated as part of a theory “grounded in the data” or simply as an emerging meaningful classification of concepts.


Critical thinking skills. Students will learn to apply validation and reliability concepts in qualitative research such as transferability, trustworthiness, inter-coder agreement, triangulation, auditing, member checks, and clarifying researcher bias through systematic reflexivity.


Writing well. Qualitative researchers need to be able to communicate interpretation and meaning from their findings, being aware and taking into account how their own lenses through which they see the world (i.e., reflexivity) probably differ from those of their participants. Students will develop their skills at uncovering themes from their data and presenting these in a research report. They will present describe their original ideas in three mini proposals that apply specific qualitative methods.


Applying ethical principles and critical thinking in the evaluation of qualitative research. We will see that the researcher-participant interaction in qualitative research can be fairly extensive and deserves particular attention. Researchers listen and have conversations with their participants in in depth interviews, often in the field (e.g., a hospital, an addiction centre, a music studio) about potentially sensitive topics.



Learning Outcome

Learning Activities



Depth and Breadth of Knowledge

Describe the foundational frameworks (e.g., ontology, constructivism), methods (e.g., grounded theory, phenomenology) and concepts (e.g., reflexivity, transferability) of qualitative research and contrast them with quantitative approaches in the discipline.

Readings (text, prototypical journal articles)

Class discussion

Videos (TED, documentaries)

Guest presentations

Exercises (e.g. Kelly repertory grid)

Individual project

Three mini proposals using three different qualitative methods


Individual project

Testing of interviewing skills

Three thought papers (mini research proposals)


Application of Knowledge

Articulate the above concepts when reviewing or producing their own research

Individual project

Mini proposals

Interviewing practice

Class/group discussion

Individual project

Three thought papers (mini research proposals)


Application of Methodologies

Formulate and rationalize a research problem. Design a qualitative study from beginning to end.


Class discussion (group thinking) of formulating research questions, developing interview questions and script. Practicing in-depth interviews (as interviewer or interviewee) in front of the class with feedback. Practicing focus groups.

Individual project

Mini proposals

Individual project

Three thought papers (mini research proposals)


Communication Skills

Ability to conduct in-depth Interviews, direct and focus conversation in focus groups, empathic listening, writing clearly to convey understanding to a level where a reader can say “Now I know what this feels like”

Class discussion

Interviews practice

Focus group practice

Providing feedback to other students

Class presentation

Research report and three mini research proposals using three different qualitative methods

Interview and focus group practice participation mark


Preliminary pilot interview and one page report


Three thought papers (mini research proposals)


Awareness of Limits of Knowledge

The concept of reflexivity refers to the researcher clearly stating their perspective and biases in the research project. Becoming conscious of these biases and relating them in the research report.

The researcher is encouraged to maintain a reflexivity journal (specifically noting thoughts after each interview about bias, impact). Research reports include a section of reflexivity.

Empathic listening during interviews and focus groups.

Project (section on reflexivity)


Presentation (section on reflexivity)

Autonomy and Professional Capacity

Developing an awareness, sensitivity, and appreciation for the in-depth communication process.

Students take turns to play different roles as interviewer/interviewee and provide feedback to each other.

Discussion of sensitive topics and marginalized group (participatory action-oriented research). Ethical concerns for in-depth interviews.


Indirectly in class participation and project

By the end of this course, successful students will:


  • Be able to describe the foundational frameworks (e.g., ontology, constructivism), methods (e.g., grounded theory, phenomenology) and concepts (e.g., reflexivity, transferability) of qualitative research and contrast them with quantitative approaches in the discipline.


  • Be able to articulate the above concepts when reviewing or producing their own research.


  • Be able to formulate and rationalize a research problem and design a qualitative study from beginning to end.


  • Be able to conduct in-depth interviews, direct and focus conversation in focus groups, empathic listening, writing clearly to convey understanding to a level where a reader can say “Now I know what this feels like.”


  • Become conscious of and articulate the perspectives and biases they bring to their research project.


  • Develop an awareness, sensitivity, and appreciation for the in-depth communication process.


Project: Students will have the opportunity to conduct an individual small project on a topic of their choice (approved by the instructor). The project will entail a collection of qualitative data from in-depth interviews (or focus groups, naturalistic observation, or content analysis), transcription, coding and data analysis using a thematic approach. (50% total)


Interviewer practice performance (5%). Students will have opportunities to practice developing their interview skills in class mock-up sessions. They will be evaluated in one of these sessions. (Every student will practice interviews even if their projects involve a different data collection method).


Pilot interview and one-page report (15%; due Oct 26; marked reports will be available in your OWL drobox by Nov 6). Students who select the interview method as their data collection approach will conduct one preliminary 30-60 min interview related to their topic with a participant, transcribe the interview, and write a one-page summary report summarizing the experience and suggested modifications, especially with respect to the interview script. Students who conduct observation research will be expected to report on an observation session 30-60 min and prepare a similar report. Students can also elect to do a content analysis (qualitative or quantitative) of archival textual material. In this case, students will be expected to report on a preliminary subset of the coding and prepare a one-page summary report.


Complete project (30%) (due Dec 14 by midnight, one week after last class). Students will conduct 2 to 3 additional interviews (the total should add up to approximately 120 minutes of interviewing). The interviews will then be transcribed and coded using the steps described in class for a thematic analysis. Students who elect to do a content analysis or observation study will be evaluated with comparable criteria (i.e., comparable amounts of time in data collection, transcription, and analysis). Students will write a 10-page (roughly 2,500 words) research report. A marking rubric will be provided in class.


Three thought papers (10% each = 30%). There will be five lectures each focusing on one of the following five methods: Grounded theory, Narrative research, Phenomenological approaches, Ethnography/Field observation, and Case studies. Students will be required to select three of these topics and write one-page thought papers (approximately 500 words each) of how they could apply the method to a project in psychology. These will be due the week following the lecture on the topic. (See topic schedule in section on Class Schedule below).


Pecha Kucha presentation (20%). Students will select one of their thought papers and expand on the idea in an oral-visual presentation known as Pecha Kucha. This is a fairly new presentation format that consists of presenting 20 slides for no more than 20 seconds each (total of 6 min 40 sec).  We will view some examples in class but see also: or


Note:  Because this is an essay course, as per Senate Regulations ( ) you  must pass the essay component to pass the course. That is, the average mark for your written assignments must be at least 50%.

Although the Psychology Department does not require instructors to adjust their course grades to conform to specific targets, the expectation is that course marks will be distributed around the following averages:

70%     1000-level and 2000-level courses
72%     2190-2990 level courses
75%     3000-level courses
80%     4000-level courses
The Psychology Department follows the University of Western Ontario grading guidelines, which are as follows (see ):

A+  90-100      One could scarcely expect better from a student at this level
A    80-89        Superior work that is clearly above average
B    70-79        Good work, meeting all requirements, and eminently satisfactory
C    60-69        Competent work, meeting requirements
D    50-59        Fair work, minimally acceptable
F    below 50    Fail


No tests or exams.


Sep 7. Introduction and foundational concepts (LAB: Developing good research questions)


Polkinghorne, D. E. (2005). Language and meaning: Data collection in qualitative research. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52, 137-145. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.52.2.137


Ponterotto, J. G. (2005). Qualitative research in counseling psychology: A primer on research paradigms and philosophy of science. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52, 126-136.  

        doi: 10.1037/0022-


Sep 14. Overview of thematic analysis and five other qualitative research methods (LAB: Interviewing)


  • Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77-101. doi: 10.1191/1478088706qp063oa


Kirkegaard Thomsen, D., & Brinkmann, S. (2009). An interviewer’s guide to autobiographical memory: Ways to elicit concrete experiences and to avoid pitfalls in interpreting them. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 6, 294-312. doi: 10.1080/14780880802396806


Sep 21. Developing a research proposal (LAB: Interviewing)


Tri Council Policy Statement (TCPS2 2014) Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (see especially ch. 10)


Robinson, O. C. (2014). Sampling in interview-based qualitative research: A theoretical and practical guide. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 11, 25-41. doi: 10.1080/14780887.2013.801543


Sep 28. Data collection and introduction to coding (LAB: Focus groups)


Syed, M., & Nelson, S. C. (2015). Guidelines for establishing reliability when coding narrative data. Emerging Adulthood, 3, 375-387. doi: 10.1177/2167696815587648


Getting Started with NVivo 11 for Windows


Getting Started with NVivo for Mac (Version 11)


Oct 5. Coding procedures continued and analysis of textual data (LAB: coding exercise)


DeSantis, L., & Ugarriza, D. N. (2000). The concept of theme as used in qualitative nursing research. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 22, 351-372. doi: 10.1177/019394590002200308


Ryan, G. W., & Bernard, H. R. (2003). Techniques to identify themes. Field Methods, 15, 85-109. doi: 10.1177/1525822X02239569


Oct 12.  No class (Fall reading week)


Oct 19. Validation process and writing the qualitative research report (LAB: coding exercise)


Hayes, A. F., & Krippendorff, K. (2007). Answering the call for a standard reliability measure for coding data. Communication Methods and Measures, 1, 77-89. doi: 10.1080/19312450709336664


Morrow, S. L. (2005). Quality and trustworthiness in qualitative research in counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52, 250-260. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.52.2.250



Oct 26. Grounded theory (LAB: GT proposal exercise)


Fassinger, R. E. (2005). Paradigms, praxis, problems, and promise: Grounded theory in counseling psychology research. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52, 156 –166. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.52.2.156


Gorra, A. (2007). An analysis of the relationship between individuals’ perceptions of privacy and mobile phone location data - a grounded theory study. Doctoral thesis, Leeds Metropolitan University.

(see especially Chapter 3—Research Methodology)


Nov 2. Narrative research (LAB: Group discussion and presentation)


McAdams, D. P., & McLean, K. C. (2013). Narrative identity. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22, 233-238. doi: 10.1177/0963721413475622


O'Shaughnessy, R., Dallos, R., & Gough, A. (2013). A narrative study of the lives of women who experience anorexia nervosa. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 10, 42-62. doi: 10.1080/14780887.2011.586100


Nov 9. Descriptive and interpretive phenomenology (LAB: Video and discussion of neurophenomenology and embodied cognition)


Broomé, R. E. (2011). An empathetic psychological perspective of police deadly force training. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 42, 137-156. doi: 10.1163/156916211X599735


Smith, J. A. (2011). Evaluating the contribution of interpretative phenomenological analysis. Health Psychology Review, 5, 9-27, doi: 10.1080/17437199.2010.510659


Wertz, F. J. (2005). Phenomenological research methods for counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52, 167-177. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.52.2.167


Nov 16. Ethnography and field observation (LAB: How can we use applied ethnography in psychology?)


Burke, S. M., Durand-Bush, N., & Doell, K. (2010). Exploring feel and motivation with recreational and elite Mount Everest climbers: An ethnographic study. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 8, 373-393. doi: 10.1080/1612197X.2010.9671959


Krane, V., & Baird, M. (2005). Using ethnography in applied sport psychology. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 17, 87-107. doi: 10.1080/10413200590932371


Nov 23. Case studies (LAB: Developing a case study proposal)


Cheng, F. K. (2015). Recovery from depression through buddhist wisdom: An idiographic case study. Social Work in Mental Health, 13, 272-297. doi: 10.1080/15332985.2014.891554


Gillard, A., Witt, P. A., & Watts, C. E. (2011). Outcomes and processes at a camp for youth with HIV/AIDS. Qualitative Health Research, 21, 1508-1526. doi: 10.1177/1049732311413907.


Nov 30. Student presentations


Dec 7. Student presentations


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