A Qualitative Research Model
Although the same underlying logic is involved in both quantitative and qualitative sociological research, the styles of these: two models are very different (King, Keohane, and Verba. 1994). As previously stated. qualrv itative research is more likely to be used when the research question does not easily lend itself to numbers and statistical methods. As compared to a quantitative model, a qualitative approach often involves a different type of research question and a smaller number of cases. As a result, the outcome of a qualitative study is a complex, more holistic picture of some particular social phenomenon or human problem (King. Keohane, and Verba, 1994; Creswell, 1998). How might qualitative research be used to study suicidal behavior? In studying different rates of suicide among women and men, for example, the social psychologist Silvia Canetto (1992) questioned whether existing theories and quantitative research provided an adequate explanation for gender differences in suicidal behavior and decided that she would explore alternate explanations. As a result, Canetto redefined the concept of suicidal behavior to focus on outcome ('fatal" versus "nonfatal") rather than in terms ofintent ("completed" versus "attempted"), Analyzing previous research, Canetto learned that most studies linked suicidal behavior in women to problems in their personal relationships, particularly with members of the opposite sex, whereas men's suicides were most often linked to performance pressure, especially when their selfesteem and independence were threatened. However, from her analysis of existing research, Canetto believed that gender differences in suicidal behavior are more closely associated with beliefs about and expectations for men and women in a particular culture rather than purely interpersonal crises (Canetto, 1992). As in Canetto's case, researchers using a qualitative approach may engage in problem formulation to clarify the research question and to develop questions of concern and interest to the research participants (Rein harz, 1992). To create a research design for Canetto's study, we might start with the proposition that most studies may have attributed women's and men's suicidal behavior to the wrong causes. Next, we might decide to interview people who have attempted suicide by using a collaborative approach in which the participants suggest avenues of inquiry that the researcher should explore (Rein harz, 1992). Although Canetto did not gather data in her study, she, made an important contribution to our knowledge about gender differences in suicidal behavior by suggesting that there may be a relationship between suicide and feelings of fear, especially in cases of domestic violence. She also pointed out that cultural norms often encourage nonfatal suicide in women and fatal suicide in men (e.g., "real men" don't fail when they take their own life).
Canetto concluded that most researchers do not explore social structure factors such as the effect of flow income or restricted job mobility on women's suicidal behavior. Similarly, men's suicidal behavior tends to be linked to the lack of relationships with other people and the loss of social privilege (such as might occur at retirement). In a qualitative approach, the next step is to collect and analyze data to assess the validity of the starting proposition. Qualitative researchers typically gather data in natural settings, such as where people live or work, rather than in a laboratory or other research setting. In this environment, the researcher can play a background rather than a foreground role, and the data analysis frequently uses the language of the people being studied, not the researcher. uk approach generates new theories and innovative research that incorporate the perspectives of people previously excluded on the basis of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or other attributes.
Although the qualitative approach follows the conventional research approach in presenting a problem, asking a question, collecting and analyzing data, and seeking to answer the question, it also has several unique features (based on Creswell, 1998, and Kvale, 1996):
1. researcher begins with a general approach rather thnn /1 highly detailed plan. Flexibility is necessary because of the nature of the research question. The topic needs to be explored so that we can know "how" or "what" is"going on, but we may not be able to explain "why" a particular social phenomenon is occurring.
2. The researcher has to decide when the literature review and theory application should take place. Initial work may involve redefining existing concepts or re conceptualizing how existing studies have been conducted. The literature review may take place at an early stage. before the research design is fully developed. or it may occur after the development of the research de-sign. and after the data collection has already occurred. Many of us who teach sociological theory would like to see greater use of theory to inform both qualitative and quantitative studies because this approach provides a framework for interpreting the data collected (see also Kvale. 1996).
3. The stud)' presents II detailed view of the topic. Qualitative research usually involves a smaller number of cases and many variables. whereas quantitative researchers typically work with a few variables and many cases (Creswell. 1998).
4. Access to people or other resources that call provide the necessary data is crucial. Unlike the quantitative researcher. who often uses existing databases. many qualitative researchers generate their own data. As a result, it is necessary to have access to people and build rapport with them.
5. Appropriate research methods) are important for /Quirinal useful qualitative data. Qualitative studies are often based on field research such as observation, participant observation. case studies, ethnography, and unstructured interviews, as discussed in the next section.