Qualitative Case Study Research Question Examples Variables

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Avariableis any entity that can take on different values. OK, so what does that mean? Anything that can vary can be considered a variable. For instance, age can be considered a variable because age can take different values for different people or for the same person at different times. Similarly, country can be considered a variable because a person's country can be assigned a value.  Because quantitative research is rooted in the scientific method, specific terminology for that process must be used.Qualitativeresearch, although very different in its logic and methodology, it also uses the term variable, but in slightly different ways. 

Qualitative studies often explore variables other than one specific intervention or influence that might have affected a subject or sample group outcome. Similarly, in deep studies of variables, qualitative methods allow the researcher to focus on the process of “how something happens” rather than on just the “outcomes or results” that would be more characteristic of quantitative designs.  Since qualitative analysis considers the multiple realities and perspectives of individuals, it looks at multiple variables, often in the same study.  It emphasizes the importance of looking at variables in the natural setting in which they are found. Interaction between variables is important in the conclusions of qualitative studies.

It's also important to realize that variables aren't only things that you measure. For instance, in much qualitative research, you consider the treatment or program to be made up of one or more variables (i.e., the 'cause' can be considered a variable). For example, the study of an educational program can have varying amounts of 'time on task', 'classroom settings', 'student-teacher ratios', and so on.  So even the program can be considered a variable (which can be made up of a number of sub-variables).  

Variables are defined in qualitative studies as:

  • An independent variable ismanipulatedin a study by you, nature, society, etc.  It can be any aspect of the environment that is investigated for the purpose of examining its influence on the dependent variable.
  • A dependent variable ismeasuredin a study.  This variable is not manipulated by the researcher, but is affected by the independent variable.
  • An experimental or treatment group is the group that receives theinfluence of the independent variable, and differs from the control group in the dependent variable.

There are different types of qualitative studies based on variables:

  • RelationalWhen a study is designed to look at the relationships between two or more variables. A public opinion poll that compares what proportion of males and females say they would vote for a Democratic or a Republican candidate in the next presidential election is essentially studying the relationship between gender and voting preference
  • CausalWhen a study is designed to determine whether one or more variables (e.g., a program or treatment variable) causes or affects one or more outcome variables. If we did a public opinion poll to try to determine whether a recent political advertising campaign changed voter preferences, we would essentially be studying whether the campaign (cause) changed the proportion of voters who would vote Democratic or Republican (effect).
  • .Interestingly enough,variablesthemselves can be categorized asqualitativeorquantitative, depending on how they are measured, not the type of study design in which they are used.  Thus, within a qualitative study, the variable could be a mix of qualitative and quantitative, depending on how they are measured by the researcher.  A deeper explanation, along with an illustrative example, can be found here.

And now, with all of this information about variables, you will need to make some decisions about the variables that will be used in your investigation.  Plan your ideas in Crafting the Proposal:  III. The Methodology (Qualitative) to begin to make decisions about variables for inclusion in your research proposal. 

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