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Qualitative research

"Qualitative research" is the naturalistic, interpretive study of social meanings and processes, using techniques such as in-depth interviews, observations, and textual analyses.  This guide is an interdisciplinary resource for individuals who study and use qualitative methods. It is designed to inform (not replace) your own bibliographic work—it is neither exhaustive nor prescriptive.  

To assist your library research on the topic, I outline proponents and critics of qualitative research, and I reference qualitative scholars with divergent methods and opposing views. The guide includes links to relevant books, articles, videos, and data archives. Some of these resources are only available to Stanford affiliates.

If you want help finding qualitative research in a particular discipline, do not hesitate to email a subject specialist at Stanford Libraries. If you need help finding a qualitative dataset or learning to use qualitative analysis software, please contact Social Science Data and Software (SSDS).  


Search Tools

Use these search tools to learn more about the key concepts referenced in this guide:

1. SearchWorks - Find books, journal titles, and media (e.g, videos, audio) at Stanford Libraries. [SEARCH TIPS]

Example: Let’s imagine that you want to learn more about Karl Popper and his epistemological arguments after you watch his YouTube interview under the Epistemology tab.  

• Go to SearchWorks.

• Enter "Karl Popper" in the search field.

o To focus on materials with Popper’s name in the title, select “Title” on the drop-down menu of the search box.

o To limit your search to recent materials, click on “Date” (on the left-hand side), enter a date range, and then click “Apply.”

"Karl Popper" entered in Searchworks search box

2. Yewno - Use this semantic-analysis tool to discover links between ideas within and across bodies of knowledge. [SEARCH TIPS]

Example: Let’s suppose that you want to broaden your bibliography, discovering scholars and concepts linked to the debate over the views of Karl Popper (a proponent of empirical falsification) and Wilhelm Dilthey (an inspiration for qualitative research).

• Enter “Karl Popper” in the search box.  

o A web of solid blue circles forms around his name below the search box.  This web shows linked concepts. 

o You can arrange the links for a better view of the web.

• Now enter “Wilhelm Dilthey” in the search box.  

o New blue circles appear, linked to Dilthey.  

o Solid orange circles also appear—the orange circles indicate concepts shared in the literatures about Popper and Dilthey.   

o Note: A shared link in Yewno does not necessarily mean agreement—for instance, scientists who share the same focus (and thus are linked) may have different findings. 

• To learn more about relations in the web, click on the link between them.  The panel on the right will display related concepts, contexts, and documents.

o To find a resource at Stanford Libraries, click on the document.  You will see a “Snippet.”  Below the snippet, you will see a box to “Find Full Text.”

• For more information about using Yewno, see [SEARCH TIPS].

Yewno search for Popper and Dilthey

Yewno Search Engine

3. Selected Databases - Find journal articles in a popular subset of databases at Stanford Libraries. [SEARCH TIPS]

4. All Databases - If none of the selected databases meets your needs, browse the hundreds of scholarly databases at Stanford Libraries. [SEARCH TIPS] 


Epistemology is the study of ways of knowing.  The methods that social scientists use emerge from their epistemological assumptions, which in turn may be influenced by their beliefs about ontology—their theorization of the nature of reality.  

There are debates within the social sciences about the best way to study social reality.  What can we know about the social world? How do power and culture shape ways of knowing? What are the best ways to gain knowledge? Are quantitative or qualitative approaches best?  Can/should these approaches be combined? The texts and videos below address these questions.



Designing Social Inquiry_Book Cover
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c1994.
Law Library (Crown) » Basement » H61 .K5437 1994
A Tale of Two Cultures by Mahoney & Gertz
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 2012.
Green Library » Stacks » JA86 .G56 2012
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2010.
Green Library » Stacks » B3216 .D83 E3815 2010
Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) German philosopher; influenced hermeneutics (interpretative tradition) in the human sciences.

Wilhelm Dilthey, German Philosopher

Auguste Comte (1798-1857) laid the foundation for positivism -- historically, advocates of qualitative research (especially those who adhere most closely to its interpretative tradition) have criticized positivism.  SEE Auguste Comte (1858) A General View of Positivism

Auguste Comte, founder of positivism and sociology

Karl Popper (1902-1994) describes falsification as essential to scientific knowledge; interview conducted on Channel 4 (UK) in 1988.  Popper had disagreements with advocates of positivism AND interpretivism.

Karl Popper, philosopher

[Rev. ed.] New York : Harper & Row, 1968.
Green Library » Stacks » Q175 .P863 1968B
London ; New York : Routledge, 2009.
Green Library » Stacks » HB131 .O58 2009
Economist Tony Lawson makes an ontological argument for a qualitative re-orientation of economics.

Tony Lawson, economist at Cambridge University

Aaron Cicourel discusses method and measurement in sociology at the ESRC Research Methods Festival,July 2016, University of Bath. National Centre for Research Methods   Similar to economist Tony Lawson, Cicourel argues that a researcher's approach (e.g., quantitative, qualitative) should match the object of study. SEE Aaron Cicourel et al. (2004) "I am NOT Opposed to Quantification or Formalization or Modeling, But Do Not Want to Pursue Quantitative Methods That Are Not Commensurate With the Research Phenomena Addressed" FQS, 5(3).

Aaron Cicourel discussing method and measurement in sociology



Michael Marker, professor of Educational Studies, reflects on indigenous ways of knowing.

Michael Marker, educational studies

Cindy Cruz, UCSC professor, discusses power and knowledge at the UTSA El Mundo Zurdo-Gloria Anzaldua Conference 2013.

Gloria Anzaldua Conference_Cindy Cruz

Patricia Hill Collins discusses critical inquiry; Collins is a sociology professor at the University of Maryland and a former president of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

Patricia Hill Collins, sociologist



Boulder, CO : Paradigm Publishers, c2008.
Green Library » Stacks » HQ1180 .J87 2008
2nd ed. Los Angeles, [Calif.] ; London : SAGE, c2012.
Stanford Libraries » Online resource » eResource









Third edition.
Green Library » Stacks » D16.14 .R57 2015

Sage Research Methods: Oral Histories

Oral Histories_Laura Mitchison

2nd ed. Chicago : The University of Chicago Press, 2011.
Green Library » Stacks » GN307.7 .E44 2011

Sage Research Methods: Ethnography

Ethnography_Jennifer Jones

Evelyn Nakano Glenn, UC Berkeley professor, discusses with students her qualitative approach and her interview techniques.

Evelyn Nakano Glenn

Sage Research Methods: An Introduction to Case Studies

Case Studies_Todd Landman

Green Library » Velma Denning Room (Social Science Data and Software) » H61.3 .K83 2014

Sage Research Methods: Textual Analysis 

Sage Research Methods_Textual Analysis

[Thousand Oaks, Calif. : SAGE], 2011.
Stanford Libraries » Online resource » eResource
Los Angeles : SAGE, 2009.
Earth Sciences Library (Branner) » Stacks » G70.212 .Q34 2009

Sage Research Methods: Mixed Methods and GIS

Sage Research Methods_Mixed Methods

Corey M. Abramson et al. (2017) The promises of computational ethnography: Improving transparency, replicability, and validity for realist approaches to ethnographic analysis. Ethnography (Early View).


Zheng et al. (2017) Computational Ethnography: Automated and Unobtrusive Means for Collecting Data In Situ for Human–Computer Interaction Evaluation Studies. In  Patel V., Kannampallil T., Kaufman D. (eds) Cognitive Informatics for Biomedicine, pp 111-140. 

Newbury Park, Calif. : Sage Publications, c1988.
Green Library » Stacks » GN345 .N63 1988


3rd ed. Los Angeles, Calif. : Sage Publications, c2008.
Green Library » Stacks » HA29 .C67 2008
Los Angeles : Sage Publications, 2008.
Green Library » Stacks » BF76.5 .S24 2008
5th ed. Lanham, Md. : AltaMira Press, c2011.
Law Library (Crown) » Basement » GN345 .B36 2011


London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif. : Sage Publications, c2000-
SAL3 (off-campus storage) » Stacks » GN301 .E69 V.8 2007
[Thousand Oaks, Calif.] : Sage Publications, 1999-
Stanford Libraries » Online resource » eResource
Bonn : Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, 2000-
Stanford Libraries » Online resource » eResource
Cedarville, OH : Cedarville University, c2007-
Education Library (Cubberley) » Stacks » H62 .A1 J66 V.13 2018/2019
Thousand Oaks, CA : Sage Periodicals Press, c1995-
SAL3 (off-campus storage) » Stacks » H61 .Q17 V.13:NO.5-8 2007
Stanford Libraries » Online resource » eResource
[Syracuse, N.Y.]
SAL3 (off-campus storage) » Stacks » HM1 .Q36 V.31 2008
Lodz, Poland : Lodz University, Faculty of Economics and Sociology, ©2005-
Stanford Libraries » Online resource » eResource
[Minneapolis, ISSS Press]
SAL3 (off-campus storage) » Stacks » HM1 .S96 V.34 2011

Data Archives

The digital archiving of qualitative research enables secondary analyses with new technologies.  This development is said to blur quantitative and qualitative approaches--a convergence that is applauded by some researchers and denounced by others.  This section outlines views about the digital archiving and secondary analysis of qualitative "data" (some researchers disapprove of the term) and then lists archives that store qualitative research, in digital or physical form.



"Big data: bridging the qualitative/quantitative divide." Jane Elliot at ESRC, 5-7 July 2016, University of Bath, organised by the National Centre for Research Methods.

Jane Elliott, ESRC

Norman Denzin



Participatory Research

[Thousand Oaks, Calif. : SAGE], 2011.
Stanford Libraries » Online resource » eResource

Charity Hicks, ecologist and community researcher/organizer, discussing "visionary organizing in an age of climate crisis" at McGill University in Montreal.


Los Angeles : SAGE Publications, c2012.
Education Library (Cubberley) » Stacks » H62 .B3365 2012