Cover: Qualitative Research Methods, Second Edition by Sarah J. Tracy

About the website

This text has a comprehensive instructor companion website.

Please visit to access these materials.


The website includes:

  • Powerpoint slides to accompany each chapter
  • Sample syllabi for both undergraduate and graduate courses
  • A testbank, containing problems for each chapter, including answers
  • Lesson plan outlines for each chapter
  • Additional activities and worksheets
  • Master list of key terms and definitions
  • Exam study guide




Second Edition

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I dedicate this book to my past students, research participants, mentors, and loved ones, who have taught me that anything worth doing well is worth doing badly in the beginning.


This book is an all‐inclusive treatment that leads readers through a qualitative research project including research design, data collection, analysis, theorizing, writing, and research disengagement. This book introduces relevant issues as they typically emerge in a qualitative research project. For example, consider ethics or the choice to use visuals or arts‐based research. Those new to research must first understand these issues when conceptualizing a project, and then again as they conduct research and analysis, and consider them again when they are creating an ultimate representation and leaving the field. I provide a chronological discussion of relevant issues, which makes this book especially valuable for people to review (and return to) as they journey through a project. My approach contrasts with resources where information about certain theories, methods, or topics are each siloed into their own single chapter. Readers of this book will feel confident to jump into qualitative research straight away.

One of my ongoing aims is to provide clear explanation of qualitative analysis and theorizing in commonsense terms, understandable both to newcomers and to those well versed in qualitative research. Although students have a wealth of available pedagogical resources on methodological philosophies, research design, data collection, and writing, those new to research still struggle with finding appropriate instruction of what to do in between the time they collect data and the time they craft it into a polished representation. This book provides step‐by‐step instruction along with timely examples, backstage stories, visual images, and discussion. It also clarifies how the phronetic iterative approach in this book compares with other popular analysis approaches (e.g. grounded theory). In addition, it describes seven specific types of qualitative analysis and offers a new discussion of claim‐making and theory building.

The book is designed to be accessible to advanced undergraduate students while providing enough detail, references, and illustrations to make it valuable for doctoral students and advanced scholars. Undergraduate students tend to appreciate that I share my own joys and frustrations – marked as they are by twists and turns, celebrations and disappointments – as a method to make the research process poignant, interesting, real, and occasionally humorous. Graduate students have told me that they return to this book repeatedly as they write their theses and dissertations; and faculty have said they keep it on their bookshelves for ongoing reference. And, although this book is designed primarily for an academic audience, practitioners wishing to engage in qualitative research to solve organizational and societal dilemmas will also find good advice within these pages.

This book is appropriate for a variety of disciplines and classes and can be adapted for one‐semester/quarter and to two‐semester/quarter classes. The book is useful for college courses that appear under names such as research methods, qualitative research methods, ethnography, ethnographic methods, critical research methods, interpretive research, grounded approaches to research, naturalistic inquiry, autoethnography, performance studies, narrative research methods, and field methods. Examples and illustrations reach beyond my home field of human communication to numerous other disciplines, such as health, education, management, sociology, social work, justice studies, and ethnic and gender studies.

Based upon feedback from reviewers, colleagues, and students, the second edition provides a larger variety of color images (especially picturing the analysis process) and additional qualitative exercises/activities that can be easily incorporated into class sessions. Throughout the book, additional material connects qualitative research to professional, and not just academic, atmospheres (something that may be especially appreciated by undergraduates). Furthermore, the second edition has much more material related to arts‐based research, virtual and online textual analyses, and post‐qualitative conversations.

In response to requests for greater conceptual clarity, in this edition I separated out theories that are commonly used with qualitative research (e.g. symbolic interactionism, sensemaking, structuration – which are now in Chapter 2) from qualitative methodological territories (e.g. grounded theory, phenomenology, case study – which are now in Chapter 3). Furthermore, in line with the goal that this book’s chronological order match that of a typical research project, I have switched the ordering of Chapters 4 and 5 so that IRB, ethics, and proposal writing comes before exploring the scene. Finally, I have added scores of updated examples and references.

A summary of the chapters, as well as notations about new features in this second edition, are as follows:

  • Chapter 1 introduces a phronetic iterative approach to qualitative methods and the importance of self‐reflexivity, context, and thick description. It also provides tips for choosing a topic and devising guiding research questions. New features include:
    • differentiating qualitative from quantitative research earlier on in the book
    • describing the role of qualitative research in the workplace, in the creative arts, in social justice, in the media, and in a variety of interdisciplinary academic environments
    • a section related to working collaboratively with a partner or team
    • an exercise on interviewing another student
  • Chapter 2 overviews the abductive logic of iterative qualitative research, introduces key terminology, provides a sampling of theoretical approaches that commonly use qualitative methods, and concludes with historical matters and current conversations. New features include:
    • an exercise of practicing fieldwork in a public place
    • incorporating new materialism, post‐qualitative methodologies, ethical concerns about who gets to study whom, big data, and the quantified self
    • a discussion about how theory works in research
  • Chapter 3 discusses four primary research paradigms and how qualitative research is situated in each. The chapter also reviews seven approaches of qualitative research, including: case study, grounded theory, ethnography and ethnography of communication, phenomenology, participatory action research, narrative inquiry and autoethnography, and creative, performative, and arts‐based research. New features include:
    • incorporating post‐qualitative research and new materialism into the postmodern paradigm
    • new sections on case study, phenomenology, and arts‐based research
  • Chapter 4 focuses on research design. It introduces various types of data collection and how to develop a sampling plan. Furthermore, it provides an explanation of the importance of ethics and human subjects review and a step‐by‐step guide for writing a research proposal. New features include:
    • an expanded and earlier discussion of sampling
    • explaining my use of “participant‐witnessing” rather than “participant‐observation” to refer to fieldwork
    • a new section on the value of textual analysis and cultural studies
    • a new section on the value of visual and arts‐based materials
    • material on recruiting and engaging in interviews via online labor pools
    • two additional pedagogical exercises: 1) research questions; 2) conceptual cocktail party
  • Chapter 5 provides confessional tales about and systematic tips for navigating access to conduct qualitative research. These include keeping a contact log, creating an access proposal, organizing a participant table, and early exploration methods like diaries, maps, and narrative tours. New features include:
    • a confessional tale and material regarding gaining access to elite populations
    • a section on navigating access to a virtual site and ethical sensitivities of textual harvesting
  • Chapter 6 gives insight on different field roles and standpoints, visual and virtual aspects of fieldwork, how to write fieldnotes, methods for focusing on data collection, and how to manage various ethical dilemmas in the field. New features include:
    • visual, virtual, and online aspects of fieldwork
    • a fieldnote writing exercise
    • problematizing the idea that data is static using theories from new materialism
  • Chapter 7 offers the nuts and bolts of planning and designing good interviews, including different types, structures and stances. Then, it turns to how to write and order interview questions and dialogue, providing updated examples along the way. New features include:
    • a section and text box on visual, embodied, and elicitation interviewing approaches such as mobile interviewing, photovoice, and think‐aloud method
    • a section on the question, “how many interviews are enough”
    • new question types that relate to phenomenology and narrative approaches
    • an expanded discussion on replacing “why” questions with “how” questions
  • Chapter 8 focuses on conducting an actual interview or focus group session. It discusses developing rapport, ethical engagement, logistics, transcription, and advantages and disadvantages of various interview formats – face‐to‐face, mediated, one‐on‐one, or group. It closes with common interviewing challenges. New features include:
    • an exercise on facilitating a focus group
    • examples and a visual that depict arts‐based research in focus groups
    • how to deal with inauthenticity or problematic viewpoints in interviews using dialogic interviewing
  • Chapter 9 details how researchers can analyze their qualitative research materials using a phronetic iterative analysis approach. It then provides step‐by‐step best practices for transforming a heap of data into a story or set of arguments endowed with theoretical, aesthetic, and practical significance. Along the way, the chapter differentiates types of coding, how to create a codebook, and various synthesizing activities. New features include:
    • explaining how a phronetic iterative approach compares with other analysis approaches
    • a section that clarifies the different labels people use to describe analysis, such as: codes, themes, categories, chunks
    • responding to post‐qualitative concerns regarding coding
    • a coding start‐list that provides topics and questions to ask when beginning coding
    • additional color images to show coding processes at work
  • Chapter 10 provides advanced data analysis approaches that are especially appropriate for graduate level instruction. It discusses logistical tools such as visual data displays and computer‐aided qualitative analysis, and seven different analysis approaches: exemplars, typologies, narrative, metaphor, and discourse tracing. The chapter closes with using deconstructionism as a theoretical frame for doing arts‐based research. New features include:
    • clarifying when you would choose which type of analysis approach
    • explaining the importance of interpretation and logical creativity for analysis
    • a section on narrative analysis (coupled with the dramatistic pentad)
    • showing how analysis can unfold directly from the theory of deconstructionism
  • Chapter 11 overviews qualitative quality based upon my “eight big tent criteria model” for qualitative research. The chapter opens by discussing traditional quantitative measures of research quality (e.g. objectivity, statistical generalizability, and reliability) and explains how these are inappropriate benchmarks for qualitative methods. It then discusses how researchers across paradigms can create high quality qualitative research that is interesting, sincere, rigorous, ethical, and credible. New features include:
    • discussing how the “eight big tent criteria model” for qualitative quality has been used and extended in teaching and research since its original publication in 2010
    • incorporating the latest discussions and examples of quality from multiple disciplines and topic areas
  • Chapter 12 provides a discussion of theorizing and writing qualitative inquiry. In doing so, it illustrates different types of qualitative tales, the various ways findings might be organized, and issues to consider when writing the main parts of a qualitative essay. New features include:
    • a section called “Theorizing, brainstorming, explaining” that discusses how to move from analysis, to claim‐making, to writing
    • three additional pedagogical activities: 1) found poem; 2) theorizing via abductive reasoning, 3) writing and rewriting
    • an expanded section on poetic methods
  • Chapter 13 overviews drafting, polishing, and publishing. It provides the philosophical framework of writing as a form of inquiry and reviews how to format qualitative data. The chapter also provides insight regarding good qualitative journals, revision, overcoming common writing errors, and how to write a lot! New features include:
    • an exercise that illustrates how verb tense affects understanding
    • a section on persuasive qualitative writing
    • updated examples and writing tips
  • Chapter 14 comes full circle, overviewing logistical issues for leaving the scene and showing how researchers can frame and deliver their qualitative work so that it impacts the world. In doing so, it reviews alternatives to the academic essay, via public scholarship options like performances, films, online presence, grants, consulting, and media relations. New features include:
    • updated examples and images of films, YouTube channels, websites, performances, and private sector ethnography / consulting
    • an expanded discussion on the importance of public scholarship

Along the way, I include recurring text boxes. Activities and assignments are in boxes labeled “Exercise.” Examples and narratives are called “Consider This.” Practical recommendations are listed in “Tips and Tools.” Finally, data excerpts or experiences are offered in “Researcher’s Notepad.” Some of these boxes are written in the words of other scholars and students – in which they talk about their own experiences or activities that have worked in their own qualitative classrooms. The boxes break up the text and encourage reader engagement.

Furthermore, I intermittently include sections called “Following, Forgetting, and Improvising.” Practicing any interpretive art requires tagging back and forth between rules and improvisational practice. I suggest ways in which researchers might fruitfully play with qualitative best practices, or in some cases forget them altogether. Like in all dialectics, the paradox of “following, then forgetting” qualitative best practices is not something that can be solved or resolved. There’s no easy way out; but there are better ways of navigating than others. This book can serve as a guide.

Finally, an accompanying website with teaching manual materials is available with the book. Materials include:

  1. Powerpoint slides to accompany each chapter
  2. Sample syllabi for both undergraduate and graduate courses
  3. A test bank, containing questions for each chapter, including answers
  4. Lesson plan outlines for each chapter
  5. Additional activities and worksheets
  6. Master list of key terms and definitions

These materials will help those who are new to teaching qualitative research methods to be up and running in no time. For experienced instructors, they serve as a supplement and launching pad for new pedagogical options.


I am fortunate to have worked with a host of good mentors and colleagues. You’ll see me repeat some of their advice verbatim; and, where I do not, remnants and iterations of their wisdom are indelibly stamped upon these pages. I am indebted to my mentors at University of Colorado‐Boulder who, years ago, planted the seeds of the iterative phronetic approach to qualitative research represented in this book. These people include Bryan Taylor, Stanley Deetz, Karen Tracy, Margaret Eisenhart, Bob Craig, Brenda Allen, George Cheney, Sally Planalp, and Phil Tompkins. Colleagues in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University have also contributed to the development of this book. Bud Goodall was a huge supporter of the first edition, and his intellectual fingerprints remain in the second edition. I also feel thankful for the support from departmental colleagues including Elissa Adame, Jess Alberts, Dan Brouwer, Belle Edson, Amira De La Garza, Heewon Kim, Linda Lederman, Jennifer Linde, and Alaina Zanin.

Many colleagues contributed their wisdom, advice, and activities via text‐boxes and the good scholarship cited within. These include members of my Facebook family, to whom I would often pose questions or ask for resources. There are too many to name here, but the people who lent their ear and insight to me multiple times included (in no particular order): Devika Chawla, Bob Krizek, Dawn Braithwaite, Andrew Hermann, Maggie Carbone, Lorraine Kisselburgh, Lynn Harter, Dennis Mumby, Carolyn Ellis, Patricia Geist‐Martin, Debbie Dougherty, Emily Cripe, Shawna Malvini Redden, Maggie Quinlan, Sophia Town, Sarah Jones, Shiv Ganesh, Matthew Donovan, Miriam Sobre, Timothy Huffman, Natalie Nelson Marsh, Kate Harris, Art Bochner, Rikki Tremblay, Rahul Mitra, Larry Frey, Chris Poulos, Kendra Rivera, Jon Camp, Shirley Drew, Ted Zorn, Joann Keyton, Elizabeth Richard, Dayna Kloeber, Bernadette Calafell, Kurt Lindemann, Erin Willer, Jie‐Young Kong, and Alex Lyon.

Two groups of people are worthy of special thanks. First, I feel much appreciation for Mitch Allen, Kakali Bhattacharya, Norman Denzin, Sally Campbell Galman, and Johnny Saldaña. These brilliant qualitative gurus have helped me to become a stronger, more thoughtful qualitative researcher and helped make this a better book. Additionally, Emily Beach, Jessica Kamrath, and Robert Razzante have been instrumental in editing, reference checking, and developing teacher manual materials (building upon the significant work by Jennifer Scarduzio and Elizabeth Eger in the first edition). Thanks to all of you for your consistent advice, quick feedback, encouragement, inspiration, and support.

Additionally, I feel indebted to Wiley‐Blackwell team, especially Humbert Haze, Todd Green, and Elizabeth Wingett (who have sustained the support provided by Elizabeth Swayze who convinced me years ago that I could write this book to begin with). They along with their colleagues have provided support, patience, promotion, and expert copy‐editing of the project. This book is a team effort and I am eternally grateful for their help with it.

Finally, I feel appreciative of my family (Boyd, Malinda, Van, Julia, Zander and Lydia) and fur babies (Menasha and Lily) who provided encouragement, patience, and reasons to take a break. Most especially, thank you to Brad for being my cheerleader, for believing in me, and for providing much laughter, even as I spent way too many hours writing in the casita. These people made the whole book‐writing process not nearly as lonely as it would have been otherwise – which is important for a qualitative researcher who likes to spend time in the field playing with others, and not just at the keyboard tapping away. May their joy and hope infuse these pages and motivate others as much as they motivated me.