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A Reflection on Crafting Qualitative Research Questions

In chapter 7, Creswell (2009, pp. 129-132) identifies the following general procedure and considerations for crafting qualitative research questions.

1. Ask one or two central questions followed by no more than 5 to 7 sub questions

2. relate the central question to the specific qualitative strategy of inquiry

3. begin the research questions with the words what or how to convey an open and emerging design

4. focus on a single phenomenon or concept

5. use exploratory verse that convey the language of emerging design such as Discover, seek, explore, described or report

6. use exploratory verbs that are nondirectional

7. expect the research questions to evolve

8. use open-ended questions without reference to literature or theory

9. specify the participants and the research site for the study

Background: my papers for this term are focusing on the methodology of narrative inquiry as applied to my college research setting. As part of my research I am investigating the nature of narrative inquiry and how it may be variously applied to a specific educational setting in my military college which features a strong hierarchical culture and a specific professional approach to a style of sense making through storytelling that is very powerful in our officer corps.

The specific style and use of storytelling in the military has emerged from the collective unconscious of the officer corps and can be found in our professional journals, popular magazines, lesson plans, guest speakers, lecture series and in the classroom as we describe our personal experiences in combat and try to relate them to our doctrine which serves as the basis of our professional theory of action.

Because of the power of storytelling, I want to look at other modes of narrative inquiry to see what the theory or thoeries of narrative inquiry say about choices organizations may make when using storytelling in the conduct of their daily craft. Therefore, I intend to examine the application of narrative inquiry in qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods of research. I hope to develop an appreciation for a meta-theory of narrative inquiry and a practical model to help researchers determine an appropriate use of narrative inquiry in their own research.

The basis for this interest is my literature review in narrative inquiry which uncovered at least 20 different ways in which narrative inquiry is broadly used in the field, each with with its own distinct flavor, perspective, timeframe, point of view, purpose and methodological techniques. I want to examine where on this emerging methodological map the Army’s particular style of storytelling fits and to see what other insights and applications may be gained by looking at other implementations of narrative inquiry.

Since the next paper in this series is the qualitative sketch, this week’s posting focuses on qualitative research questions. Bearing in mind Creswell’s procedural advice, here are my qualitative questions concerning narrative inquiry applied to qualitative research.

1. Central question: how does storytelling affect the educational environment in our college?

(I use the term storytelling rather than narrative inquiry to keep the central research question jargon free and theory neutral. I will ask this question in a non-formal way and you storytelling as an open ended construct to give the interviewee maximum freedom to perceive in their sense making and personal storytelling).

2. 5 to 7 sub questions:

a. How does storytelling affect you personally as a teller or a listener?

b. Describe any personal experience with storytelling that made a difference to you or to others?

c. Describe how you see or hear others using stories in the college environment.

d. What effect do you see or hear stories having on our professional literature in journals, magazines or doctrine?

e. How have stories affected the classroom experience of students, faculty or senior leaders?

f. How significant are stories in the overall educational experience of our college and profession?

g. How do you see or hear stories being told? In what style and in what medium?

h. What are the strengths and weaknesses of storytelling as a means of making sense of our profession?

(I’ve tried to keep the sub questions centered on storytelling as a phenomenon and am asking the interviewee to describe its effects, its processes, its locations and its context. With the last couple questions I have asked for them to conduct some analysis and judgment to make meaning about this mode of sense making. I would expect that with these base questions a rich conversation about the culture of storytelling will emerge from individual interviewees)

3. Because the questions asked for open and the descriptions I believe they allow the emergent quality of the research to develop.

4. I am focusing on a single concept of storytelling as a phenomenon.

5. I am using exploratory verbs .

6. I am using non-directional questions to let the interviewee make value and directional judgments.

7. In the multiple cycles of participatory action research I have conducted to date, I have seen firsthand how the research questions morph and evolve over time. Cresswell is exactly right.

8. I have minimized the connection to theory except possibly in the sub question H, where I’ve introduced the words ”making sense”, which are related to the technical term of art “sense making”. This might be pushing the idea that storytelling is a sense making process but since this is the last question and the theory is not unusual, I feel justified in asking it.

9. The context of these research questions are the U.S. Army command and Gen. staff College at Fort Leavenworth Kansas, and members of the students, faculty, curriculum developers, administration and senior leadership along with interested parties in military education across the Army.


Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches (Third Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

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