When do numbers count in a QUAL study?

Gary (2019) wrote –

This research method (qualitative) addresses “how” questions – rather than “how many” through the perspective of those studied – informants.

Gary, 2019, p. 31

Makes sense…qualitative studies are not about “how many” but the words used by participants to describe their experiences and the interpretation of those words by the researcher based on their worldview and theoretical framework.

So, why report this?

Figure 1. Thematic Coding (Gary, 2019, p. 64).

I guess the experiences are important when proposing the study; however, its important to “demonstrate why one should have confidence in the findings” (Hannah & Lautsch, 2011, p. 16). Hannah and Lautsch call his credentialing counting. Who cares if a theme was framed from the responses of 10/10 or 9/10 of participants? Isn’t the theme more important?

There are other problems with this research (e.g., 7 formal “questions” vs an interview guide, no research question of any kind to guide the study), but this counting issue just bugs me. I agree with Sutton (2017): put the numbers in the closet.


Gary, M. E. (2019). Managing toxic leaders: An exploration of human resources management’s role in mitigating the impact of leader imposed toxicity on organization, individuals, and other stakeholders (Doctoral dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection (13897507)

Hannah, D. R., & Lautsch, B. A. (2011). Counting in qualitative research: Why to conduct it, when to avoid it, and when to closet it. Journal of Management Inquiry, 20(1), 14-22. https://doi.org/10.1177/1056492610375988

Sutton, R. I. (1997). The virtues of closet qualitative research. Organizational Science, 8(1), 97-106.


One thought on “When do numbers count in a QUAL study?

  1. It is what the comments say, not what the numbers say – it’s qualitative. Lived experiences are not counter but understood.

    Dr. Chris Brandmeir


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