Examining influence in a qualitative study?

It’s very important to use the correct terminology associated with a research method and design. For example, the word influence is widely-associated with quantitative research. Influence can be measured by examining the change in the Y variable when the X variable is manipulated or involving a third variable (Z). Quantitative research is more scientific, less subjective, is repeatable, and can be generalized. Qualitative research is based on the knowledge and skill of the researcher. There are times when an experienced researcher will explore influence in a qualitative study but that is few and far between, generally related to specific disciplines (e.g., medical, social work), and is supported with significant academic research (see here, here, and here). I don’t recommend emerging scholars perform qualitative research. Besides skill, the time needed to complete a qualitative study is much longer than the time needed to complete a quantitative study.

Grant (2019) is an example of why emerging scholars shouldn’t do qualitative research. This emerging scholar explored the influence of leadership behaviors on two dimensions: employee engagement and collaboration (the organization is not germane to this discussion). To perform this study, the emerging scholar created a 7-item open-ended survey and distributed it anonymously to 10 people in an organization exceeding 3,800 people. The emerging scholar would interpret the responses and categorize them to answer the following two research questions –

  • What leadership styles and behaviors are being utilized at [organization]?
  • What is the influence of existing leadership styles and behaviors on employee engagement and collaboration?

Yin (2018) describes five situations where a single case study would be appropriate: critical, unusual, common, revelatory, or longitudinal (pp. 48-50). In addition, Yin describes two types of single case studies: holistic and embedded (pp. 51-53). When reviewing the dissertation, the researcher is attempting a build a common, holistic single-case study. Common because leadership is an everyday situation. Holistic because the organization appears to have a single purpose. However, a case study focuses on “how” or “why” a situation occurred (perhaps leadership style evolution); not “what” style is prevalent or which specific styles influence two outcomes. With an anonymous survey, there is no way to follow up with a participant to clarify their responses. To quote a colleague –

Who’s the researcher? Carnac the Magnificent?

Name withheld

As a result, the research method (QUAL) and design (case study) doesn’t appear to align with the research questions. The results of the study should be ignored. However, I wanted to discuss the themes identified by Grant –

  • A collaborative, or transformational, leadership style is present
  • Organizational leaders are engaging
  • Unfair hiring practices have become standard

First, are collaborate and transformational the same? They’re close, but I believe some scholars would say they’re different. Second, what does the organization’s hiring practices have to do with leadership in an organization? Plus, how can one generalize to an organization of 3,800+ from a sample of 10? Do the math: That’s a 95% CI of nearly 31 points! Even if 90% of the sample described an organization leaders as collaborative, as interpreted by the researcher, that means the 95% CI would between 60% and Inf. What are the other 40%? Non-collaborative?


Grant, R. M. (2019). Investigating the influence of leadership behaviors on employee engagement and collaboration in a Federal organization (Doctoral dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection. (22615969)

Yin, R. K. (2018). Case study research and applications: Design and methods (6th Ed.). SAGE Publications.


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.