Methods Resources

Foundational Books on Qualitative Methods

These books provide overviews of most aspects of qualitative research design, ranging from what the value of qualitative methods is to some more specific advice on how to conduct a qualitative research project. These handbooks are best for students who want some exposure to meta-theory on qualitative methods, as well as practical advice on how to undertake qualitative research in the field. While no one book is “better” than any other, the Maxwell (2005), Miles and Huberman (1994), and Weiss (1994) are thought to be seminal works on the topic of qualitative research.

Alford, Robert R. 1998. The Craft of Inquiry. New York: Oxford UP

Denscombe, Martyn. The good research guide: for small-scale social research projects. McGraw-Hill Education (UK), 2014.

Emerson, Robert ed., 2001. Contemporary Field Research: Perspectives and Formulations. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press (2nd edition).

Luker, Kristin. 2008. Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Maxwell, J.A. (2005) Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Miles Matthew B. and A. Michael Huberman, 1994. Qualitative Data Analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Weiss, Robert S. 1994. Learning from Strangers: The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies. New York: Free Press. 

Ethics of Qualitative Research

Sometimes in qualitative research, the researcher is confronted with ethical dilemmas that s/he must reflect on before undertaking the work. In other moments, it is possible that the researcher must grapple with the costs or benefits of their research project when writing the methodology section of their project. These readings are primers on ethics in qualitative research that encourage reflexivity in on-the-ground research projects.

Overview. Cassell, Joan.  1978.  “Risks and Benefits to Subjects of Fieldwork.”  The American Sociologist 13: 134-43.

Overview. Van Maanen, John. 2001 (1983). “The Moral Fix: On the Ethics of Field Work.” Pp. 269-287 in Contemporary Field Research, edited by R. Emerson.

Deception. Allen, Charlotte. 1997. “Spies like us: When Sociologists Deceive their Subjects.” Lingua Franca (November 

Ethnography. Fine, Gary Alan.  1993.  “Ten Lies of Ethnography: Moral Dilemmas of Field Research.”  Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 22: 267-294. 

Interviews. Shea, Christopher. 2000. “Don’t talk to the Humans: the Crackdown on Social Science Research.” Lingua Franca. September: 27-34.

IRB. Stark, Laura 2011. Behind Closed Doors: IRBs and the Making of Ethical Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. PP. 1-19.

Conceptualizing and Writing a Research Project

Qualitative researchers often view the conceptualization of a research project, as well as its implementation, as distinct from the writing process. These readings are meant to challenge that assumption, showing how research practices are intimately related to how a researcher writes up his or her findings into a respectable piece of scholarly research.


Overview. Berg, Bruce L and Hoard Lune. 2012. Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. New York: Piersen. 8th edition. Chapter 12.

Comparing and Contrasting Qualitative and Quantitative Methods. Goertz, Gary and James Mahoney. 2012. A Tale of Two Cultures: Contrasting Qualitative and Quantitative Paradigm. Princeton: Princeton University Press,

Case Study Research. Ragin, Charles and Howard S. Becker, eds., 2000. What is a Case? Exploring the Foundations of Social Inquiry. New York: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 1-18 and 121-138.

Mixed-Method Research. Small, Mario Luis. 2011. “How to conduct a mixed methods study: recent trends in a rapidly growing literature.” Annual Review of Sociology 37: 57-86. 

Fieldwork. Van Mannen, John 2011. Tales of the Field. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2nd edition. Preface, Chapter 3 and epilogue.


Overview. Becker, Howard. 1986. Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book or Article. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Prose and Voice in Sociological Writing. Erikson, Kai. 1989. “On Sociological Prose.” Yale Review 78 (1): 525-538

Ethnographic Writing. Golden-Biddle, Karen and Karen Locke.  1993.  “Appealing Work: An Investigation of How Ethnographic Texts Convince.”  Organization Studies 4: 595-616.

Writing the Prospectus. Kilbourn, Brent.  2006.  “The Qualitative Doctoral Dissertation Proposal.”  Teachers College Record 108: 529-76.

From Data to Publication. Bloemraad, Irene. 2012. “What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You: Moving from a Research Puzzle to Publishing Findings.”  Pp. 502-520 in Handbook of Research Methods in Migration, edited by Carlos Vargas-Silva. London: Edward Elgar Publishing 

From Data to Publication. Firestone, W.A. (1993) “Alternative Arguments for Generalizing from Data as Applied to Qualitative Research”, Educational Researcher 22(4): 16-23.

Data Confirmation and Validation. Mathison, Sandra.  1988.  “Why Triangulate?”  Educational Researcher 17(2): 13-17.

Linking Theory and Method. Van Maanen, John, Jesper B. Sørensen, and Terrence R. Mitchell.  2007.  “The Interplay between Theory and Method.”  Academy of Management Review 32, 1145-54.

Analysis of Qualitative Data

These pieces provide an overview of how to analyze your qualitative data after it has been collected (and, in some cases, while it is still being collected!). The first category of readings is more general advice, while the others are specific to ethnography or interviewing. Advice on other kinds of qualitative data analysis is found later in this document. 


Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences – Qualitative Division

Attride-Stirling, J. (2001) “Thematic Networks: An Analytic Tool for Qualitative Research.” Qualitative Research 1(3): 385-405.

Kelle, Udo, and Katherine Bird, eds. Computer-aided qualitative data analysis: Theory, methods and practice. Sage, 1995.

Guetzkow, Joshua, Michèle Lamont and Grégoire Mallard. 2004.  “What is Originality in the Social Sciences and the Humanities?” American Sociological Review. 69:190-212

Miles, Michael  and A. Michael Huberman, 1994. Qualitative Data Analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Chapter 1, 4 and 5. Skim through book. 


Altheide, David L.  1987.  “Ethnographic Content Analysis.” Qualitative Sociology 10: 65-77.

Eliasoph, Nina. 2011. “Appendix 2: Methods of Taking Field Notes and Making Them Tell a Story.” Pp. 261-263 in Making Volunteers: Civic Life After Welfare’s End. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Emerson, Robert, Rachel Fretz, and Linda Shaw, 1995. “Processing Fieldnotes: Coding and Memoing.” Pp. 142-166 in Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Harry, Beth, Keith M. Sturges, and Janette K. Klingner.  2005.  “Mapping the Process: An Exemplar of Process and Challenge in Grounded Theory Analysis.”  Educational Researcher 34(2): 3-13.

McLellan, E., K. MacQueen and J. Neidig (2003) “Beyond the Qualitative Interview: Data Preparation and Transcription”, Field Methods 15(1): 63-84.

Oliver, D. , J.M. Serovich and T. L. Mason. 2005. “Constraints and Opportunities with Interview Transcription...”Social Forces. 84(2): 1273-1289

Ryan, G. and H.R. Bernard (2003) “Techniques to Identify Themes”, Field Methods 15(1): 85-109.

Saldana, Johnny. 2009. The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers. SAGE Publications, Inc.

Weiss, Robert. 1994. Learning from Strangers. Pp. 151-182

Weston, Cynthia, et al.  2001. “Analyzing Interview Data: The Development and Evolution of a Coding System.” Qualitative Sociology 24: 381-400.


This section provides additional insight on ethnographic methods, with specific tips about how to carry out an ethnographic study.


Buroway, Michael et al., 1991. Ethnography Unbound. Berkeley: University of California Press. Pp. ix-28 and 271-290. 

Charmaz, Kathy, 2001 (1995). “Grounded Theory.” Pp. 335-352 in Contemporary Field Research. 

Emerson, Robert, ed. 2001. Contemporary Field Research: Perspectives and Formulations, Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. Pp. 1-54. 

Goffman, Erving. (1989) “On Fieldwork”, Contemporary Field Research: Perspectives and Formulations, edited by Robert M. Emerson. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press, pp. 153-158

Hannerz, Ulf, 2003. “Being There… and There… and There! Reflections on Multi-Site Ethnography.” Ethnography 4 (2): 201-216. 


Adler, Patricia A. & Peter Adler.  1998.  “Observational Techniques.”  Pp. 377-392 in Norman K. Denzin & Yvonna S. Lincoln (Eds.), Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials.  Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Kleinman, S., M. Copp and K.A. Henderson (1997) “Qualitatively Different: Teaching Fieldwork to Graduate Students.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. 25 (4): 469-499.

Tope, Daniel, Lindsey Joyce Chamberlain, Martha Crowley, and Randy Hodson. 2005. “The Benefits of Being There.” Journal of Contemporary ethnography. 34 (4): 470-493.

Field Notes 

Emerson, Robert, et al.  1995.  “Writing Up Fieldnotes I: From Field to Desk” and “Writing Up Fieldnotes 2: Creating Scenes on the Page.”  Pp. 39-107 in Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Luttrell, Wendy. 2000. “Good Enough Methods for Ethnographic Research.” Harvard Educational Review. 70 (4): 499-523.

Watkins, Susan Cotts and Ann Swidler.  2009.  “Hearsay Ethnography: Conversational Journals as Method for Studying Culture in Action.”  Poetics 37: 162-184.


Geertz, Clifford. 2001 (1973). “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture.” Pp. 55-75 in Contemporary Field Research.

Lareau, Annette and Jeffrey Shultz, 1996. Journeys Through Ethnography. Realistic Accounts of Fieldwork. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.   

Snow, David A. Calvin Morill, and Leon Anderson, 2003. “Elaborating Analytic Ethnography.” Ethnography 4 (2): 181-200.

Wilson, William Julius and Anmol Chaddha. 2009.  “The Role of Theory in Ethnographic Research.” Ethnography  10 (2-3): 269-284.


This section provides additional insight on interview methods, with specific tips about how to carry out an interview-based study.


Hammer, Dean and Aaron Wildavsky.  1993.  “The Open-Ended, Semistructured Interview.”  Pp. 57-101 in Aaron Wildavsky, Craftways: On the Organization of Scholarly Work.  New Brunswick: Transaction. 

Hermanowicz, J.C. (2002) “The Great Interview: 25 Strategies for Studying People in Bed”, Qualitative Sociology 25(4): 479-499.

Small, Mario Luis. 2009. “How many cases do I need: On science and the logic of case selection in field-based Research.” Ethnography 10 (1): 5-38. 

Snow, David, et al.  1982.  “Interviewing by Comment.”  Qualitative Sociology 5: 285-311.

Controversial Topics. Newman, Katherine S. 2002. “Qualitative Research on the Frontlines of Controversy.” Sociological Methods and Research 31 (2): 123-130.

Recruiting Subjects

Elites. Odendahl, Teresa, and Aileen Shaw.  2002.  “Interviewing Elites.”  Pp. 299-316 in Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein (Eds.), Handbook of Interview Research: Context and Method. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Focus Groups. Krueger, Richard. 1988. Focus Groups. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Focus Groups. Morgan, D.L. (1996) “Focus Groups”, Annual Review of Sociology 22: 129-15 

Hard-to-find Populations. Watters, John K. and Patrick Biernacki, 1989. “Targeted Sampling: Options for the Study of Hidden Populations.” Social Problems 36 (4): 416-430.

Snowball Sampling. Biernacki, Patrick, and Dan Waldorf, 1981. “Snowball Sampling: Problems and Techniques in Chain Referral.” Sociological Methods and Research 10 (2): 141-163.

Data Validation

Bloor, Michael. Techniques of Validation in Qualitative Research: A Critical Commentary.” Pp. 383-296 in Contemporary Field Research, edited by Robert Emerson.

Maxwell, Joseph A.  1992.  “Understanding and Validity in Qualitative Research.”  Harvard Educational Review 62: 279-300.


Overview. Kenway, J. and J. McLeod (2004) “Bourdieu's Reflexive Sociology and 'Spaces of Points of View': Whose Reflexivity, Which Perspective?”, British Journal of Sociology of Education25(4): 525-544.

Overview. Peshkin, Alan.  1988.  “In Search of Subjectivity – One’s Own.”  Educational Researcher 17: 17-21.

Race. Dunbar, Christopher, Jr., Dalia Rodriguez, and Laurence Parker. 2002. Race, Subjectivity, and the Interview Process, Ch. 14 in Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein (Eds.), Handbook of Interview Research: Context and Method. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. 

Race. “White Like Me? Methods, Meaning, and Manipulation in the Field of White Studies.”  Pp. 67-92 in France Twine and Jonathan Warren (Eds.), Racing Research, Researching Race: Methodological 

Race. Young, Alford A. 2004. “Experiences in Ethnographic Interviewing about Race: The Inside and Outside of it.” Researching Race and Racism, edited by Martin Bulmer and John Solomos. London: Routledge, pp. 187-202

Race, Class, Gender. Cannon, L.W., E. Higginbotham and M.L.A. Leung (1988) “Race and Class Bias in Qualitative Research on Women”, Gender and Society 2(4): 449-462.

Race and Class. Lamont, Michèle. 2004. “ A Life of Hard but Justified Choices: Interviewing Across (too) Many Divides," Pp. 162-171 in Researching Race and Racism, edited by Martin Bulmer and John Solomos. London: Routledge. 

Gender. Devault, M.L. (1990) “Talking and Listening from Women's Standpoint: Feminist Strategies for Interviewing and Analysis”, Social Problems 37(1): 96-116. 


McClintock, C.C., D. Brannon and S. Maynard-Moody (1979) “Applying the Logic of Sample Surveys to Qualitative Case Studies: The Case Cluster Method”, Administrative Science  Quarterly 24(4): 612-62. 

Temple, Bogusia and Alys Young.  2004.  “Qualitative Research and Translation Dilemmas.”  Qualitative Research 4: 161-178. 

Weiss, Robert S. 1994. Learning from Strangers: The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies. New York: Free Press. Pp. vii-120.

Comparative and Historical Analysis

This section provides additional insight on comparative and historical analysis methods, with specific tips about how to carry out a comparative and historical study.


Bonnell, Victoria. 1980. “The Use of Theory, Concepts, and Comparison in Historical Sociology.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 22 (2): 155-173. 

Eisenhart, Kathleen M., and Melissa E. Graebner.  2007.  “Theory Building from Case Studies: Opportunities and Challenges.”  Academy of Management Journal 50, 25-32. 

Flyvbjerg, Bent.  2006.  “Five Misunderstandings about Case Study Research.”  Qualitative Inquiry 12: 219-245. 

Lieberson, Stanley. 1991. “Small N’s and Big Conclusions: An Examination of the Reasoning in Comparative Studies Based on a Small Number of Cases.” Social Forces, 70(2): 307-320. 

Mahoney, James. 2004. “Comparative-Historical Methodology.” Annual Review of Sociology 30: 81-101. 

Data Analysis 

Elder, Glen, Elizabeth K. Pavalko, and Elizabeth H. Cliff, 1993. Working with Archival Data: Studying Lives. Newbury Park: Sage. 

Howell, Martha C. and Walter Prevenier.  2001.  “Source Criticism: The Great Tradition” and “Historical Interpretation: The Traditional Basics.”  Pp. 60-68 (NOT 43-59) & 69-87 in From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 

Mill, John Stuart, 1973. “Of the Four Methods of Experimental Inquiry.” Pp. 388-406 in A System of Logic. London: Routledge.

Ragin, Charles. 1987. The Comparative Method. Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies. Berkeley: University of California Press. Pp. 1-102. 

Skocpol, Theda. 2003. “Doubly Engaged Social Science: The Promise of Comparative Historical Analysis. Pp. 407-429 in Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences, ed. James Mahoney and Dietrich Rueschemeyer. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Skocpol, Theda. 1984. “Emerging Agendas and Recurrent Strategies in Historical Sociology.” Pp. 356-391 in Vision and Method in Historical Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Vaughan, Diane.  2004.  “Theorizing Disaster: Analogy, Historical Ethnography, and the Challenger Incident.”  Ethnography 5: 313-45. 

Walton, John. 1973. "Standardized Case Comparison: Observations on Method in Comparative Sociology," Pp. 173-188 in Comparative Social Research, Methodological Problems and Strategies. New York: Wiley. 

Yin, Robert. 1994. Case Study Research: Design and Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Chapters 1, 2, and 4.

Content Analysis

This section provides additional insight on content analysis methods, with specific tips about how to carry out a content analysis study. 


A Practical Introduction to Content Analysis (YouTube)

Altheide, David L., and Christopher J. Schneider. Qualitative media analysis. Vol. 38. Sage, 2012. 

Berg, Bruce L and Hoard Lune. 2012. Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. New York: Piersen. 8th edition. Chapter 11: Introduction to Content Analysis 

Krippendorff, Klaus. Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology. Sage, 2012.

Neuendorf, Kimberly A. The content analysis guidebook. Sage, 2002.

Stemler, Steve. "An overview of content analysis." Practical assessment, research & evaluation 7.17 (2001): 137-146.

Weber, Robert Philip. Basic content analysis. No. 49. Sage, 1990.

Collecting Data

Manning, Christopher D., Prabhakar Raghavan, and Hinrich Schütze. Introduction to information retrieval. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge university press, 2008.


Elo, Satu, and Helvi Kyngäs. "The qualitative content analysis process." Journal of advanced nursing 62.1 (2008): 107-115.

Kolbe, Richard H., and Melissa S. Burnett. "Content-analysis research: An examination of applications with directives for improving research reliability and objectivity." Journal of consumer research (1991): 243-250.

Morning, Ann. "Reconstructing race in science and society: Biology textbooks, 1952–2002." American Journal of Sociology 114.S1 (2008): S106-S137.

Riff, Daniel, Stephen Lacy, and Frederick Fico. Analyzing media messages: Using quantitative content analysis in research. Routledge, 2014.

Survey Research

This section provides insight on survey methods, with specific tips about how to carry out a study based on survey research. 


Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences, especially the Research Technology Consulting services, which will help you with statistical code/analysis

Alreck, Pamela L., and Robert B. Settle. The survey research handbook. McGraw-Hill, 1994.

Fowler Jr, Floyd J. Survey research methods. Sage publications, 2013. 

Rea, Louis M., and Richard A. Parker. Designing and conducting survey research: A comprehensive guide. John Wiley & Sons, 2014. 

Rossi, Peter H., James D. Wright, and Andy B. Anderson, eds. Handbook of survey research. Academic Press, 2013.

Vignettes in Survey Research 

Alexander, Cheryl S., and Henry Jay Becker. "The use of vignettes in survey research." Public opinion quarterly 42.1 (1978): 93-104.

Assistance with Statistical Coding


This section provides insight on geographic analysis, with specific tips about how to carry out a study based on geographic analysis.


Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis

  • The CGA has permanent professional staff that administer Harvard-wide GIS infrastructure, collect and disseminate spatial datasets, and provide training and consultation in the use of geospatial technologies.

Introduction to Spatial Analysis (YouTube)

GIS-related tutorials (YouTube)

Learning ArcGIS Independently

The following four-part series provides a nice introduction to using ArcGIS. There are other tutorials available on YouTube as well for more advanced topics for those who are interested. 

See also a ten-lecture series from the Sabber Foundation. Link to Lecture 1 here.

Data Analysis in ArcGIS

Beyer, Hawthorn L. "Hawth’s analysis tools for ArcGIS." (2004): 2008.

Johnston, Kevin, et al. Using ArcGIS geostatistical analyst. Vol. 380. Redlands: Esri, 2001.

Ormsby, Tim. Getting to know ArcGIS desktop: basics of ArcView, ArcEditor, and ArcInfo. ESRI, Inc., 2004.

Wong, W. S. D., and Jay Lee. Statistical analysis of geographic information with ArcView GIS and ArcGIS. Wiley, 2005.


Other Online Resources

Knowledge Base of Social Scientific Research Methods

Sage Research Methods hosts a surplus of articles/books about various stages of the research process. 

Qualitative Data Analysis Software Tutorials

NVivo (free through Harvard):

Atlas.ti ($99 for students):

MaxQDA ($129 for students):

Fundamentals of Qualitative Research

From Lisa Curry, Yale University