Research Article

Coherence and transparency: some advice for qualitative researchers

Coombs, Crispin

Downloads: 0
Views: 334


There is relatively little advice in the Engineering domain for undertaking qualitative studies. Researchers have to rely on generic guidance that may result in imprecise application of qualitative methods. A related discipline to Engineering is Information Systems (IS) and the experiences of the IS domain may provide some useful insights for undertaking qualitative studies. This paper synthesizes the guidance from the IS community for crafting high quality qualitative studies and manuscripts. It reports on five themes: i) Establishing philosophical underpinnings; ii) Clarifying theoretical aims; iii) Selecting qualitative methods; iv) Demonstrating rigour in qualitative data analysis; and v) Grappling with generalisation. The review stresses the importance of coherence and transparency for crafting qualitative research manuscripts and provides a list of reflective questions for qualitative research design.


Qualitative studies, Guidance, Data analysis, Case study, Generalisibility, Information systems, Engineering


Abubakre, M. A., Ravishankar, M. N., & Coombs, C. R. (2015). The role of formal controls in facilitating information system diffusion. Information & Management, 52(5), 599-609.

Avison, D., & Malaurent, J. (2014). Is theory king?: questioning the theory fetish in information systems. Journal of Information Technology, 29(4), 1-10.

Benbasat, I., Goldstein, D. K., & Mead, M. (1987). The case research strategy in studies of information systems. Management Information Systems Quarterly, 11(3), 369-386.

Borrego, M., Douglas, E. P., & Amelink, C. T. (2009). Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed research methods in engineering education. Journal of Engineering Education, 98(1), 53-66.

Cheng, Z., Dimoka, A., & Pavlou, P. A. (2016). Context may be King, but generalizability is the Emperor! Journal of Information Technology, 31(3), 257-264.

Conboy, K., Fitzgerald, G., & Mathiassen, L. (2012). Qualitative methods research in information systems: motivations, themes, and contributions. European Journal of Information Systems, 21(2), 113-118.

Corbin, J. M., & Strauss, A. L. (2014). Basics of qualitative research : techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. London: Sage. Retrieved in 2017, August 17, from and corbin&f=false

Daly, S., McGowan, A., & Papalambros, P. (August, 2013). Using qualitative research methods in engineering design research. In Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Engineering Design (pp. 203-212). Seoul: ICED. Retrieved in 2017, August 17, from

Davis, F. D., Bagozzi, R. P., & Warshaw, P. R. (1989). User acceptance of computer technology: a comparison of two theoretical models. Management Science, 35(8), 982-1003.

Davison, R. M., & Martinsons, M. G. (2011). Methodological practice and policy for organisationally and socially relevant IS research: an inclusive–exclusive perspective. Journal of Information Technology, 26(4), 288-293.

Davison, R. M., & Martinsons, M. G. (2016). Context is king! Considering particularism in research design and reporting. Journal of Information Technology, 31(3), 241-249.

Day, R. (1998). How to write and publish a scientific paper (5th ed.). Phoenix: Oryx Press.

Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). Building theories from case study research. Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 532-550.

Gawlik, R. (2016). Methodological aspects of qualitative-quantitative analysis of decision-making processes. Management and Production Engineering Review, 7(2), 3-11.

Gephart, R. P. (2004). Qualitative research and the academy of management journal. Academy of Management Journal, 47(4), 454-462.

Giddens, A. (1986). The constitution of society: outline of the theory of structuration. Berkeley: University of California Press. Retrieved in 2017, August 18, from

Golden-Biddle, K., & Locke, K. (1997). Composing qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Gregor, S. (2006). The nature of theory in information systems. Management Information Systems Quarterly, 30(3), 611-642.

Keutel, M., Michalik, B., & Richter, J. (2013). Towards mindful case study research in IS: a critical analysis of the past ten years. European Journal of Information Systems, 23(3), 256-272.

Klein, H. K., & Myers, M. D. (1999). A set of principles for conducting and evaluating interpretive field studies in information systems. Management Information Systems Quarterly, 23(1), 67-94.

Koro-Ljungberg, M., & Douglas, E. P. (2008). State of qualitative research in engineering education: meta-analysis of JEE articles, 2005-2006. Journal of Engineering Education, 97(2), 163-175.

Latour, B. (1990). Technology is society made durable. The Sociological Review, 38(1 Suppl), 103-131.

Lee, A. S. (2014). Theory is king? But first, what is theory? Journal of Information Technology, 29(4), 350-352.

Lee, A. S., & Baskerville, R. L. (2003). Generalizing generalizability in information systems research. Information Systems Research, 14(3), 221-243.

Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldaña, J. (2013). Qualitative data analysis: a methods sourcebook. London: Sage. Retrieved in 2017, August 18, from and huberman&f=false

Moore, G. E. (1965). Cramming more components onto integrated circuits. Electronics, 114–117.

Myers, M. D. (1997). Qualitative research in information systems. Management Information Systems Quarterly, 21(2), 241-242.

Orlikowski, W. J., & Iacono, C. S. (2001). Research commentary: desperately seeking the “IT” in IT research—a call to theorizing the IT artifact. Information Systems Research, 12(2), 121-134.

Paré, G. (2004). Investigating information systems with positivist case study research. Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 13(1), 233-264.

Paré, G., Trudel, M.-C. C., Jaana, M., & Kitsiou, S. (2015). Synthesizing information systems knowledge: a typology of literature reviews. Information & Management, 52(2), 183-199.

Sarker, S. (2016). Building on Davison and Martinsons’ concerns: a call for balance between contextual specificity and generality in IS research. Journal of Information Technology, 31(3), 250-253.

Sarker, S., Xiao, X., & Beaulieu, T. (2013). Qualitative studies in information systems: a critical review and some guiding principles. Management Information Systems Quarterly, 37(4), 3-18.

Silverman, D. (1998). Qualitative research: meanings or practices? Information Systems Journal, 8(1), 3-20.

Walsham, G. (1995). Interpretive case studies in IS research: nature and method. European Journal of Information Systems, 4(2), 74-81.

Yin, R. K. (2009). Case study research: design and methods (Vol. 5). London: Sage Publications.

Zhou, Z. (2012). Qualitative research in engineering management. In Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Management 2012 International Annual Conference (pp. 707-713). Virginia Beach: American Society for Engineering Management. Retrieved in 2017, August 19, from

5b86d94a0e8825a310e4c89e production Articles
Links & Downloads


Share this page
Page Sections