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For a number of reasons qualitative techniques have taken firm root in nursing research generally and are of growing importance in research undertaken by nurse educators. But there is a great deal of confusion about the nature of the data which are produced by qualitative research, the way such data must be handled, and the use to which such data can be put.
The confusion often results from a failure to differentiate between several orientations to qualitative data. In the previous paper Positivist research was discussed. Non-positivist research is of a number of kinds, despite often being treated as unified. Examples are: (a) descriptive (‘phenomenological’) research — which seeks to give a faithful account of an area of experience or of an aspect of the ‘life-world’; (b) interpretative (‘hermeneutic’) research — which aims to show ways of making sense of experience; and (c) discourse analysis — which draws out the socially available modes of thinking and action which reveal themselves in qualitative data.