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Vanessa Jackson on Using Qualitative Methods for Small Business Development and Sustainability

Greetings from Kentucky, the land of national basketball championships.  My name is Vanessa Prier Jackson and I a professor of retailing in the School of Human Environmental Sciences in the department of Merchandising Apparel and Textiles at the University of Kentucky.

For the last three years I have become very interested in qualitative research in the development of small business development and sustainability.  I find it fascinating to go out in the community, meet with small business owners and find out firsthand what really influences their business resiliency.  Through readings and research I have identified training, reciprocity between businesses and communities, and social responsibility as important methods of resiliency for small businesses in rural communities.

Being that qualitative research is new to me, I pondered how to proceed with my research. I had experienced many stumbling blocks as I walked through the processes of data collection on social responsibility. As we began to process the data, I wondered to myself, “what does this data offer to the literature, and how can I use the data to continue my research”? It was a humbling experience.

Lessons Learned:

  • I learned that qualitative research requires many steps to make sure your data is useful to the researcher and to the community you seek to serve. According to Carolyn Nicholls (2011) “When a piece of research is undertaken, there are many factors that need to be considered enroute to determining which method or methods will most suitably reveal the information or experience”.
  • Interest in a topic can lead to the collection of a great deal of information, but it is how you are able to use the information you collect. The question to address is, “will the information advance my research and will it be useful”? It is through careful evaluation of qualitative methodology that this can be assured.

Hot Tips:

  • Consider the importance of your research project and what it contributes to the literature. Will your methodology allow for the usefulness of information collected? Review your research ideas with experts in the area.
  • Seek out resources that will allow for valid secondary data. Library stacks can provide information that may not be available through interviews and focus groups, as well as previous research. Evaluate source locations for potential quantity of information available.
  • Content analysis may provide evidence for a specific topical focus of interviews and focus groups. This may also lead to the need for changes in the focus of a study and how that study should be conducted.
  • Consider major macro and micro environmental factors that may influence the data collected.


The Advantages of using Qualitative Research Methods By Carolyn Nicholls BA (Hons) MSTAT, teacher of the Alexander Technique.

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