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  • Writer's pictureLauren Gulbas

Building Qualitative Research Skills during a Pandemic

The literature is replete with articles and books on how to do qualitative research. This scholarship varies from anthologies on the traditions of qualitative research to detailed and comprehensive discussions of specific approaches and techniques, such as grounded theory or participant observation (see Eisenhart & Jurow, 2011 for a great overview).

Yet, for undergraduate students, translating this scholarship into practice can be daunting, especially during a pandemic. As Lobe and colleagues note, “qualitative researchers face unique opportunities and challenges as a result of the disruption of COVID-19” (Lobe, Morgam, & Hoffman, 2020). While several articles have been published recently to help qualitative researchers transition to remote data collection, few focus on the challenges of maintaining team-based qualitative research virtually. To this end, we have developed a list of strategies that we have found useful for building and maintaining our qualitative research skills during this pandemic.

Data Collection

● Establish and maintain virtual relationships with your team members and community partners. Regular virtual check-ins can help, but make sure not to do it too often or people might feel overwhelmed. We have found that biweekly check-ins work well.

● Keep track of participants in your study using an online tool that the whole team can use and access virtually. We use an online Excel spreadsheet that lists how many times we contact participants, as well as their contact information and other essential information.

● Contact participants using Google Voice. This allows all members of your team to reach participants through the same number, review all communication, and grants you some privacy from having to give out your private number. For more on how to set up and use google voice for teams, check out this helpful website:

Data Management

● Set up actual times to work on data management together. Even if you are working remotely, hop on a zoom call together to work on it. It is a lot easier to ask questions and bounce ideas off one another in real time than through text or email.

● Keep track of all the data to be coded in a shared spreadsheet so everyone can see progress and who’s been assigned what tasks.

Data Analysis

● Set small goals for shorter periods of times. Develop SMART goals that are achievable instead of saying, “we’ll have it all done in 2 weeks.” Keep one another accountable and help one another out if anyone is having a busier week. Accountability can be built into team meetings. Start each meeting by checking in about which goals have been accomplished and don’t end the meeting without making new ones.

● Take time to step back from the data manipulation itself and talk with one another about how the shape of the data is forming, what early trends you are seeing, and how it can be compared to other research. Keep the big picture in mind!


● Find an online tool that helps you manage the articles you are using to write your paper. We have been using Zotero that allows us to directly cite articles from the app and insert them into our papers.

● Set time aside to read articles that relate to what you are trying to write about. It is much easier to start with some form of foundation than to start from a blank slate.

We have been experimenting with a range of free. Here are some that we have found to be helpful:

Zotero: Acts as your personal research assistant that keeps track of the article you use as you write your paper.

Basecamp: Keep track of tasks for everyone in the group.

Trello: This is another tool that help keep track of tasks for team members.

Slack: We use this to streamline communication across team members.

Groupme: Everyone in the lab is on groupme, and this can be helpful to send quit reminders about meetings and other events.

Microsoft Online: We use this to engage in real-time data manipulation. Even better, multiple people can work on data analysis at the same time.

What have you found to be helpful? Let us know how you are doing!


The Adv Qual Lab Team: Isabel Cesani, Lauren Gulbas, Amanda Ladd, Irin Nehme, Adam Wesevich & Maria de los Angeles Villarreal


Eisenhart, M. & Jurow, A. S. (2011). Teaching qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (4th ed., pp. 699-714). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Lobe, B., Morgan, D., & Hoffman, K. A. (2020). Qualitative data collection in an era of social distancing. International Journal of Qualitative Methods.

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