Prof Silverman shows that even naming a topic can be fraught with difficulty. He will discuss a number of temptations that are best avoided at an early stage of research. These include: confusing social or managerial problems with research questions, asking ‘why?’ questions better addressed by quantitative data and seeking too much data and too many different kinds of data.

Using examples from his recent research on placement interviews with residents in a homeless shelter, together with my past research on paediatric consultations and HIV-test counselling, he will suggest some practical solutions to these temptations. These include: asking ‘what?’ and ‘how?’ questions, aiming to say a lot about a small problem, trying to find naturalistic data and improving transcription quality.

Of course, as data never speak for themselves, we always need some kind of analytic lens. He will discuss the constructionist lens which he has found fruitful in generating interesting research topics.

He will conclude by arguing that, in qualitative research, it is helpful at the early stages of research to avoid hypotheses and to ask simply: ‘What is going on here?’. This usually conflicts with university requirements that research students, at the end of their first year, provide a detailed account of their research topic with hypotheses. He will suggest rhetorical solutions to this problem.


Prof David Silverman is Professor Emeritus in the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths College, Visiting Professor in the Management Department at King's College, University of London and the Business School, University of Technology, Sydney and Adjunct Professor, EDucation Faculty, QUT. He has authored 15 books and 45 journal articles on qualitative research, ethnography and conversation analysis. He is the author of four bestselling Sage textbooks on qualitative research and has published monographs on his research on a large public sector organization, medical consultations and HIV-test counselling. 

Prof Silverman has hosted workshops on qualitative research for PhD students in Australia since 2009 as well as in Europe, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Tanzania. He successfully supervised 30 PhD students, three of whom are now full Professors. 

About Research design

Your research degree requires the ability to apply "analytical and critical thinking skills to generate new knowledge, investigate problems and develop inventive solutions" (UQ HDR Graduate Attributes, 2017). This starts with determining the design of the research study through understanding and justifying the chosen methodologies and analytical methods. Building these skills during your research degree will equip you with the knowledge to apply them in a wide variety of contexts during your career.

The Graduate School has a range of sessions covering research methodolgy and methods delivered by esteemed providers such as ISSR.

Useful links

  1. National University of Singapore Quantitative and Qualitative Research for Beginners
  2. University of Endinburgh Introduction to Social Research Methods
  3. Ural Federal University Scientific Methods and Research
  4. MIT's Qualitative Research Methods: Data coding and analysis
  5. UQ's Introduction to Psychological Research Methods