Qualitative research has been present in the scientific community for a long time and is widely acknowledged as a field of inquiry that crosses disciplines. In organizational science there are several examples of qualitative research that have been published in the ‘top-ranked management journals’6 (Larsson and Lowendahl 1996 in Lee 1999: 15). Due to its nature, a clearly accepted definition of qualitative research is not at hand.7 Several authors explain what they mean by qualitative research, but the definitions are not unequivocal. However, they exhibit several shared characteristics:

Research that produces findings not arrived at by means of statistical procedures

(Strauss and Corbin 1990: 17)

Qualitative research is multimethod in focus, involving an interpretive, naturalistic approach to its subject matter

(Denzin and Lincoln 1998: 3)

Qualitative research is many things at the same time. Its practitioners are sensitive to the value of the multimethod approach. They are committed to the naturalistic perspective, and to the interpretive understanding of human experience

(Nelson et al. 1992: 4)

These definitions contain three key characteristics. First, qualitative research is considered interpretive. This means that the studied artifacts are not statistically countable and that they can not be objectively determined. Instead, multiple subjective perceptions are possible. Second, multiple methods are used. Most qualitative researchers use several methods in the same study, for instance interviews, observations and document analysis. Third, it is naturalistic (in sito). ‘Things’ are studied in their natural environment. The researcher often visits the object of study (e.g. an organization) to

gather data, taking the setting of the studied object into account in the data analysis.