COMM 3740 Qualitative Research Methods

Instructor information

Name: Christy Maurer, PhD
Virtual Office Hours: by email and appointment
Questions? Please reach out with questions to Dr. Christy Maurer (, the Communication Department’s Director of Online Programs.

About the Course

Research is the process of learning things we don’t know, and qualitative research seeks to learn more about the quality of human experience—especially in terms of meaning, interpretation, and understanding. This course provides an understanding of how communication research is conducted in natural settings using qualitative research methods, “an umbrella term covering an array of interpretive techniques which seek to describe, decode, translate, and otherwise come to terms with the meaning, not the frequency, of certain more or less naturally occurring phenomena in the social world” (Van Maanen, 1983, p. 9).

NOTE: In particular, the course focuses on ethnographic methods of observation, site participation, and interview. It expects students to develop and complete a qualitative research study within the semester, requiring students to conduct interviews and participant observation in off-line locations for multiple weeks of the semester. A prior understanding of communication concepts is strongly recommended.


Requisites: Restricted to students with 57-180 credits (Junior or Senior) Communication (COMM or COMN) majors or minors only.
Recommended: Prerequisites COMM 1210 and COMM 1600.

Course Outline

In this asynchronous class, we will not meet for regularly scheduled class sessions. Your work across the semester is guided by the instructor through online materials, assignments, and feedback, as well as reaching them through office hours as needed. Some live meetings may be scheduled, offering you a variety for days and times to select from. You will take part in online regular class discussion boards to explore ideas and connect with peers.  This class expects your consistent and substantive contributions engaging with the materials, peers, and the instructor, by logging in to post across multiple days of every week.

Course materials and assignments are organized into units across the semester, through which you build knowledge and develop skills, culminating in the final project. Together, we explore communication in our world from a critical perspective, considering how interactions are affected by identities and ideologies. Here at CU, Communication classes strive to embody our CRAFT: Creativity in what we produce; Relational connections between people, communities, and ideas; Analytical in our understanding; Flexible across professional fields; and Transformative for society.


By the end of the course you should be able to:

  • Identify the communicative aspects of social phenomena, discussing how to conceptualize issues as communication problems
  • Recognize and describe the role of qualitative research in our society, and applications of qualitative research in a variety of contexts.
  • Identify and explain philosophical assumptions and theoretical concepts informing the use of qualitative methods to study communication.
  • Design, plan, and complete an ethical qualitative communication research project, including: composing a research question; assessing and justifying when to use what types of research methods; employing qualitative research methods of participant observation, ethnographic methods, and in-depth interviewing (and, to a lesser degree, document analysis) to collect data; analyzing data; offering recommendations about communicative practices based on collected data
  • Improve your research, writing, and critical thinking skills, as well as engage with ideas of your classmates

Required Texts

  • Sarah J. Tracy (2020). Qualitative Research Methods:  2nd Edition (John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ). ISBN: 9781119390787
  • Additional readings and viewings accessed through Canvas


*assignment and weighted value may be adjusted to suit the needs of the class.

  • Unit Quizzes 10%
  • Practicum Assignments 10%
  • Final Project (across steps) 35%
  • Final Presentation 5%
  • Weekly Discussions 30%
  • Class Membership Tasks & Participation 10%



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Monday – Friday
8:00am to 5:00pm


We are located at the corner of University Avenue and 15th Street in a white brick building.


1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado