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Engaging Crystallization in Qualitative Research

Engaging Crystallization in Qualitative Research
An Introduction

August 2008 | 240 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

"This is the best book I have read in quite some time. Professor Ellingson writes clearly yet artfully and in a scholarly voice that is accessible to students and faculty alike. The weaving between description and illustrative case studies takes readers through the step-by-step journey of crystallization (as experienced and offered by Ellingson). The book is clearly grounded in philosophies of knowing and methods— yet, it offers practical strategies, questions, and choices for researchers."
— Lynn M. Harter, Ohio University

Engaging Crystallization in Qualitative Research, the first "how to" book to both explain and demonstrate crystallization methodology, offers a framework for blending grounded theory and other social scientific analyses with creative representations of data, such as narratives, poetry, and film. Author Laura L. Ellingson explores relevant epistemological questions that arise when crossing methodological boundaries, provides detailed steps for design and planning, offers guidelines for improving both social scientific and creative/artistic writing, and suggests strategies for targeting publication outlets for multigenre representations.


  • Articulates the principles of crystallization and how it enables researchers to both represent multiple perspectives on a phenomenon and highlight the partial nature of all claims of truth
  • Breaks down the qualitative research barriers between the grounded theorists and those who favor artistic, interpretive, and creative approaches, exemplifying the possibilities for all
  • Demonstrates the rich possibilities for blending social scientific, creative/artistic, and critical approaches to research
  • Provides hands-on strategies that help practitioners and students collect, analyze, and represent qualitative data through crystallization
  • Explores ethical challenges, the political nature of research findings, and the need for social justice activism among researchers
  • Illustrates concepts with exemplars, featuring cutting-edge research in social sciences, education, and allied health

Suitable for experienced practitioners and advanced students of qualitative methods, Engaging Crystallization in Qualitative Research is ideal for such courses as Intermediate/Advanced Qualitative Research, Ethnographic Methods, Grounded Theory, Field Research Methods, and Qualitative Inquiry.

1. Introduction to Crystallization
Constructing Crystallization

Considering Genres

Resisting Dichotomies: A Continuum of Qualitative Methods

Principles of Crystallization

Facets of the Crystal: Types of Crystallization

Strengths of Crystallization

Limitations of Crystallization

Ethnographic Exemplars

Organization of This Book

Conclusion: Frequently Asked Questions About Crystallization

Interlude: Introducing the Author

2. Ethics and Epistemology: Assumptions Underlying Crystallization
What Is Epistemology and Why Does It Matter in Crystallization?

Making Knowledge: An Epistemological Basis for Crystallization

Voicing Other and Self: Ethics of Representation

First Do No Harm: Some Ethical Cautions

Strategies for Ethical Decision Making in Crystallization


Interlude: The Limits of Genre--An Exercise About Ethics and the Construction of Claims

3. Illuminating Options for Analysis and Representation Across the Continuum
Traditional Forms of Analysis

Same Old, Same Old: The Value of Traditional Qualitative Writing

Aesthetics and Analysis: Hybrids of Art and Science

Aesthetic Possibilities: Creative Analytic Practices


Interlude: Resisting Dichotomy, Embracing Continuum

4. Strategies for Design: Putting Crystallization Into Practice

Weighing Your Options

Re/considering the Role of Theory

Decide on a Design


Interlude: Beware the Law of the Hammer

5. Bringing It All Together: Integrated Crystallization
Creating a Coherent Multigenre Text

Blending Genres and Blurring Boundaries: Woven Crystallization

Woven Crystallization Exemplars

Sharpening Edges and Separating Spaces: Patched Crystallization

Patched Crystallization Exemplars

Issues in Constructing Integrated Crystallization

Interlude: Quilting as Activism

6. All Apart: Dendritic Crystallization
Dendritic Practices

Benefits of Dendritic Crystallization

Dispersing Crystallized Findings

A Dendritic Exemplar

But Is This Really Crystallization?

Interlude: Coincidence, Synchronicity, and Putting It Out to the Universe

7. Writing Across the Continuum
Evaluating Writing and Representation

Improving your Process

Writing Well

Bag of Tricks


Interlude: Representing Difference

Writing Resources

8. Publishing and Promoting Crystallization
Lessons of Crystallization

Call to Action: Employing Crystallization to Promote Social Justice

Getting the World Out: Pursuing Publication

Justifying Your Work

Enclosing Wild Power: A Conclusion/Invitation

Interlude: When Your Work Is Rejected


"[This] book emphasizes effective communication and how to articulate complex information to an audience. Although the book is intended primarily for qualitative researchers, I believe it may be an equally important work for quantitative researchers. In reading this book, I have gained a deeper appreciation for qualitative research in general and a better understanding of how different methods can be applied toward understanding truth."

Karl N. Kelley
North Central College, Naperville

"The book's key strength is its informed style and uplifting optimism about the future not only of qualitative research but of research at large...the book offers many ideas for researchers to play with and is a thorough and illuminating introduction to the theories, procedures, and politics of qualitative inquiry and publishing."

Jimmie Manning
Northern Kentucky University
The Southern Communication Journal

Did not meet the needs for dissertation research design, however I am considering the book for my advanced qualitative methods course.

Patrick Jenlink
Secondary Leadership Educ Dept, Stephen F Austin State University
May 11, 2013
Key features
  • The first "how do" book that explains and demonstrates crystallization methodology.
  • Breaks down the qualititative research barriers between the grounded theory "camp" and those who favor artistic, interpretive, creative approaches—exposing the fertile ground found between these two poles and exemplifying the possibilities for all.
  • Extending upon the work presented in her multi-award-winning book, Communicating in the Clinic—wherein Ellingson modeled crystallization by alternating between grounded theory, ethnographic storytelling, and autoethnography—in this book she teaches others how to do it, providing practical guidance for researchers' and students' implementation, thereby de-mystifying the process.