Too often qualitative researchers present their findings with an assertion along the lines of, ‘We conducted 25 focus groups with a total of 250 participants making this study more quantitative than qualitative’; or ‘We conducted 10 online bulletin boards with 15 participants in each divided between males and females, so we wound up with good quantitative apples-and-orangesdata’; or ‘We planned on conducting 30 qualitative in-depth interviews (IDIs) but extended the research to include 100 interviews so that we can quantify the results.’ Unfortunately, comments like these reflect a misguided attempt to equate apples with oranges – lumping them both into the category of “fruit” although their essence – the properties that characterize them – are radically different.

Conducting a lot of qualitative research does not transform it into a quantitative study. To say otherwise, assumes that the only distinguishing factor between a qualitative and quantitative research design is the number of participants or respondents who contribute to the research outcomes. This way of thinking would deem Read Full Text

The idea of conducting qualitative “research” by way of simply listening in on conversations posted on various social media venues is, from a research design perspective, curious. It is curious Conversationbecause the business of understanding how people think (i.e., the business of marketing and social research) has never been about just hearing them talk, reading their words, and/or observing their behavior. While capturing this information may prove interesting and in some circumstances useful (e.g., counting the number of mentions of a competitive brand or variations in reactions to a new product introduction), it is not good enough when the intent is to learn about underlying perceptions and motivations.

This issue is discussed throughout Research Design Review but most notably in a September 2011 post where the distinction is made between social media monitoring and Read Full Text

Greg Allenby, marketing chair at Ohio State’s business school, published an article in the May/June issue of Marketing Insights on heterogeneity or, more specifically, on the idea that 1) accounting for individual differences is essential to understanding Conundrumthe “why” and “how” that lurks within research data and 2) research designs often mask these differences by neglecting the relative nature of the constructs under investigation. For instance, research concerning preference or satisfaction is useful to the extent it helps explain why and how people think differently as it relates to their preferences or levels of satisfaction, yet these are inherently relative constructs that only hold meaning if the researcher understands the standard (the “point of reference”) by which the current question of preference or satisfaction is being weighed – i.e., my preference (or satisfaction) compared to…what? Since the survey researcher is rarely if ever clued-in on respondents’ points of reference, it would be inaccurate to make direct comparisons such as stating that someone’s product preference is two times greater compared to someone else’s.

The embedded “relativeness” associated with responding to constructs such as preference and satisfaction is just one of the pesky problems inherent in designing this type of research. A related but different problem revolves around the personal interpretation given Read Full Text

Qualitative and quantitative research methods have always, in some shape or form, sat side-by-side in research design. It is difficult to find any serious quantitative study, for instance, that didn’t set out with a preliminary qualitative phase to help steer its course, Dawnwith survey researchers quick to quip, ‘Oh yes, we conducted a few groups before designing the questionnaire’. And yet, it is typically the quantitative research phase that gains the spotlight in mixed-method designs, where the survey process and resulting data play starring roles, while the qualitative research component acts in a supporting albeit lesser and infrequently scrutinized role in the overall design.

This tale of submission is being turned on its head as a quiet revolution stirs to more boldly integrate and elevate qualitative methods in the research scheme. Nowhere is this movement – or dare we say, Read Full Text

One of the most meaningful concepts in qualitative research is that of “Othering”; that is, the concept of “us” versus “them” that presents itself (knowingly or not) in the researcher-participant interaction. Othering is an important idea across all qualitative stereotypingmethods but it is in the in-depth interview – where the intensity of the interviewer-interviewee relationship is pivotal to the quality of outcomes – which the notion of Othering takes on particular relevance. As discussed elsewhere in Research Design Review, the interviewer-interviewee relationship in IDI research fosters an “asymmetrical power” environment, one in which the researcher (the interviewer) is in a position to make certain assumptions – and possibly misperceptions – about the interviewee that ultimately play a role in the final interpretations and reporting of the data. It is this potentially uneven power relationship that is central to the reflexive journal (which is discussed repeatedly in this blog).

In 2002, Qualitative Social Work published an article by Michal Krumer-Nevo titled, “The Arena of Othering: A Life-Story with Women Living in Poverty and Social Marginality.”1 This is a very Read Full Text

It is a common misperception among researchers that the analysis of research data is a process that is confined to the data itself. This is probably truer among qualitative researchers than Looking beyondsurvey researchers given that the latter frequently publish their work in the literature comparing and contrasting their data with relevant earlier studies. Qualitative research, on the other hand, is typically held up to less scrutiny; and, except for the usual comparisons of populations segments, it is rare to find an analytical discussion that goes beyond the patterns and themes derived from the qualitative data itself. This may be for any number of reasons. It may be associated with the idea that qualitative research by definition is chock full of uncontrollable variables that vary from study to study making data comparisons across studies unreliable, or it may be researchers’ unfamiliarity Read Full Text

As qualitative and quantitative researchers who explore the thinking and doing of human beings, we are nothing without the willing cooperation from our research participants. We pool them women said, woman listening to gossipinto a sample, then we contact them, we screen them, we coax them, we adhere to strict reminder protocols to motivate their interest and lure them into submission, and then… And then we are disappointed, bemused, and sometimes a bit angry at participants’ sub-par performance as actors in our research production (be it, for example, a focus group discussion or online survey). Just in the past week, I have read lengthy discussions from researchers who describe their participants as “demons,” “lazy,” “cynics,” or “hostiles” because they have not paid their due respects to our quest for true knowledge but rather undermine our efforts by speaking too much or too critically in a focus group, or speeding through a survey questionnaire.

So, where the research participant was initially cajoled with assurances of their importance – “Your Opinion Counts!” – as well as our endearing gratitude for their cooperation, Read Full Text

In November 2012, Research Design Review posted an article titled, “Interviewer Bias & Reflexivity in Qualitative Research.” This article talks about why self-reflection is an important and necessary step for qualitative researchers to take in order to address reflections-cranes“the distortions or preconceptions researchers’ unwittingly introduce in their qualitative designs.” Although the article focuses on the need for reflection as it relates to the potential for bias in the in-depth interview (IDI) method, the relatively¹ intimate, social component of qualitative research generally and other methods specifically – focus groups, ethnography, narrative – make them equally susceptible to researcher biases and suppositions.

The outcomes from a qualitative study are only as good as the data the researcher returns from the field. And one of the biggest threats to the quality of the research data is the ever-present Read Full Text

Research of any kind that is interested in the human subject is interested in finding meaning.  It Meaningis typically not enough to know that a behavior has occurred without knowing the significance of that behavior for the individual.  Even survey research, with its reliance on mostly preconceived closed-ended questions, is designed with some hope that sense (i.e., meaning) can be derived by cross tabbing data from one question with another, factor analyzing, t-testing, z-testing, regressing, correlating, and any number of statistical techniques.

Yet, it is qualitative research that is usually in charge of finding meaning.  It is not good enough to know who does what, for how long, or in what manner.  Qualitative researchers are not so Read Full Text

A graduate course in qualitative research methods may be framed around discussions of the particular theoretical or philosophical paradigms – belief systems or world viewunity – that qualitative researchers use in varying degrees to orient their approach for any given study.  And, indeed, if the instructor is using popular texts such as those from Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln  (2011) or John Creswell (2013), among many others, students would be learning first about the different implications and approaches associated with various paradigm orientations, followed by (or along with) the corresponding methodological considerations.

There have been over the years debates in the academic qualitative research community about how best to identify and talk about these paradigms as well as quality concerns related to conducting research based around any one of these belief systems.  In the broadest sense, the most oft-discussed paradigms in qualitative research are: postpositivism – often allied with a more quantitative approach where the emphasis is on maintaining objectivity and controlling variables in order to approximate “reality”; constructivism or interpretivism – in which the belief is not hinged to one objective reality but multiple Read Full Text

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