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, with 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
May 23, 2014
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 methods 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 survey 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 into 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
March 30, 2014
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 “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
February 26, 2014
A graduate course in qualitative research methods may be framed around discussions of the particular theoretical or philosophical paradigms – belief systems or world view – 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
February 17, 2014
Every week new email invitations arrive asking me to participate in an online survey concerning some product or service I recently used. And each time, as I read the stated reasons why I should comply with the request, I find myself taking a mental inventory of what I know or don’t know about the subject matter, what I can or cannot recall about my user experience, how positive or not positive the user experience was, and how important I think this product or service is in my life to be worthy of my time to answer their survey questions.
Last week I was asked by one of my trade organizations to participate in an online survey about their quarterly magazine. Or is it a monthly magazine? Maybe every two months? I am not sure, but I do know that I receive it and I read it. I stared at the email invitation taking the usual inventory, sifting through my usual battery of qualifying questions, pondering whether I should complete this survey or not. Yes, I told myself, I remember receiving this magazine, I know that I read it when it arrives, but do I really have anything to say about this magazine? My opinion of this magazine falls in some neutral territory Read Full Text
Designing Research to Understand How People Think: The Bridge that Connects Quantitative & Qualitative Research
January 15, 2014
In 2013, Research Design Review posted five articles that directly speak to common design considerations in quantitative and qualitative research that address the basic goal of understanding how people think. These common concerns, and the articles where they are discussed, include: using effective content analysis procedures to reveal underlying subjective connections for each respondent/participant (“Content Analysis & Navigating the Stream of Consciousness”); the importance of design approaches that target people’s stories (“‘Tell Me What Happened’ & Other Stories”); research designs that incorporate good listening techniques with appropriate, well-constructed questions (“Listening: A Lesson from New Coke”); utilizing qualitative research to examine the thinking that helps explain quantitative data (“Looking Under the Hood: What Survey Researchers Can Learn from Deceptive Product Reviews”); and the role of Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 (intuitive) and System 2 (cognitive) thinking framework in considering behavior in the marketplace (“Fast & Slow Thinking in Research Design”).
These five articles have been compiled into one pdf document that can be accessed here. Anyone who has read this blog since its inception in 2009 knows that a recurring theme revolves around research design issues that impact how well (or not) researchers gain an understanding of how people think. There is no reason to believe that the tradition won’t continue in 2014.
January 6, 2014
Research Design Review published 13 articles in 2013 that dealt explicitly with qualitative research design. These range from general topics – such as the “10 Distinctive Qualities of Qualitative Research,” Unilever’s accreditation program (and the absence of design considerations in its priorities), and the “messiness” (even scariness) of qualitative research design to quantitative-leaning researchers and/or clients with a discussion on ways to overcome their trepidation – to method-specific issues – such as the implications of group composition and interactions in focus group research, the roles of “analytical sensibilities” and deception in ethnography, and the unique design factors associated with multi-method, case-centered research. And, while all of the articles discuss quality design measures in some fashion, several posts extend quality considerations to particular facets of the research process, such as participant cooperation, the use of projective techniques, data validation, proposal writing, and the reporting of design in the final research document.
The 13 articles on qualitative research design from RDR in 2013 have been compiled into one pdf document which can be accessed here. As always, it is hoped that greater awareness of the issues impinging on quality in qualitative research design will foster a greater appreciation for and discussion of these issues leading to more credible, analyzable, transparent, and ultimately more useful qualitative research studies.