Many conversations about research design revolve around the common goal of maximizing response. Whether it is a quantitative or qualitative study, researchers routinely make design decisions that they hope will mitigate refusals and better the odds of obtaining reliable and valid emotional-dissonance-245x300responses to research questions. Survey and qualitative – focus group, in-depth interview, ethnographic – researchers carefully consider such things as sampling, mode, screening, survey request/recruiting, and overall questionnaire/outline design along with question wording, all with the desire to derive useful outcomes based on a sound approach to maximizing the actual number of people responding to the research request as well as the integrity of the responses received to the research questions.

An important dimension in research design is time; that is, the length of time it will take the survey respondent or qualitative participant to complete his/her involvement with the research. In this regard, questionnaire length (and complexity) is an obvious area of attention in survey research, with researchers such as Jepson, et al. (2005), Deutskens, et al. (2004), and others demonstrating an indirect relationship between length (e.g., in pages or word count) and response rate – the longer the questionnaire length, the lower rate of response. Likewise, Read Full Text

Is all qualitative research of equal value? Are the findings derived from one focus group study just as useful as those obtained from another focus group Scalesstudy? Are the outcomes from observational research or in-depth interviews (IDIs) valuable regardless of the design peculiarities (i.e., how the research was conducted)?

More specifically, what are the strengths and limitations of the design elements that inform the usefulness of research outcomes? Was the research objective and approach well-conceived, realistic? What was the sampling method? How was recruitment conducted? What procedures were in place to maximize cooperation and rapport, and minimize nonresponse? Was the moderator/observer/interviewer guide carefully thought out and designed to achieve the research objective (e.g., using a funnel approach to develop a moderator’s outline)? Is it clear how the researcher conducted the Read Full Text

An important lesson in research design is the idea of learning from past research in order to not repeat the “mistakes” from comparable research in a given area. In qualitative research, if recruiting participants via email has reaped mediocre levels of response and cooperation in the past, a different recruiting strategy (e.g., personal letters by way of FedEx followed by phone) would be adopted for future studies with this population segment.   And, if a particular moderating technique has not resulted in a dynamic and open focus group discussion on a certain topic, the researcher will dig deeper next time into the proverbial “toolbox” to find a more effective approach.

To facilitate the design process, while keeping in mind what has “worked” and “not worked” in the past, it is useful to create some type of grid or display of earlier research. This grid might include the researcher’s own work in the particular area of interest as well as that of others’ research published in peer-reviewed journals. For each study cited, the researcher’s display should include information pertaining to effective as well as ineffective elements of data collection. [NOTE: Similar grids could be developed relating to analysis and reporting.] For instance, a display looking at sampling and recruitment for face-to-face focus group research with cancer patients or survivors might look something like this: [NOTE: Click on image to enlarge]

Design display

By expanding the display and allowing it to guide the design process, the qualitative researcher can efficiently develop qualitative studies that build on past successes and result in useful outcomes.

Brown, R. F., Shuk, E., Leighl, N., Butow, P., Ostroff, J., Edgerson, S., & Tattersall, M. (2011). Enhancing decision making about participation in cancer clinical trials: Development of a question prompt list. Supportive Care in Cancer, 19(8), 1227–1238.

Ferrell, B. R., Grant, M. M., Funk, B., Otis-Green, S., & Garcia, N. (1997). Quality of life in breast cancer survivors as identified by focus groups. Psycho-Oncology, 6(1), 13–23.

Frazier, L. M., Miller, V. A., Horbelt, D. V., Delmore, J. E., Miller, B. E., & Paschal, A. M. (2010). Comparison of focus groups on cancer and employment conducted face to face or by telephone. Qualitative Health Research, 20(5), 617–627.

Research Design Review is a blog devoted to qualitative and quantitative research design issues. Yet, there is an imbalance in these discussions with many of the posts dedicated to qualitative design and methods. The reason boils down to the fact that there is simply a lot to say about qualitative design. And this is because relatively little is written or discussed in the research community in answer to such questions as, “What is the basis of sound qualitative research design?” “What are the necessary components to a ‘quality’ qualitative design?” and “How does the researcher effectively put into practice these quality design elements?” These are the questions routinely addressed among dedicated survey researchers yet too often absent in the qualitative orbit.

An underlying current running throughout RDR is the idea that quality design issues are important to all research, regardless of whether the researcher leans more to the qualitative or to the quantitative side of the equation. Pushing this idea one step further, there is an even more subtle suggestion lingering in RDR that researchers might do well to free themselves from their qualitative or quantitative “hats” and instead take on the mantle of Read Full Text

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