There are certain types of qualitative research studies that employ more than one qualitative research method to explore a particular topic or phenomenon, i.e., the researcher uses multiple Multiplesmethods. These studies generally fall into the category of case study or narrative research, which are both designated by the label of “case-centered research.” The attributes that differentiate these forms of research from other qualitative approaches were discussed in an earlier Research Design Review post (“Multi-method & Case-centered Research: When the Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts”). These differentiating attributes are largely associated with the use of multiple methods to gain a complete understanding of complex Read Full Text

Last week at the AAPOR 70th Annual Conference in Florida, Paul Lavrakas and I taught a “short course” on qualitative research design. The bulk of the class was spent on applying the unique constructs and techniques associated with the Total Quality Framework (TQF) to five qualitative research methods – in-depth interviews, focus group ducks-in-a-row-threediscussions, ethnography, qualitative content analysis, and case-centered research (i.e., case study and narrative research). But before jumping into the application of the TQF, we began by talking about the distinctive attributes of qualitative research, particularly the emphasis on context and interconnectedness that is inherent in qualitative data. Indeed, we stressed the complexity – the “messiness” – of qualitative data collection and analysis, along with the unparalleled researcher skills (such as flexibility) needed to perform high-quality and ultimately useful qualitative research.

This course was one of a handful of discussions pertaining to qualitative research at a conference that is heavily weighted toward survey methods. As both a Read Full Text

In “‘I Wonder About God’ & Other Poorly-Designed Questions” (Research Design Review, July 25, 2012), it is argued that weak survey question design has a “potentially negative impact on Sunflower lightanalysis, which in turn leads to wrong conclusions, which in turn leads end users along a path of misguided next steps.” As one of several examples, this article highlights the ambiguity embedded in SurveyMonkey’s “The God Survey”; specifically, the problematic first question that asks how often “I wonder about God.” Poorly-designed questions raise serious concerns about how or if the researcher can legitimately analyze the resulting data (while also tackling issues of reliability and validity), a concern made more profound by the frequent failure to even consider the alternative interpretations respondents may give to survey questions. By failing to Read Full Text

The analysis of qualitative research data is no small thing. Because the very nature of qualitative research is complicated by the complexities inherent injigsaw being human, attempting to qualitatively measure and then make sense of behavior and attitudes is daunting. In fact, it is this overwhelming aspect of qualitative research that may lead researchers – who live in the real world of time and budget constraints – to succumb to a less-than-rigorous analytical process.

And yet, Analyzability* is a critical component in qualitative research design.

All of the data collection in the world – all the group discussions, IDIs, observations, storytelling, or in-the-moment research – amounts to a meaningless exercise unless and until a methodical processing and verification of the data is conducted. Without the thoughtful work required to achieve a quality research product, qualitative data simply sits as an inert compilation of discrete elements lacking import.

Finding the connections in the qualitative data that make sense of the phenomenon, concept, or construct under investigation may, for some, be difficult and worthy of shortcuts; but proper analysis is the only thing that separates an honest, professional qualitative study from a random amalgamation of conversations or online snapshots.

In April of last year, this blog discussed one facet of Analyzability, i.e., verification. Verification, however, only comes after the researcher has conducted the all-important processing phase that converts qualitative data – that amalgamation of discrete elements – into meaningful connections that give rise to interpretations and implications, and the ultimate usefulness, of the research.

A quality approach to qualitative research design necessitates a well-thought-out plan for finding connections and making sense of the data. Here are six recommended steps in that process*:

•  Select the unit of analysis – a subject matter, an activity, a complete narrative or interview.
•  Develop unique codes – an iterative process utilizing a codebook that pays particular attention to context to derive explicit, closely-defined code designations.
•  Code – a dynamic process that incorporates pretesting of codes, inter-coder checks, and coder retraining as necessary.
•  Identify categories – a group of codes that share an underlying construct.
•  Identify themes or patterns – by looking at the coding overall and the identified categories to reveal the essence of the outcomes. This is made easier by way of visual displays via various programs such as PowerPoint and CAQDAS**.
Draw interpretations and implications – from scrutinizing the coded and categorized data as well as ancillary materials such as reflexive journals, coders’ coding forms (with their comments), and other supporting documents.


* Analyzability is one of four components of the Total Quality Framework. This framework and the six general steps in qualitative research analysis are discussed fully in Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller, M. R. & Lavrakas, P. J., 2015).

** Computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software, such as nVivo, Atlas.ti, MAXQDA.

Image captured from:

Every researcher working with human subjects strives to ensure the highest ethical standards. Regardless of whether the research is quantitative or qualitative in fingerprint-illusions-6nature – or in the field of health, communications, education, psychology, marketing, anthropology, or sociology – researchers care about protecting the confidentiality, anonymity, and basic “rights” (such as privacy and freedom of thought) of the people who agree to be part of their studies. It is with this in mind that, in addition to gaining IRB approval (as required), researchers openly discuss the goals and intended use of their research with participants, as well as asking them to carefully read and agree to the appropriate consent forms. Online group discussions (focus groups) present a particularly delicate matter. Unlike any other overt form of research – unlike an online survey dominated by closed-end questions, or an online in-depth interview with one person at any moment in time – the online group discussion – with its amalgamation of many people (typically, strangers to each other) responding at length to many open-ended questions over the course of multiple (possibly, many) days – potentially raises important security and identity concerns among participants. Even with a signed consent form, online group participants may still have serious doubts about the containment of their input to the discussion and, hence, their willingness to contribute Read Full Text

Transparency plays a pivotal role in the final product of any research study. It is by revealing the study’s intricacies and details in the final document that the ultimate consumers of the research gain the understanding they need to (a) fully comprehend chocolatethe people, phenomena, and context under investigation; (b) assign value to the interpretations and recommendations; and/or (c) transfer some aspect of the study to other contexts. Transparency, and its importance to the research process, has been discussed often in this blog, with articles in November 2009 and December 2012 devoted to the topic.

At the core of transparency is the notion of “thick description.” The use of the term here goes beyond its traditional meaning of

“describing and interpreting observed social action (or behavior) within its particular context…[along with] the thoughts and feelings of participants as well as the often complex web of relationships among them. Thick meaning of findings leads readers to a sense of verisimilitude, wherein they can cognitively and emotively ‘place’ themselves within the research context”  (Ponterotto, 2006, p. 543).

to also include detailed information pertaining to data collection and analysis. Ethnography, for example, is greatly enriched (“thickened”) by the reporting of specifics in 25 areas related to the: Read Full Text

In all sorts of research it is common to ask not only about behavior – When did you first begin smoking cigarettes? How often do you take a multivitamin? Where did you go on your most recent vacation? – but also the “why” and/or “what” questions – What prompted you to start smoking? Why do you take a multivitamin? Why did you pick that particular spot for your most Just-the-Facts-Maamrecent vacation? It is usual for the researcher to want to know more than just what happened. The researcher’s goal is typically to go beyond behavior, with a keen interest in getting to the thinking that can be linked with the behavior. It is this “probing” that enables the researcher to make associations and otherwise interpret – give meaning to – the data.

This is, after all, what keeps marketing researchers up at night. It is difficult to remember a time when marketing researchers were not obsessed with the reasons people buy certain products/services and not others. Whether rational or irrational, conscious or Read Full Text

If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to take a look at Kenneth Gergen’s video on “Social Constructionist Ideas, Theory and Practice.” In it, Dr. GergenSocial Construction provides an overview of how social constructionists think and how such thinking can (and should) apply to real-world matters. Social constructionism is not one thing, not one theory or approach, but rather a “creative resource” that enables a new, expanded way of talking and thinking about concepts. Indeed, it might be said that a constructionist view is one where all so-called “realities” are conceptual in nature, a product of our own personal “baggage” (values) and the relationship we have with the object of our experience (e.g., a person, a product, an event).

In this way, a social constructionist orientation is devoid of the notions pertaining to “truth,” objectivity, and value neutrality; embracing instead the idea that “truth” is elusive while Read Full Text

As discussed elsewhere in this blog, there is a “new day” dawning for qualitative research; one that not only brings new life into its use but, along with it, an evolving enthusiasm for the idea The human conditionthat researchers of any ilk cannot truly grapple with human behavior and attitudes without an understanding of contexts, constructs, and the human condition. It is truly gratifying, for instance, to watch this enthusiasm grow in organizations such as the American Psychological Association where just this month a featured article in the American Psychologist is titled, “The Promises of Qualitative Inquiry” (Gergen, Josselson, & Freeman, 2015).

In 2014, Research Design Review published four articles pertaining to the ways survey research can be “made whole” with a nod to the use and/or sensitivities of qualitative research. This is because it is the role of qualitative research to unlock the human condition in our research by providing the context and meaning to constructs that define what is being measured. Without a direct or underlying qualitative research component, how is the survey researcher to understand – be comfortable in the knowledge of – his or her analysis and interpretation of the data?

These articles emphasize the challenges survey researchers face when they ask about vague yet highly-personal constructs – such as “the good life,” “happiness,” “satisfaction,” “preference,” or (even) the idea of “actively” incorporating “fruits” and “vegetables” in the diet – without the benefit of context or meaning from the respondent, or at least a concise definition by the researcher.

These four articles have been compiled into one document which can be downloaded here.

Gergen, K. J., Josselson, R., & Freeman, M. (2015). The promises of qualitative inquiry. American Psychologist, 70(1), 1-9.

Image captured from:

Research Design Review was first published in November 2009 2014 qualitative research designand currently includes over 110 articles concerning quantitative and qualitative research design issues.  “Qualitative Research Design: Selected Articles from Research Design Review Published in 2014″ is a compilation of 13 articles that were published in 2014 devoted to qualitative research design. To some extent, all of these articles revolve around the idea that adopting quality standards in qualitative research design is critical to the credibility, analyzability, transparency, and usefulness of the outcomes; with the first article making the case that quality issues transcend the paradigm debates.

Because analysis is often deemed the most difficult part of a qualitative study, a number of the articles in this collection pertain to “finding meaning,” data verification, and inference, along with discussions on reflexivity as an important contributor to the analytical process. These articles also touch on newer channels and modes in qualitative research, such as social media and mobile, as well as the evolving stature of qualitative research in areas such as psychology and political science.

The following Table of Contents presents the titles of the 13 articles included in this paper:

1. The Transcendence of Quality Over Paradigms in Qualitative Research

2. Finding Meaning: 4 Reasons Why Qualitative Researchers Miss Meaning

3. Reflections from the Field: Questions to Stimulate Reflexivity Among Qualitative Researchers

4. Verification: Looking Beyond the Data in Qualitative Data Analysis

5. Resisting Stereotypes in Qualitative Research

6. The Elevation of Qualitative Research Design: The Dawning of a New Day

7. Turning Social Media Monitoring into Research: Don’t Be Afraid to Engage

8. If I Conduct a Large Qualitative Study with 100 Participants, is it Quantitative Research? Three Big Reasons Why the Answer is “No!”

9. Integrating Quality Features in Qualitative Mobile Research Design

10. Observational Research Nurtures a Growing Interest in Contexts

11. The Many Faces of Qualitative Research

12. Qualitative Content Analysis: The Challenge of Inference

13. Qualitative Research: Using Empathy to Reveal “More Real” & Less Biased Data


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 330 other followers

%d bloggers like this: