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 recent 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
January 30, 2015
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 that 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: http://www.designboom.com/history/friedrich2.html
December 16, 2014
Survey research is pretty good at allowing people to describe “things” in such a way that the researcher winds up with a fairly accurate idea of the thing being described. The most straight-forward example is a survey question that asks, “Which of the following features came with your new Toyota Corolla?” followed by a list of possible features. However, survey research can also get at descriptions of more experiential phenomena with questions such as, “On a scale from ‘1’ to ‘5’, how does each of the following statements describe your experience in buying a new home?” In these cases, the use of survey methods to research a great number of people, and compile and report the data as efficiently as possible, make good use of closed-ended questions to gain an understanding of respondents’ accounts of the “things” of interest. This can also be said of beliefs. Pew’s recent survey pertaining to the Christmas story that asked, Read Full Text
The fourth edition of Michael Quinn Patton’s book Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods has just been published by Sage. It is a big book – over 800 pages – with updated and new content from earlier editions, including something he calls “ruminations” which are highlighted sections in each chapter that present Patton’s commentary and reflections on issues that have “persistently engaged, sometimes annoyed” him throughout his long career in qualitative research. Patton has made some of these ruminations available online via his posts on the betterevaluation.org blog.
In his November 14th post, Patton shares his “Rumination #2: Confusing empathy with bias.” In it, he raises an important issue – having to do with the personal nature of qualitative research and how that impacts data collection – that, on some level, runs through the qualitative-quantitative debates waged by researchers who argue for one form of research over another. Such a debate might involve a survey researcher who, entrenched in statistical analysis, wonders, Read Full Text
November 22, 2014
Back in April 2013, a post in RDR talked about the “daunting job of conducting a content analysis that reveals how people think [the “stream of consciousness”] while at the same time answers the research question and takes the sponsoring client to the next step.” The article outlines the basic steps in a content analysis, including the analysis and interpretation phases of the process. Making interpretations from a content analysis are tricky things, esp., when conducting a “primary content analysis” when the content being analyzed is derived from non-research-related, pre-existing sources such as newspapers, blog posts, Hollywood films, YouTube videos, television broadcasts, and the like. The issue here is the “trap” content analysts can fall into by (a) thinking there are causal relationships in the data when there are not, and/or (b) trying to build a story in the shape of their interpretations when the story (based on the data) has little merit. In this way, an overabundance of subjectivity can creep into the qualitative content analysis method.
These traps, related to causality and storytelling, are fairly easy to fall into unless a systematic and conscientious approach is taken in the analysis and interpretation phases. In particular, Read Full Text
October 27, 2014
Researchers know that “good” survey questionnaire design begins with a preliminary qualitative research phase that serves to expose the nuances of the research topic or category – such as the most pertinent issues and the relevant concerns or “issues within the issues” – along with the manner by which the target population talks about these issues – that is, the particular words, expressions, and terminology used by the target group. In this way, the survey researcher can hope to create user-friendly survey questions that speak to respondents rather than at respondents.
A preliminary qualitative phase is good and necessary, but employing the talents of a qualitative researcher during survey question development is an equally-important step. Qualitative researchers spend much of their lives listening to people talk about a host of attitudinal and behavioral issues, listening to the use of language, and using these conversations to interpret Read Full Text
October 13, 2014
Qualitative research is not any one thing. It is clearly not any one method but it is also not any one technique or process. Much of the diversity in how and in what manner qualitative research is utilized can be attributed to the researcher’s particular discipline or field of study. This is because each area of study brings with it its own set of priorities and concerns that mandate a particular qualitative approach. Importantly, this provides an opportunity for all qualitative researchers to extend their reach to learn from other researchers both within and outside their own disciplines. By broadening their boundaries and world view of what constitutes qualitative research, researchers can make better – more informed – choices in the development and implementation of their research designs.
Here are just a few examples of how the qualitative-research focus can vary across Read Full Text
September 30, 2014
With a lot of discussion about new methods of observation among qualitative researchers – in-the-moment mobile research and the like – it is terrific to witness an increasing appreciation of broader contexts. This perspective embraces the idea that individual behavior and thought are not so easily and singularly confined to any one moment in time. One could argue that it is because of this new-found obsession with observation that many researchers have come to discover – as if for the first time – the essential role that context plays in our qualitative studies. In this way, observational research – a method often bypassed for focus groups and other qualitative methods in the past – has led the research community into what is becoming a growing and healthy dialogue concerning the contextual nature of being human. Here are just four contributors to the dialogue that have recently come my attention:
An interview with Christian Madsbjerg at ReD Associates appears in the September issue of Marketing News – “What it Means to be Human” by Elisabeth A. Sullivan. In it, Madsbjerg asserts that “people are different from the way that we research them,” emphasizing the point that “the respondent is not a person” but rather “an ecology of people, a culture of people” Read Full Text