The Virtue of Recordings in Qualitative Analysis

A February 2017 article posted in Research Design Review discusses qualitative data transcripts and, specifically, the potential pitfalls when depending only on transcripts in the qualitative analysis process. As stated in the article,

Although serving a utilitarian purpose, transcripts effectively convert the all-too-human research experience that defines qualitative inquiry to the relatively emotionless drab confines of black-on-white text. Gone is the profound mood swing that descended over the participant when the interviewer asked about his elderly mother. Yes, there is text in the transcript that conveys some aspect of this mood but only to the extent that the participant is able to articulate it. Gone is the tone of voice that fluctuated depending on what aspect of the participant’s hospital visit was being discussed. Yes, the transcriptionist noted a change in voice but it is the significance and predictability of these voice changes that the interviewer grew to know over time that is missing from the transcript. Gone is an understanding of the lopsided interaction in the focus group discussion among teenagers. Yes, the analyst can ascertain from the transcript that a few in the group talked more than others but what is missing is the near-indescribable sounds dominant participants made to stifle other participants and the choked atmosphere that pervaded the discussion along with the entire group environment.

Missing from this article is an explicit discussion of the central role audio and/or video recordings – that accompany verbal qualitative research modes, e.g., face-to-face and telephone group discussions and in-depth interviews (IDIs) – play in the analysis of qualitative data. Researchers who routinely utilize recordings during analysis are more likely to derive valid interpretations of the data while also staying connected to Read Full Text

The Unique Quality of Qualitative Content Analysis

A unique attribute of qualitative content analysis is the focus on a continual process of revising and developing meanings in the data based on new discoveries. Unlike quantitative content analysts who set their coding scheme early in the research process — typically modifying it only slightly or not at all during data collection — qualitative researchers methodically and frequently revisit the content they are studying to better understand each relevant piece as well as its relationship to the entire context from which it was chosen (sampled), thereby modifying how and what they are coding throughout the data collection period. In this way, and as Krippendorff (2013) points out, qualitative content analysis puts the analyst in a hermeneutic circle1 whereby interpretations are reformulated based on new insights related to, for example, a larger context.

This more flexible, less rigid, approach to content analysis also embraces the notion of multiple meanings derived from multiple sources. A case in point is triangulation, which is used in qualitative analysis to verify the analyst’s interpretations by considering alternative points of view or analyzing deviant cases. It is this more far-reaching consideration of the data — along with the added support of the research participants’ verbatim comments that are typically included in the final research document — that is indicative of the unique qualities of the qualitative approach.

Indeed, it is the inductive strategy in search of latent content, the use of context, the back-and-forth flexibility throughout the analytical process, and the continual questioning of preliminary interpretations that set qualitative content analysis apart from the quantitative method.

Adapted from Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, p. 233-234.

1Krippendorff (2013) uses the concept of the “hermeneutic circle” in content analysis to mean that “text is interpreted relative to an imagined context, and these interpretations in turn reconstruct the context for further examination of the same or subsequently available text” (p. 259).

Krippendorff, K. (2013). Content analysis (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.

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The “Real Ethnography” of Michael Agar

Several years ago, when working on Applied Qualitative Research Design, I began reading the works of Michael Agar. To simply say that Agar was an anthropologist would be cutting him short; and, indeed, Anthropology News, in an article published shortly after Agar’s death in May 2017, described him as

“a linguistic anthropologist, a cultural anthropologist, almost an South Asianist, a drug expert, a medical anthropologist, an applied anthropologist, a practicing anthropologist, a public anthropologist, a professional anthropologist, a professional stranger, a theoretical anthropologist, an academic anthropologist, an independent consultant, a cross cultural consultant, a computer modeler, an agent-based modeler, a complexity theorist, an environmentalist, a water expert, a teacher…”

One doesn’t need to look far to be enlightened as well as entertained by Mike Agar – On the “Scribblings” page of his Ethknoworks website, he lightheartedly rants about the little money most authors make in royalties stating “If you divide money earned by time invested in writing and publishing, you’ll see that you’d do better with a paper route in Antarctica.” It may be this combined ability to enlighten and entertain that drew me to Agar and keeps me ever mindful of the words he has written and the ideas he instilled.

For some reason I come back to his 2006 article “An Ethnography By Any Other Name…”. In it, Agar explores the question “What is a real ethnography?” with discussions of debates (“tension”) between anthropologists and sociologists, and about various nuances such as whether applied anthropology is actually “real” given that “ethnography no longer meant a year or more by yourself in a village far Read Full Text