The Three Dominant Qualities of Qualitative Research

Among the 10 distinctive attributes associated with qualitative research, there are three that essentially encompass what it means to use qualitative characteristics of qualitative researchmethods – the importance of context, the importance of meaning, and the participant-researcher relationship. In fact, one could argue that these constitute the three dominant qualities of qualitative research in that they help to define or otherwise contribute to the essence of the remaining seven attributes. The “absence of absolute ‘truth’,” for instance, is an important aspect of qualitative research that is closely associated with the research (in-depth interview, focus group, observation) environment where the dominant attributes of context, meaning, and participant-researcher interactions take place. As stated in a November 2016 Research Design Review article, the “absence of absolute ‘truth’”

refers to the idea that the highly contextual and social constructionist nature of qualitative research renders data that is, not absolute “truth” but, useful knowledge that is the matter of the researcher’s own subjective interpretation.

Similarly, there is a close connection between the “researcher as instrument” attribute and the three dominant qualities of context, meaning, and the participant-researcher relationship. A July 2016 RDR article described the association this way: Read Full Text

The Many Facets of a Meaningful Qualitative Report

Reporting in qualitative research, and particularly the element of transparency, has been the topic of various articles in Research Design Review (see “Reporting Qualitative Research: A Model of Transparency,” “Reporting Ethnography: Storytelling & the Roles Participants Play,” qualitative research reportingand others). While all types of research require complete and accurate reporting, the final report appears to be discussed less frequently compared to other aspects of the research process. This is certainly true in qualitative research. Just a look around RDR will prove the point that a greater emphasis has been paid to other research design areas – such as data collection and analysis – than to the actual reporting of the findings.

This needs to change. One could argue that the final written report is the most important component of the research process, the component that not only serves to document the study from beginning to end but also transforms qualitative research into a tangible, living “being” for the research users to grab hold of and utilize in any number of ways. Without the report, our research might as well not exist. This makes one wonder why relatively scant attention is paid to best practices in reporting and, indeed, why the final report in some research sectors  (e.g., marketing research) is often reduced to a less-than-comprehensive, fully-bulleted PowerPoint slide deck.

For anyone interested in a serious discussion of the many facets of the qualitative report, an excellent resource is Focus Group Discussions by Monique Hennink (2014, Oxford University Press as part of their Understanding Qualitative Research series edited by Patricia Leavy). Although the book is centered on the focus group method, the chapters devoted to reporting offer relevant and useful guidance regardless of the qualitative approach. For example, Hennink’s chapter on “Writing Focus Group Methods,” discusses the challenges researchers face when attempting to give “methodological depth” to their reporting while also writing in a clear and concise manner. Using qualitative terminology such as purposive Read Full Text

The Five Observer Roles in Ethnography

There are many variations of observational research, both off-and online, but central to the ethnographic approach is the role of the observer. This role has to do with both the physical as well as the psychological or emotional distance between the observer and the observed, and can range from remote off-site observation to complete immersion and participation in the study activities.

Broadly speaking, the observer is conducting either nonparticipant or participant observation. In nonparticipant observation, the observer may be either off- or onsite; and, in participant observation, the observer may be passive, a participant-observer, or a complete participant. Importantly, the observer may switch roles in the course of a study, e.g., moving from an on-site nonparticipant observer to a passive observer, then a participant-observer, and then a complete participant. These five observer roles are depicted below.

ethnography observer roles

Nonparticipant Observation

As a nonparticipant, the observer is observing in an unobtrusive manner either remotely (off-site) or within the study environment (onsite). An off-site nonparticipant observation might be the study of an online community or forum without any Read Full Text