Four Components of the Quality Framework for Qualitative Research Design

[NOTE: This article was written in 2011, four years before the Total Quality Framework (TQF) was fully developed. This article should only be used to provide a cursory understanding of the framework and the thinking behind the components. To view the final schematic and read a discussion of the TQF and its four components, click here.]

Qualitative research designs can benefit from being grounded in a quality framework.  Such a framework enables researchers to judge the efficacy of their research designs and build in design features that maximize the usefulness of the various qualitative research methods.  The quality framework provides a basis by which to examine the sources of variability and establish critical thinking in the process of qualitative research design.

Integral to the quality framework is the idea that all qualitative research must be: credible, analyzable, transparent, and useful.  These four components or criteria are fundamental to the quality framework and its ability to guide researchers in designing their qualitative research studies.

Total Quality FrameworkCredibility refers to the trustworthiness of the outcomes.  A design goal of qualitative research is to provide results that are reasonably known to be true within the particular parameters and limitations of the qualitative method.  Question-answer validity is one technique that fosters credibility.

Analyzability refers to the ability to analyze outcomes with a high degree of confidence.   In addition to the analytical process and use of verification, a qualitative research design that maximizes credibility will also maximize the researcher’s ability to provide a meaningful, accurate analysis.

Transparency refers to the researcher’s clarity in the reporting of the research design and process, and the ability to convey specific factors that impacted each aspect of the research.  Qualitative research should be reported with full knowledge of the contribution that each design element makes to the final results.

Usefulness refers to the ability to move the research pursuit forward, to take the researcher to the next step.  A useful qualitative research study results in new insights and hypotheses for further investigation.

An in-depth interview (IDI) study, for example, is one that is designed to

  • ensure a credible outcome by: using the appropriate mode (preferably face –to-face), building into the interview guide necessary rapport techniques, allowing plenty of time (at least an hour) for each interview which enables interviewees to expound on their input, and integrating probes that serve to crystalize the true meaning behind each response.
  • exclude any techniques or lines of questioning that will be impossible to analyze.  This includes projective exercises that require the re-interpretation of each response in order to understand the interviewee’s true meaning, e.g., the use of metaphors or analogies that are far flung from the issue being discussed.
  • strive for transparency by reporting details of the research design such as sampling – who, how, where the sample was derived – and steps that were taken to gain cooperation from participants, as well as the process to identify categories and themes in the data and the type(s) of verification that was used to enrich the interpretation.
  • maximize the ultimate usefulness of the research by giving the research sponsor actionable findings that allow them to do something of value, effectively answer the “so what?” question.  In an IDI study, the “what if” exercise in the interview is imperative to advancing the research issue to the next level.

These are just a few considerations that researchers will want to think through in order to bring their qualitative research designs in step with the four components of the quality framework.

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