Researchers conduct qualitative research because they acknowledge the human condition and want to learn more, and think differently, about a research issue than what is usual from mostly numerical quantitative survey research data. Not surprisingly, the unique nature of qualitative inquiry is characterized by a distinctive set of attributes, all of which impact the design of qualitative research one way or the other. The 10 unique attributes of qualitative research* are the:
- Absence of “truth” With all the emphasis in qualitative research on reality and the human condition, it might be expected that qualitative inquiry is in the business of garnering “the truth” from participants. Instead of “truth,” the qualitative researcher collects information from which some level of knowledge can be gained. The researcher does not acquire this information and knowledge in a vacuum but rather in a context and, in this way, the research data are a product of various situational factors. For this reason, qualitative researchers do not talk about the “truth” of their findings but rather the “plausibility” of their interpretations. Plausibility is derived from achieving accuracy in the data collection process, accuracy in the absence of absolute “truth.”
- Importance of context A relevant factor in the elusiveness of “truth” is the central and significant role context plays in qualitative research. Whether it be the physical environment or mode by which an in-depth interview (IDI), group discussion, or observation is conducted the outcomes in qualitative research hinge greatly on the contexts from which we obtain this data.
- Importance of meaning Although the goal of all research is to draw meaning from the data, qualitative research is unique in the dimensionality of this effort. Qualitative researchers derive meaning from the data by way of multiple sources, Read Full Text
The assertions of marketing researchers (in particular) who continue to promote speed and techno-whiz over design principles leaves the rest of us wondering if rigorous design considerations really matter and whether we need to “buckle our seat belts” as we race to an anything-goes research paradigm. Marketing researchers (in particular) have been in this race for quite some time. Even before the Internet and all the gadgetry, there has been an over-emphasis on finding the path of least resistance – a path absent of speed limits and tolls, delivering results as quickly and cheaply as possible. The Internet and gadgetry have just transformed this path into a popular, well-paved superhighway.
In recent articles, we learn that – costly and time-consuming – face-to-face focus groups are “on life support,” that “micro-surveys” are the future, and that feedback from “brand ambassadors” in the marketplace can fill in when management’s need-to-know can’t wait for the oh-so-slow process of real research. All of this is beginning to sound a lot like really bad qualitative research design where:
- Sample representativeness is of little concern.
- No thought is given to the transferability of the outcomes.
- The final deliverable is full of great – colorful, fun, creative – quotes and images.
- There are as few demands as possible on the participants, and even the researcher.
- An attempt to make meaningful connections based on how people think is nonexistent.
What if, instead of promoting the research superhighway, folks discussed with their buyers/users of research the design issues inherent in various approaches, the trade-offs involved, and how to construct the best-quality research design possible within the reality of cost and time parameters. The superhighway is great for advancing the technology that advances our quality of life, including our ability to enjoy new options in our research designs. But when the highway itself becomes our focus – and not the quality measures in design that we know translate into reliable research – it may be time to take the next exit, turn off the engine, and just chill.