The Elevation of Qualitative Research Design: The Dawning of a New Day

This article was posted in May 2014.

Qualitative and quantitative research methods have always, in some shape or form, sat side-by-side in research design. It is difficult to find any serious quantitative study, for instance, that didn’t set out with a preliminary qualitative phase to help steer its course, Dawnwith survey researchers quick to quip, ‘Oh yes, we conducted a few groups before designing the questionnaire’. And yet, it is typically the quantitative research phase that gains the spotlight in mixed-method designs, where the survey process and resulting data play starring roles, while the qualitative research component acts in a supporting albeit lesser and infrequently scrutinized role in the overall design.

This tale of submission is being turned on its head as a quiet revolution stirs to more boldly integrate and elevate qualitative methods in the research scheme. Nowhere is this movement – or dare we say, equalization next to quantitative – more apparent than in two separate but equally-momentous events in the last few months. The first of these pertains to the long-fought and ground-breaking recognition of qualitative methods in psychology; specifically, from the American Psychological Association. As a discipline long entrenched in experimental research, it is only the unrelenting efforts of psychologists impassioned by the qualitative approach that has given voice to qualitative research in the APA. The fact that members of APA’s Division 5 recently voted to change the division name from “Evaluation, Measurement, and Statistics” to “Quantitative and Qualitative Methods,” as well as the publication of APA’s first-ever journal devoted to qualitative research – Qualitative Psychology – in February 2014, signal a new understanding of the prominence qualitative methods play in psychological research.

The other momentous event occurred earlier this month at the AAPOR conference in Anaheim. In his presidential address, Rob Santos – chief methodologist at the Urban Institute and vice president of the American Statistical Association – surprised his mostly survey-minded AAPOR audience with an eloquent and enthusiastic cry for qualitative research. Rob encouraged attendees to look beyond survey research for their insights and embrace all that qualitative methods can offer. To our astonishment, Rob stated that ‘I have tasted the fruit of qualitative research and it is sweet’.

This is only the beginning. If psychologists and political scientists can embrace qualitative research with the scientific enthusiasm traditionally reserved for quantitative, then the future is bright for researchers across all disciplines who believe in bringing parity to how we think about research design regardless of method. This ushers in a new environment in which researchers not only scrutinize and fine-tune their survey designs but with equal enthusiasm debate how to maximize the quality in their qualitative research. A new day is dawning and “it is sweet.”


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