Should Qualitative Research Be Taken Seriously?

The Qualitative Methods in Psychology section (QMiP) of the British Psychological Society held its annual conference in Cambridge, England last week (Note: I am writing this in September 2015). It was a conference packed with varied and insightful presentations, workshops, and symposia covering such topics as: using conversation analysis to understand online communication, pluralism in qualitative research, visual methods such as photo-elicitation interviewing, worthy of attentionthe emotional demands associated with conducting phenomenological research, and discourse analysis of the media coverage of the conflict in Gaza.

In many instances the presenter’s focus was on the outcomes, e.g., what was learned after conducting a certain number of interviews, with little attention to the research design. This attention on the outcomes was to the exclusion of the path by which the outcomes were derived, i.e., the research process. Exploring the lived experiences among victims of brain injuries, or the life stories of women who have experienced failed pregnancies, or the identities associated with living with HIV, are important issues worthy of serious research efforts. And yet, qualitative studies that emphasize outcomes,while ignoring the details of how the data was collected and analyzed, feel almost anecdotal in nature, not significant research endeavors.

Which begs the questions: With the downplaying of the research process, should qualitative research be taken seriously? And, is the failure to critically discuss how qualitative researchers obtain their conclusions responsible for the second-class status given to qualitative research among many positivists, quantitative thinkers?

The QMiP conference also included keynote presentations by Paul Flowers of Glasgow Caledonian University as well as Virginia Braun from the University of Auckland. Both presentations zeroed-in on the need to heighten qualitative researchers’ attention to quality aspects of the research process. Dr. Flowers talked about issues related to “how well the data collection was carried out,” the need for transparency, and constructing qualitative research that leads to “useful outcomes.” Dr. Braun emphasized important quality components to the qualitative research process, such as “critical reflexivity,” the need to rationalize sample size (beyond the grounded theory notion of saturation), and the short-sightedness of relying on computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software (e.g., NVivo, MAXQDA, Atlas.ti, etc.) for the analysis of qualitative data.

These psychologists and others are helping qualitative researchers move forward towards qualitative studies that represent, not just the exploration of “interesting stuff” but rather, serious research efforts worthy of attention.

Image captured from: http://www.coledigitalmarketing.com/blog/bid/340637/Mortgage-Leads-Are-Your-Lead-Nurturing-Emails-Worthy-of-Attention

4 comments

  1. Reblogged this on Ethnography.com and commented:

    We at e.com think qualitative research is very important:
    “Which begs the questions: With the downplaying of the research process, should qualitative research be taken seriously? And, is the failure to critically discuss how qualitative researchers obtain their conclusions responsible for the second-class status given to qualitative research among many positivists, quantitative thinkers?”

  2. Well, I’m not sure if I agree with your argument. I go to many conferences showcasing quantitative research and many of those presentations fail to describe the full extent of their methodology. They focus mainly on the outcomes. Should we assume that they aren’t really conducting methodologically sound techniques either? Doesn’t seem like a fair assumption to me.

    1. Hi Annie. Thanks for your comment. My post was not stating that the absence of design details should lead us to “assume that [researchers] aren’t really conducting methodologically sound techniques.” I was not making any assumptions regarding the quality of the work. My point is simply that, by not knowing what those design details are, we (the users/readers/audience of this research) are left in the dark as to how we should consider the research being presented. We need context. As researchers we want to know what we are looking at, not just by way of the findings but the findings in context. Details of the design and process provide researchers with the context they need to fully appreciate (or not) what is presented. This is equally true, of course, in qualitative and quantitative research. Otherwise, it all falls into the barrel of “interesting stuff.”

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