How to Become a “Researcher”: The Donning of Many Hats

Research Design Review is a blog devoted to qualitative and quantitative research design issues. Yet, there is an imbalance in these discussions with many of the posts dedicated to qualitative design and methods. The reason boils down to the fact that there is simply a lot to say about qualitative design. And this is because relatively little is written or discussed in the research community in answer to such questions as, “What is the basis of sound qualitative research design?” “What are the necessary components to a ‘quality’ qualitative design?” and “How does the researcher effectively put into practice these quality design elements?” These are the questions routinely addressed among dedicated survey researchers yet too often absent in the qualitative orbit.

An underlying current running throughout RDR is the idea that quality design issues are important to all research, regardless of whether the researcher leans more to the qualitative or to the quantitative side of the equation. Pushing this idea one step further, there is an even more subtle suggestion lingering in RDR that researchers might do well to free themselves from their qualitative or quantitative “hats” and instead take on the mantle of “methodologist” by finding a comfort zone in which they can competently develop and manage both qualitative and quantitative designs. Partnering with method experts for a given study may be appropriate but this expertise should not shield the researcher from the intricacies of a particular approach. Indeed, it behooves researchers to be knowledgeable about both qualitative and quantitative research in order to confidently manage (for instance) mixed-method studies, exploiting the full measure of what these diverse approaches have to offer while ensuring quality and ultimately useful outcomes.

A 2010 post in RDR“Embracing Methodologists” – talks about the researcher-as-methodologist concept and emphasizes that there is no better time “to grow and gain knowledge” across a wide spectrum of research approaches. Unlike the “old days,” when training required

“lots of academic schooling in brick-and-mortar institutions, traveling long (and expensive) distances to conferences, finding time from our work schedules to meet informally with peers to absorb their knowledge, searching for training workshops to learn new methods and techniques, and subscribing to many [print] journals and trade publications to keep us abreast of the latest breakthroughs…”,

digital technology and social media offer researchers a “fluid and accessible opportunity” to expand their horizons –

“Twitter and LinkedIn have totally changed the way we communicate with our peers, our clients, and our trade associations.  We no longer wait weeks or months between networking events to hear what others are doing in the industry.  We no longer need to travel long distances to participate in an educational presentation because countless (generally, free) Webinars are offered to us each week….Our journals and trade publications have been abundantly supplemented with online access, e-versions, as well as blogs and discussion groups of every conceivable stripe.  And, if this was not enough, our entire U.S.-centric research world has burst open to embrace the knowledge and perspective of our colleagues across the globe.”

The point here is not that researchers need to be proficient in all types of research but rather that pursuing and gaining sufficient knowledge of qualitative and quantitative research has the ability to transform the “qualitative researcher” and the “quantitative researcher” into a “researcher” who wears many hats, is unchained from any one approach, and can be trusted to simply design – from data collection to analysis, reporting, and next steps – the “best” study for the research objective.

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