Reporting Qualitative Research: A Model of Transparency

A number of articles in Research Design Review have discussed, in one form or another, the Total Quality Framework (TQF)* approach to qualitative research design.  An RDR post last month pertained to applying the TQF to the in-depth interviewing method; while other articles have focused on transparencyways to integrate quality measures – in harmony with the TQF – into ethnography, mobile research, and the research proposal.  Separate from applications per se, an article in February 2015 discussed the compatibility of a quality approach with social constructionism.

One of the four components of the TQF is Transparency** which is specific to the reporting phase of the research process.  In particular, Transparency has to do with the researcher’s full disclosure of the research design, fieldwork, and analytical procedures in the final document.  This sounds simple enough yet it is common to read qualitative research reports, papers, and articles that too quickly jump to research findings and discussion, with relatively scant attention given to the peculiarities of the design, data gathering, or analysis.  This is unfortunate and misguided because these details are necessary for the user of the research to understand the context by which interpretations were derived and to judge the applicability of the outcomes to other situations (i.e., transferability).

There are, of course, exceptions; and, indeed, many researchers are skillful in divulging these all-important details.  One example is Deborah C. Bailey’s article, “Women and Wasta: The Use of Focus Groups for Understanding Social Capital and Middle Eastern Women.”  In it, Bailey provides a rich background of her involvement with this study, her interest in exploring “how some Islamic women from the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) perceive access and use of the social capital identified as wasta” (p. 2) and the “bond of trust” she established with women attending Zayed University which furthered her research objective.  The method section goes beyond simply stating that focus group discussions were conducted but rather gives the reader the researcher’s justification for choosing focus groups over alternative methods, e.g., “focus groups work well for encouraging participants to explore topics that have shared social meaning but are seldom discussed” (p. 3), explaining wasta as a “social phenomenon” and the supportive function focus groups provide.

Bailey goes on to describe how she chose her research team and the reflective exercise she conducted with the team prior to embarking on the study to “help them understand their own beliefs and experience about wasta” (p. 4).  Bailey also gives an explanation of how participants were chosen and the results of the recruiting process, as well as how she developed the discussion guide and her decision to use translators (allowing participants the option to speak Arabic as well as English).  In the “Focus Group Process” section, Bailey recounts the introductory remarks that were made at the start of each focus group and explicitly states the seven key questions participants were asked during discussions.

The author’s reporting of the analysis process and results is equally informative.  Here, Bailey describes how the research team worked separately and together to derive categories and themes from the data; and, importantly, the inclusion of a reflective assessment among analysts to mitigate potential bias associated with personal beliefs during the analysis phase.  In addition, Bailey inserted a “Wasta Focus Group Matrix” in the Appendix which provides an informative breakdown of categories and themes by the three wasta segments (i.e., high wasta, some wasta, and low wasta).  Following analysis, Bailey gives the reader a well-thought out, clear, and useful discussion of results, enriched by numerous verbatims that support the findings.

Transparency in the reporting of qualitative research using thick description is critical to the integrity of the research process.  Transparency enables users of the research to evaluate the outcomes within the proper context and determine the transferability of the research to other compatible situations or environments.

*An in-depth discussion of the Total Quality Framework can be found in Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015. New York: Guilford Press.).

**The other three TQF components are: Credibility, Analyzability, and Usefulness.  Transparency is discussed throughout Research Design Review, e.g., see this December 2012 article.

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