The TQF Qualitative Research Proposal: Credibility of Design

A Total Quality Framework (TQF) approach to the qualitative research proposal has been discussed in articles posted elsewhere in Research Design Review, notably “A Quality Approach to the Qualitative Research Proposal” (2015) and “Writing Ethics Into Your Qualitative Proposal” (2018). The article presented here focuses on the Research Design section of the TQF proposal and, specifically, the Credibility component of the TQF. The Credibility component has to do with Scope and Data Gathering. This is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 339-340).

TQF Proposal Image-DesignScope

A TQF research proposal clearly defines the target population for the proposed research, the target sample (if the researcher is interested in a particular subgroup of the target population, e.g., only African American and Hispanic high school seniors in the district who anticipate graduating in the coming spring), how participants will be selected for the study, what they will be asked to do (e.g., set aside school time for an in-depth interview [IDI]), and the general types of questions to which they will be asked to respond (i.e., the content areas of the interview). In discussing Scope, the researcher proposing an IDI study with African American and Hispanic high school students would identify the list that will be used to select participants (e.g., the district’s roster of seniors who are expected to graduate); the advantages and drawbacks to using this list (e.g., not everyone on the roster may consider themselves to be African American or Hispanic); the systematic (preferably random) procedure that will be used to select the sample; and the number of students that will be selected as participants, including the rationale for that number and the steps that will be taken to gain cooperation from the students and thereby ideally ensure that everyone selected actually completes an interview (e.g., gaining permission from the school principal to allow students to take school time to participate in the IDI, and from parents/guardians for students under 18 years of age who cannot give informed consent on their own behalf).

Data Gathering

The data-gathering portion of the Research Design section of the proposal highlights the constructs and issues that will be examined in the proposed research. This discussion should provide details of the types of questions that will be asked, observations that will be recorded, or areas of interest that will be listened for in a participant’s narrative. If possible, the researcher will include a draft of the research instrument (e.g., the interview or discussion guide, observation grid) in the proposal.

Importantly, the researcher needs to address the potential for biases in the data collection process, particularly potential researcher effects and participants’ inability or reluctance to be forthright in their responses. The proposal author should acknowledge the step(s) in the process most susceptible to bias from a TQF perspective, the potential source of the bias, and measures that will be taken to try to mitigate the threat of bias. In the IDI study of minority high school students, for example, the researcher might discuss the potential for inaccurate or incomplete responses from the minority students if African American and Hispanic interviewers are not selected to conduct the interviews. This researcher should also discuss the steps that will be taken to maintain interviewer consistency across all interviews, specifically the interviewer training that will be conducted to ensure a consistent approach. The researcher should also acknowledge the potential for the integrity of the data to be jeopardized and explain what techniques will be used to address this potentiality. So, for example, the proposal for the IDI study of African American and Hispanic students would likely emphasize the importance of building rapport in the early stages of the interviewer–interviewee interaction in order to later gain complete and candid responses. Along with this, the proposal author should outline the rapport-building tactics that will be used in the research (e.g., preliminary communication with the students prior to the IDI and active listening skills that include exhibiting interest in the interviewee’s comments and using words of encouragement during the entire interview).

Throughout the Scope and Data Gathering subsections, the elements of the TQF should be explicitly and implicitly woven into the text and used to organize the particulars about the data collection methods the researcher proposes to use.

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