Shared Constructs in Research Design: Part 2 — Bias

Part 1 of the discussion of shared constructs — “Shared Constructs in Research Design: Part 1 – Sampling” — acknowledges the distinctiveness between quantitative and qualitative research while Research biashighlighting the notion that there are fundamental constructs common to a quality approach to research design regardless of method or, in the case of qualitative research, paradigm orientation. Three such constructs are sampling, bias, and validity. Part 1 of this discussion focused on sampling (prefaced by a consideration of paradigms in qualitative research and the importance of quality research design regardless of orientation). This article (Part 2) discusses bias.

Bias in qualitative research design has been the topic of a number of articles in Research Design Review over the years. One of these articles is a broad discussion on paying attention to bias in qualitative research and another explores social desirability bias in online research. An article written in 2014 examines the role of empathy in qualitative research and its potential for enhancing clarity while reducing the bias in qualitative data, and another article in RDR talks about visual cues and the importance of visual cues in mitigating sources of bias in qualitative research. Other articles concerning bias in RDR are specific to methods. For example, a couple of articles discuss mitigating interviewer bias in the in-depth interview method — “In-depth Interviewer Effects: Mitigating Interviewer Bias” and “Interviewer Bias & Reflexivity in Qualitative Research” — while another article focuses on ethnography and mitigating observer bias, and a fourth article considers the potential bias in mobile (smartphone) qualitative research.

Others in the field of psychology have discussed various aspects of bias in qualitative research. For example, Linda Finlay (2002) discusses the value of reflexivity as a tool to, among other things, “open up unconscious motivations and implicit biases in the researcher’s approach” (p. 225). Ponterotto (2005) looks at the varying role and understanding of bias across paradigm orientations in qualitative research among the postpositivists, constructivist–interpretivist researchers, and critical–ideological researchers. In psychiatry, Whitley & Crawford (2005) suggest ways to mitigate investigator bias and thereby increase the rigor in qualitative studies. Morrow (2005) asserts that “all research is subject to researcher bias” and highlights the subjectivity inherent in qualitative research and explores bracketing and reflexivity as a means of “making one’s implicit assumptions and biases overt to self and others” (p. 254). And researcher bias is central to the Credibility component of the Total Quality Framework (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015).

Social scientists such as Williams & Heikes (1993) examine the impact of interviewer gender on social desirability bias in qualitative research; while Armour, Rivaux, and Bell (2009) discuss researcher bias within the context of analysis and interpretation of two phenomenological studies. In a recent paper, Howlett (2021) reflects on the transition to online technical research solutions and the associated methodological considerations, such as the negative impact of selection bias due to weak recruitment and engagement strategies.

Among healthcare researchers, Arcury & Quandt (1999) discuss recruitment with a focus on sampling and the use of gatekeepers, with an emphasis on the potential for selection bias which they monitored by way of reviewing “the type of clients being referred to us, relative to the composition of the site clientele” (p. 131). Whittemore, Chase, & Mandle (2001) define quality in qualitative research by way of validity standards, including investigator bias — “…a phenomenological investigation will need to address investigator bias (explicitness) and an emic perspective (vividness) as well as explicate a very specific phenomenon in depth (thoroughness)” (p. 529). And Morse (2015), who is a pioneer in qualitative health research and has written extensively on issues of quality in qualitative research design, highlights the mitigation of researcher bias as central to the validity of qualitative design, offering “the correction of researcher bias” as one recommended strategy for “establishing rigor in qualitative inquiry” (p. 33).

Another shared and much discussed construct among qualitative researchers — validity — is the focus of Part 3 in this discussion.

Arcury, T. A., & Quandt, S. A. (1999). Participant recruitment for qualitative research: A site-based approach to community research in complex societies. Human Organization, 58(2), 128–133. Retrieved from http://www.metapress.com.proxy.wm.edu/content/t5g838w7u1761868/fulltext.pdf

Armour, M., Rivaux, S. L., & Bell, H. (2009). Using context to build rigor: Application to two hermeneutic phenomenological studies. Qualitative Social Work, 8(1), 101–122. https://doi.org/10.1177/1473325008100424

Finlay, L. (2002). Negotiating the swamp: The opportunity and challenge of reflexivity in research practice. Qualitative Research, 2(2), 209–230. Retrieved from http://qrj.sagepub.com/cgi/doi/10.1177/146879410200200205

Howlett, M. (2021). Looking at the ‘field’ through a Zoom lens: Methodological reflections on conducting online research during a global pandemic. Qualitative Research, 146879412098569. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794120985691

Morrow, S. L. (2005). Quality and trustworthiness in qualitative research in counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(2), 250–260. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0167.52.2.250

Morse, J. M. (2015). Critical analysis of strategies for determining rigor in qualitative inquiry. Qualitative Health Research, 25(9), 1212–1222. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

Ponterotto, J. G. (2005). Qualitative research in counseling psychology: A primer on research paradigms and philosophy of science. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(2), 126–136. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0167.52.2.126

Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.

Whitley, R., & Crawford, M. (2005). Qualitative research in psychiatry. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 50(2), 108–114. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15807227

Whittemore, R., Chase, S. K., & Mandle, C. L. (2001). Validity in qualitative research. Qualitative Health Research, 11(4), 522–537. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11521609

Williams, C. L., & Heikes, E. J. (1993). The importance of researcher’s gender in the in-depth interview: Evidence from two case studies of male nurses. Gender and Society, 7(2), 280–291.

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