Qualitative Research

Exploring Human Realities: A Quality & Fair Approach

The following incorporates modified excerpts from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 2-3).

Quality and fairness to explore human realitiesAs the channel by which researchers explore the depths of human realities, qualitative research has gained prominent status that is accelerating over time as quantitatively trained mentors in academia are increasingly asked to assist in students’ qualitative research designs, and as the volume of published works in qualitative research aggressively grows (cf. Charmaz, 2008; Lincoln, Lynham, & Guba, 2011; Silverman, 2013). Even psychology, a discipline that has traditionally dismissed qualitative research as “subjective” and “unscientific,” has come of age with slow but continued growth in the field of qualitative psychology (cf. Wertz, 2014). These advances have given rise to a vibrant array of scholars and practitioners who harbor varying perspectives on how to approach qualitative research.

These differing perspectives are best exemplified by the paradigm debates among qualitative researchers. The focus of these debates is on the underlying belief or orientation the researcher brings to any given qualitative study. In particular, these discussions center on the philosophical constructs related to the nature of reality (ontology) and that of knowledge (epistemology). It is the researchers’ sometimes divergent views on the presence and extent of a “true” reality—for example, whether it is the (post)positivism view that there is a single objective reality that can be found in a controlled scientific method, or the constructivism–interpretivism paradigm that emphasizes the idea of multiple realities existing in the context of social interactions and subjective meanings—as well as the source of this knowledge—for example, the dominant role of the researcher in critical theory—that have fueled an ongoing dialogue concerning paradigms within the qualitative research arena.

And yet, regardless of the philosophical or theoretical paradigms that may guide researchers in their qualitative inquiries, qualitative researchers are united in the fundamental and common goal of unraveling the convoluted and intricate world of the human experience.

The complexities of the human experience present unique challenges to qualitative researchers who strive to develop research designs that result in contextual data while incorporating basic standards of good research. To that end, many qualitative researchers, routinely focus their attention on the importance of methodically rigorous data collection practices and verification checks (Creswell, 2013; Marshall & Rossman, 2011; Morse, Barrett, Mayan, Olson, & Spiers, 2002); well-thought-out procedures and analytic rigor (Atkinson & Delamont, 2006; Berg & Lune, 2012), and frameworks that promote critical thinking throughout the research process (Levitt, Motulsky, Wertz, Morrow, & Ponterotto, 2017; Roller & Lavrakas, 2015).

By transcending the paradigm debates, a quality approach to qualitative research fosters the essential element of fairness while maximizing the ultimate usefulness of the research. Fairness means giving participants a fair voice in the research.  A “fair voice” is not a small q positivist-Big Q non-positivist issue (see Braun & Clarke, 2022) but rather the researcher’s quality approach to data collection and analysis that gives careful consideration to the scope of the sample design, researchers’ skills that prioritize inclusion, ongoing reflexivity, and other quality research strategies that embrace diversity in our participants and our methods.

A quality approach that promotes fairness to explore the complexity of human realities is a non-debatable goal of the qualitative researcher.

Atkinson, P., & Delamont, S. (2006). Rescuing narrative from qualitative research. Narrative Inquiry, 16(1), 164–172. https://doi.org/10.1075/ni.16.1.21atk

Berg, B. L., & Lune, H. (2012). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (8th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2022). Toward good practice in thematic analysis: Avoiding common problems and be(com)ing a knowing researcher. International Journal of Transgender Health. https://doi.org/10.1080/26895269.2022.2129597

Charmaz, K. (2008). Views from the margins: Voices, silences, and suffering. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 5(1), 7–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/14780880701863518

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Levitt, H. M., Motulsky, S. L., Wertz, F. J., Morrow, S. L., & Ponterotto, J. G. (2017). Recommendations for designing and reviewing qualitative research in psychology: Promoting methodological integrity. Qualitative Psychology, 4(1), 2–22. https://doi.org/10.1037/qup0000082

Lincoln, Y. S., Lynham, S. A., & Guba, E. G. (2011). Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences, revisited. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (pp. 97–128). Sage Publications.

Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (2011). Designing qualitative reserach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Morse, J. M., Barrett, M., Mayan, M., Olson, K., & Spiers, J. (2002). Verification strategies for establishing reliability and validity in qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1(2), 13–22.

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

Silverman, D. (2013). What counts as qualitative research? Some cautionary comments. Qualitative Sociology Review, IX(2), 48–55.

Wertz, F. J. (2014). Qualitative inquiry in the history of psychology. Qualitative Psychology, 1(1), 4–16.

Ethnography: How Observer Inconsistency Impacts Quality Outcomes

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 212-213).

To safeguard the Credibility of the data generated from ethnographic research, it is Observer inconsistencyimportant that the observer conduct observations in a manner that does not vary greatly across observation events. Regardless of the nonparticipant or participant role (overt or covert), the observer must be trained to understand why consistency matters and how inconsistency may result in unacceptable levels of unwarranted variation in the data.

Maintaining consistency can present a particular challenge in ethnography, where the unpredictability of naturally occurring events can make it difficult to maintain constant focus on the key elements related to the research objectives. Although the participants and the specific activities themselves will change from observation event to observation event, it is critical to the quality of data gathering that, for each observation, the observer concentrates on identifying and recording the behaviors, conversations, contextual factors, and other elements pertaining to the priority areas of observation (determined in the research design phase) and constructs of interest.

For example, in an in-person study to observe the use of a recreational park area among community residents on various days and times of the week, the observer must give deliberate attention to each component of the park relevant to the research objectives. If the observer focuses their observation on the children’s playground on some days, the soccer field on other days, and occasionally on the hiking trails, the research results will fail to provide a realistic assessment of residents’ use of the community park.

Although the ever-changing, unpredictable nature of ethnography—and its ability to challenge the observer’s attention to key variables—is a leading cause of inconsistent data collection, the quality of an observer’s observation may also vary due to inadequate training or personal reasons such as sickness or fatigue. Regardless of the cause, the ethnographer should strive for consistency across all observations by making sure that observers understand and are trained on the following:

  • Research objectives, including background information on the topic and how the results of the research will be used.
  • Specific areas or elements of observation that are prioritized, including the rationale for their priority status.
  • Specific constructs or issues that are prioritized, including the rationale for their priority status.
  • Observation grid, including how it is designed to be used (as both a recording and a reflexive device), how to complete the grid, and how to add important but unanticipated observational components to the grid.
  • Types of observation sites the observer will be working in and how identifying the particular elements of observations of interest may be difficult in some instances—for example, observing a hiking trail at the community park may be narrow and congested—requiring the observer to work rigorously to stay alert and, in addition to taking in the scene as a whole, be ever mindful of the key elements in the observations related to the research objectives.
  • Ways to deal with stress and fatigue on the job.

 

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

The Unique Attributes of Qualitative Research: A Collection of 16 Articles

Unique attributes of qualitative research“Unique Attributes of Qualitative Research” is a compilation of 16 articles appearing in Research Design Review from 2013 to 2022 pertaining to the 10 unique attributes associated with qualitative research that have been discussed many times in RDR. It could be argued that other articles in RDR qualify for inclusion in this collection; however, the 16 articles chosen for this compilation speak more directly to each of the 10 unique attributes. This includes articles discussing the “absence of ‘truth’,” the “importance of context,” the “researcher as instrument,” “contextual analysis” and the other distinctive qualities of qualitative research. The collection also includes several articles on the attribute of “researcher skill set” as it pertains specifically to the focus group, in-depth interview, ethnography, and multiple methods. It is the intention of this compilation to provide a single resource that shines a light (casts sunshine) on the essential role qualitative research plays in research methods.

“Unique Attributes of Qualitative Research: 16 Articles on the 10 Unique Attributes of Qualitative Research” is available for download here.

Six similar compilations, devoted to particular methods or techniques, are also available:

“Ethnography & the Observation Method: 15 Articles on Design, Implementation, & Uses” is available for download here.

“Reflexivity: 10 Articles on the Role of Reflection in Qualitative Research” is available for download here.

“The Focus Group Method: 18 Articles on Design & Moderating” is available for download here.

“The In-depth Interview Method: 12 Articles on Design & Implementation” is available for download here.

“Qualitative Data Analysis: 16 Articles on Process & Method” is available for download here.

“Qualitative Research: Transparency & Reporting” is available for download here.