Modes

The TQF Qualitative Research Proposal: Method & Mode

TQF proposal method and mode

As discussed in “A Quality Approach to the Qualitative Research Proposal,” one of the eight sections of the Total Quality Framework (TQF) proposal is Research Design. Within this section of the proposal, there are six areas to be covered by the researcher:

  • Method and Mode
  • Scope and Data Gathering
  • Analysis
  • Ethical Considerations
  • Dissemination of Findings
  • Summary of the Research Design

The following is a modified excerpt from Roller & Lavrakas (2015, pp. 338-339) describing the Method and Mode area of the Research Design section:

The proposal author should identify the method(s), and the mode(s) within the method(s), that will be used to contact study participants, gain their cooperation, and gather data for the proposed study. The proposal should go on to support the selection of the methods and modes by outlining the strengths—alone and in comparison to other approaches—with the acknowledgment of the limitations of the proposed design.

As an example, a researcher proposing a face-to-face and phone in-depth interview (IDI) study of African American and Hispanic high school students in a particular school district would discuss the advantages of the IDI method in terms of the ability to establish rapport and develop a strong interviewer–interviewee relationship, thereby reducing the potential for bias (e.g., distortion in the interviewees’ responses) and increasing the credibility of the data. This researcher would elaborate by linking the choice of method and modes to the research objectives. For instance, the researcher would explain that the goal of understanding the deep-seated factors that impact academic performance requires a research approach that is both personal in nature and creates a trusting environment wherein the interviewer can gather detailed, meaningful responses from the students to potentially sensitive questions, such as disruptive influences outside of school (e.g., family life).

The researcher would then explain that no other qualitative method (or quantitative method) could effectively gain the depth of information sought by the proposed IDI study, but also acknowledges that the success of the study will hinge on well-thought-out techniques for sampling participants and gaining cooperation from the target population (examples of which should be included in the proposal). And finally, the researcher would note that the face-to-face IDI method costs more and adds time to the study completion compared to other IDI modes, stating that this is one of the reasons that some of the IDIs will be conducted via phone.

For a discussion of the Scope and Data Gathering area of the Research Design section, see “The TQF Qualitative Research Proposal: Credibility of Design.”

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

Qualitative Research: Design, Methods, & Online Mode

In 2020, there were 14 articles published in Research Design Review. These articles include those qualitative research design, methods, online modepertaining to broad issues in qualitative research design, such as sample size, as well as more narrow topics concerning specific qualitative methods – focus groups, ethnography, in-depth interviews, and case study research – and the online mode. A compilation of these articles is now available here for download.

In addition to these 14 articles, six compilations of earlier RDR articles were released in 2020 for download. These include:

Focus Groups: Moving to the Online Face-to-face Mode

There are many articles in Research Design Review about the focus group method. They range from broad discussions concerning the strengths and limitations of focus group discussions in qualitative research, to determining the number of groups to conduct for a particular study, to considerations Online synschronous focus groupwhen deciding on the heterogeneity or homogeneity of focus group participants, to matters of moderating such as the importance of gaining individual thinking in the group environment.

Most of these articles pertain to the in-person mode, where the moderator meets group participants at a local facility to discuss the research topic for 90 minutes to two hours. Alternatively, there are a variety of online solutions for the focus group method. One of the most popular are online asynchronous discussions (sometimes called “bulletin boards”) that take place over two to three or more days. As discussed in a brief 2018 article, there are a number of strengths and limitations to the online asynchronous mode, including the advantages of flexibility, geographic spread of participants, and potential for multi-media input; as well as limitations such as that having to do with the absence of visual cues, managing participant engagement, and conducting the analysis.

As I write this in mid-March 2020, many researchers are scrambling to find ways to re-design their in-person focus group research during the current coronavirus pandemic crisis. In doing so, these researchers are taking a close look at moving from in-person discussions to an online mode that allows for some semblance of in-person groups by way of face-to-face, real-time interaction, i.e., synchronous video conferencing. For some (if not, most) of these researchers, the online face-to-face mode is a new experience and, as such, researchers are uncertain on how to proceed on two key facets of the research design: 1) the online service or platform they should use and 2) best practices when conducting online synchronous group discussions for research purposes.

With respect to the online service or platform, the researcher needs to weigh the scope of the study (e.g., type of participant) as well as the depth and breadth of the discussion guide. While simple interfaces such as those provided by Zoom, Webex, or GoToMeeting may offer the video interface, the researcher needs to think about what they may or may not be giving up in terms of the quality of the discussion. For instance, dedicated online qualitative research platforms – such as itracks, 20/20 Research, Civicom, Discuss.io, and others – offer features and capabilities designed specifically for the demands of qualitative research. This includes the capacity to go beyond simple video conferencing (e.g., recording, screen sharing, and transcripts) by way of: recruiting participants; providing a community dashboard; aiding in question development; enabling in-discussion participant activity capabilities such as marking up images and creating collages; an observer “back room”; and various analytical functions such as image tagging as well as keyword and sentiment analysis.

In terms of best practices when conducting online synchronous discussions, here are a few resources:

“Considerations for and Lessons Learned from Online, Synchronous Focus Groups” (Forrestal, D’Angelo, and Vogel, 2015)

“Best Practices for Synchronous Online Focus Groups” (Lobe, 2017)

Online Moderator Training with Casey Sweet and Jeff Walkowski

Although there are clearly limitations to the online mode in qualitative research (as mentioned earlier), there are also times and extraordinary situations (such as the current pandemic) when it is the best approach. In these times, it is incumbent on the researcher to think carefully about maintaining the integrity of their research as they move to an online face-to-face mode, to reflect on what was lost and gained in this approach, and to be transparent in the reporting of this research.

Forrestal, S. G., D’Angelo, A. V., & Vogel, L. K. (2015). Considerations for and lessons learned from online, synchronous focus groups. Survey Practice, 8(2), 1-8.

Lobe, B. (2017). Best Practices for Synchronous Online Focus Groups. In A New Era in Focus Group Research (pp. 227-250). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Images captured from: https://pixabay.com/vectors/monitor-screen-computer-electronics-1143202/ and https://www.istockphoto.com/illustrations/cartoon-people?mediatype=illustration&phrase=cartoon%20people&sort=mostpopular