A qualitative study that utilizes interviews, group discussions, and/or observations is not necessarily a piece of research. There are many instances when reported exercises in qualitative gathering are labeled qualitative research when in fact the results may have provided interesting qualitative information but are not research findings that can be relied on to confidently guide hypotheses or next steps.
As just one example, there was a study published in a peer-reviewed journal a few years back that reported on the use of focus group discussions and in-depth interviews to investigate primary care providers’ (PCPs’) perceptions and Read Full Text
The Total Quality Framework (TQF) is rooted in the idea that a quality approach to qualitative research requires “quality thinking” at each stage of the research process. It is an idea derived from the logic that it is not good enough to think carefully about data collection without also thinking as carefully about the analysis and reporting phases while keeping a discerning eye on the ultimate goal of gaining useful research results. This fundamental concept underlies the TQF and serves to define its four components – Credibility (pertaining to the data collection phase), Analyzability (analysis), and Transparency (reporting), and Usefulness (being able to do something of value with the outcomes).
By considering quality standards at each step in the research design, qualitative researchers maintain the integrity of their data through the entire study thereby producing something of value to the users of their research. For instance, a concerted quality approach to data collection – an approach that mitigates researcher bias and gathers valid data – but a disregard for the quality process in the analysis phase – e.g., transcripts are poorly done, coding is inconsistent, and verification of the data is absent – weakens the entire study. Likewise, a deliberate quality approach to data collection and analysis but a failure to write a transparent final document that reveals the details of the study’s scope, data gathering, analysis process and verification, effectively masks the integrity of the research and undermines its critical value to users.
A holistic quality-centric approach to qualitative research design essentially means that a weakness in any one link in the quality chain – the chain from data collection to analysis to reporting – erodes the purpose of conducting qualitative research (regardless of method) which is to offer useful information by way of new hypotheses, next steps, and/or applications to other contexts.
In March 2018, Mario Luis Small gave a public lecture at Columbia University on “Rhetoric and Evidence in a Polarized Society.” In this terrific must-read speech, Small asserts that today’s public discourse concerning society’s most deserving issues – poverty, inequality, and economic opportunity – has been seriously weakened by the absence of “qualitative literacy.” Qualitative literacy has to do with “the ability to understand, handle, and properly interpret qualitative evidence” such as ethnographic and in-depth interview (IDI) data. Small contrasts the general lack of qualitative literacy with the “remarkable improvement” in “quantitative literacy” particularly among those in the media where data-driven journalism is on the rise, published stories are written with a greater knowledge of quantitative data and use of terminology (e.g., the inclusion of means and medians), and more care is given to the quantitative evidence cited in media commentary (i.e., op-eds).
Small explains that the extent to which a researcher (or journalist or anyone involved in the use of research) possesses qualitative literacy can be determined by looking at the person’s ability to “assess whether the ethnographer has collected and evaluated fieldnote data properly, or the interviewer has conducted interviews effectively and analyzed the transcripts properly.” This determination serves as the backbone of “basic qualitative literacy” which enables the research user to identify the difference between a rigorous qualitative study and Read Full Text