Best Practices

Making Sense of the Human Experience with Qualitative Research

The following is a modified excerpt of the introduction to Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, p. 1-2).

Human beings engage in some form of “qualitative research” all of the time. This is because there is not a context in which humans engage that does not require some process of taking in (i.e., gathering) information from the environment and developing that information into an interpretive nugget that can then be used to make sense of and react to particular situations. Humans do this so routinely that they are rarely aware of the information-gathering stages they process, or even their constant and natural proclivities to do so. Although some human beings may be more successful at processing contextual information than others, humans generally do not consciously think about the quality of the information they take in and the quality of the decision-making processes they apply to that information as they go through their daily lives.

As a formal method of inquiry, qualitative research—with its emphasis on the individual and the role that context and relationships play in forming thoughts and behaviors—is at the core of what it means to conduct research with human subjects. Qualitative research assumes that the answer to any single research question or objective lies within a host of related questions or issues pertaining to deeply seeded aspects of humanity. A qualitative inquiry into breast cancer treatment, for example, might begin by asking “How do women cope with breast cancer treatment?”, from which the researcher considers any number of relevant personal issues around “coping” and then addresses further and deeper questions, such as “What is the quality of life among women undergoing breast cancer treatment?”, “How do various aspects of this quality of life compare to life before their cancer treatment, before breast surgery, and before breast cancer diagnosis?”, “What words do women use to describe their life experiences and what is the relevance Read Full Text

Distinguishing Between “Qualitative Information” & “Qualitative Research”

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 Qualitative information vs. 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.

The distinction lies in the rigor of the design and implementation of the data gathering and analysis processes. Qualitative research (like all research) adheres to certain standards in the research protocol to maximize the integrity and ultimate usefulness of the data. Qualitative information, on the other hand, uses what appears to be similar methods but without the attention to basic research principles required to lay the foundation and support for the integrity of the outcomes.

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

Reflections on “Qualitative Literacy”

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 Mario Luis Smalldiscourse 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