Research Design & Methods

Meaning & Essence of Qual Research

Among the 21 articles published in Research Design Review in 2018, five focused on a few fundamental aspects of the qualitative research approach. These articles address such topics as the meaning researchers give to qualitative research and whether researchers are really conducting qualitative “research” or uncovering qualitative “information.” These articles also include a discussion about the idea that a consideration of qualitative methods is separate from attention to paradigm orientation, and two articles are directed at what it means to be “literate” in qualitative research design and how rigor throughout the quality chain results in useful outcomes by way of new hypotheses, next steps, and/or applications to other contexts.

The compilation of these five articles is available for download by clicking on the title — “The Meaning & Essence of Qualitative Research: Five Articles from Research Design Review Published in 2018.” This is only one of many compilations that have been put together in the month of January since 2012 to cover articles published the previous year. In January 2018, for example, a compilation of 20 articles covering a wide assortment of topics in qualitative research was published. A similar compilation was put together in January 2017. In other years, the compilation includes articles pertaining to both qualitative and quantitative design, such as “Designing Research to Understand How People Think: The Bridge that Connects Quantitative & Qualitative Research” published in January 2014.



The Limited Usefulness of Convenience Sampling

Convenience sampling is a type of sampling by which the researcher selects a study environment and/or study participants primarily based on ease of access, availability, and/or familiarity. Convenience Convenience sampling radiussampling is not uncommon in qualitative research when researchers may need to complete their research in a short time frame and at a relatively low cost. For example, an ethnographer who wants to study how people behave in a confined space might design her research to observe people on her daily commute on the local subway. Or a graduate student might select clergy within a narrow radius of his university to conduct in-depth interviews to understand the roles clergy play in the lives of their congregations. Or focus group discussions might be conducted at a geriatric facility where the researcher visits her parents in order to learn about skilled nursing care.

In each case, the researcher may come away with insightful information about people in confined spaces on that particular subway car on a particular day, or clergy roles among the particular clergy drawn from religious groups within the neighborhood, or skilled nursing care at that particular geriatric facility. However, the important limitation of these studies lies in the fact that the subway car, the religious groups, and the geriatric facility were not selected because they were somehow representative of confined spaces, religious organizations, or senior medical care facilities, but rather because these locations and participants were in easy access and familiar to the researchers. As a result, and without other research to help triangulate the data, the researcher (and users of the research) have no way of knowing how (or if) the particular subway car on the particular day and time of day, or the clergy in the neighborhood, or the geriatric facility where the researcher’s parents live relate to (i.e., is the same or different than) the broader context of confined spaces, religious organizations, or geriatric facilities.

This raises an important limitation to convenience sampling. From a quality standpoint, convenience sampling limits the ultimate usefulness of a qualitative study because the data based on a convenience sample do not allow the researcher (and users of the research) to apply the findings to other contexts, i.e., convenience sampling limits the transferability of the research. Transferability is a vital aspect of the Total Quality Framework Transparency component and is fundamental to contributing something of value. And in the end, contributing something of value – that is, maximizing the usefulness of the research – is the researcher’s ultimate goal.



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Writing Ethics Into Your Qualitative Proposal

A qualitative research proposal is comprised of many pieces and parts that are necessary to convey the researcher’s justification for conducting the research, how the research will be conducted (including the strengths and limitations of the prTQF Proposaloposed approach), as well as what the sponsor of the research can expect in terms of deliverables, timing, and cost. The eight sections of the Total Quality Framework (TQF) proposal are discussed briefly in this 2015 post in Research Design Review. One of the sections in the TQF proposal is Design. This is where the researcher discusses the research method and mode along with Scope and Data Gathering (consistent with the TQF Credibility component), and analysis (including aspects of processing and verification as described by the TQF Analyzability component). Another important part to the Design section is a discussion of the ethical considerations associated with the proposed research.

Every research proposal for studying human beings must carefully consider the ethical ramifications of engaging individuals for research purposes, and this is particularly true in the relatively intimate, in-depth nature of qualitative research. It is incumbent on qualitative researchers to honestly assure research participants their confidentiality and right to privacy, safety from harm, and right to terminate their voluntary participation at any time with no untoward repercussions from doing so. The proposal should describe the procedures that will be taken to implement these assurances, including gaining informed consent, gaining approval from the relevant Institutional Review Board, and anonymizing participants’ names, places mentioned, and other potentially identifying information.

Special consideration should be given in the proposal to ethical matters when the proposed research (a) pertains to vulnerable populations such as children or the elderly; (b) concerns a marginalized segment of the population such as people with disabilities, same-sex couples, or the economically disadvantaged; (c) involves covert observation that will be conducted in association with an ethnographic study; or (d) is a narrative study in which the researcher may withhold the full true intent of the research in order not to stifle or bias participants’ telling of their stories.

Furthermore, the researcher should pay particular attention to ethical considerations when writing a proposal for a focus group study. The focus group method (regardless of mode) brings together (typically) a number of strangers who are often asked to offer their candid thoughts on personal and sensitive topics. For this reason (and other reasons, e.g., the moderator may be sharing confidential information with the participants), it is important to gain a signed consent form from all participants; however, the reality is that there is no way the researcher can totally guarantee confidentiality. These and other associated ethical considerations should be discussed in the Design section of the focus group proposal.