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.
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
The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 317-318).
The in-depth interview method most often used in narrative research takes the form of the unstructured interview where the interviewer is not so much equipped with a series of questions or topics as a reminder of the research objective and areas where clarification or words of encouragement may be particularly appropriate. In lieu of a formal interview guide, the interviewer may want to enlist certain aids. For instance, Elliott (2005) suggests using a “life history grid” (e.g., a spreadsheet with each row representing a specific year and the columns used to record life events) to facilitate biographical interviews when narrators may need some structure in which to place their life events, beyond an open-ended question such as “Tell me about your life.” A Total Quality Framework approach to narrative research fully supports the life history grid and other tools that may enable the narrative researcher to obtain more complete and accurate data that ultimately lead to more credible and useful outcomes.
Another important consideration when conducting narrative research, particularly in the in-person mode, is the very close relationship that is likely to develop between the interviewer and the storyteller. For this reason, 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.
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