A Multi-method Approach in Qualitative Research

A portion of the following is taken from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 288-289).

In contrast to mixed methods, a multi-method approach in qualitative research is one in Multiple methodswhich the researcher combines two or more qualitative methods to investigate a research question or phenomenon. Although the terms “multi-method” and “multiple methods” are sometimes used to refer to qualitative–quantitative (or mixed-method) research (e.g., Brewer & Hunter, 2006; Snape & Spencer, 2003), this terminology is reserved here for research strategies that incorporate more than one qualitative method and do not include any quantitative methods.

Qualitative multi-method research—due to the additional data collection and analysis considerations—has the potential disadvantage of consuming valuable resources such as time and available research funds. However, this is not always the case and, under the appropriate conditions, multiple qualitative methods can prove very useful toward gaining a more fully developed complexity and meaning in the researcher’s understanding of a subject matter compared to a single-method research design (cf. Denzin & Lincoln, 2011; Flick, 2007).

Ethnography is one such example. Observation is the principal method in an ethnographic study; however, it is often supplemented with other qualitative methods such as in-depth interviews (IDIs), focus group discussions, and/or documentary review in order to provide a more complete “picture” of the issue or phenomenon under investigation. Other applications of multi-method qualitative research are not uncommon. Lambert and Loiselle (2008), for instance, combined focus group discussions and IDIs in a study with cancer patients concerning their “information-seeking behavior.” These researchers found that this multi-method approach enriched the study because one method helped inform the other—for example, group discussions identified relevant questions/issues that were then used in the IDIs—and contributed unique information—for example, the IDIs were effective in obtaining details of patients’ information-seeking processes—as well as contextual clarification—for example, the focus groups were more valuable in highlighting contextual influences on these processes such as the physicians’ preferences or recommendations. Lambert and Loiselle concluded that the multi-method research design “enhanced understanding of the structure and essential characteristics of the phenomenon within the context of cancer” (p. 235).

Research Design Review has published articles on two special types of multiple-method qualitative research—case study and narrative research—each of which is a form of “case-centered” qualitative research, a term coined by Mishler (1996, 1999) and used by others (cf. Riessman, 2008) to denote a research approach that preserves the “unity and coherence” of the research subject throughout data collection and analysis. A six-step approach to case-centered research design is discussed in this article.

Regardless of the particular multi-method design or type of research, a multiple-method approach requires a unique set of qualitative researcher skills. These skills are discussed in this article—“Working with Multiple Methods in Qualitative Research: 7 Unique Researcher Skills.”

Brewer, J., & Hunter, A. (2006). Foundations of multimethod research: Synthesizing styles. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.). (2011). The Sage handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Flick, U. (2007). Designing qualitative research. London: Sage Publications.

Lambert, S. D., & Loiselle, C. G. (2008). Combining individual interviews and focus groups to enhance data richness. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(2), 228–237. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04559.x

Mishler, E. G. (1996). Missing persons: Recovering developmental stories/histories. In R. Jessor, A. Colby, & R. A. Shweder (Eds.), Ethnography and human development: Context and meaning in social inquiry (pp. 73–100). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Mishler, E. G. (1999). Storylines: Craftartitists’ narratives of identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Riessman, C. K. (2008). Narrative methods for the human sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Snape, D., & Spencer, L. (2003). The foundations of qualitative research. In J. Ritchie & J. Lewis (Eds.), Qualitative research practice. London: Sage Publications.

Elevating Qualitative Design to Maximize Research Integrity

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 9-10).

All research that is aimed at understanding how people think and behave requires a principled approach to research design that is likely to maximize data quality and to instill users’ confidence in the research outcomes. This is no less so in qualitative than it is in quantitative research; and, in fact, the distinctive attributes and underlying complexities in qualitative research necessitate a quality approach to qualitative research design. This approach requires qualitative researchers to build certain principles into their research studies by way of incorporating and practicing fundamental research standards.

Total Quality FrameworkTo that end, the Total Quality Framework (TQF) was devised to provide a basis by which researchers can develop critical thinking skills necessary to the execution of qualitative designs that maximize the integrity of the research outcomes. This framework is not intended to prescribe a formula or specific procedure by which qualitative researchers should conduct qualitative inquiry. Rather, the TQF provides researchers with a flexible way to focus on quality issues, examine the sources of variability and possible bias in their qualitative methods, and incorporate features into their designs that mitigate these effects and maximize quality outcomes. Integral to the TQF is the idea that all qualitative research must be Credible, Analyzable, Transparent, and Useful. These four components are fundamental to the TQF and its ability to help researchers identify the strengths and limitations of their qualitative methods while also guiding them in the qualitative research design process.

By holding the quality of qualitative research design to a deep level of scrutiny when applied across the diverse, multidisciplinary fields utilizing qualitative methods — e.g., education; psychology; anthropology; sociology; nursing, public health, and medicine; communication; information management; business; geography and environmental science; and program evaluation — the discussion of qualitative research is significantly elevated and enables students, faculty, and practitioners to design and interpret qualitative research studies based on the quality standards that are the hallmark of the TQF.

 

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

Qualitative Research in APA Style

For the first time ever, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association [APA], APA Publication Manual2020) now includes relevant discussions pertaining to qualitative research. In the 7th (most recent) edition, the APA manual now integrates definitions and explanations of qualitative articles along side quantitative articles, gives a description and outlines approaches to qualitative meta-analyses in addition to quantitative meta-analyses, offers the reader unique data-sharing considerations associated with qualitative research, and presents a lengthy, detailed section on the “Reporting Standards for Qualitative Research.”

Even if you are not a devotee of the APA referencing style, qualitative researchers will benefit from reviewing the considerations found in the manual. For instance, the APA reporting standards stipulate five main areas for the Method section of a qualitative research article: 1) overview of the research design; 2) research participants and/or other data sources; 3) participant recruitment; 4) data collection; and 5) data analysis. It is noteworthy that in the Method area pertaining to research participants, APA recommends that the author go beyond discussing the number and demographic or cultural characteristics of the study participants to include “personal history factors” (e.g., trauma exposure, family history) “that are relevant to the specific contexts and topics of their research” (p. 100). With their emphasis on specific contexts, APA cites Morse (2008) and her discussion on the importance of reporting relevant details of the participants, which may or may not include demographic information — “Some demographic information may be pertinent: If it is, keep it; if not, do not report it” (p. 300). Morse goes on to remind researchers that “in qualitative inquiry, the description of the context is often as important as the description of the participants” (p. 300).

In addition to these characteristics, the APA style also states that, in the spirit of transparency, authors of a qualitative research article should discuss the researcher-participant relationship. Specifically, the manual asks authors to “describe the relationships and interactions between researchers and participants that are relevant to the research process and any impact on the research process (e.g., any relationships prior to the study, any ethical considerations relevant to prior relationships)” (p. 100).

These and other discussions on reporting standards — e.g., pertaining to the participant recruitment process and sampling, data collection strategy, and data analysis, along with a discussion of methodological integrity — are useful reading to not only the researcher who hopes to publish their work but also to qualitative researchers who are looking for a condensed version of qualitative research design considerations.

It has been a long time coming but hats off to APA for acknowledging qualitative methods and for giving careful thought to the unique attributes associated with qualitative designs in adapting their style standards.

American Psychological Association. (2020). The publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). Washington, DC.

Morse, J. M. (2008). “What’s your favorite color?” Reporting irrelevant demographics in qualitative research. Qualitative Health Research, 18(3), 299–300. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732307310995