qualitative methods

Navigating Narrative Research & the Depths of the Lived Experience

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 298-300).

Narrative research investigates the stories of what narrative researchers call “lived experiences.” These may be firsthand experiences of Navigating the lived experienceindividuals, groups, organizations, and even governments. Regardless of the entity, it is the story that is the case or object of attention and the focal point of the research. Unlike the structured or semi-structured in-depth interview (IDI), where the interviewer–interviewee relationship is directed by the researcher’s question agenda that serves to extract information from the interviewee, the narrative researcher allows the narrator (i.e., the interviewee in narrative research) to be the guide, welcoming the narrator’s stories wherever they may lead, by conducting a form of unstructured IDI whereby the researcher makes broad inquiries such as, “Tell me what happened when you joined the army,” “Tell me about your life as a health care worker,” “Tell me how you became a regular coffee drinker.”*

The belief in narrative research is that it is the narrated story—whether told orally, via some form of text or documents, and/or through the use of visual data (e.g., photographs, video, drawings)—that allows researchers to learn about individuals, society, and history, and that, indeed, “narrative inquiry [is] the study of experience as story” (Clandinin, Pushor, & Orr, 2007, p. 22).

For the most part, there are three (not mutually exclusive) ways to consider narrative inquiry, by the type of:

  • Narrative being studied: for example, life history, life story, biography, autobiography, or autoethnography.
  • Analytical approach used by the researcher: for example, thematic, structural, dialogical/performance, or visual (Riessman, 2008).
  • Scholarly discipline applied to the research: for example, psychology, sociology, or education.

The variations of narrative research across fields of study demonstrate that there is no one way to think about narrative inquiry and, indeed, the three delineated types—narrative, analytical, and discipline—are often co-mingled. For example, various factions of psychology have embraced the use Read Full Text

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

Individual Thinking in the Focus Group Method

Focus group discussions can be an effective method for learning about a range of attitudes and behavior associated with a particular topic. An important strength of this method is the diversity of perspectives to be gained as well as the associated verbal and nonverbal dynamic that ensues Individualism in focus groupsamong group participants. It is this group interaction that defines the focus group discussion and makes it a valuable qualitative research method. Two earlier articles in Research Design Reviewone from 2018 and another from 2013 – discuss group interaction and encourage researchers to hone their skills in fostering participant interaction as well as sharpen their analytical sensibilities of “interactive effects” and the implications of these effects in the interpretations and reporting of the outcomes.

This emphasis on group interaction may leave researchers wondering what, if any, role individual thinking plays in the focus group method. Yet each participant’s thinking about a topic or issue is critical to understanding focus group data. It is, after all, the reason researchers carefully screen and recruit group participants, i.e., to hear about experiences and attitudes that will vary from individual to individual.

This is also why moderators are trained on, not only how to engage participants in an interactive discussion but also, how to “draw out” and hear from each participant, especially the less social or more timid individual. At the end of the day, the moderator’s job is to come away with useful insights pertaining to the research questions that stem from the group interaction in conjunction with the moderator’s knowledge of the individual thinking gained from each person in the discussion.

There are two important moments in a focus group (either in-person or online) when the moderator can (and should) capture individual thinking. One of these moments is at the very start of the discussion and the other is at the end of the discussion. In both instances, the moderator asks participants to privately write (or type) their responses to a few questions specific to the subject matter without the influence from other participants’ discussion or comments. It is in this manner that the moderator comes to understand the individual thinking among the participants related to the topic which can then be effectively incorporated into the moderator’s conduct of the discussion while also adding important new information that might otherwise go undetected.


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