qualitative methods

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

Evaluating Proposals Using the Total Quality Framework

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 345-346)

In addition to using the Total Quality Framework (TQF) to structure more rigorous and comprehensive research proposals, the TQF can be used by anyone who is evaluating a proposal for a research study that will use qualitative methods (e.g., members of a thesis or dissertation committee, funders at a granting agency or foundation, clients in the commercial sector). A TQF approach to evaluating research proposals effectively holds the proposal author(s) accountable for doing research that is likely to be accurate and, in the end, useful. The TQF provides a comprehensive system to methodically think about the strengths and limitations of the proposed study design and helps the reviewer ascertain whether there are outstanding threats to the quality of the proposed research that have been ignored or remain unanticipated by the researcher(s).

In essence, the TQF is a reminder to proposal evaluators that research integrity built around fundamental principles is equally important in qualitative as it is in quantitative research design.

The TQF criteria to be considered in the proposal review, within each of the four TQF components, are the following:

Credibility

• How the target population has been defined.
• How the list representing the target population will be created.
• How the sample of participants will be chosen from the list(s) that will be used.
• How many participants the researcher proposes to gather data from or about and the justification that is provided for this number, including its adequacy for the purposes of the study; a discussion of how the researcher will monitor and judge the adequacy of this number while in the field should also be included.
• How the researcher will gain cooperation from, and access to, the sampled participants.
• How the researcher will determine if those in the sample from whom data was not gathered differ in critical ways on the topics being studied from those participants who did provide data.
• What the researcher will do to account for the potential bias that may exist because not everyone in the sample participated in the research (i.e., no data was gathered from some individuals).
• The extent to which the relevant concepts that will be studied have been identified.
• How the researcher has operationalized these concepts in order to effectively collect data on them in the research approach.
• How the researcher has articulated and supported the research objectives and questions.
• How the data collection method(s) will be pilot-tested and revised as necessary.
• The precautions that will be taken to minimize (or at least better understand) the potential biases and inconsistencies that might be created in the data by those involved in data collection.
• The precautions that will be taken to assure high ethical standards throughout the entire study. Read Full Text

Quality Frameworks in Qualitative Research

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 20-21)

Many researchers have advanced strategies, criteria, or frameworks for thinking about and promoting the importance of “the quality” of qualitative research at some stage in the research design. There are those who focus on quality as it relates to specific aspects—such as various validation and verification strategies or “checklists” (Barbour, 2001; Creswell, 2013; Brinkmann & Kvale, 2015; Maxwell, 2013; Morse et al., 2002), validity related to researcher decision making (Koro-Ljungberg, 2010) and subjectivity (Bradbury-Jones, 2007), or the specific role of transparency in assessing the quality of outcomes (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014). There are others who prescribe particular approaches in the research process—such as consensual qualitative research (Hill et al., 2005), the use of triangulation (Tobin & Begley, 2004), or an audit procedure (Akkerman, Admiraal, Brekelmans, & Oost, 2006). And there are still others who take a broader, more general view that emphasizes the importance of “paying attention to the qualitative rigor and model of trustworthiness from the moment of conceptualization of the research” (Thomas & Magilvy, 2011, p. 154; see also, Bergman & Coxon, 2005; Whittemore et al., 2001).

The strategies or ways of thinking about quality in qualitative research that are most relevant to the Total Quality Framework (TQF) are those that are (a) paradigm neutral, (b) flexible (i.e., do not adhere to a defined method), and (c) applicable to all phases of the research process. Among these, the work of Lincoln and Guba (e.g., 1981, 1985, 1986, and 1995) is the most noteworthy. Although they profess a paradigm orientation “of the constructionist camp, loosely defined” (Lincoln et al., 2011, p. 116), the quality criteria Lincoln and Guba set forth more than 35 years ago is Read Full Text