Research Design Review currently includes 180 articles concerning quantitative and qualitative research design issues. As in recent years, the articles published in 2017 generally revolved around qualitative research, addressing the many concerns in qualitative research design and ways to help the researcher achieve quality outcomes throughout the research process.
The use of quotes or verbatims from participants is a typical and necessary component to any qualitative research report. It is by revealing participants’ exact language that the researcher helps the user of the research to understand the key takeaways by clarifying through illustration the essential points of the researcher’s interpretations. The idea is not to display an extensive list of what people said but rather provide quotes that have been carefully selected for being the most descriptive or explanatory of the researcher’s conceptual interpretation of the data. As Susan Morrow has written
“An overemphasis on the researcher’s interpretations at the cost of participant quotes will leave the reader in doubt as to just where the interpretations came from [however] an excess of quotes will cause the reader to become lost in the morass of stories.” (Morrow, 2005, p. 256)
By embedding carefully chosen extracts from participants’ words in the final document, the researcher uniquely gives participants a voice in the outcomes while contributing to the credibility – and transparency – of the research. In essence, the use of verbatims gives the users of the research a peek into the analyst’s codebook by Read Full Text
In Chapter 10 of Sam Ladner’s book Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector, the author discusses a best practice approach to reporting ethnographic research for a corporate audience. She states that “private-sector ethnographic reports are successful if they are dramatic and consistent with the organization’s truth regime” (p.165). To this end, Ladner recommends text reports with “clickable hyperlinks” throughout and supplemental material, such as a PowerPoint presentation, that acts as the “marketing campaign” or “movie trailer” for the text document.
As another “delightful element” to the ethnography report, Ladner suggests the use of personas or archetypes, each representing a depiction of participants that share a particular characteristic. This is “a useful way to summarize the voluminous amount of qualitative data” (p. 167); however, Ladner cautions that personas “are often done badly” and points to Steve Portigal’s article on the subject matter, “Persona Non Grata.” In it, Portigal advocates for maintaining the “realness” of research participants rather than manufacturing a “falsehood” (by way of personas) that distances the users of the research from the people they want to know most about. Portigal encourages researchers to engage with the “messiness of actual human beings,” emphasizing that “people are too wonderfully complicated to be reduced to plastic toys [that is, personas].”
Reporting observational research for corporate users can be a challenge. On the one hand, the researcher is obligated to dig into the messiness of analysis and convey an honest accounting of what the researcher saw and heard. On the other hand, the final reporting is meaningless if no one pays attention to it, thereby preventing the research from having the desired effect of bringing new energy and a new way of thinking to the organization. Ladner and Portigal agree that powerful storytelling grounded in reality is the best approach, but how do we create a compelling drama while maintaining the integrity of our data? A combination of formats, as Ladner suggests, is one tactic. And the use of personas may be another. An open and ongoing discussion among researchers about personas – if and how the roles we assign the actors in our final story are (or can be) created while staying true to the study participants – seems like a worthwhile effort.