qualitative research design

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

Distinguishing Between the Research IDI & Everything Else

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, p. 51).

The research in-depth interview (IDI) method has been compared to interviewing styles employed outside of qualitative research—such as the interviews used in journalism, psychotherapy, and law enforcement—with the assertion that “there are not necessarily hard-and-fast distinctions between these interview forms” (Brinkmann & Kvale, 2015, p. 4). It is true that, in every case, the IDI consists of an interviewer who enters into a one-on-one dialogue with an interviewee in order to discover some aspect of personal information about and from the interviewee. The interviewer is typically in control of the questions that are asked and, when the interviews are completed, the information is analyzed in order to create a story or narrative that conveys an understanding of some topic of interest. Whether it is an interview with a cancer survivor in a qualitative IDI study, the new city mayor for the local newspaper, a psychotherapist’s request for more details related to the patient’s mood disorder, or a police detective’s interrogation of a crime suspect, the IDI approach is “the method by which the personal is made public” (Denzin, 2001, p. 28) to the researcher and the information is used to convey a story about a person or phenomenon.

The qualitative research IDI does, however, differ from these other forms of interviews in two important aspects: the goals of the interview and the interviewing strategy. Whereas the goal of the journalist is to gather the facts for a news story, and the psychologist’s objective is to alleviate an individual’s mental suffering, and the police detective interviews witnesses and suspects to eventually gain a confession, the qualitative researcher conducts IDIs to obtain intricate knowledge, from a small number of members in a target population, based on a well-thought-out research design constructed to maximize credible and analyzable outcomes. Research IDIs are ultimately utilized to make changes or improve the lives of the target population as well as other target groups in similar contexts. With divergent interviewing goals, it is no wonder that qualitative researchers employ interviewing strategies that are partially at odds with especially those of the journalist or detective.

Interviewer training in the unique and necessary skills and techniques associated with the IDI method is mandatory. Unlike other variations 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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