Tips for formulating interview questions

Asking questions of interviewees in ways that help them tell their stories is something of an art. It goes without saying that it is good practice to be well-prepared for interviews. This includes thinking about the physical setting for an interview and the technology one will need to record an interview. And there are so many choices: what will be used — a digital recorder, cell phone, tablet, pen and paper, telephone or synchronous online meeting room? If you are using a digital technology for the first time, it is always useful to test it, and check that the file form can be easily downloaded and made accessible for transcribing. This is because some digital recorders do not have a means to download files. Yet even before setting up the interview and asking the first question, one needs to have thought about the topics one wants to learn about, how these relate to the research questions posed, and the kinds of questions that might elicit information about those topics. In this blog post, I discuss tips for formulating interview guides. Continue reading “Tips for formulating interview questions”

Assessing “quality” in qualitative research

There is a very large body of literature devoted to thinking about how the “quality” of qualitative research should be assessed. From writing several decades ago in which the concepts of “validity” and “reliability” were redefined and applied to qualitative research (e.g.,  Goetz & LeCompte, 1983; LeCompte & Goetz, 1992), methodologists have argued for the rejection in qualitative inquiry (e.g., “validity”, Wolcott, 1990), re-conceptualized such terms as “validity,” (e.g., Lather, 1993; Scheurich, 2001), and proliferated new terms such as “crystallization” (Ellingson, 2009, 2011). It can be difficult for anyone new to conducting qualitative research to figure out where to begin when so much has been written. Here are a few ways to begin to think about what quality means in qualitative research. Continue reading “Assessing “quality” in qualitative research”

Memo writing as a way of being a researcher

In teaching qualitative data analysis, I’ve found that students are frequently surprised at the value of “memo writing.” This is perhaps because memo writing is frequently seen as an additional step in the process off data analysis that takes time out from the work of analyzing data. Yet, memo writing can serve an important role throughout the life of a qualitative research project – while conducting fieldwork and through data analysis. To quote Richardson and St. Pierre, “Writing is a method of inquiry” (Richardson & St. Pierre, 2005), and memo writing can play a part in that. Continue reading “Memo writing as a way of being a researcher”

Tips for observing and taking field notes in qualitative studies

Kathryn Roulston

Recently I was in a field setting observing a classroom. I thought about taking notes on my tablet or laptop, but I thought that might be distracting for those in the classroom. I went old school – I took a pad and hand wrote notes, and began by drawing an organizational map of the classroom. In the evening, I typed up the notes on my computer, and included as many details as I could recall. With permission of the administrators in the setting, I also took some photos in the classroom that provided context for my descriptions of what went on. Back in my office, I transcribed the interviews that I’d conducted within the next few days and then reviewed the transcripts slowly in order to write up a narrative about what I had learned and include relevant photos. What ended up in my field notes? Continue reading “Tips for observing and taking field notes in qualitative studies”

Using digital tools thoughtfully in qualitative research

There is no question that digital tools have revolutionized our work as researchers in numerous ways. For example, rather than writing down as much as I can recall from an interview after the event as Hortense Powdermaker (1966) describes in her tales of anthropological fieldwork completed over 50 years ago, all I need do is press “record” on my digital device to hear exactly what was said after the event. I don’t even have to connect my recording device to my computer to download the file – I can simply press a link in the recording app I use to upload the audio file to a cloud storage service. Yet, with all that digital devices add to my work, I still find it useful to consider some of the ways in which I need to be thoughtful in how I incorporate these in our research. Continue reading “Using digital tools thoughtfully in qualitative research”

Research integrity and the qualitative researcher

Kathryn Roulston

Trust is a crucial component of the enterprise of scientific research. That is because scholars trust others to

  • conduct research ethically with human subjects,
  • accurately report the methods that they used in research project,
  • fairly review manuscripts for publication, and
  • represent findings honestly.

Nevertheless, researchers do not always behave in honest and trustworthy ways. Continue reading “Research integrity and the qualitative researcher”

What to do when research interviews go awry…

Research interviews do not always proceed as anticipated. For example, the anthropologist, Evans-Pritchard (1972 [1940], pp. 12-13) reports on the difficulties he encountered with the Nuer people, with whom he conducted an ethnography in the 1930s. He comments that the “Nuer are expert at sabotaging an inquiry”, and provides the opening of a conversation with a member of the Nuer to illustrate Continue reading “What to do when research interviews go awry…”

Make haste slowly…the value of pausing in doing qualitative research

“Make haste slowly” were words of advice given to me by the principal in the first school that I taught in many years ago. Terry, as he was known to teachers and staff, had many years of teaching and administration experience. His office appeared somewhat disorganized, with stacks of papers piled on his desk. Yet, rather than sitting in his office, Terry could often be seen walking around the school grounds, talking to children, teachers, and parents. He frequently dropped by my classroom to see what was going on. These were friendly, supportive and encouraging visits, and Terry allotted specific time for me to gain mentorship from a more experienced teacher.  As a young teacher I was enthusiastic to try out new ideas, although I did not always consider these within a broader context. Terry’s advice to me still lingers:  “Make haste slowly.” At the time, I did not fully realize what he was getting at, but with the years, I’ve come to appreciate this advice. In particular, I’ve come to understand that to do qualitative research of quality, slow work might be needed. What is the value of completing tasks slowly in a world in which we are continually pressed to do more, faster, in shorter time frames? Continue reading “Make haste slowly…the value of pausing in doing qualitative research”

Qualitative Research for Social Justice

Some have argued that research for social justice compromises the scientific process. For example, Hammersley and Gomm, in their article, “Bias in social research” argue that research that aims to promote “some practical or political cause” is a threat to the scientific community. Others have argued that research is always and already part of the political research process – that there is no impartial stance that researchers can take when studying the social world (e.g., see Haraway, 1988 on the “god trick”). The third edition of the Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, edited by Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln (2005) takes an explicitly critical perspective to research. Scholars who have taken up Denzin’s call to arms (2010) assert that qualitative research must be used to change the world in positive ways. How might qualitative researchers approach this task? Where might one begin? Below I discuss several texts that discuss approaches that forefront issues of social justice. Continue reading “Qualitative Research for Social Justice”