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Comparing Three Qualitative Research
Qualitative research is a systematic subjective approach to research used to describe life experiences and give them meaning. There are six common qualitative research designs, that is, phenomenological, grounded theory, ethnographic, historical, action research and case study. Three of these designs will be discussed in this paper.
1. Phenomenological Studies
Phenomenological studies are an examination of human experiences through descriptions that are provided by the persons involved. Such experiences are called lived experiences. The main aim of phenomenological studies is to give a description of the meaning that experiences hold for each subject under study. This type of research method is used in the study of areas in which there is little knowledge available. In phenomenological research, the respondents are asked to give a description of their experiences as they perceive them. They may write about their experiences; however, information is generally obtained through interviewing them.
To gain an understanding of the lived experience from the vantage point of the subject, the person conducting the research has to take into account their own feeling and beliefs. The researchers have first to identify what they expect to discover and then deliberately put aside these ideas of their own. This process is called bracketing. Only when the researchers disregard, their own ideas about the phenomenon under study it is possible to see the experience from the eyes of the people who have lived through the experience.
This type of research would ask a question such as, “What is the experience like for a mother living with a teenage child who is dying of cancer?”. The researcher might perceive that he, himself, would feel very frightened and hopeless. These feelings would have to be identified and then disregarded to listen to what the mother is saying about living through the experience of a dying child. It is very possible that the mother might have discovered an important reason for living while previously she probably hadn't felt needed anymore by her teenage child.
In the research question development, the researcher has to come up with research questions that are relevant to the case under study. Some of the research questions include: What does the existence of feeling or experience indicate concerning the phenomenon to be explored?, What are the necessary and sufficient constituents of experience or feeling? And what is the nature of the human being? These research questions will help in guiding the researcher through the research process.
In the data collection methodology, there are no clearly defined steps to carry out the research. This is so as to avoid limiting the creativity of the researcher. A major step involves seeking of persons who understand the study and are willing to express their inner feelings and experiences. These people then describe the experiences of the phenomenon under study to the researcher. The respondents can also write experiences of the phenomenon under study. The researcher can gain additional data through direct observation and use of audiotape or videotape.
The analysis of data from these types of studies requires that the researcher “dwells with the subject’s descriptions in quiet contemplation.” The researcher then tries to find out the meaning of the lived experience for each of the subjects interviewed. Patterns and themes are sought in the data. Collection and analysis of data occur simultaneously. Presentation of the data collected is done through reports that may be published.
2. Ethnographic Studies
Ethnographic studies involve the collection as well as the analysis of data about cultural groups. Ethnography may be described as “encountering alien worlds and making sense of them”, Agar (1986). Ethnographers try to depict how actions in one world make sense from the point of view of another world. It entails learning from people. It can also be described as the systematic process of observation, detailing, description, documentation, and analysis of the life ways or particular patterns of culture or subculture in order to understand the patterns or life ways of the persons in their familiar environment.
In this research, the researcher lives with the persons under study and becomes part of their culture. He or she explores with the community their customs and rituals. The subject of the study can be an entire cultural group of a subgroup in the culture. The term culture can be used in the broad sense to mean the entire tribe of Indians, for instance, or in a more narrow sense to mean one unit of nursing care.
The researchers interview persons who are most knowledgeable about the culture under study. These persons are called key informants. Data are generally collected through observation of participants and conduction of interviews. Just like in phenomenological studies, the researchers identify their own personal biases, beliefs and set them aside or disregard them, and then try to gain an understanding of the daily lives of the persons under study as they live them. The collection and analysis of data occur simultaneously. As the researchers gain more understanding of the data, new questions tend to emerge. The end purpose of this type of research is to aid in the development of cultural theories.
This method has been used in anthropological research for a long time. Quite recently, the method has been adopted in areas such as health care. In anthropological research, for instance, Margaret Mead in 1929 used ii to study the Samoans. This method has been the principle method used by anthropologists to study persons all over the world. The researchers study how people live and how they communicate with one another.
The type of questions that this kind of research would answer include: What are the customs of the culture under study?, What are the rituals of the culture under study? And How do the people in the culture communicate with one another? The sample size for the study is usually quite large as the researchers have to observe a large sample to be able to understand the cultural aspects of the people under study fully. In the selection of the people to interview, the researcher selects the people who are most knowledgeable in the community and interviews them. Having identified the culture to conduct the study, the researchers identify variables for the study and review available literature. As mentioned above, data collection involves gaining entrance into the culture, acquiring informants and gathering data through direct observation and interaction with the subjects. Data analysis requires that the researcher dwells with the subjects’ descriptions in quiet contemplation. Themes and patterns are then sought in the data collected. Data presentation is usually through reports on what has been observed in the field.
3. Grounded Theory Studies
Grounded theory studies are studies in which data are collected and analyzed and then a theory is developed that is based on or grounded in the data collected. This method utilizes both a deductive and inductive approach to the development of theory. According to Morse and Field (1985), "concepts and constructs are grounded in the data while hypotheses are tested as they arise from the research."
Grounded theory is a very good method for understanding the processes through which patients manage chronic or new problems relating to health. Each of the persons may manage the health problem in a way that is different from the other person. For instance, a researcher who is a nurse may be interested in knowing how young women cope with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). One woman might be embarrassed to talk about the topic while another may be comfortable to talk about it. Each woman will definitely respond to the topic in their own unique way. Instead of using probability sampling procedures, the researcher uses purposeful sampling. This is to mean that the researcher searches for certain subjects who will be able to give new information on the phenomenon that is being studied. The researcher seeks diversity rather than similarity in the persons sampled.
Data are gathered settings that are naturalistic. The collection of data primarily consists of observation of participants and interviews. Data are recorded through tape recordings or handwritten notes. Collection and analysis of data occur simultaneously. Data are constantly compared to those which have been gathered already, a process called constant comparison. Concepts that are pertinent are identified, and codes are assigned to them. The codes assigned are constantly reviewed, with new interpretations being made of the data. The researcher has to keep an open mind, and he uses intuition in the interpretation of the data.
After identification of concepts and specification of relationships, the researcher goes ahead to consult the literature to aid in the determination of whether similar associations have been already uncovered. Despite the great diversity of data gathered, this approach presumes that there is a possibility of discovering patterns that are fundamental to all social life; the patterns being called basic social processes. This method is more concerned with coming up with rather than testing of hypotheses. Another factor is that the theory generated is self-correcting, meaning that as data are gathered, there are adjustments made to the theory to allow one to interpret new data obtained. The sample size for the data is usually small, and presentation is in the form of reports of data collection and analysis.
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Select a specific research method and critically evaluate its usefulness to researching in/for social work.
It is not unusual for practitioners and students to become anxious about the prospect of undertaking social research. The reputation of research is difficult, mechanical and a tedious set of rituals that are linked to unappealing scientific or objective routines and tasks which ultimately result in remote, dry and even aloof as well as impenetrable, reports, books, and academic papers. Although challenging, most forms of qualitative research are accessible, rewarding, relevant, and at times, enlightening. Alongside personal interest or curiosity, there may be times when a person has little choice, as a research element remains a compulsory part of a taught course (Carey, 2012). Many of the core skills required for qualitative research will have been developed or mastered by many students and practitioners. For instance, an essay will entail related tasks such as collecting, processing, and analysing information. Furthermore, social work practitioners conduct interviews in assessments or write reports for funding panels or reports for court proceedings. Moreover, qualitative research is learned just as much through direct experience as through study and can help promote our imagination and sense of creativity or curiosity and the urge to know more (Shaw, 2012).
According to the Social Work Policy Institute (2010), social work research informs professional practice. Social work research allows the professional to assess the needs and resources of people in their environments, evaluate the effectiveness of social work services in meeting people’s needs, demonstrate relative costs and benefits of social work services, advance professional education in light of changing contexts for practice, and understand the impact of legislation and social policy on the clients and communities served. In the field of social work, practitioners must remain well-informed regarding any research advances in their respective areas. Advocates of evidence-based practice expect social workers to engage in practice informed by the best available evidence. Research studies conducted through the lens of qualitative studies provide important contributions to the social work knowledge base. In many cases, these studies can represent the best available research regarding emerging problems or application of evidence to diverse populations (Lietz & Zayas, 2010). Qualitative research continues to be a valuable approach in social work practice. In 1994, the Council on Social Work Education required that qualitative research methods be taught in all accredited bachelor’s and master’s level social work programs, a requirement renewed in the Education Policy and Accreditation Standards in 2002 and again in 2008 (Drisko, 2013).
A universal definition of does not exist. The literature of social science and applied professional fields, such as interpretive, naturalistic, constructivist, ethnographic, and fieldwork are variously employed to designate the broad collection of approaches that are simply qualitative research (Hunt, 2004). Qualitative research approaches allow researchers to connect with people in deeply personal ways that enable the persons being researched to express the rich meanings of their thoughts, actions, and events in their lives. The two main types of qualitative methods, in-depth interviews and observation, brings researchers into close contact with the lived experiences of the people being researched. These interactions frequently involve personal topics that can evoke powerful emotions for both the researcher and informants. These evocative situations provide researchers the opportunity to explore the deep meanings of the phenomena as well as develop new theories and understandings that have rich and nuanced dimensions. Therefore, the knowledge gained is not only information that passes through the central processors of the brain, but also arises from our hearts and deeply held emotions. Therefore, understandings gained via the engagement of heart and mind have an immediate potential to connect to the hearts and minds of audiences. This immediacy can be beneficial to persons who are members of social work constituencies such as maltreated children, poor people of colour, homeless families, people with mental illnesses and frail elderly who are disenfranchised from the political system and whose voices are regularly suppressed within the arenas where their fates are debated and shaped: public opinion, legislatures, and social service agencies (Gilgun & Abrams, 2002).
The commitment of qualitative social work practice to the empowerment of the disenfranchised population is commendable. Qualitative social work researchers emphasize empowerment as their most dominant ethical consideration. Yet, empowerment is often an exclusive ethical principle. The exclusiveness of the empowering research trend can be understood from two contemporary perspectives: the nature of social work and the lack of a specific code of ethics and training in ethics for qualitative social work researchers. Most social work is not basic research. Instead, social work is an ideology committed discipline in which practitioners and researchers have a duty to promote justice and improve welfare. The concept of empowerment allows social work researchers, particularly qualitative researchers, to work towards these goals via their research. Furthermore, by empowering research participants and related populations, social work researchers can bridge a gap that might exist between their value commitments as social workers and a lack of training on research ethics. Therefore, empowerment offers social work researchers the opportunity to be ethical according to current mainstream thinking in social work. The trend to emphasize empowerment in qualitative social work studies reveals merits and some limitations, as researchers often emphasize successful or resilient individuals within oppressed groups studied. The dual focus on resiliency and empowerment contributes to research participants as role models of successful coping within their communities. Simultaneously, it overshadows the stories of the multitudes of ordinary unfortunate members of these oppressed or disenfranchised populations. The target of most empowerment studies is to increase the social power of populations and not the research participants themselves, resilient or not (Peled & Leichtentritt, 2002).
A number of advantages have been documented about the use of qualitative methodologies for social work. For example, descriptive, inductive, and unobtrusive techniques for data collection are regarded as compatible with the knowledge and values of the social work profession. In circumstances where social workers are faced with issues and problems that are not amenable to quantitative examination, qualitative methods have been advocated. The social’psychological bases of qualitative research suggest that it is compatible with the person-in-environment paradigm of social work practice. Qualitative approaches are similar in method to clinical social work assessments, as clinicians rely on interviews to gather data on a client’s issues in the context of the environment. The clinician reviews a series of hunches and working hypotheses that are based on observations made through ongoing contact with the client. Qualitative researchers, like clinicians, are trained to investigate each case individually, without imposing preconceived notions or attempting to generalize to all clients having a particular problem. Qualitative researchers maintain field notes and documents on their research, just as clinicians maintain running accounts of contact with a client in the form of process recordings or case records. In studies of social processes of complex human systems such as families, organizations, and communities, qualitative methodology may be the most appropriate research strategy. Scholars of the family now extol the benefits of qualitative methodologies in gaining, or understanding, the dynamic processes, meanings, communication patterns, experiences, and individual and family constructions of reality. Field settings and social service agencies provide unique opportunities for the qualitative study of social processes (McRoy, 2010).
Qualitative approaches have the advantage of flexibility and, in-depth analysis, as well as the potential to observe a variety of features of a social situation. Qualitative researchers conducting face-to-face interviews can quickly adjust the interview schedule if the interviewee’s responses suggest the need for additional probes or lines of inquiry in future interviews. Moreover, qualitative researchers can develop and use questions on the spot which can aid in a more in-depth understanding of a respondent’s beliefs, attitudes, or situation. During the course of an interview or observation, a researcher is able to note changes in bodily expression, mood, voice intonation, and environmental factors that could influence the interviewee’s responses. This observational data can be especially valuable when a respondent’s body language runs counter to verbal responses given to interview questions. Nevertheless, qualitative methodology is not completely precise because human beings do not always act logically or predictably (McCoy, 2010).
Qualitative research is frequently based on the researcher’s interpretations or judgements. Interpretations are by nature very personal and influenced by the researcher’s own values and individual biases. These criticisms are considered subjectivity. Therefore, qualitative research findings cannot be replicated in the same way as quantitative results. For example, two qualitative researchers, one with a more pessimistic viewpoint and one with a more optimistic viewpoint, both studying the same phenomenon and interviewing the same individuals, may attain different conclusions because the interpretive process would be impacted by their dissimilar world views. However, it should be noted that a primary emphasis on designing rigorous qualitative studies helps to minimize researcher bias. Qualitative research findings do not generalize to populations beyond the sample. This is due to the subjectivity of the results and because they are so specific to the sample. Generalizability is not the aim of qualitative research because the goal of qualitative research is to develop a rich understanding of an aspect of human experience. As the aim of qualitative research is understanding rather than generalization, data collection continues as saturation occurs. Saturation occurs with relatively small sample sizes of 30, 20 or 10 participants (Krysik & Finn, 2013).
A risk of betrayal can result from the greater closeness, and consequent trust may develop between the researcher and participant in qualitative research. The risk of betrayal increases because of the characteristic use of smaller samples and the emphasis on the details of how people live their lives (Shaw, 2008). Qualitative research evokes consideration about confidentiality and the protection of participant identity. Ethical questions arise due to the special closeness that may develop between qualitative researchers and study participants. Since participant observation is a key methodology, the researcher must explain how he or she plans to address the issue of non-consenting members of the group. It is not unusual for qualitative researchers to investigate ‘hidden’ populations who engage in behaviour defined as deviant. Applicants studying individuals who may be subject to legal sanctions if their identities are revealed will need to specify procedures to ensure confidentiality (National Institute of Health, 2001).
Although time, budgetary, and other resource constraints may impact qualitative research, these constraints should not be allowed to undermine it. Other important considerations must be considered such as the data collection method, as well as, the human resources available to the project and their skills must be taken into account (Wilmot, 2005). Qualitative research can require an enormous amount of time and be extremely labour intensive. It can also produce results that may not be generalizable for policy-making or decision making, and many funding sources think it may be simply too expensive (Trochim, 2006). The democratization of social work research is one direction in which the politics of the research have moved centre-stage. The belated increase in the awareness of research funders that qualitative research makes an important and distinctive contribution to policy, practice, and strategic research poses new challenges to qualitative researchers to address ethical issues in a persuasive and original way when applying for funding (Shaw, 2008).
Qualitative methods are particularly suitable for use with people who are more comfortable responding in an interview format than to a standardized survey questionnaire. It has been suggested that the gender of respondents should be a consideration in selecting a research strategy because many women may prefer qualitative research techniques to quantitative approaches as they favour opportunities to discuss subjects in context. Additionally, some members of ethnic groups, low income populations, or people who are socially distant from the researcher are more likely to participate in the in-depth interviews characteristic of qualitative research than to complete a structured questionnaire or survey. To enhance the validity of results in research with diverse populations, research questions must be clearly constructed and must not be subject to different cultural interpretations. Moreover, due to the subjective nature of qualitative research, it is important for the researcher to continually engage in self-examination to be certain that his or her own biases and stereotypes are not influencing the interpretation of the findings. On the other hand, because qualitative analysis allows researchers to explore in depth all factors that might affect a particular issue, this strategy permits sensitive consideration of the complexities of human diversity (McCoy, 2010). Then again, when compared with surveys and experiments, qualitative research measurements normally provide more depth of meaning but have less reliability. Also, qualitative research results cannot be generalized as safely as those based on rigorous sampling and standardized questionnaires (Rubin & Babbin, 2009).
Prolonged engagement is used to reduce the impact of reactivity and respondent bias. It is assumed that a long and trusting relationship between a researcher and respondent gives the respondents less opportunity to deceive and is therefore less likely to withhold information and lie. Plus, lengthy interviews or follow-up interviews with the same respondent enables the researcher to detect distortion or the respondent to disclose socially undesirable truths. However, there are drawbacks to prolonged engagement as lengthy engagement can lead to bias if the researcher over-identifies with the respondent and lose his or her objective, analytic stance, or own sense of identity. The term for this narrative is going native. Notwithstanding, qualitative studies that lack prolonged engagement should be viewed with caution as some authors think that because qualitative inquiries emphasizes flexibility, the label ‘qualitative’ means ‘anything goes’. The most common example occurs when a researcher thinks that one brief open- ended interview with each respondent is satisfactory (Rubin & Babbie, 2009, p.233). Another decisive factor in whether the qualitative research report provides sufficient detail about the study’s contexts and participants is to enable readers in other situations to determine if the findings seem likely to apply to the contexts or populations with which they are concerned. Researchers using qualitative observation must fuse two paradoxical perspectives. The first is the emic perspective in which they attempt to adopt the beliefs, attitudes, and other points of view shared by the members of the culture being studied. The second is the etic perspective which means maintaining objectivity as an outsider and raising questions about the culture being observed that would not occur to members of that culture (Rubbin & Babbin, 2009).
In conclusion, it is true that many people dislike the thought of researching, yet it is also true that once research is initiated, it can be become addictive as the researchers thirst for knowledge is awakened. It is a positive attribute that quantitative research engages with hard-to-reach populations and offers insight in extremely complex and often hidden social problems. It gives oppressed populations a voice that can pave the way for social inclusion and social justice.