The Qualitative Research Proposal
Qualitative research does not accept reality as a given, where certain variables can be identified and measured. Social reality, which is the realm of qualitative research, is formed by hypercomplex relationships among people and rooted in the representations that individuals have about their own reality. This means that the aspiration of positive science of finding the “truth” about phenomena cannot be maintained as an ideal for social research because this has been and always will be interpretative.
Qualitative research opposes laboratories. Social scientists prefer to study a process where it actually happens, which is the meaning of “natural settings.” Finally, qualitative proposals rarely establish a “pure” method for carrying out the research. Rather, several methods or techniques may be used in combination in order to tackle different aspects of the problem under study; even some quantitative techniques can be used when necessary.
There are several strategic questions which must be answered in the qualitative research proposal:
What is the purpose or object of the study?
Why is it important to pursue this knowledge?
How is the qualitative design credible, achievable, and carefully planned?
What is the role of the researcher throughout the study?
The questions are not meant for a specific section of the proposal, with the exception of the first one. This one must be answered in the introduction or problem statement of the proposal. The other three would be answered through the discussion of the review of literature and the methods section. It is important that the researcher carefully examine his role and that of his associates in the study because, as social agents, the researcher and associates will introduce changes in the subject of the study.
There are three key sections of the qualitative research proposal:
Introduction. The introduction is dedicated to stating the research question. Often, there will be multiple questions due to the complexity of the processes under study.
The Literature Review. The review of literature accomplishes similar functions as in quantitative research; namely, providing an account of previous research that sheds light about the problem under study and identifying issues that the new research will address.
Design and Method. The design and method section is the core of the proposal; it indicates how the study will be carried out and the role of the researchers and assistants. It is very important to clarify how possible ethical implications of the study will be addressed.
It is important to remember that qualitative research methods are not “the easy ones”; they can often be quite complex. The research must have solid knowledge and theory to provide interpretation and the scientific requisite of avoiding subjective bias is still true. Qualitative research is often the starting point for further study.
Evaluating Qualitative Research
We have already talked about evaluating research studies in some general terms, but now that you have a greater understanding of qualitative research design and data analysis you are better prepared to evaluate the quality of a qualitative research proposal or study.
A variety of standards that can be used to evaluate qualitative research have been proposed by experts in the field. Fortunately for us, Leedy and Ormrod (2000) have synthesized all of these recommendations into a simple checklist.
Methods (YES or NO):
1. Is the context/setting of the study appropriately described?
2. Are the techniques for data collection appropriate for the research problem? Are they thoroughly and precisely described?
3. Are multiple data sources used?
4. Are sufficient data collected from a variety of participants over an appropriate length of time?
5. Are criteria for the selection of participants, informants, or materials presented? Is the sample described in sufficient detail?
6. Are the roles of the researcher and participants made clear?
7. Does the researcher identify any assumptions, beliefs, values, or biases that might influence data collection or analysis?
Findings and Interpretations (YES or NO):
8. Are the data analysis techniques appropriate for the research questions, methodology, and theoretical framework?
9. Are data analysis techniques explicitly described?
10. Do data analysis techniques allow for revision and reinterpretation as new data come to light
11. Is triangulation of the various data sources addressed?
12. If used, are tables, figures, and other graphics easy to read and interpret? Do they enhance the readers’ ability to understand the study?
13. Are sufficient data reported to support the conclusions drawn?
14. Are any irrelevant and unnecessary data reported? If so, what should be deleted?
15. Are discrepant data discussed and reconciled?
16. Have the setting and observations been sufficiently described to present a convincing case?
17. Are participant “voices” used to support the assertions and present multiple perspectives?
18. Is the report detailed enough that the findings can be compared to other studies in other contexts?
19. Is the discussion congruent with the research question and rationale for the study?
20. Are implications for theory and/or practice discussed?
21. Have other scholars in the field reviewed the proposal or report? If so, do they agree that the approach, methodology, and conclusions are appropriate?
22. Have participants in the project’s read the report? Do they agree with its findings?
Writing Style (YES or NO):
23. Is the writing style (e.g. expository, narrative) appropriate for the study?
24. If a narrative is used, are the stories understandable? Are they authentic?
25. Is the writing style concise? Is the argument clear?
26. Are the writer’s arguments logical and persuasive?
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