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TOPIC: Qualitative research is often said to be without structure, process and rigor. Discuss.

NAME: Jepter Lorde SUBJECT: Qualitative Research Methods

The continued academic tension between qualitative and quantitative inquiry has continued unabated. Scholarship since the 1980s, to redefine both paradigms, attempt to bring balance and importance of the respective contribution of both research processes. This has resulted in an interesting shift for ensuring structure, process and rigor from the investigators actions during the course of the research, to the reader of the qualitative inquiry. The emphasis on Quantitative strategies implemented during the research process has been replaced by truth value, applicability, consistency, and neutrality implemented once a study is completed. This essay argues that while reliability and validity remain appropriate concepts for attaining rigor in qualitative research the criterion used must not be borrowed from the Quantitative paradigm. Reference is primarily made to Guba 1981 to explain the alternatives. This essay argues for a clear recognition of the values of both the Qualitative and Quantitative processes showing that each offers a specific solution to research with each being judged on its own merit.

In the broadest sense of the word, the definition of research includes any gathering of data, information and facts for the advancement of knowledge. Martyn Shuttleworth (2008). On its own, however, the definition though adequate is not sufficient in an effort to show the depth and richness of the Qualitative process. For this attention is paid to Bruce Berg (2001) who clearly articulated the following: Quality refers to the what, how, when, and where of a thing, its essence and ambience. Qualitative research thus refers to the meanings, concepts, definitions, characteristics, metaphors, symbols, and descriptions of things. The imperative, therefore, of this essay given Berg (2001) definition will be an examination of the reasons for the criticisms levelled against Qualitative Research, testing of the criticisms to ascertain validity and determining acceptance or rejection of the claim Qualitative research is often said to be without structure, process and rigor.

Research has been identified to a greater extent as purely a scientific process, the researcher is able to gather the data, after securing the sample and by way of statistical analysis make some generalisation based on that sample. The scientific process is one of systemic enquiry, series of stages and logical sequence. Almost

immediately without prior knowledge of the discipline an observer will notice a strong tendency toward structure. Alfred Politz a staunch defender of quantitative research bluntly stated If the research is not Quantitative then it could not be considered research. The structure to which Politz and other critics refer is based on how data is handled during the qualitative research process. Admittedly, if the process was quantitative in nature then the answer to the question of organization and analysis would be easy (structure). The data would be reduced to computer readable form and entered into a database. The application of packaged statistics for the social sciences used to analyze the data utilised. Lamentably, qualitative data are not as quickly or easily handled. The common mistake made by many inexperienced or uninformed researchers is a reduction of qualitative data to symbolic numeric representations and the quantitative application of computer analysis. Berg (2001) and as Berg (1993) state, this ceases at once to be qualitative research and amounts to little more than a variation of quantitative data collection. Qualitative research although challenged at this stage is not without a workable solution and defenders. Ernest Dichter, a strong proponent of qualitative research stressed Ten thousand times nothing is still (nothing)! Dichter was attempting to argue that mere quantification was not enough as long as the underlying behaviour is not well understood and therefore will not lead to meaningful results. The

analysis of data focuses on patterns of interaction seeks knowledge about a group or culture or explores the life world of individuals. The techniques applied while not statistical software driven offers an accepted structured approach in data analysis. (Naresh K Malhotra 2010) Content analysis is the major approach to analyzing qualitative data it is a systematic research method for analyzing textual information in a standardized way that allows evaluators to make inferences about that information. (Weber, 1990) A central idea in content analysis is that the many words of the text are classified into much fewer content categories. (Weber 1990) the essential result is an attempt at harvesting important themes without losing the richness of meaning by way of numeric analysis. It is clear therefore that qualitative research has the means with which results can be achieved without lost to structure.

To be scientific, as mentioned earlier, is to have engaged systemic enquiry, series of stages and logical sequence, simply put a course of action or process that on completion would yield results reflecting the phenomenon observed. Quantitative research to a greater extent has occupied this position of authority not only by its use of numerical data but the ability of the research when executed, using the afore mentioned steps, should allow or permit another researcher to arrive at similar conclusions using the same process (Krueger 1974), is it then reasonable to

conclude that Qualitative research fails in its attempt at processes that would garner the same results? Admittedly, this criticism is not without merit, but for the wrong reasons. The process taking place within the qualitative study is primarily exploratory and seeking to determine answers from, to a greater extent, a nonnumeric data set. In attempting to give voice to the subject interpretation must be made and it is at this point that its subjectivity is questioned. Social action is far from static and therefore near impossible to repeat given the complexities of human nature. What is evident is a clear determination at process by the Qualitative research method at research question generation, theoretical construction, hypothesis, data collection and analysis. If the criticism is one of lack of consistent reproduction of results based on the subject then that to some extent the criticism is valid, however if it attacks the process as set out then the argument is to a greater extent invalid due to the variability of human action.

The terms reliability and validity traditionally have been associated with quantitative research and the rigor of the method. The examination of data for reliability and validity allows for a determination of both the objectivity and credibility of the research. Already it is observed that based on the definition Qualitative research would be hard pressed to match the assessment, or is it? The validity of research findings refers to the extent to which the findings are an

accurate representation of the phenomena they are intended to represent. The reliability of a study refers to the reproducibility of the findings. (Malhotra 2010) Within the context of Quantitative research validity can be substantiated by triangulation use of contradictory evidence, respondent validation, and constant comparison. Again Qualitative research has a defender in Guba (1981) whose model which is based on the identification of four aspects of trustworthiness that are relevant to both quantitative and qualitative studies: (a) truth value, (b) applicability, (c) consistency, and (d) neutrality. Based on the philosophical differences between qualitative and quantitative approaches, the model defines different strategies of assessing these criteria in each type of research. These strategies are important to researchers in designing ways of increasing the rigor of their qualitative studies and also for readers to use as a means of assessing the value of the findings of qualitative research. Guba argued that these criteria must be defined differently for qualitative and quantitative research based on the philosophical and conceptual divergence of the two approaches. Given the assessment by Guba one, therefore, would be hard pressed to vilify Qualitative research as not possessing the necessary rigor. There is some accuracy to the fact that, qualitative methodologies have not dominated the social sciences. This is not without reason, qualitative research takes

much longer, requires greater clarity of objectives during design, and cannot be analyzed by statistical software. Nonetheless, as Bogdan (1972) makes clear, qualitative research has left its mark conceptually and theoretically on the social sciences. The lasting contributions to social understanding from qualitative research, as well as the sheer number of contributing social thinkers are significant. It is clear that the essence of qualitative research is seldom questioned in the abstract, however its practice is criticised for being non-scientific and thus invalid. Is it therefore fair to draw this conclusion as critics tended to lose sight of the probability factor inherent in quantitative practices and replaced it with an assumption of certainty? (Berg 2001) It is therefore the opinion of this essay that one need not dismiss the entire qualitative school of thought because some studies inadequately applied the paradigm and methods and therefore conclude that Qualitative research is not without structure, process and rigor.


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