Qualitative research vs quality of research

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    Alexandra Cuncev

    One of the most debated issues when considering qualitative research has been assessing its quality. There has thus been an on-going debate about the nature of the knowledge produced by qualitative research and whether and how its quality can be legitimately assessed. Should qualitative research be assessed against the same criteria that are used for quantitative research? Or does it respond a completely different epistemological approach?
    Does one a priori assume a ‘lower’ standard of research when reading a qualitative article?


    i dont think qualitative research can be assessed on the same terms as quanitative research. the former also helps build grounded theory which the later can only validate. but i do feel that in general qualitatuve research seems to be viewed with an ‘untouchable’ mentality. sadly.


    I think it is pretty much always misleading and unhelpful to assess qualitative research quality using the same criteria or frameworks applied to quantitative research. Having said that we shouldn’t be afraid of subjecting qualitative research and data to scrutiny and there needs to be some way of judging the quality of qualitative research to help the users and readers of research knowledge to make decisions about the applicability and usefulness of qualitative research studies. In the applied policy research world we, rightly, expect our qualitative research to be judged for robustness, credibility, rigour and utility by those who commission our studies. Explicitly thinking about the quality of what we offer to our audiences is an important way of helping to ensure that users and readers of our research don’t assume it is of lower value than quantitative research but gradually come to understand what the different markers of quality are for qualitatiuve studies.

    Thomas Punt

    The whole debate about the evaluation of qualitative research can become a bit circular. There should, rather, be some guiding principles such as objectivity in respondent recruitment, non directional observation, insightful analysis of verbatim records and so on. Qualitative research has, in my opinion, been sullied by the use of so-called “focus groups” used in political research with dubious recruitment criteria being applied and total direction of respondents such as to eliminate useful discussion. Unfortunately I also believe that the very term “focus” is unhelpful since it suggests that qualitative research has hitherto been un-focussed and, therefore, unproductive. The lack of interviewer/moderator narrow focus can be an advantage if it clears the stage for respondents to reveal or discuss things in their own words.

    Thomas Punt

    I don’t really think we disagree Vincent. Qualitative research is of course far wider than the group discussion or depth interview though both of these are widely used and still valuable techniques. But the anthropological approach, though not widely used in commercial market or social research, certainly has an important place. Because, I suppose, it presents far more difficulties than more structured techniques .and can take a long time it does,in fact, tend to be ignored. I continue to do it in an informal way I suppose – a favourite of mine , not at all original, is what Mass Observation used to call “overheards”. This is of course just listening to what people are saying to each other in, for instance, bus or cinema queues or pubs but can also be used in specific situations. Going back a long way i once started some research on morale at an army base just by going along and drinking in the pubs nearby and messes on the base where I could do so unobtrusively (difficult) though the temptation to get too involved was, I must admiit, rather too much at times.


    I’d like to hear more of your opinions on this, but here’s my 2 cents.

    I would suggest that we need both to get a better grasp of any phenomena. With quantitative research, it is often thought that we have numbers, and those numbers don’t lie, but we forget that those numbers must be interpreted by a person who is influenced by specific goals and values (i.e. getting tenure, representing a specific political views, ideas of what’s right and wrong). In other words, there are other ways to determine the quality of data and research other than through statistical tests.

    How about a mixed method approach? It does take longer than straight quantitative, but the data is richer. You can interview or ask a series of open ended survey questions and code the responses based on the question you want to answer. You can make comparisons and include quotes to better represent your participants.

    In my training, we’ve been taught that you must approach a question theoretically and not run analyses blindly until you find something. I think it’s common to look down on data mining, no? Well, if that’s the case then how can anyone argue that their analyses were completely objective? Theory is influenced by politics, beliefs in what’s healthy, etc.. and if Theory influences our research then it must be that all research is subjective. Sorry to go off topic, in this last parapgra,  I just find that people usually also align quantitative research to objective research.

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