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Assoc. Prof. Dr. Shanthi Thambiah
Coordinator of Gender Studies Programme, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University Malaya
DESIGNING QUALITATIVE RESEARCH
1. Ideas and Theory 2. Literature Review 3. Framing Research Problems /Questions 4. Operationalization and Conceptualization 5. Designing the Project
1. Ideas and Theory
Every research project starts with an idea. This idea emerges because of a problem or situation one experiences or observes. From these ideas you might begin to think about how these questions could be explored or answered, how you might research these phenomena. You begin with an idea and relate it theory. Social scientist usually define theory as a system of logical statements or propositions that explain the relationship between two or more objects, concepts, phenomena, or characteristics of humans – what are sometimes called variables.
Theory might also represent attempts to develop explanations about reality or ways to classify and organize events, or even to predict future occurrences of events. Some say ideas and theory must come before empirical research – theory before research model – this has been described by Karl Popper (1968) who suggests that one begins with ideas (conjectures) and then attempts to disprove or refute them through tests of empirical research (refutation).
Some say that research must come before theory – research before theory model – this has been described by Robert Merton (1968) who says that research goes beyond the passive role of verifying theory. Research plays an active role: it performs at least four major functions which help shape the development of theory. It initiates, it reformulates, it deflects, and it clarifies theory. In other words research suggest new problems for theory, require theoretical innovation, refine existing theories, or serve to verify past theoretical assumptions
2. Literature Review
After developing a rough idea for research, you begin to examine how others have already thought about and researched the topic. The next step is to visit the library to get started on a literature review. You can consult any of a number of available cumulative indexes both text form or computer based. The next task is to begin to creatively think about subject topics related to your research idea or question and to search for this topic in the indexes. It is important to develop a number of different subject areas to search. Some will be more fruitful than others, and some will yield little information
The next step you begin reading some of these references and you need to continue to expand this literature search – you can do this by locating several recent articles and consult their reference pages. You must keep records o the references and take notes of what each says. After studying what others have said about your research topic you will need to explain what makes your research different from the works of others. This establishes originality of the research.
3. Framing Research Problems/Questions
Research problems direct or drive the research enterprise. How you will eventually conduct a research study depends largely upon what your research questions are. It is important to formulate a clear research problem statement The research process began with an idea and only a rough notion of what was to be researched. As you read and collect information from the literature, these rough questions must become clearer and theoretically more refined.
You must frame this idea as a problem statement with researchable questions These questions do not just happen spontaneously and they must be influence by the literature. You have to also think about what issues are important and how those issues might be measured. This requires you to consider various concepts and definitions and perhaps to develop operationalized definitions.
4. Operationalization and Conceptualization
Operational definitions concretize the intended meaning of a concept in relation to particular study and provide some criteria for measuring the empirical existence of that concept (Leedy, 1993) In operatively defining a term or concept you begin by declaring the term to mean whatever you want it to mean throughout the research.
5. Designing the Project
The design for a research project is the plan for how the study will be conducted. It is a matter of thinking about, imaging and visualizing how the research study will be undertaken. The design stage of the research is concerned with what types of information or data will be gathered and through what forms of data collection techniques. In doing research you must decide whether to use one data collection strategy alone or combine several (data triangulation). You must decide whether the study will be framed by a single overarching theory or by several related theories.
How much will the project cost in time and money and how much you can actually afford? What population will best serve the study’s purposes? Are the data-collection strategies appropriate for the research questions being asked? What will the data look like once they have been collected? How will the data be organized and analyzed? Researchers in the social sciences conduct research on human subjects. It is during the design stage that you must consider whether ethical standards are met.
SOME QUALITATIVE RESEARCH METHODS
1. 2. 3. 4. Interviewing Ethnographic Field Method Historiography Oral Histories
Interviewing is usually defined as conversation with a purpose. The purpose is to collect data. Types of Interviews : i. The standardized interview
The standardized interview uses a formally structured schedule of interview questions. The interviewers are required to ask subjects to respond to each question. We have to offer each subject the same stimulus so that responses to the questions will be comparable.
You will have to solid ideas about the things you want to uncover during the interview. The questions scheduled in your interview instrument must be comprehensive to elicit information relevant to the study topic. In sum, standardized interviews are designed to elicit information using a set of predetermined questions that are expected to elicit the respondents thoughts, opinions, and attitudes about the study related issues
The Unstandardized Interview
The unstandardized interview do not utilize schedules of questions. Interviewers begin with the assumption that they do not know in advance what all the necessary questions are. In an unstandardized interview, the interviewers must develop, adapt and generate questions and follow-up probes appropriate to the given situation and the central purpose of the investigation. This results in appropriate and relevant questions arising from interactions during the interview itself. It is sometimes used during the course of field research to augment field observation.
The Semistandardized Interview
Located somewhere between the extremes of completely standardized and completely unstandardized interviewing structures. It involves the implementation of a number of predetermined questions The interviewers are also permitted to probe beyond the answers to their prepared questions
Focus Group Interviewing
The focus group may be defined as an interview style designed for small groups. You strive to learn through discussion about conscious, semiconscious and unconscious psychological and socio-cultural characteristics and processes among various groups. It is an attempt to learn about the life structure of group participants. Focus group interviews are either guided or unguided discussions addressing a particular topic of interest or relevance to the group and the researcher.
2. Ethnographic Field Method
Ethnography is the work of describing a culture. The core of this method is to understand another way of life from the native point of view. Ethnographers are those who enter the natural setting in order to conduct field research. Ethnography involves the end product of field research – namely the written account of observations. Ethnography places the researcher in the midst of whatever it is they study. Researchers can examine various phenomena as perceived by participants and represent these observations as accounts.
Ethnography is the science of cultural description It is a process that attempts to describe and interpret social expressions between people and groups The central component of ethnographic research is the enthnographic account. Providing such narrative accounts of what goes on in the lives of the study people derives from having maintained complete, accurate, and detailed field notes over a relatively long period of time.
Historiography is an examination of elements from history. Historiography involves retelling of facts from the past. Linking together pieces of information found in diaries, letters or other documents. It is descriptive, factual and fluid Historical research extends beyond a mere collection of incidents, facts, dates or figures. It is a study of the relationships among issues that have influenced the past, continue to influence the present and will certainly affect the future. It involves a process that examines events or combinations of events in order to uncover accounts of what happened in the past.
4. Oral Histories
Oral histories allow you to escape some of the deficiencies of residual and official presentations in documentary records. This involves history within living memories. It can provide researchers a means of reaching as far back as perhaps 100 years. Older people hold a gamut of facts and memories and this information may be unavailable anywhere else. Oral histories also can be useful for providing background and social texture to your research. It provides increased understanding and a living context to the otherwise one-dimensional information offered by documents.
5. Content Analysis
Researchers examine artifacts of social communication These are written documents or transcriptions of recorded verbal communications. Content Analysis is any technique for making inferences by systematically and objectively identifying special characteristics of messages. Objective analysis of messages (written or oral) is accomplished by means of explicit rules called criteria of selection which must be established before the actual analysis of data.
The criteria of selection used in any given content analysis must be sufficiently exhaustive to account for each variation of message content and must be rigidly applied so that other researchers looking at the same messages would obtain the same or comparable results. In developing these criteria - it should reflect all relevant aspects of the messages and retain the exact wording used in the statements.
QUALITATIVE RESEARCH DESIGN ISSUES
1. The Language of Cases and Contexts 2. Grounded Theory 3. The Context is Critical 4. Bricolage 5. The Case and Process 6. Interpretation
1. The Language of Cases and Contexts
Qualitative researchers use a language of cases and contexts, employ bricolage, examine social processes and cases in their social context, and look at interpretations or the creation of meaning in specific settings. They look at social life from multiple points of view and explain how people construct identities. Only rarely do they use variables or test hypotheses, or try to convert social life into numbers.
Qualitative researchers look at social life as qualitative in nature and they the following stand:
iii. iv. v. vi.
qualitative data are not imprecise or deficient but are meaningful instead of converting social life into numbers and variables they borrow the ideas from the people they study and place them within the context of a setting they examine motifs, themes, distinctions, and ideas instead of variables they adopt the inductive approach of grounded theory. Qualitative data are empirical It involves documenting real events, recording what people say (with word, gestures and tone), observing specific behaviours, studying written documents, or examining visual images.
2. Grounded Theory
A qualitative researcher develops theory during the data collection process. This inductive method means that theory is built from data or grounded in the data. Conceptualization and operationalization occur simultaneously with data collection and preliminary data analysis. Qualitative research is flexible and lets data and theory interact. Qualitative researchers are willing to change the direction or focus of a research project in the middle of a project. A qualitative researcher builds theory by making comparisons.
3. The Context is Critical
Qualitative researchers emphasize the social context for understanding the social world. They hold that the meaning of a social action or statement depends, in an important way, on the context in which it appears. When a researcher removes an event, social action, answer to a question, or conversation from the social context in which it appears, or ignores the context, social meaning and significance are distorted.
Attention to social context means that a researcher notes what came before or what surrounds the focus of study. It also implies that the same events or behaviours can have different meanings in different cultures or historical eras. Qualitative researchers place parts of social life into a larger whole. Otherwise the meaning of the part is lost.
Qualitative researchers are bricoleurs, they learn to be adept at doing many things, drawing on a variety of sources, and making do with whatever is at hand. The qualitative style emphasizes developing an ability to draw on a variety of skills, materials, and approaches as they may be needed. A bricolage technique means working with one’s hands and being pragmatic at using an assortment of odds and ends in an inventive manner to accomplish a specific task. Qualitative researchers use a mixture of diverse materials and apply disparate approaches.
5. The Case and Process
Qualitative researchers tend to use a caseoriented approach that places cases, not variables, center stage. They examine a wide variety of aspects of one or a few cases Explanations or interpretations are complex and may be in the form of an unfolding plot or a narrative story about particular people or specific events.
Rich detail and astute insight into the cases replace the sophisticated statistical analysis of precise measures across a huge number of units or cases found in quantitative research. The passage of time is important in qualitative research. They look at sequence of events and pay attention to what happens first, second, third and so on. So the researchers can detect process and causal relations.
The word interpretation means assigning significance or coherent meaning. Qualitative research reports rarely include tables with numbers. A researcher weaves the data into discussions of their significance. The data are in the form of words, including quotes or descriptions of particular events. Any numerical information is supplementary to the textual evidence. A qualitative researcher interprets data by giving them meaning, translating them, or making them understandable.
The meaning he or she gives begins with the point of view of the people being studies. He or she interprets data by finding out how the people being studies see the world, how they define the situation, or what it means for them. The first step in qualitative interpretation, whether in examining historical documents or the text of spoken words or human behaviour is to learn about its meaning for the people being studies.
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