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The qualitative research proposal

H Klopper, PhD; MBA
Professor, School of Nursing Science, North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus), South Africa

Key w ords: Proposal, Qualitative

R esearch, A ttributes, Q ualitative
Abstract: Curationis 31(4): 62-72
Qualitative research in the health sciences has had to overcome many prejudices and
a number of misunderstandings, but today qualitative research is as acceptable as
quantitative research designs and is widely funded and published. Writing the
proposal of a qualitative study, however, can be a challenging feat, due to the emergent
nature o f the qualitative research design and the description of the methodology as
a process. Even today, many sub-standard proposals at post-graduate evaluation
committees and application proposals to be considered for funding are still seen.
This problem has led the researcher to develop a framework to guide the qualitative
researcher in writing the proposal of a qualitative study based on the following
research questions: (i) What is the process of writing a qualitative research proposal?
and (ii) What does the structure and layout of a qualitative proposal look like? The
purpose of this article is to discuss the process of writing the qualitative research
proposal, as well as describe the structure and layout of a qualitative research proposal.
The process of writing a qualitative research proposal is discussed with regards to
the most important questions that need to be answered in your research proposal
with consideration of the guidelines of being practical, being persuasive, making
broader links, aiming for crystal clarity and planning before you write. While the
structure of the qualitative research proposal is discussed with regards to the key
sections of the proposal, namely the cover page, abstract, introduction, review of the
literature, research problem and research questions, research purpose and objectives,
research paradigm, research design, research method, ethical considerations,
dissemination plan, budget and appendices.

Background and study is therefore a challenge, as the

qualitative researcher “designs studies
by conducting them - as opposed to
M orse (2003:833) points out that conducting studies by d esig n ”
qualitative methodology is used when (Sandelowski & Barroso, 2003:781).
little is known about a topic, the Q uantitative researchers generally
research context is poorly understood, believe they know what they do not
the boundaries of a domain are ill- know (i.e. know ing the type o f
defined, the phenom enon under knowledge they expect to obtain by
investigation is not quantifiable, the doing a study and then striving to
nature o f the problem is not clear, or obtain it). A qualitative researcher, by
the re searc h er suspects that the contrast, enters the study “ not
Correspondence address: phenomenon needs to be re-examined. knowing what is known” (i.e. not
Prof HC Klopper Researchers need a clear picture of the knowing the phenomenon that will
School of Nursing Science issues and questions that they want to drive the inquiry forward) (Loiselle,
North-West University investigate, as well as ideas o f how Profetto-M cG rath, Polit & Beck,
they are going to go about investigating 2004:208). The qualitative proposal
Tel: (018) 299 1829/1830 them, but always with an openness of writer can therefore only anticipate how
Fax:(018)2991827 mind to improvise, revise and adjust. the study will proceed. Qualitative
Email: Writing a proposal for a qualitative research begins by accepting that there

Curationis December 2008
is a range o f different ways of making known about the phenomenon to be between four types of audiences and
sense of the world (that the truth is only studied; yet it is expected to write how their different expectations, namely
valid in a specific context) and is data analysis will be done when the data academic colleagues, policy-makers,
co n cern ed w ith d isco v erin g the is not known. However, it is imperative practitioners and lay audiences. For
meanings seen by those who are being that the researcher must convince the proposal acceptance the audience will
researched and with understanding proposal evaluation com m ittee or be the m em bers o f the proposal
their view of the world rather than that funding agency reviewers in order to evaluation com m ittee or/and the
of the researcher (Jones, 1995:2) be allowed to proceed with the study. funding agency reviewers.
In response to this situation, Morse
Problem statement and Field (1996:35) remark that “clearly,
developing a rigid plan for a qualitative
The University of Jyváskylá provides
guidelines to their post graduate
Q ualitative research in the health
project, including detailed plans for students and indicate that they should
scien ces has had to overcom e
data collection and analysis, becomes distinguish between the following
p reju d ice and a num ber o f
impossible when writing qualitative audiences (
m isunderstandings. Some o f the
proposals”. Unlike positivist research, la ito k s e t/k ie le t/o p p ia in e e t_ k ls /
misunderstandings include the beliefs
there is no single accepted framework e n g la n ti/ re s e a rc h /p o s tg r a d /
that qualitative research is “easy”; and
for a qualitative research proposal. To instructions, accessed 31/07/2008):
the “stigm a o f the small sam ple” .
present an acceptable proposal means
H ow ever, by now we know that
shifting away from one’s own concerns (i) the research com m unity that it
qualitative research experts make these
and thinking about the questions that addresses (i.e. those doing research on
m isin terp retatio n s redundant and
the reader(s) or reviewer(s) o f the similar or related questions); and / or
irrelevant as more and more qualitative
research proposal w ill be asking (ii) to a community of practitioners who
studies are funded, and results are
(Silverman, 2000:113). These questions work with the kinds of problems or
published widely. Notwithstanding the
do not necessarily differ from the questions that your study addresses
fact that qualitative research is now as
qu estio n s asked in qu an titativ e
acceptable as quantitative research (e.g. language teachers, text producers,
research, but will alert one to the
designs, sub-standard proposals at professionals who design language /
possible questions that will be asked.
post-graduate evaluation committees or communication training, etc.); and /or
application proposals to be considered (iii) to the broader social community or
The questions a research proposal
for funding are still seen. Writing the society as a whole (e.g. does your
must answer, are: (i) Why should
proposal o f a qualitative study is research address questions that are
anyone be interested in my research?
challenging due to the emergent nature im portant for particular groups of
(ii) Is the research design credible,
of the qualitative research design and people or questions w hich are
achievable and carefully explained - in
the description of the methodology as currently debated in society?)
other words, is it logical? (iii) Is the
a process. In response to the nature of
re searc h er capable o f doing the
health care practices that focus on
research? (Bottorff, 2002:7). Silverman Be persuasive
patient care, there is an increased Morse (1994:226) explains that “the first
(2000:113 -117) suggests that the
tendency to investigate phenomena principle o f grantmanship (and for that
researcher (w hether qualitative or
from a q u alitativ e p erspective. matter approval o f your proposal) is to
quantitative) answers these questions
Therefore the following questions can recognize that a good proposal is an
properly. This can be achieved by
be asked: (i) What is the process of argument ... the proposal must take a
focusing on the following guidelines:
writing a qualitative research proposal? case to the proposal ev alu atio n
be practical, be persuasive, make
and (ii) What does the structure and committee or funding agency that the
broader links, aim for crystal clarity and
layout o f a qualitative proposal look research question is interesting and
plan before you write.
like? that the study is important. Thus the
Be practical proposal must be written persuasively.”
Purpose Indicate to the members of the proposal As a researcher you must be balanced,
The purpose of this article is twofold, evaluation com m ittee or funding with a realistic understanding of what
i.e. the process of writing the qualitative agency reviewers how your research you can achieve (Silverman, 2000:114).
research proposal will be discussed, will address the identified research To be persuasive implies that “you
follow ed by a d escrip tion o f the problem or solve an issue, for example, must convince other people, like other
structure o f a qualitative research staff morale or patients’ perceptions of research ers, research funding
proposal, including examples from quality o f care. Research that concerns agencies, educational institutions, and
qualitative studies (where relevant). practical problems cannot be shrugged supervisors that your research is worth
off even if the researcher is proposing spending scarce resources on. You
Process of the qualitative to do a purely academ ic piece o f convince people o f the value of your

research with no expectation that it will work by show ing them how your
be read ou tsid e the univ ersity research will make a difference to the
Q ualitative researchers often find community (Silverman, 2000:114). The world, or by identifying a dilemma in
themselves in a “catch-22” situation. audience is therefore very important existing theory which your research will
They have intentionally selected a when preparing the proposal. Strauss help resolve” (Higson-Smith, Parle,
qualitative research design, as little is and Corbin (1990:237-239) differentiate Lange & Tothill, 2000:5).

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Make broader links framework should be applied within the im m ediately catches atten tio n .
The researcher should demonstrate in uniqueness of each study. Introduce the question and what it is
the proposal the understanding o f the that you want to know or understand,
broader implications of the proposed Cover page and explain the interest in the topic
research. (Silverman, 2000:114-115). Formal documents usually have a cover (Heath, 1997:1). The introduction must
Morse (1994:227) suggests that one page. The format of the cover page is get the attention o f the reader and
way of achieving this is to “place the often p rovided by the proposal convince him/her of the value of the
p roblem in co ntext to show, for evaluation committee or the funding study, or, as Sandelowski (2002:9)
instance, that when we understand agency. If no format is provided, create describes it, it must “set the stage”. At
this, we will be able to work on that”. a cover page and include the following the beginning o f the proposal the
For exam ple, indicate how your (Morse & Field, 1996:39-40): significance o f the study should be
research will im prove practice or • Title of the proposal. stated and it must be made clear why
influence policy. there is a need for the study
• Name and affiliation o f the
(Sandelowski, 2002:9). Burns and
researcher (principal
Aim for crystal clarity investigator) and add co­
Grove (2005:667-668) provide questions
that can be used to assess the
The aim of the researcher should be for investigators (if relevant). significance o f the study: (i) Who has
clearly stated, in simple language that The affiliation will include the an interest in the domain of inquiry?
describes the research in a way that type of degree, for example (ii) What do we already know about
n o n -sp ecialists can com prehend. Master in Public
the topic? (iii) What has not been
M orse (1994:227) argues that the Administration, as well as the
answ ered adequately in previous
researcher should resist the temptation name of the university where research and practice? And (iv) How
to lapse into pure jargon, as “some of the study will be conducted.
will this research add to knowledge,
the review ers w ill be from other • Lines for the signatures of the practice, and policy in this area?
disciplines, and the proposal writer researcher as well as the Furthermore, the introduction sets the
should assume nothing and explain university authorities. scene and puts the research in context
everything”. Silverman (2000:115)
• Contact detail information - (Bumard, 2004:175). When writing for
gives advice to the researcher and
address, phone and fax an in tern a tio n al audience, it is
states that the proposal should be
numbers, and e-mail address. important to place the research in an
concise, using short, simple sentences.
international context.

Plan before you write Abstract

Remember the saying “If you fail to
The abstract is a synopsis o f the Review of the literature
proposal; yet it is important that it is Relevant literature should be cited that
plan, you plan to fail.” It is important
comprehensive enough to inform the demonstrates the need for the research
that the writer plans the process, as the
ev alu ato rs or review ers, and to study in such a m anner th at it
proposal should not only demonstrate
introduce the project (Morse & Field, convinces the evaluators or reviewers
that it is based on an intelligent
1996:40). It should include a short that the study is worthwhile. “Literature
understanding of the existing literature, introduction to the research problem, consists o f all written sources relevant
but it must also show that the writer the research question, research to the topic you have selected” [or the
has thought about the time needed to purpose and objectives, followed by phenom enon under investigation]
conduct each stage o f the research the research design and research (Bums & Grove, 2005:93). It is often a
(S ilv erm an , 2000:116). Tim e method. The abstract is usually 250- challenge to include all relevant or most
m anagem ent is em bedded in the 300 words long, but this is often supportive literature as data, knowledge
planning process. The proposal will dictated by the committee guidelines and information availability expand
also be judged on the researcher’s or the funding agency. First daily in the d ig ita lly enhanced
account of how time will be used. Arber impressions count, and this is also true knowledge environm ent, doubling
(1993:35) notes that one needs “to for the abstract, as this will be the first every eighteen months in 2008. It is
adopt a sy stem atic and logical part that the reviewers read. It is therefore suggested that the researcher
approach to research, the key to which advisable to leave the writing of the critiq u e p rev io u s research, and
is the planning and management of your abstract until the end, as it will be easier demonstrates how the present study
time”. Attention is given to timelines to write after you have clarity of the w ill clarify or com pensate for
further on in the manuscript. research process. The inclusion of no shortcomings in previous research and
more than five keywords is advisable how the study will add to the existing
Structure of the at the end of the abstract. Structure
can be given to the abstract by adding
body o f knowledge. The literature

qualitative proposal headings, i.e. B ackground, Aim

review provides a theoretical context
for the study, but is not a conceptual
The key sections o f a qualitative (Purpose and specific objectives), Data framework, as it does not drive the
proposal are listed below and attention Source, M ethod, R esults and study or provide an outline for the
will be paid to each. As explained Conclusion, followed by Keywords. analysis (Morse & Field, 1996: 41).
above, this framework is meant to guide Apart from simply offering an account
the qualitative researcher, but is not Introduction of the research that has been carried
intended to be used as a recipe. The Begin with something interesting that out previously, the author should

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describe how he or she searched the research problem is a synthesis of the service delivery changed as
literature. This involves describing the introduction and literature review; in health policy changed?
computer search engines used and the other words, it is a “diagnosis ” of the • How do concrete actors make
keywords entered into those engines problem. The problem can be broad, sense o f /respond to /
(Bumard. 2004:175). For example: but m ust be specific enough to accomplish the activity/
“Searches were perform ed using the convince the reviewers that it is worth policy that play a key role in
follow ing resources: Nexus database, focusing on (Bottorff, 2002:11). The their lives? “Concrete
South African jo u rn a l database or section on the research problem must actors ” are historically and
SAe P u b lic a tio n s, in te rn a tio n a l conclude with the research question to geographically situated
jou rn al databases (EBSCOhost and be answered. The research question(s) people, organisations, and
ScienceDirect), books, dictionaries, should be how questions. The institutions.
theses and d isse rta tio n s fro m the follow ing form at is suggested to Example: How do primary care
North-W est U n iversity library and stru ctu re research questions for
workers respond to shortages
in ter-lib ra ry loans" (Knobloch & qualitative studies (but it is also relevant
of personnel in rural clinics?
Klopper, 2008:6). to q u an titativ e studies) (h ttp ://
• How is the artefact /tool/ /design,
policy used by concrete
The literature review is not necessarily accessed 17 May 2004):
actors ? “Artefacts, tools, and
a separate heading, as it could be • How has/have the activity/
policies” are used in more or
in teg rated in the introduction, relations changed as the
less their everyday meanings,
providing a rationale for the planned activity/relations has/have
although “tools and
study. Bums & Grove (2005:95) point changed? “Activities ” refer
out that the purpose and the timing of artefacts ” should be thought
to relatively long-term, on­
of as encompassing
the literature review could vary in going, collective social
qualitative research, based on the type technologies.
endeavours (for example
of study to be conducted. Table 1 Example: How is the primary
studying at university, living
sum m arises the purpose o f the a healthy lifestyle, raising a health care policy
literature review in qualitative research. family,etc.). “Relations” refer implemented by different
health professions?
to on-going systems of
Research problem (and research relations organised around
What happens to the system
o f relations when the activity'
question) gender, ethnic group, age, or
takes place?
between the role players in a
In this section the researcher answ'ers Example: What happens to
formal organisation, for
the question: "What is the problem? ” the quality o f care ofpatients
example worker/supervisor;
Sandelowski (2002:9) suggests that from a low income status if
numbers should be used to document student/lecturer; health care
they cannot access health
the extent and nature o f the problem. care?
Example: How has health
As research is a logical process, the In summary, the research
questions clearly delineate
Table 1. Purposes of the literature review in qualitative research the research (sometimes with
(Burns & Grove, 2005:95). sub-questions), and the
scope o f the research
questions(s) needs to be
Type of qualitative research Purpose of the literature review manageable within the time
frame and context of the study
Phenomenological research Compare and combine findings from (Bottorff, 2002:11).
the study w ith the lite ratu re to
determ ine current knowledge o f a Research purpose and
phenomenon objectives
The research purpose (or goal, or aim)
Grounded theory research Use the literature to explain, support, gives a broad indication of what the
and extend the theory generated in the researcher wishes to achieve in the
study research. The research purpose is a
concise, clear statement of the specific
Ethnographical research Review the literature to provide a goal of the study (Bums & Grove, 2005:
background for conducting the study, 71). The purpose usually indicates the
as in quantitative research type o f study to be conducted, i.e.
identify, describe, explain, or predict.
Historical research Literature is review ed to develop Mouton and Marais (1994:51; also
research questions and is a source of compare Mouton, 1996:103) presents a
data classification o f different types o f
research studies to present “a more
systematic picture o f different kinds o f

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Figure 1. Typology of research studies in qualitative studies (adapted from Mouton 1996).

research o b jectives”. However, he empirical generalisations, narratives The typology in figure 1 illustrates how
suggests that there are more basic and stories, and provides truthful the types of knowledge and the non­
questions to consider, before attention d escrip tio n s of phenom ena. existence or existence o f a body of
is given to the classification, i.e. “ What “D escriptive statements make claims know ledge w ill influence the
are the fa cto rs that come into p la y about how things are, and what the researcher’s choice of study.
when a re se a r c h e r id e n tifie s a actual fa ct o f the matter is ” (Mouton,
particu la r research purpose? What 1996: 192). Explanatory knowledge The second dimension discussed by
m akes a re se a rc h e r o p t f o r a includes m odels, th eo ries, Mouton (1996:41 -45) is the sociological
descriptive purpose rather than an interpretations, and makes causal dim ension, i.e. research as social
explanatory>purpose? Which factors claims about the world. “Explanatory activity. This implies that: (i) The
p la y a role in determining a choice s ta te m e n ts suggest plausible researchers are social beings with
fo r or against evaluating health care explanations of why things are as they specific beliefs, values and interests;
interventions?” Mouton (1996:102) are, and what the causes o f events (ii) Researchers follow certain implicit
further argues that over and above the behind change are (Mouton, 1996:192- and explicit rules; (iii) The activities of
q u estio n s, there are factors that 193). Mouton (1996:193) further points researchers are conducted within more
determ ine the clarification o f the out that the existence o f a w ell- or less organised and institutionalised
research purpose, such as “the established body of knowledge versus frameworks, which impose certain
r e s e a r c h e r s ’ existin g backgrou nd little known about a phenomenon, will constraints on what is acceptable; and
knowledge (epistemic dimension) o f also impact on the choice o f purpose. (iv) Researchers stand in different
the particu lar phenomenon and the If little or no previous research is relations o f pow er to each other
interests, motives and preferences o f known about the phenomenon under (Mouton, 1996:41). What is important
the r e s e a r c h e r (the s o c io lo g ic a l investigation, a different kind o f for the purpose o f our discussion is
dimension) research w ould be appropriate in that the researcher should be aware of
comparison with a phenomenon for his/her motives and intentions.
The epistemic dimension focuses on which there is an existence of a well-
existing knowledge. Mouton (1996:102- established body of knowledge. In the In summary, the research purpose is
103) differentiates between two types first case, the researcher will attempt to logically (deduced) generated from the
of existing knowledge, i.e. descriptive co llect new data through an research problem , it identifies the
(or factu al) and e x p la n a to ry (or exploratory study. In the latter case, purpose of the study, and directs the
theoretical) knowledge. Descriptive new studies will possibly focus on development o f the study (Bums &
know ledge includes data, facts, validational or confirmatoiy studies. Grove 2005:80). Based on the research

Curationis December 2008
purpose, specific research objectives • Use specific language to the research problem . Theoretical
are developed to direct the study. The name and describe your assumptions are theoretical statements
following is an example of the research research paradigm, e.g. that serve as a framework in the study,
aim (purpose) and objectives from a “naturalistic", “post­ and include theories, m odels and
study conducted by Minnie (2007; structuralism concepts (theoretical and operational
M innie, Klopper & Van der Walt, • Describe the philosophical definitions).
2008:51): “ The aim o f this research is
correlates of your research
to develop best practice guidelines fo r To d em onstrate the d ifferen t
paradigm, e.g.
counselling f o r HIV testin g during approaches in qualitative studies, two
pregnancy. This aim is achieved by examples are given. In the first example
means o f the follow ing objectives: the researcher approaches the research
• Cite authors who have
• To explore and describe the field with no preconceived framework;
defined your research
factors that influence and in second example, definitions are
paradigm in the health
pregnant women s decision pro v id ed , i.e. the re searc h er is
sciences and suggested its
to be tested fo r HIV in departing from a specific framework.
application to your field of
selected antenatal clinics in Exam ple one comes from a study
study and/or your specific
the North West Province; conducted by M aphorisa et al.
area o f study.
• To explore and describe the (2002:25): “A literature control will be
factors that influence the c o n d u c te d a fte r the
The message is clear - explain the
counselling f o r HIV testing ph en om en ological interview s have
assu m p tio n s o f your research
during pregnancy according been analysed; thus the researcher
paradigm . The paradigm or
to counsellors who practice w ill a p p ro a c h the f i e l d with no
p a ra d ig m a tic p e rsp e c tiv e includes
in selected antenatal clinics preconceived framework ofreference. ”
m eta-th e o retical, th eo retical and
in the North West Province; The second example is from a study
methodological assumptions. M eta­
conducted by Minnaar (2001:20): “The
• To describe the current theoretical assumptions (statements)
fram ework that was usedfor this study
practices regarding refer to the researcher’s beliefs about
was the C aring Theory o f Watson.
counselling f o r HIV testing the human being (patient, health care
Watson (1985) identified ten curative
during pregnancy in selected professional), society (community), the
factors which encourage health and
clinics in the North West d iscip lin e (n u rsin g , m edicine,
developm ent o f individuals, fam ilies
Province; and physiotherapy), and the purpose of the
and communities. The ten carative
• To describe the evidence discipline (health). These assumptions
factors are the formation o f a human-
regarding counselling fo r are often embedded in paradigms or
a ltr u is tic sy ste m o f va lu e s; the
HIV testing during w orldview s, i.e. P ositivism ,
installation o f hope and fa ith ; the
pregnancy by means o f Postpositivism, Critical Theory, and
cultivation o f sensitivity to oneself and
systematic review. C onstructivism . M eta-theoretical
to o th e rs; the d e v e lo p m e n t o f a
statements are axiomatic statements and
helping-trust relationship between the
Research paradigm are not m eant to be tested. The caregiver and the care receiver to
No research is value free. “All studies following excerpt is an example o f a ensure a relationship o f quality; the
include assumptions about the world paradigmatic statement from a study by p ro m o tio n an d a cc ep ta n ce o f the
and k n o w ledge th at inform s the Maphorisa, Poggenpoel and Myburgh expression o f positive and negative
inquiries” (Creswell & Plano Clark, (2002:23): “ The r e se a rc h e r w ill feelings
2007:20). It is therefore advisable that in corporate the Theory f o r Health
you include an explicit stance of your Promotion in Nursing (RAU, 1999) as M e th o d o lo g ic a l a ssu m p tio n s or
paradigm (often referred to by authors p a ra d ig m a tic p e r s p e c tiv e f o r this statements explain what the researcher
as a w orldview ) in the proposal - research. It endorses a Christian believes good science practice is and
especially when you expect to have perspective. Thefollow ing parameters may be implied or explicitly stated. An
reviewers who are not familiar with o f N u rsin g a re a lso id e n tifie d : example from a study in which the
qualitative research. All researchers co m m u n ity m e n ta l h ealth nurse, methodological assumptions are stated
bring a paradigm(s) or worldview to m e n ta l h ealth , e n viro n m en t an d explicitly is given below (Maphorisa et
their research and this will influence the mental health nursing”. The authors al 2002:23): “The m eth odological
design and conducting o f the research. then continue to provide clarifications assumptions, which w ill guide this
“Worldviews and paradigms mean how o f the four listed p aram eters by study, are in line with the Botes Model
we view the world and, thus, go about defining them from a faith perspective. o f Research (1998). The assumptions
conducting research” (Creswell & Plano are based on the functional approach
Clark, 2007:21). Guba and Lincoln Theoretical assumptions or statements that im plies that research must be
(2005:192) state that the paradigm are a reflection o f the researcher’s view applicable to im prove the practice.
contains a basic set o f beliefs and o f valid know ledge in existing The usefulness o f the research in itself
assumptions that guide our inquiries. theoretical or conceptual frameworks. provides its trustn’orthiness. ”
H eath (1 9 9 7 :1 -2 ) m akes useful The th e o re tic a l statem ents are
suggestions on the description o f the epistemic in nature and are subject to Research design
paradigm: testing with the intention of clarifying Research starts with a problem and is a

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Table 2. Typology of research designs (adapted from Mouton and Marais 1996)

Research strategy Research goal Collection of new data Analysis of existing data

GENERAL INTEREST Explanatory Experimental and

(Universal or Nomothetic) Quasi-experimental designs

Descriptive Survey designs Secondary analysis

(Questionnaires, interviews (Census data)
and indirect observation) Quantitative content analysis
(N ew spaper reports,
speeches, etc)

Exploratory Survey designs(Pilot studies)

CONTE XTUALINTEREST Explanatory(Verstehen) Grounded theory Qualitative content analysis

(Contextual or ideographic) Theory development Discourse analysis
Historical analysis
(What was the cause of X?)

Descriptive Field designs or Qualitative content analysis

Ethnographic designs (with Discourse analysis
the focus on unstructured Historical analysis
direct and indirect (What happened?)
E.g. Case study
Model development
Narrative Inquiry
Critical ethnography

Exploratory Field designs or

Ethnographic designs (with
the emphasis on the use of
E.g. Autoethnography

p recondition for any study. The practical considerations and limitations although not exhaustive, may be used
developm ent o f a research design o f the project (Mouton & Marais, as a guide (refer to Table 2).
follows logically from the research 1994:32). The following components
problem. This implies that the research are usually addressed in the design: its The following is an example o f a
problem directs the choice of design. qualitative or quantitative (or mixed) research design (M aphorisa et al
A research design is defined as “a set nature; w hether the study is 2002:24): “ The design o f this study is
o f guidelines and instructions to be explorative, descriptive, comparative or qualitative, explorative, descriptive
followed in addressing the research explanatory; and whether the study is and c o n te x tu a l in nature. Its
problem” (Mouton, 1996:107). Mouton contextual or universal. Qualitative qualitativeness offers the opportunity
further suggests that the main function studies are always contextual, as the to uncover the nature o f the community
of a research design is to enable the data is only valid in a specific context. m en tal h ealth n u r s e s ’ actio n s,
research er to anticipate w hat the The researcher can then follow with a experiences and perspectives o f which
appropriate research decisions should short description of each component. is little biown as yet. The purpose o f
be in such a manner that the eventual In the description of a contextual study its exploration is to gain a richer
validity of the research findings are it is important to include a description understanding o f the experiences.
maximised. The research design is the of the context or setting in which the According to Bums and Grove (2001),
plan or blueprint that the researcher will research will be conducted. Also a d e s c r ip tiv e stu d y is u su ally
use in conducting the research. The explain why this setting was chosen. conducted when little is known about
aim o f the research design is to align Mouton and Marais (1994:51) provide the phenomenon o f interest. Mouton
the pursuit of a research goal with the a typology of research designs which, (1996) describes a contextual study

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as one in w hich the ph enom enon conceptual framework, and merely use strategies for the qualitative design
under investigation is studied in terms a central theoretical statement to guide used. Lincoln and Guba (1985:218)
o f its in tr in s ic a n d im m e d ia te the research. In the deductive strategy propose an alternative construct for
contextual significance. " the researcher embarks upon a research validity and reliability in qualitative
p ro jec t w ith a clear conceptual research, namely trustworthiness. The
Research method framework in mind. This may be a ep istem o lo g ical standard s of
The research design will influence your model, a theory, or a typology. The trustworthiness are:
decisions about research methods. use o f a deductive strategy leads to a (i) Truth value
R esearch ers give d ifferen t re la tiv e ly rig id m anner of Truth value determines whether the
interpretations as to what the research conceptualisation, operationalisation, researcher has established confidence
method refers to. In this article research and data collection, and will ultimately in the truth o f the findings with the
m ethod in clu d es the steps o f constitute the frame of reference for participants and the context in which
population and sample, data collection, a n aly sis and in te rp re ta tio n (also the research was undertaken. Truth
ensuring rigor and data analysis. Each compare Mouton, 1996:80). value is usually obtained from the
of the steps will be discussed. discovery o f human experiences as
• Population and sample It is im portant that the researcher they are lived and perceived by the
describes the kind o f data that will be participants (Klopper & Knobloch,
“Population refers to all the elements
collected, e.g. examination o f existing 2008a:5, Sliep, Poggenpoel & Gmeiner,
(individuals, objects o r substances)
documents, field notes, audiotapes, 2001:69). Truth value is obtained by
that m eet certain criteria fo r inclusion
focus groups, videos, internet-based using the strategy o f credibility and
in a given universe” (Bums & Grove,
data, etc); and how data w ill be the criteria o f prolonged engagement,
2005:40). They further indicate that the
collected e.g. interviews, discourse triangulation (of methods, data sources,
definition o f the population depends
analysis, etc. The method must be theories and investigators), peer-
on the sample criteria and the similarity
described in detail, as it will become ex a m in atio n /g ro u p discu ssio n ,
o f participants in the various settings.
part o f the audit trail (Heath, 1997:2). negative case analysis and member
D escribe the co m p o sitio n o f the
Agar (1980, in Morse & Field, 1996:42) checking.
population (N) in your study. Explain
notes that it is inadequate to simply (ii) Applicability
how you will select participants and
refer to data that will be collected using A pplicability refers to the degree to
gain entry into the research context (if
“participant observation, fie ld notes which the findings can be applied to
relevant) (Heath, 1997). Then continue
o r d ia r ie s ”. A description with the different contexts and groups (Sliep et
with a description of the sample, and
justification o f each method and how al. 2001:69). It is the ability to generalise
sampling technique. A sample is a
the m ethod co n trib u tes to the from the findings to larger populations,
su b set o f the p o p u latio n that is
understanding o f the phenom enon by using the strategy of transferability
selected for a particular study. Name
under study must be presented. If an (Klopper & Knobloch, 2008a:8).
the sampling technique you will use
interview guide will be used, include (iii) Consistency
and defend its use, for exam ple
the questions in the proposal or attach Consistency considers whether the
m o tiv ate w hy you w ould use
as an appendix. Explain in detail how findings will be consistent if the inquiry
p u rp o siv e sam p lin g . S tate the
interview s w ill be conducted, i.e. was re p lic ated w ith the sam e
inclusion and exclusion criteria, and
include how focus groups will be participants and in a similar context.
lastly project the size o f the sample (n).
conducted, inclusive of the role o f the Since the qualitative setting may be
An example from a study by Mchunu facilitator and moderator, and how com plicated by extraneous and an
and Gwele (2005: 33) is given: “ The responses to questions will be elicited unexpected variable, the strategy of
popu lation con sisted o f community (Sandelowski, 2002:17). An example dependability is used, which implies
health centres, health professionals in from Morolong and Chabeli (2005:42) traceable variability; this is variability
these centres, and the surrounding is given: “O b se rv a tio n an d that can be ascribed to identifiable
co m m u n ities, in the d iffe re n t q u estio n in g w ere p re fe ra b le data sources (Sliep et al. 2001:69-70). To
community settings in the Ethekweni c o lle c tio n m ethods. F or the main ensure consistency Guba and Lincoln
health district". study, the researcher was assisted by (1985:298-299) discuss direct and
an e x p e r ie n c e d e x p e rt c lin ic a l in d irect w ays w ith w hich the
• Data collection acco m p a n ist who was p u rp o sive ly dependability of research findings may
The researcher describes what he/she s e le c te d f o r data collection . The be ensured. Dependability may be
is aiming to find out and how the data researcher and the assistant used the ensured in an indirect way by applying
will be collected. The process o f developed instrument and its related the measures of credibility. The three
d e sc rip tio n w ill depend on the manual, to evaluate the competence direct ways that the dependability of
researcher’s use o f an inductive or o f newly qualified registered nurses ”. research findings may be ensured are:
d ed u c tiv e strateg y , as this w ill stepwise replication (inclusive o f a
influence the decision o f whether the • Rigor (Soundness of the thick or dense description o f the
qualitative research will be carried out research) m eth o d o lo g y ), inq u iry audit
departing from a theoretical framework Rigor must be reflected throughout the (som etim es re ferred to as the
or not. With an inductive strategy the proposal. However, it is vital that the dependability audit) and triangulation
researcher would em bark upon the researcher addresses rigor specifically, (Klopper & Knobloch, 2008a: 10).
project without working from an explicit using relevant criteria and appropriate (iv) Neutrality

Curationis December 2008
Table 3. Summary of standards, strategies and criteria to ensure trustworthiness

Epistemological standards Strategies Criteria

Truth value Credibility • Prolonged engagement

• Triangulation
• Methods
• Participants
• Peer examination/ group discussion
• Negative case analysis
• Member checking

• Selection of sources
Applicability Transferability
• Saturation o f Data
• Thick Description

Consistency Dependability • Indirect

• Measures o f credibility
• Direct
• Stepwise replication
• Inquiry audit
• Triangulation
• Methods
• Participants

Confirmability • Confirmabilityaudit
• Triangulation
• Methods
• Participants

Neutrality entails freedom from bias researcher needs to give a description Sandelowski, 2002; Sandelowski &
during the research process and results o f how data reduction and data Barroso, 2003). The use o f computer
description, and refers to the degree to reconstruction is planned, as well as programmes to conduct data analysis,
which the findings are a function solely how data will be kept organised and i.e. Atlas ti or Nvivo 8 should also be
of the informants and conditions of the re trie v ab le. In explaining data clearly in d icated . The study o f
research, and not o f other biases, reduction the researcher provides detail Maphorisa et al. (2002:24) is used as
motives or perspectives (Sliep et al. of write-ups of field notes, transcription example:
20 0 1 :7 0 ). The strateg y of procedures and the use o f computer “The method o f data analysis o f Tesch
confirmability is used, and the criteria program m es (if planned) (H eath, in Creswell (1994) was used to analyse
o f the co n firm ab ility audit and 1997:3). Data reconstruction includes the ta p e r e c o r d e d d a ta a fte r
triangulation are applied (Klopper & a description of the development of tra n sc rip tio n . D u rin g the d a ta
Knobloch, 2008a: 12). themes, control with existing literature analysis, all the transcriptions were
The term trustworthiness is therefore and integration o f concepts (Heath, read to get a sense o f the whole. Ideas
used in the evaluation o f the rigor of 1997:3). For the description of data were jo tte d in the margin as they came
qualitative data. Table 3 provides a an aly sis, relev an t m ethods w ith to mind. A list o f all topics from all the
sum m ary o f the epistem ological citations must be included, e.g. content in te rview s w as m ade and sim ila r
standards, the strategies and criteria analysis (Tesch, 1990 in Creswell topics were clustered together. These
used to ensure trustw orthiness in 1994:155); qualitative content analysis topics were form ed into major topics,
qualitative research. (A ltheide, 1987:65-67); constant unique topics and leftovers. They were
com parison analysis (Strauss and later taken and returned to the data
• Data analysis C orbin 1990:62); and and a b b re v ia te d as codes. These
Describe the intended data analysis phenomenological thematic analysis c o d e s w e re w ritten next to the
procedure (coding, sorting, etc.). The (Van M aanen, 1990:3) (com pare appropriate segments o f the te x t.. ”.

Curationis December 2008
Ethical considerations instance; delays with interviews and convey the em ergent nature o f the
Qualitative research introduces special the tim e-co n su m in g p rocess o f qualitative design. The proposal
moral and ethical problems that are not qualitative data analysis. Morse and should follow a discernible logic from
u su ally en c o u n te red by other F ield (1 9 9 6 :4 3 ) ad v ise th at the the introduction to presentation o f the
researchers during data collection; researcher should estimate how long appendices. Successful qualitative
perh ap s due to the u n stru ctu red each activity will take and then triple research proposals are an art and
conversational tone o f interviews and the time. Such leeway is important science (Sandelowski, 2002:20) and
when funds are requested, to ensure should be written to entice the audience
the intimate nature o f the interaction
that there is adequate funding for staff and to conform to the requirements of
b etw een the re se a rc h e r and
and for the completion o f the project. the funding agency (Morse & Field,
participants (Morse & Field, 1996:44).
It is therefore very important that the
researcher take special care in ensuring
that ethical standards are met. Ethical A notion which interferes with the
considerations refer to the protection positive perception o f qualitative Thanks to Siedine Knobloch (project
of the participants’ rights, obtaining inquiry is the idea that qualitative manager in my office) for the final proof
informed consent and the institutional research is inexpensive to conduct read in g and assistan ce w ith the
review process (ethical approval). The (Morse, 2003:847). This is a myth. abstract.
researcher needs to provide adequate Qualitative research is not predictable;
information on each o f these aspects.
P rotection o f p a rtic ip a n ts’ rights
hence when the researcher prepares a
research budget, he/she should predict
AGAR, MH 1980: The Professional
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Stranger: An Informal Introduction to
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Ethnography. New York: Academic
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