According to Sutton and Austin (2015), qualitative research can help researchers access the thoughts and feelings of research participants, enabling the development of an understanding of the meaning that people ascribe to their experiences. Qualitative work requires reflection on the part of researchers, both before and during the research process, to provide context and understanding for readers. When being reflexive, researchers should not try to ignore or avoid their own biases as this would likely be impossible; instead, reflexivity requires researchers to reflect upon and clearly articulate their position and subjectivities (world view, perspectives, biases) so that readers can better understand the filters through which questions were asked, data were gathered and analyzed, and findings were reported. The role of the researcher in qualitative research is to attempt to access the thoughts and feelings of study participants. Whatever philosophical standpoint the researcher is taking and whatever the data collection method (e.g., focus group, one-to-one interviews), the process will involve generating large amounts of data (Sutton & Austin, 2015).
Sutton and Austin (2015) also state that many researchers will also maintain a folder of “field notes” to complement audio-taped interviews. Field notes allow the researcher to maintain and comment upon impressions, environmental contexts, behaviors, and nonverbal cues that may not be adequately captured through the audio-recording; they are typically handwritten in a small notebook simultaneously the interview takes place. Interpretation of the data will depend on the theoretical standpoint taken by researchers. A qualitative research method is known as interpretative phenomenological analysis, which has 2 basic tenets: first, that it is rooted in phenomenology, attempting to understand the meaning that individuals ascribe to their lived experiences, and second, that the researcher must attempt to interpret this meaning in the context of the research. Qualitative researchers tend to report findings rather than results, as the latter term typically implies that the data have come from a quantitative source. The final presentation of the research will usually be in the form of a report or a paper and should follow accepted academic guidelines. In particular, the article should begin with an introduction, including a literature review and rationale for the research (Sutton & Austin, 2015).
An article by Colorafi and Evans (2016) states that qualitative descriptive studies focus on low-inference descriptions, which increases the likelihood of agreement among multiple researchers. The difference between high and low inference approaches is not one of rigor but refers to the amount of logical reasoning required to move from a data-based premise to a conclusion. Researchers who use qualitative description may choose to use the lens of an associated interpretive theory or conceptual framework to guide their studies. However, they are prepared to alter that framework as necessary during the study (Colorafi & Evans, 2016).
Colorafi, K. J., & Evans, B. (2016). Qualitative Descriptive Methods in Health Science Research. HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal, 9(4), 16–25. https://doi.org/10.1177/1937586715614171
Sutton, J., & Austin, Z. (2015). Qualitative Research: Data Collection, Analysis, and Management. The Canadian Journal of Hospital Pharmacy, 68(3). https://doi.org/10.4212/cjhp.v68i3.1456
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