Qualitative Research in Practice: Examples for Discussion and Analysis
reviewed by Joanne Bookmyer - 2003
Title: Qualitative Research in Practice: Examples for Discussion and Analysis
Author(s): Sharon B. Merriam and Associates
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787958956, Pages: 288, Year: 2002
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Sharon Merriam compiled Qualitative Research in Practice: Examples for Discussion and Analysis as a resource to be used with standardized texts on qualitative research.
Part One provides a brief overview of what qualitative research is, along with information on assessing and evaluating qualitative studies. The heart of the text, though, is Part Two, a compendium of sixteen research articles that serve as an introduction to different types of qualitative research and exemplify the process of interpretive qualitative inquiry. Each of these studies is accompanied by a reflection piece, advice, and observations written by the study’s author.
Graduate students, and both novice and seasoned researchers will likely find something useful within these pages. Students and those new to qualitative methodologies will appreciate the pragmatic approach Merriam takes in detailing what all qualitative inquiry has in common, as well as distinguishing among the different approaches to qualitative research.
The first chapter summarizes eight widely recognized approaches that vary both in form and purpose: basic interpretive, phenomenological, grounded theory, biographical, historical, participatory and clinical. This chapter also explains that it is the questions you ask that delineate the approach and shape the data analysis strategies. If, for instance, your question has to do with how a social service agency “reinforces, challenges, or mediates the problem of homelessness” (p. 11) a critical approach would be appropriate.
The second chapter continues the overview of qualitative inquiry through a discussion of how to evaluate and assess a qualitative research study. Merriam provides a list of factors to consider, along with a table providing a check sheet of what to look for in terms of the problem, methods, findings, and discussion. Implied is that with a slight twist, novice researchers might use these same characteristics as a template for constructing a quality study. Also provided in this chapter is a discussion regarding the credibility of qualitative research, including explanations of internal validity, reliability, external validity, and the role of ethics. While the first two chapters do not go into great detail, Merriam conscientiously cites appropriate sources for additional information thereby providing an excellent reference list.
The remainder of the text consists of examples of qualitative research for discussion and analysis. These previously published studies represent the work of both novice and seasoned researchers. It is probably a safe assumption to say that Merriam selected case studies that she feels exemplify “good” research. Unfortunately, there is no explanation as to how or why the sixteen selected studies were selected. Neither is there a discussion of what qualifies them as “good.” Of course, Merriam’s intent is that individuals or classes could readily apply the evaluation check sheet to a given study in order to make one’s own determination as to its quality – a useful learning exercise.
Of the sixteen studies included, there are two examples of each of the following classifications: basic interpretive, phenomenological research, grounded theory, narrative analysis, ethnography and case study. There are also two critical research studies and two postmodern studies. A short introduction to each of the classifications serves as a tool to convey the primary goal associated with each type of research. The goal of phenomenological research, for example, is to understand the “ ‘essence’ of a phenomenon from the perspective of those who have experienced it” (p. 93) while the goal of critical inquiry is to “critique and challenge, to transform and empower” (p. 327).
The selected studies are for the most part succinct and void of cumbersome jargon. Jones and McEwen’s study covers methodology, procedure, and results in two easy-to-read pages. Hebert and Beardsley provide a definition of critical theory and explain how this framework is used to structure their study in two paragraphs. The point here not being that brevity equates to quality but that good writing fosters understanding of concepts and ideas that can be difficult to grasp.
Beginning qualitative researchers must grapple with a whole new vocabulary, words like hegemonic, phenomenological, structural functionalism, and constructionist. They must also grapple with the reality that qualitative research has no distinct set of methods. Rather, the researcher must choose from any of a number of intertwined philosophical and theoretical positions. We would be wise to remember that a common goal of all qualitative research is understanding. As the studies Merriam selected illustrate, there is no reason that understanding should not carry over into the reporting of this research.
In the reflective pieces following the studies each author takes a slightly different approach but all offer advice for novice researchers. Krenske addresses “how the presentation of my own self as a subcultural participant and researcher was negotiated during the various stages of the study” (p. 283). Bloom discusses narrative research as a methodology, and Burbules revisits a study he prepared fifteen years earlier. Worthen shares his experiences as a phenomenological qualitative researcher. He offers this piece of advice: “Don’t set out to change the world, just try to understand better the experiences you are exploring” (p. 141).
Qualitative Research in Practice will undoubtedly grace the bookshelves of qualitative researchers for years to come. It is a useful, well-designed resource that provides a model of what qualitative research might look like as well as insight into the actual practice of designing and carrying out that research.