What have you learned about researcher identity and your approach to the research process?
(Note: This final reflection paper was written in the late 2020/early 2021 as part of a Qualitative Research course)
Researchers approach the research they do with their view of the world and perception about the kinds of research that matters. This perspective influences the kind of research they do, the kinds of questions they ask, how they ask it, and how they analyze their data. These considerations and their manifestations, in subconscious, conscious, and unconscious ways, constitute their research identity.
Researchers must be aware of their researcher identity as they conduct their research so that it does not constitute a source of bias in their work. They must be willing to work with other researchers and challenge their assumptions. They must come into any study they are doing with fresh eyes and explore the various possibilities available to answer a research question.
Although qualitative research may not be replicable in the same way quantitative research is, researchers must also be committed to scientific rigor and following methodological guidelines, irrespective of the interpretative framework that guides their work and their approach to qualitative inquiry. They must detail every step of the qualitative research, including justifications for approaches used so that another researcher can be able to follow those same steps in another context and with another set of participants. Qualitative researchers must maintain qualitative research’s standards of quality and create research reports that can be trusted. The American Education Research Association (AERA, 2006, 2008) states that the researcher has a responsibility to show the reader that the report can be trusted by describing the evidence, the data, and the analysis supporting conclusions from the study (Denzin, 2011).
Qualitative research should not compete or be compared with the exact science of quantitative research but should be allowed to play its complementary role of increasing our in-depth understanding of an issue. It should not drift from the main focus of understanding of issues and supporting quantitative research by providing guidance and clarity where numbers are inadequate. As stated by Feuer et al. (2002), “when properly applied, quantitative and qualitative tools can both be employed rigorously and together” (Denzin, 2011).
In line with creating qualitative research that can be trusted and complementing quantitative research is the practice of triangulation. Triangulation means using multiple methods or data sources to develop a comprehensive understanding of phenomena (Patton, 1999). Triangulation is also viewed as a strategy to test validity through the convergence of information from different sources. While triangulating between qualitative data sources is important, triangulating between quantitative and qualitative data is especially powerful. Edin and Schaefer, in their book, “$2.00 a day: Living on almost nothing in America,” after findings from their qualitative research had shown data suggesting a marked increase in families surviving on no or extremely low levels of cash income, found evidence from quantitative sources — the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, the SIPP, and administrative data from SNAP — that supported their findings.
My first experience with research was as a quantitative researcher, but I soon developed an interest in qualitative research as qualitative research projects found their way to my desk. As a quantitative researcher, I looked for statistically significant results and areas of improvement that will positively affect other areas. Grounded theory was the approach for many of the social science and health-focused qualitative research projects I worked on. My target audience usually had all experienced what was being researched, either as consumers of a product or mothers whose children have had diarrhea. The qualitative research was interested in developing a theory (general explanation) about the process, action, or interaction (Creswell and Poth, 2018). Through this methodological approach and findings, the research team and I better guidance on designing targeted interventions or communications for participants and target groups.
From my learnings in this course, I have become aware of other methods of doing research and their origins, for example, ethnography’s roots in comparative cultural anthropology; phenomenology from the field of psychology, nursing and health sciences, and sociology; case studies from psychology, medicine, law, and political science; and grounded theory developed in 1967 by two sociologists (Creswell and Poth, 2018). I have found that each approach to qualitative research is valuable, and a grounded theory researcher could have something of value to pick from each method. I also found that I can explore my research identity using any of the qualitative research approaches. Although interested in feminist and critical interpretive frameworks because of their intersections with empowering persons to overcome constraints and developing an action plan to reduce inequities, I can still design useful research using case studies, ethnography, or a phenomenological approach.
I discovered that my researcher identity is flexible and can benefit from a variety of approaches. My initial project for my research proposal was a grounded theory research on strategies to empower female agro-entrepreneurs in a rural area in Nigeria. As the class progressed, I decided to change the focus of my proposal to a case study. I enjoyed the case study approach and saw how powerful a tool it can be, whether it is an intrinsic, instrumental, multiple, or another kind of case study. The most important thing is that whatever research I am doing, whatever the topic or approach is, is to commit to the rigor of qualitative research as I analyze my facts and generate similarities/differences, variations, patterns, and themes from the data.
Finally, it is important for researchers to be aware of their researcher identity but remain open, so they are not limited by it.
Denzin (2011). The politics of evidence.
Edin, K., & Shaefer, H. L. (2015). $2.00 a day: Living on almost nothing in America. Mariner Books.
Creswell J. and Cheryl P. 2018. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. 4th Edition. Sage Publications.