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Prospectus and Proposal Prep: Qualitative Methods

The following outline is to assist you on thinking about and outlining the methods and design section of the prospectus as well as Chapter 3 of the proposal.

Introduction to Design and Methodology

Discuss the general choice of a qualitative study based on the research questions as this relates to gaining insights through participants’ understandings. You will introduce your paradigm here (likely interpretivism informed by critical/queer theory literature). Here issues of accessing and privileging participant accounts and putting accounts in context should come to the fore. You should also introduce the issue of “emergent design” and “researcher as instrument” here as these relate to those issues. You can discuss the preference for transferability rather than generalizability as well. (This will complete the thought: “Given the questions asked, a qualitative study was appropriate because…”)
Discuss the choice of a specific design (e.g. grounded theory, GT or Interpretive Case Study, ICS) to make sense of these understandings based on ontological and epistemological assumptions (nature of reality and how we come to know it). To draw conclusions in an ICS, you will need to make sense of the interplay among participant perceptions, positions, and context. To build theory via GT you’ll need some range among your participants to establish connections between “positions” and “perceptions”. (This will complete the thought: “Given the questions asked, this study design is appropriate because…)
Discuss the data sources that will be employed to gain insight into “positions” and “perceptions.” These generally include interviews, observations and documentary data.
Give a brief overview of your discussion of methods to collect, analyze and ensure trustworthiness as well as human subjects concerns.

Discussion of methods*

Selecting the site: Discuss the setting of the study in terms of geographic, institutional and temporal positions and the rationale for selecting this site in particular.
Selecting participants, observed settings, documents: Discuss selection of participants, observed settings and documents based on criteria established for this study. You are after a rich account, so purposiveness sampling helps explain how you select “information rich targets” and how these fit together. In general, you will likely emphasize that your sampling will be purposive (Patton, 1990). It is likely that you will choose typical cases, but you may also use and some mixed/combination sampling by drawing on extreme case, intensity or maximum variation sampling if that seems appropriate based on your conceptual framework or some snowball/opportunistic sampling that emerges from your fieldwork.
Collecting data

Interviews: Discuss interview process and related issues such as duration, location, scheduling as well as rapport-building, (semi-)structured protocols, recording and transcribing, etc.
Repeat c(i) for observations, document review.

Analyzing data: Discuss the techniques and procedures you’ll use to make sense of the data. Drawing on GT, you might pick up Strauss and Corbin (1998). These might include the constant comparative analysis, coding stages, etc. See comment on GT below. For ICS take a look at Merriam (1998) and/or Hatch (2002) for starters.
Ensuring trustworthiness

Discuss the ways that you will ensure that the data collected and analysis performed are of high quality. Here you will demonstrate reflexivity by discussing efforts to keep the instrument—you the researcher—honest and on track in collecting and analyzing the data.
This section will describe the nature and use of various techniques for ensuring trustworthiness such as triangulation, prolonged engagement, peer debriefing, member checking, building rapport, establishing and audit trail, etc. Lincoln and Guba (1985) is still a good source on this (see chapter 8).

Addressing ethical issues concerning research with human subjects: Discuss potential concerns and efforts to do no harm.

* Since you provided a rationale for the design and methodological choice above, be descriptive and concrete in this section. Articulate your methods as a “recipe” that another researcher could use to replicate your study in a step-by-step fashion. Move from the selection of the kitchen (site/setting), choice of raw ingredients (sampling of participants, observed settings, and documents), preparation (procedures to interview, observe, review documents, etc), combining and cooking (analysis via data reduction, coding, thematic sense-making, etc.), and checking the flavor (ensuring trustworthiness).


Discuss the inherent limitations of this type of study (qualitative) on its own terms. For instance, since you are seeking insight into participant perceptions these may relate to the difficulty in accessing or interpreting these. What are the inherent limits of the interviews on which you depend on to access participant accounts? How is your relationship with participants problematic in ways that preclude complete candor and thus revealing key information (power dynamics, lack of anonymity, limits on rapport-building, etc.)? How is a participant’s access to her/his own account limited by the passage of time, painful memories, etc.? Since you are also making sense of perceptions based on participant positions in the context, how might your methods inhibit accurately determining these positions? Have you had limited opportunities to view the participant in the setting that may lead to limited appreciation of her/his perceptions or position(s)? Does your own position influence the situation or setting in ways that other researchers’ might not?
Note: Avoid discussing the limitations of a qualitative study relative to a quantitative study. For instance, don’t say that you can’t generalize since there is no intent to generalize. It is perfectly reasonable to discuss why “transferability” might be inhibited. Similarly, avoid discussions of bias as a limitation of qualitative research. While bias can be catastrophic to quantitative, it is presumed to be present in qualitative. Thus, you must instead demonstrate your awareness of potential bias and efforts to establish trustworthiness in light of that bias.
Note: If you do a good job with sections I and II (and especially IId) you’ll be in better shape in this section, which essentially a statement of caution in interpreting results. Thus, if you emphasize that qualitative studies are by design partial accounts that recognize the importance of context, you have already cautioned the reader about generalizing to other contexts.

Headings: Make effective use of headings to group and order information. These must conform to APA guidelines. The following is a possible heading scheme:
CHAPTER 3: Level 1 Heading
Introduction: Level 2 (or no heading)
Design: Level 2
Rationale for Qualitative Design: Level 3
Overview of Selected Design: Interpretive Case Study: Level 3
Overview of Unit(s) of Analysis (Case Selection, Context, etc.): Level 3
Methods and Procedures: Level 2
Data Collection: Level 3
Interviews. Level 4
Observations. Level 4
Documents. Level 4
Data Analysis: Level 3
Data preparation (transcription/translation). Level 4 (Note: may place prior)
Analytic Procedure 1. Level 4
Analytic Procedure 2. Level 4
Methods to Ensure Rigor/Trustworthiness: Level 3
Method 1. Level 4
Method 2. Level 4
Method 3. Level 4 (Note: Lincoln and Guba suggest at least three methods).
Limitations: Level 2
Timeline: Level 2
Summary/Recap: Level 2

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