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Donna Childress

Donna Childress
Student 1: Access the profile card for user: Donna Childress
Donna Childress Email Author RE: Discussion – Week 5
Debating Structure vs. Unstructured Methods
When creating a qualitative research study you have to have either a structured or an unstructured approach on how to collect your data. Maxwell (2012) stated that structured approaches are useful in answering questions that deal with differences between people and setting and unstructured focuses on phenomena that is being studied, which may differ between individuals settings and required individually tailored methods (pg. 88). You have to make sure that the methodology that you are using is geared towards either a structured or an unstructured approach. Both structured and unstructured have the advantages and disadvantages that are beneficial to particular research studies but I believe for my research study unstructured would have more of an advantage then structured.
Unstructured will let me focus more on the phenomenon that I am addressing in my study which is, what is the cause for the number of death or injuries to children due to automobile crashes in low income communities? Structured approach equate more to quantitative research and is more familiar with methods that answer questions; whereas, unstructured gives more flexibility to expand on the phenomenon and determine the relationship between the phenomenon and the study. Bryman (2006) stated that “asking a small number of open questions in the course of a structured interview does not really provide an instance of multi-strategy research” (pg. 103). For this reason an unstructured approach would be more beneficial due to its ability to expand the methods of gathering data without focusing only on a small amount of sampling from open-ended interview questions.
No matter which approach to use make sure the precise structure is the one that tells your story best and represent the best data collected for your study. Depending on our research study your structure can assist in creating a relationship with your readers and your study. Maxwell (2012) suggested that “the relationships that you create with participants in your study are an essential part of your methods” (pg. 90).
Bryman, A. (2006). Integrating quantitative and qualitative research: how is it done? Qualitative Research. SAGE Publication. Vol. 6(1) 97-113.
Maxwell, J. A. (2013). Applied Social Research Methods Series: Vol. 41. Qualitative research
Design: An interactive approach (3rd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
Student 2: Bradley Rhinelander Email Author Rhinelander – Week 5
Debating Structured vs. Unstructured Methods
Qualitative research may employ either structured or unstructured approaches to research methods and design. This discussion post will describe my personal opinion on structured versus unstructured approaches in qualitative research. My opinion is significantly informed by my understanding of the concept of validity as it pertains to qualitative research (Miles & Huberman, 2002; Golafshani, 2003), as this seems to be the hingepin upon which the argument rotates. Given my position below, it may surprise you to know that, as a result of my studies, I have reformed from a hardcore “anything but quantitative is junk science” stance in my younger years.
Personal Position
I tend to think that an unstructured approach to qualitative research may not only be desirable in certain circumstances, but absolutely critical. To be clear, I also think that, in research, there is a distinct difference between structure and deliberateness. One may approach research in an unstructured manner, yet simultaneously be deliberate and methodical.
Maxwell (2013) notes the potential bias and skewing that may be introduced by adhering to closely to an existing theory in certain types of qualitative research. I think this applies equally with trying to force certain dynamic social data into predetermined overly structured studies that are unresponsive to emergent aspects of the research that unfold as it the research is conducted.
As I mentioned earlier, at the heart of the debate of structured versus unstructured approaches is the debate over validity and reliability in qualitative research. Golafshani (2003) in addition to Miles and Huberman (2002) spend considerable time analyzing how validity and reliability should be understood in a qualitative context. Golafshani (2003) notes that validity in qualitative research is highly dependent on the context and nature of the qualitative study, with the important aspects being “trustsworthiness, rigor, and quality” (p. 604) which are achieved through the “elimination of bias” and “truthfulness” (p. 604) about the research (think of the numerous qualitative studies you may have reviewed where one can clearly note the author’s political opinion or agenda throughout the paper without it ever being explicitly stated).
One might argue that crafting effective, meaningful, useful, and valid research that is unstructured requires a higher degree of understanding than that that required to effect a paint-by-numbers approach that is constrained in by existing theory and predetermined structure. Of course there are pitfalls, but it is possible to for a researcher to acknowledge the potential for deviation from structure either prior to or after the research. The important thing being that it is documented and acknowledged, thus making any unstructured aspects deliberate and demonstrating the researcher’s understanding of why the phenomon necessitated, or was better represented, by the unstructured aspects.
Ultimately, qualitative research is a valuable tool specifically because it offers options to study and address complex and dynamic conditions (typically involving humans in one way or another) that defy the strict controls and structure of quantitative studies, for either practical or ethical reasons. At some point, if a qualitative study is able to be overly structured, the question may be why it is not a quantitative or mixed-methods study. Real human situations often involve erratic, unpredictable, emergent, and irrational components that defy the best plans; studying them with a desire to see the thing as it is requires an inherent degree of flexibility and interpretability.
Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Golafshani, N. (2003). Understanding reliability and validity in qualitative research. The Qualitative Report, 8(4), 597-607.
Maxwell, J. A. (2013). Qualitative research design (3rd Ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publishing.
Miles, M. B. & Huberman, A. M. (2002). The qualitative researcher’s companion: Classic and contemporary readings. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Rhinelander, B. W. (2013). Prospectus: Collaborative interagency environmental and security policy for maritime stability (Unpublished doctoral prospectus).

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