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No Numbers Required: Qualitative research

17 Aug, 14 | by Bob Phillips

Hello everyone.

Holidays are lovely things, and I would greatly advise everyone to take one. A proper one, where you switch off your emails (?perhaps even deleting those that arrive?), ignore your work texts and generally hide in a work-free hole for a while. You might think about doing this every weekend you’re not working, or instituting your own digital sabbath, perhaps, to keep topped up with the goodness that isn’t work.

It’s always good to look at things with fresh eyes, and I would encourage you to have a think about research that doesn’t centre around assumptions of normality, stochastic thinking and positivist ideologies. Instead of ‘what happens when ..’ ask the ‘how & why do people ..’ questions. more…

More than numbers

13 Feb, 15 | by Guest Post

109px-Aristoteles_LouvreToday begins a series of posts about understanding qualitative research in medicine, written by Jess Morgan (but open to further contributions!). Feel free to comment, tweet or facebook your thoughts too…


Have you ever wondered what on earth qualitative researchers are on about? What is ethnography? Phenomenology? Purposive sampling? And then what about triangulation, reflexivity and deviant case analysis? How are you even supposed to tell if a qualitative paper is even any good when there are no power calculations, blinding or difficult stats? This series of blogs aims to tackle some of these issues – to make them more accessible and to allow you to begin to evaluate the qualitative work that you come across.


More than numbers: Ethnography or phenomenology?

20 Feb, 15 | by Guest Post

What kind of qualitative researcher do you want to be? Going back to the previous blog, maybe you want to work on the research question ‘what is it like to be a teenager with Duchenne muscular dystrophy?’ Now, there are multiple ways to approach this question in qualitative research. Two of these approaches are ethnography and phenomenology.

Now phenomenology is a theoretical approach in which the researcher considers the individual’s experiences, perceptions and behaviours. The phenomenological researcher is most interested in the ‘lived experience’ of that individual – their experiences of their imagination, the outside world, and social interaction. They might chose to explore how an individual assigns meaning or interprets the things they experience. In our research question, they might think about the way a teenager with DMD thinks about the progression of their disease, or how their sense of personal identity changes over time.


More than numbers: Sampling

27 Feb, 15 | by Guest Post

So, medical school taught us all about the rules of sampling in  research – generally more is better, if you want to be more accurate then do a power calculation (although sometimes this may be akin to picking a number out of the air). And we all know that randomisation is good practice too – right?

Wrong. These principles hold true for lots of quantitative research, where you are going to use your results to calculate test statistics, and to answer questions about causation or relationships using numbers. However, remember back to the introduction to this series – in qualitative research, the questions, methods, reasoning and results are different to what we’ve been ‘brought up on’! This is also the case in sampling.


Shape of services?

27 Feb, 15 | by Bob Phillips

With the publication and debate around Shape of Trainingbomb (a UK-based review of how training the medical workforce will be revised for a new era of health care) there is a fair bit of … conversation … about a number of things. Some of these things include the question about how a ‘medical’ service is to be delivered with fewer doctors.

Hot of the press, and in keeping with our new blog theme on qualitative work, there is a systematic review and meta-ethnographic synthesis of studies looking at how units have found the introduction of nurse practitioners (NP) into their clinical work.


More than numbers: Triangulation

6 Mar, 15 | by Guest Post

280px-Penrose_triangle.svg Imagine looking at a problem from different perspectives – perhaps the problem of why there are never any clean coffee cups on the ward.*

You might choose to count the coffee cups, monitor their usage, record where they are found at different times of day, or even ask members of staff about why they think there is a shortage. Using different methods to attempt to understand a problem is termed methodological triangulation.

(*Note – this is a somewhat unethical piece of work. There is no uncertainty in this situation. The cups are always in the doctors’ office. But please bear with me for the sake of this blog…..)

More than numbers: Reflexivity

13 Mar, 15 | by Guest Post

heisenberg_uncertainty_principle_necklaceWhat effect do you as a researcher have on your work? Perhaps the nice, neat, medical school answer is ‘we try to minimise how we influence research’. Certainly, quantitative techniques such as randomisation, blinding and objective measurements of results aim to reduce the potential for the researcher to influence the results of a study. However, in all research we have considerable influence on the results we get. Within qualitative research this concept is even more challenging, as the researcher is both a tool used to carry out the research, and one used to measure the result.


More than numbers: Assessing quality in qualitative research

24 Mar, 15 | by Guest Post

glasgowSo now to go back to one of the big questions from the first blog of this series – ‘How are you even supposed to tell if a qualitative paper is even any good when there are no power calculations, blinding or difficult stats?’ Hopefully, if you’ve been reading through each blog, you might have begun to realise that there are different and valid ways to perform qualitative research. It therefore follows that there are different indicators of quality.

For this blog I’ll outline three main ones

  • a solid theoretical background
  • scientific rigour
  • transparency


How do you add up if there are no numbers: Qualitative Synthesis

10 Apr, 15 | by Bob Phillips

Regular readers of this blog will know of its penchant for systematic review techniques (evidenced in the recent I-squared blog ). The process of qualitative synthesis uses many of those familiar methods – defining a clear question, systematic literature searching, selecting appropriate research and assessing the risk of bias. Following this, however, qualitative syntheses begin to look really quite different – mostly because there are no nice numbers to add up and give ‘the answer’ but also because they are just not written in language we understand (read the qualitative research blog series to help with this)!

So how on earth do we go about reading a qualitative synthesis and deciding whether its any good?

Well, instead of reinventing the wheel, we can just modify our FAST assessment:

More than numbers: demi-regularities

26 Jan, 16 | by Bob Phillips

LighthouseA qualitative version of the StatsMiniBlog

Here’s idea that emerges from realist reviews – demi-regularities.

This term implies common, frequently reproduced behaviours / patterns that get seen in human activity, and can emerge in the setting of a realist review as theme-type things that are seen across different studies. They are the ‘broad lessons’ and ‘usually happens like this’ findings.

  • Archi

(For lots more see here.)

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