No Numbers Required: Qualitative research

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.

Take this as a way of thinking about how qualitative research can be addressed using a similar concept as quantiative: looking for confidence, reproducibility and hints to practical action:

Although quantitative synthesis in the form of systematic reviews, with meta-analyses as a significant subgroup, has become an essential concept for those involved in health research, similar methodology in the qualitative paradigm has only recently been developed. When considered, qualitative synthesis clearly has great potential to benefit the health sciences, not just through increasing the numbers of patients involved and thus giving more confidence in the conclusions drawn (as is often described as the greatest benefit of quantitative synthesis), but also in allowing the development of higher level theories and further analysis of complex constructs, so as to benefit healthcare practitioners and policy makers in the development of services. Finally, just as in quantitative synthesis, it can be used to identify key gaps in the literature so as to guide future research endeavours. 

But given that it’s not got a bunch of numbers you can add up, and ideas that more = more true, how can this be approached? “It depends” …

One of the greatest challenges in the performance of qualitative syntheses is to select the most appropriate method. This is dependent on a number of components, including the research question, its intended output (to inform theory, practice or policy), the underlying epistemological beliefs of the researchers carrying out the synthesis, and those of the studies which are to be included within the review. 

We can pick up how these different epistemological beliefs (that is, the understanding of how you believe you know stuff about what the how the world is made/exists) in future nuggets.

I’m more than happy to get requests to contribute to this series – please DM me via Twitter @ADC_BMJ or add a to-that-purpose comment (that I’ll then block but use the contents to contact you!)


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