More than numbers: Assessing quality in qualitative research

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

First, as discussed in the second blog of this series, theory is particularly important in qualitative research – it shapes why you chose your methods and your analysis of the results. Therefore, papers should clearly and explicitly outline their theoretical underpinnings and thus justify their design. They should also focus on how their theory and evidence have been combined to create conclusions.
For the second indicator of quality – consider whether the work displays scientific rigour. Here, you can relax a little because its all pretty familiar! You can draw close parallels with quantitative research – think about whether the study design and the final report have been peer reviewed – this indicates that other researchers have considered whether this research shows sufficient quality. Has there been an ethical review and was the study registered? Does the author clearly explain their decisions with reference to prior research or standard qualitative practice? You could look at whether their sampling technique seems appropriate and decide whether they have used methods such as triangulation to add depth and clarity to their research. As with quantitative research, do the authors show their data and demonstrate how their analysis was performed? That is, instead of showing tables of figures with statistical analyses, do they show quotes from participants and demonstrate their coding or themes?

Finally, in qualitative research, it is particularly important to be reflexive and transparent in your work. Are the authors clear about their decision making and the influence of their own experiences and preconceptions on the work that they present?

And so for two final tips about assessing qualitative research – get a good basic textbook, and just read some qualitative research – it really is not as complicated as it looks!

– Jess Morgan

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