An Annotated Bibliography of Qualitative Research and Analysis Methods

Ahearn, L. (2013). Keywords as a Literacy Practice in the History of Anthropological Theory. American Ethnologist, 40(1).

Ahearn studied keywords and titles that she generated from the keywords and title of articles from the American Ethnologist journal. The samples chosen were the years 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2012. On discussing the survey results, Ahearn argues that the selection of keywords has social, intellectual, political, and economic influences that may or may not match up with the wording of titles. One important note is that generating multiple word clouds may look like different results, even if the data is the same. This shows the importance of understanding how sharing data in different visual ways can influence many interpretations. I think this piece presents a great discussion on the choice of words and how they reflect more of a zeitgeist of popularity than the true keywords of each article. I think it is also important that the article notes that a choice may be limited to how many characters fit into the format of a journal. This is a perfect example of how we can unintentionally develop bias throughout a discipline just by not thinking about things like form design or formatting restrictions. A key point I took from this piece is that titles and keywords are very similar to SEO marketing. Humans are more likely to choose to read articles based on titles, while search engine algorithms seem to prefer keywords. This is an important preference that academics need to be aware of, especially since journals are mostly accessed this way.

Ali, S. (2012). Visual Analysis. In C. Seale (Ed.), Researching Society and Culture (3rd ed, p. 283-). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

This chapter describes visual images as texts to be read.  The types of visual media are varied. They can be moving, such as a film, or still images. Still images include photography, paintings, doodles, and graphics. Visual analysis researchers the producers and consumers of images. Psychoanalytic theory focuses on the representations of images. A content analysis will look at images as a contextual narrative. Semiotic analysis relates what is signified by images as signs.  The chapter also describes photo-elucidation and memory work. These methods use photographs (or other images) to stimulate conversation on memories of participants. Photo-elucidation may be useful within a questionnaire, especially some photographs of damaged rock art sites.

Another interesting idea that I had not considered prior to reading this chapter is participant mapping. This method provides visual data from the perspective of the participant. For my thesis research, I would like to use structured observations and have considered each observer mapping the space as a participant. The chapter finishes with a discussion on ethics. The ethical considerations of visual analysis relate to protecting the anonymity of persona who may be in the photographs, as well as publishing and copyright issues.

For me personally, I find that there are many facets of visual analysis that are important to consider, as much of human computer interaction, and user experience is visual based. And if not, it is important to consider why how accessibility can be explored. For example, with screen reader technology, users can “see” what is on a page. I recall a piece by Sven Ouzmen on the over-focus of visual data in rock art research specifically. I would argue the same in HCI and User Experience.

Ali, S., & Kelly, M. (2012). Ethics and Social Research. In C. Seale (Ed.), Researching Society and Culture (3rd ed, pp. 58–76). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

This chapter considers how researchers can counter the impacts of scientific truths through procedure and informed consent. There is a discussion on the reflexivity of social research, that is, the reassessment and consideration of ethics throughout. The author points out that there can be no true objectivity; that research orientation presents more of a “situated knowledge” as proclaimed by Donna Haraway. This is an interesting consideration for transparency of research and authenticity of researcher perspective. In consideration of perspective, the chapter points out that the truth does not need to be whole to be a useful addition to existing knowledge. This speaks especially to the holism of anthropology. The chapter provides two examples of unethical research which have influenced decisions in social research ethics. These are the invasive Nazi medical experiments which led to the Declaration of Helsinki and the Tuskegee experiment, where participants were not informed of the potentially life-threatening findings of syphilis during the research. The authors present four fundamental principles of social research ethics. Beneficence relates to minimizing risks and maximizing benefits. The next are Non-maleficence (doing no harm), respecting autonomy of individuals decisions, and respecting fair justice in distributing risks and benefits. Power relations are considered through discussion issues of privacy and informed consent. One important consideration for my personal research interests is utilizing social media and the internet. There are many issues to ponder regarding privacy and informed consent. An interesting point made is that data analysis is an issue of ethics, in that the knowledge is essential curated by the researcher. This is also an important concept for crafting research questions. A final point made by the authors is to involve the public in research (especially applied research) as much as possible. While reading this chapter I was reminded of my philosophy professor’s description of ethics as a process. She said ethics happens in the judgement and reaction after action. This is reminiscent of the reflexivity of social research that ever influences appropriate methods and procedure. Then again, reading and writing about ethics is one thing, practicing ethical research is another.

Booker, K. (2009). Shifting Priorities: Reflections on Teaching Qualitative Research Methods. The Qualitative Report, 14(3), 389–394.

In this article, Booker traces their experiences in teaching qualitative methods in a larger university. They start by introducing their graduate school experience, which was heavily saturated in quantitative methods. Next, they discuss some difficulties in teaching students who already work as teachers, counselors, or administrators. The specific focus is the resistance of such students because of unfamiliarity with qualitative research. Booker also notes that many students view qualitative methods as being too subjective, or too time consuming to be worth investing in. I can relate to this. I have seen many students scoff at theory and rapid qualitative methods. There are two steps in dealing with resistance to learning qualitative methods, according to Booker. First, the instructor must be aware of why the students are resisting. The second step is to provide students with better foundation of method and theory in qualitative methods. The goal here is to create a dialogue and show how qualitative and quantitative methods work in and around each other to produce useful research. I agree with both steps and would also make a point to expand on the benefits of having qualitative research skills as a professional. There is a growing need for experienced qualitative researchers, especially as media forms continue to evolve.

Byrne, B. (2012). Qualitative Interviewing. In C. Seale (Ed.), Researching Society and Culture (3rd ed, pp. 206–226). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

This chapter presents an array of interview methods, along with case study examples. I like that they included methods like market research, instead of just focusing on ethnographic. One asset I found useful from this chapter is an example of an interview topic guide. I think it is difficult to truly learn interviewing without doing, but this chapter provides a good orientation to prepare. I would have like to see more information on interview analysis methods. The chapter focuses on data collection. While they do point out that the analysis will likely be one of the other methods in the rest of the textbook, there could be more on analysis. I would have also liked to see more on using recording technology, as well as how to learn transcription skills. I have seen a lot of new researchers begin collecting interview data before realizing how long it will take to transcribe that into a usable form for analysis. The author brings up a good discussion point on what an interview event represents for data. An interview may be analyzed as a recollection of events, or as its own unique event. This is important for researchers to consider, since interviewees are likely to be influenced by their role in a project.

Carvalho, L., Scott, L., & Jeffery, R. (2005). An exploratory study into the use of qualitative research methods in descriptive process modelling. Information and Software Technology, 47(2), 113–127.

This study uses constant comparisons to explore two descriptive software process models compiled from the same data source. A descriptive model shows how models are used. Rather than just comparing the end results of two models, they are comparing the process of how the data was taken as well. First, the authors frame their research project by describing the background of grounded theory. Their results showed that it is possible to apply this technique to software modeling. Although the methods can be carried out by novice software researchers, the models will differ significantly with those developed by software engineers. This was a key result since the same data was used for each model. The authors conclude that this is a result of dual bias. Their non-software engineers were psychologists who are better versed in qualitative research, while the software engineers were drawn toward quantitative aspects. This is important to note that researcher background can have a significant effect on how the process data will be modeled. I think this is important to consider for interdisciplinary researching all fields. For example, when I worked on an interdisciplinary team, we had historians and a videographer, along with archaeologists and non-professionals. Everyone brought their own perspectives and bias to the team, especially when it came to which data to collect, or what to consider data. Therefore, I would say inter-operator communication is essential for any team project.

Gidley, B. (2012). Doing Historical and Documentary Research. In C. Seale (Ed.), Researching Society and Culture (3rd ed, pp. 263–282). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Archival research is not necessarily a method, but a source of information. Primary sources reflect a first-hand account, and secondary are usually a written text. Archival sources can also be oral recordings and written documents. An important consideration in using archival sources is the accessibility of information. Sources may be available to use in research, but copy written from publication. Sometimes the information is restricted access and cannot be released. Something the chapter mentions that is relatable to my own research interests is utilizing archival sources to explore the development of concepts. For example, archives can map the development of important policy decisions through the intertextual comparison of standard documents, legislature, and correspondence documents. Accessing a collection will differ depending on the institution, but each has its own set of regulations that must be followed. These restrictions may relate to the sensitivity of the information, or the preservation of the physical material. Archival collections can be overwhelming, which is something I am now all too aware of. A finding-aid is a useful tool to navigate for specific information. The chapter discusses methodological debates relating to realism (archival texts represent reality) and constructionism (texts are a social construct). The validity and reliably of using archival sources are also described. Questions to ask of an archival collection relate to genuine authenticity, credibility and undistorted nature, representativeness of its kind, and meaning. Archives will be serialized in some specified order, that may relate to the original organization or some curated research interest. Archives are both challenged and influenced by changing technologies, and much like archaeology they only represent a small fragment of the full narrative. One important concept is digitization and the internet. New technologies and communications allow for more open accessibility, although the same considerations of sharing sensitive information still apply.

Griffin, A., & May, V. (2012). Narrative Analysis and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. In C. Seale (Ed.), Researching Society and Culture (3rd ed, pp. 441–458). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis is a method used to interpret peoples’ experiences. This method is heavily influenced by Hermeneutics, which views all communication as interpretation. IPA places the researcher as a storyteller, or more of a narrator to the participants’ story. Therefore, the importance is not necessarily on avoiding researcher bias, but on explicitly illuminating it for interpretive context. I will be using IPA to analyze how people in general are experiencing the issue of vandalism/visitor damage. This chapter presents two methods that focus on the role that language plays in social interactions. This chapter is especially important for my research interest in experiencing cultural institutions. An important consideration for data collection is the link between power and narrative. This relates to the influence a researcher may have as an expert on a topic.

Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) looks at individual accounts of experience. This perspective stems from the hermeneutic philosophy, that all communication is a form of interpretation. This is the reconstruction of experience through social research. This perspective is idiographic, in that it explores specific contexts rather than broad generalizations of experience. IPA places the informant as the expert knower, rather than the researcher. One very important part of this analysis is that the researcher includes an epoche statement, which confesses the expectations and assumptions the researcher has on the issue. This helps to present the researcher as part of the individuals’ reconstruction of their experience.

One important consideration the chapter discusses for IPA that the contextual information of life outside of a specific experience might have important influence on the specific personal experience. These might relate to an individual’s biological predispositions, social status, or psychology.  For this reason, a one-on-one interview is recommended, rather than a format such as a questionnaire. Personally, I would argue against collecting unnecessary demographic information, since this is unmotivating for research participants. But for IPA, that sort of information is essential, especially in an elaborated interview format. This will be addressed in follow-up interviews after the initial probe. Data is analyzed through constant revisiting and immersion. The chapter uses an example of a three-column method where each line or a narrative can be broken down by description and interpretation. This is useful for looking at what is said, and how it is said.

Ivey, J. (2012). The Value of Qualitative Research Methods. Pediatric Nursing, 38(6), 319–319.

This article traces the project process of a 2012 study on youth living with HIV. The point of these “Demystifying Research” articles is to have a leading researcher of nursing help readers understand the research process. The one-page article shares the methods used by the 2012 research team: an interview guide, focus groups, and field notes. Then comes a discussion on coding analysis. The article also mentions that in many research projects, the researchers may share the data with participants for clarification purposes. The last step, which I found interesting compared to so many research designs, is to compare the results to the results of other literature.  I think this piece is a perfect introduction to qualitative research methods and analysis. The language is simple, but informative. While it wouldn’t be enough background to launch a full research study, I think this is a good one to share with non-researchers to demonstrate the process. The disappointing part of the article is that the title is a bit misleading. The focus of this article is to be informative, and it doesn’t do much to show the value of qualitative research. I would have expected this article to discuss things that would improve patient experiences or clinical budgets. Researchers need to find ways to sell the process and make the time and effort worth it.

Kelly, M. (2012). Research Questions and Proposals. In C. Seale (Ed.), Researching Society and Culture (3rd ed, pp. 97–117). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

This chapter is useful in that it describes the components of a research proposal, and how to develop each. Formulating good research questions will add to the current field of knowledge. The two types of research discussed are quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research relates to deduction, hypothesis, and experiment. Qualitative research is characterized by induction and description. Brainstorming research can help to draw out the links and assumptions of previous research. This, along with peer commentary is essential from the start. The chapter discusses the essential elements of a research proposal. The title will be informative and descriptive, and an abstract provides a brief summary. A section on background/introduction provides enough context to understand the research. The literature review situates the research in the context of previous research on the subject. Some part of the research proposal will reflect the aims and objectives of the research project. These are a more defined and specific version of the research questions. Although the methods section should be as specific and defined as possible, concision is key overall. In describing methods of data analysis, key variables will be defined with consideration to reliability and validity.

There should be some reference to ethical issues in a research proposal, especially when working with human subjects. The main ethical issues relate to consent and confidentiality. An important part of the proposal for social research discusses dissemination and policy relevance. For my personal research, accessibility and access will be a main consideration. Any references should be included, as well as appendices of forms and questionnaires that will be used in the project. One key consideration for the schedule/timetable is that the researcher should consider the influences of external schedules. This may relate to weather conditions or shifts in population as mentioned in the chapter with regards to researching students at a university. The primary point I took from this chapter is that the research proposal should be a concise representation of the intended project and anticipated risks. The final product will be easy to skim and navigate. I think it is also important to consider that depending on who the proposal is for; the format and amount of detail is likely to differ. Proposing for a National research grant takes a much different form than a proposal to a company for a customer analytics project.

Luther, A. (2017). The Entity Mapper: A Data Visualization Tool for Qualitative Research Methods. Leonardo, 50(3), 268–271.

This article presents an overview of an open source data visualization software. This software was developed specifically for visualizing qualitative data. According to Luther, one of the biggest challenges with qualitative data is how to make the data accessible to researchers and their audiences. It is important to consider how the way we present and visualize data can impact future reading of the data. The original concept for the Entity Mapper tool was to simplify the accessibility of data by using visual means. Luther presents the node-link relationships of grounded theory to relate unstructured data with researchers’ structured models. Next, they go through a review of current visualization methods. These are static visualizations, such as graphs and infographics; interactive visualization like relational data displays; and dynamic visualizations that are animated. Many museums and other cultural institutions already use dynamics visualizations to present interactive timelines to their visitors.

Luther presents applications for Computer-Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software (CAQDAS), such as data-driven documents (D3). These documents are linked with data for future download and use. With the EM (Entity Mapper), this can be done as a relational visualization.  This article is important to me, because I see an essential need for the deep understanding of systems and software. These software tools are really where you see that glorious comingling of theory and practice both being essential.

Mann, S. (2010). Critical Review of Qualitative Interviews in Applied Linguistics. Applied Linguistics, 32(1), 6–24.

Mann’s goal in this article is to describe different perspectives of interview methodology that could be utilized for applied linguistic research. From the fields of sociology, anthropology, and psychology, Mann identifies four discursive dilemmas that could aid in more reflective qualitative research. According to Mann, considering such dilemmas is central to good interviewer sensitivity. The first of these discursive dilemmas is co-construction. This is a dilemma because rather than an interview being a report of data, it is an action of creating the account between the interviewer and interviewee. The focus on the interviewer refers to the position of the researcher in context of the process, and their personal empathy and emotions. The interactional context of an interview is important, as interviews cannot be taken as real accounts of information. Each interview has followed a process, including actions before and after that will influence how the participant shares their data. Finally, Mann’s last discursive dilemma is a focus on what and how. The dilemma here is how to best illuminate the research process (the how) along with the interview data (the what). Personally, I would also add the dilemma of motivation, since everyone involved in the research process will have different goals for being there. Mann also outlines some parameters of sensitivity, that are intended to guide researchers to become aware of discursive dilemmas. Mann stresses that many researchers tend to fall into these dilemmas unknowingly. By choosing quotes to aid in research goals, researchers leave out most of the data. Transcripts can be included to help circumvent this issue, so that future researchers may use the same data to draw different interpretations.

Phellas, C., Bloch, A., & Seale, C. (2012). Structured Methods: Interviews, Questionnaires, and Observation. In C. Seale (Ed.), Researching Society and Culture (3rd ed, pp. 181–205). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

This chapter describes interviews, questionnaires, and structured observations. These methods can be useful for cost-effective research, although each has its strengths and weaknesses. Interviews can be face-to-face or done over the phone. Self-completed questionnaires are also versatile in delivery form and accessibility, and web-based platforms allows for a more widespread and diverse population. One important tip from this chapter is to consider the key concept-identifier links that accomplish research goals. This means thinking about what sort of information might be asked to answer research questions. The chapter also discusses the potential for requesting sensitive information and recommends postal or web-based surveys as a tactic to distance researchers from participants.

When creating surveys, it is important to keep in mind the experience of taking the actual survey. A good survey will be short, and have a welcome message providing context about the project. Another important point is to give an option for no answer, in case participants are hesitant to answer. The chapter also recommends piloting the questionnaire to get feedback on any awkward questions or layout issues. A structured observation involves a distanced researcher with pre-coded criteria to collect. These criteria may come from a ready-made tool (such as RIAS or FIAC) or may be developed by the researcher. This is another method in which the presence of the researcher may influence the behavior that is observed. I appreciate this chapter, but I would have liked for each method to have had its own. These are the anthropological methods I find most often in UX research, and I think that a deeper knowledge of the benefits and issues of concern with each will be essential.

Pink, S., & Morgan, J. (2013). Short‐Term Ethnography: Intense Routes to Knowing. Symbolic Interaction, 36(3), 351–361.

This article discusses shorter term ethnographic research for applied projects. Rather than constantly seeking new and innovative methods, as many researchers do, the authors explore an existing solid approach with new perspective. The authors argue that rapid ethnography, although assumed to be too fast and undetailed, is quite intense and detailed. They authors describe the qualities of short-term ethnography as: the intensity of the research encounter, and a focus on detail. I like this perspective, because I think that a few carefully crafted research questions can tell you much more about people than making them go through pages of demographics. We can pull from the strengths of ethnographic research, and don’t necessarily have to include every aspect for every project. I personally love to provide data for products or experiences, but even I get unmotivated with long forms. It is refreshing to see the view of short-term ethnography as a real choice for methodology, rather than seeing it as a backup method when projects have time constraints. Neither rapid nor slow ethnography is a better approach than the other, but reflexivity of the true goals of a project can help researchers find the methods that may provide a better experience for everyone involved in the process.

Rapley, T. (2012). Analysing Conversation. In C. Seale (Ed.), Researching Society and Culture (3rd ed, pp. 424–440). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Conversation analysis was derived from ethnomethodology. The focus for research is on the local production of society through conversations. This type of analysis breaks down every nuance of conversation by reviewing recorded conversations and focusing on how people interact. Often, the data is coming from prerecorded sources, which leaves researchers with only so much context of the interaction. Therefore, I personally feel that transcripts are an important research artifact to spend time on, or to outsource professionally. This chapter does provide information on transcription symbols, which is especially useful for researchers who have outsourced this step. Of course, since conversation analysis is heavily done with recorded audio and video data, a good understanding of transcription is a worthwhile skill to perfect. Some conversations will require a more interpretive approach to analysis, where acts such as requests and refusals are not directly indicated. Sometimes, as in courtroom proceedings, the conversations will be more structured overall. Analysis of legal cases may be on one single legal case, or it may be conducted through a comparison of similar cases. Analysis of this type usually involves certain standardized identities procedural language that researchers should be aware of. In this way, it resembles discourse analysis. The key difference is the focus can be on all talk and interactions, rather than institutional languages.

Rivas, C. (2012). Coding and Analysing Qualitative Data. In C. Seale (Ed.), Researching Society and Culture (3rd ed, pp. 366–392). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Coding data into themes is intended to make the analysis process simpler. In this chapter, Rivas describes thematic content analysis, which considers themes of an entire data set that may be relevant for interpretation. Before the thematic coding begins, researchers should consider theoretical sensitivity. This is like the epoche statement in Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis, where the researcher reflects on their personal relationship with the data and their personal experiences. For an inductive approach, less literature should be examined before research, so that the researcher is not approaching their data with expectations. In a deductive approach, the researcher will have some saturation of related literature, and likely some concept of the themes that will be encountered. Inductive approaches use in vivo coding, which takes key terms and phrasing from the data source. To form categories, constant comparison is a good approach. Categories and themes will become more apparent and refined by constant re-immersion of data. Researchers should review their data several times, keeping informal memos throughout the process. The coding process follows a zigzag approach, analysis from early in the study informs later analysis. The idea is that in becoming more saturated in the data, researchers will be more aware of themes. It is like when you watch a movie a second time. You catch more details.

Rosenthal, M. (2016). Qualitative research methods: Why, when, and how to conduct interviews and focus groups in pharmacy research. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 8(4), 509–516.

Rosenthal presents a methodology review for utilizing qualitative research methods for health services research, specifically pharmacy education. The goal of the piece is to provide recommendations relating to focus group research. The recommendations are reflexive in nature and invite researchers to consider things like interview modality and language. Rosenthal asserts that focus groups and interviews are completely different methods with different data output, and that researchers should be aware of why they are choosing one method over another. Rosenthal discusses question design, sampling and data analysis, and transcription and data processing. Rosenthal points out that transcription is an arduous process for even a skilled transcriber. They even included in their recommendations that it is better to just hire a professional transcriptionist.

Along with those recommendations, Rosenthal provides a useful breakdown of 6 types of interview questions. The first question type is experience or behavior questions, aiming to uncover some past or present action taken by the participant. Sensory questions focus on the physical experience of the action. In opinion or value questions, researchers will ask what thoughts the participant has about the action. Knowledge questions relate to facts. Feeling questions ask about the emotional experience of participants. There are also background and demographic questions that help to frame the participant as part of larger social groups.

Seale, C. (2012). Validity, Reliability and the Quality of Research. In C. Seale (Ed.), Researching Society and Culture (3rd ed, pp. 528–543). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

The terms validity and reliability come from scientific perspectives of research. Validity refers to how truthful the results of a study may be. Reliability refers to the truth of research procedures. The chapter describes three components of validity. Measurement validity refers to how well measuring tools are working in the context of research. Internal validity is concerned with how the study supports any claims made via hypothesis. External validity means that the study can be generalized to a broad population, via careful participant selection criteria. This chapter discusses the reliability and replicability of research. A study may show consistent data trends, but that does not always mean the study is valid. Reliability can be improved by inter-rater reliability tests, where numerous researchers collaborate on how to standardize their data and procedures. When I worked for Stanford University, this was one of my tasks. There were multiple research entities on the campus who all had data from years of different projects. In order to create a full database of all archaeological resources, we had to compare multiple data sets to develop our plan. These standards were then to be employed for all future projects. Although it can be tempting to consider validity of research as a part of analysis, it is important for all stages. Analysis that is done on poorly collected data will rarely be valid.

Seale, C., & Tonkiss, F. (2012). Content and Comparative Keyword Analysis. In C. Seale (Ed.), Researching Society and Culture (3rd ed, pp. 459–478). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Content analysis can be used to examine texts for the presence and frequency of certain terms or concepts. It is often used for media texts, for example when I used this method to examine rock art guidebooks and magazine articles. The research design resembles that of other social research methods, but the subjects are texts and not humans. This method can be a useful quantitative reference, especially when combined with other research methods. Content Analysis seeks to balance qualitative data with quantitative analysis. It is useful in pulling out dominant themes and concepts, although judgments on the meaning of those ideas may not be indicated. This type of analysis is helpful in making personal biases explicit. Chucking text into a non-human generator allows researchers to compare what they of themes with the actual word frequency.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the sample will likely be overwhelming. The research sample should be representative of the research questions, while also being remaining manageable to analyze. Content is coded by using predetermined categories, as well as allowing categories to surface during analysis. One consideration is that researchers may code data differently, so there are tests of inter-rater reliability to ensure a consistent content to category match. Another useful tool for quantifying narratives is word counts. This is basically the frequency of a word. A keyword analysis utilizes the word count concept to produce an aerial view of essential concepts. These methods are beneficial in that they allow for rather quick analysis of large amounts of text but can also be difficult to work with, as they require some background in statistical analysis to truly understand the data output.

Smithson, J. (2000). Using and Analyzing focus groups: Limitations and Possibilities. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 3(2), 103–119.

In this article, Smithson reviews their concerns with focus groups as a research method. The main issues identified in this article are having dominant voices in the group, only hearing one opinion, focusing research on minority groups and reinforcing otherness, and group dynamics affecting perspectives. This article is useful to me, because Smithson identifies how moderators can try to overcome these issues. I like that Smithson points out the usual suggestions one would find for how to overcome these issues are just not helpful sometimes. For example, a common suggestion to overcome dominant group voices is to ensure groups are homogenous. But what can be done when groups are homogenous, and dominant voices are still emerging? Smithson’s suggestion is to instead treat the focus group conversation as a collective voice. To overcome constructions of the other, Smithson recommends that the moderator be from a similar background. This is an interesting perspective, but it does make sense to me to avoid othering. Normative discourses are likely to appear in focus groups research. For this reason, it can be beneficial to reframe the method as a forum for examining public discourse on topics, rather than expecting them to reflect the individual views of group participants.

Spradley, J. P. (1979). Asking Descriptive Questions. In The Ethnographic Interview. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

This is one of my favorite pieces, because it has been useful to help others learn how to ask questions. Spradley begins with a discussion of the rapport process. Rapport is the productive relationship between ethnographer and informant. Spradley calls it harmonious, since rapport is not necessarily a real friendship. Or researcher and subject since rapport is not solely an anthropological concept. Spradley describes the four phases of as Apprehension, exploration, cooperation, participation. I think the most useful part of this piece is Spradley’s description of many different types of questions. The first type is Ethnographic Questions, where an interviewer asks a participant about their culture. Next are Descriptive Questions. Spradley describes five types of descriptive questions, including Grand tour questions, Mini-tour questions, Example questions, Experience questions, and Native-Language questions. I find Spradley’s question descriptions to be easily palatable and sharable. This is a good way to brainstorm questions for user experience type projects. It would be useful to use these descriptive questions while creating user scenarios and personas. One of the most common questions that has come up in my work is how to figure out what to ask. It is also important to consider HOW questions are asked, since participants may feel provoked to answer differently based on the structure of a question.

Tonkiss, F. (2012a). Discourse Analysis. In C. Seale (Ed.), Researching Society and Culture (3rd ed, pp. 405–423). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Discourse refers to the language of systems, specifically jargon-filled fields of medicine and academia. Discourse Analysis is not a strictly defined research method, it relates more to the research approach. Discourse is a broad concept, and so the analysis will be heavily influenced by the specific data that are related to a given topic. The chapter relates discourse analysis to Foucault’s idea of language producing expert fields of knowledge. It is relevant to analyze the “expert literature” in the context of this issue, because as Tonkiss states, the discourse will be essential in determining how institutions define and respond to their problems. Although there is no strict method for discourse analysis, the process could be like a literature review. This will involve returning to the literature to identify key themes and arguments, look for association and variation, examine character and agency, and to pay attention to emphasis and silence in the discourse. This is a method of analysis which will usually be combined with more specific methods that relate to the type of data and research question. Tonkiss asserts the importance of choosing relevant texts to analyze, and not simply selecting texts out of abundance or convenience. This means rationalizing and defining each type of data as relevant to the research question and discourse, including specific delimitation of the sample. Another important consideration in selecting data is that certain types can be overwhelmingly abundant.

Analyzing a field of discourse can illuminate the influence language has on knowledge and power. This is an important consideration in anthropological studies, where the researcher is often in a position as an expert. Discourse analysis is best conducted when there are no preconceived notions. Two key ideas from this chapter that I would employ in my future research are examining characterization and agency and paying attention the emphasis and silence of public interactions at cultural heritage sites.

Tonkiss, F. (2012b). Focus Groups. In C. Seale (Ed.), Researching Society and Culture (3rd ed, pp. 227–244). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

A focus group is a group discussion that is facilitated and recorded by a researcher. They were originally used for market research. In focus groups, the method is the interaction, which may be facilitated with scheduled questions, topic guides, group exercises, and visual cuing. Focus groups can be useful in designing and clarifying questions for survey research. This chapter provides many examples of how focus groups have been used in social research. I am glad that there is information on focus groups online. The benefit to conducting focus groups online is that they are more accessible and can reach broader audiences. Online focus groups can also harness anonymity for sensitive topics in a way a physical group cannot. Since focus groups are intended to collect data, sampling and participant selection are important considerations. One key point brought up in this chapter is that the ideal members of a focus group should homogeneously represent the selection criteria, but none of the participants will know each other. The execution of focus groups is just as important as the design and selection. While working as a general transcriptionist, I learned just how common it is to lose control of focus group data quality. Often, group members talk over each other, or individual speakers cannot be easily identified. Thus, the skills necessary to facilitate a focus group are more like professional meeting management.

Twine, F. W. (2016). Visual Sociology in a Discipline of Words: Racial Literacy, Visual Literacy and Qualitative Research Methods. Sociology, 50(5), 967–974.

This article makes the argument that visual literacy is neglected. There is a need for more training on film and photography methods. The author likens this to a form of academic apartheid. According to Twine, visual methods are typically considered to be a specialty, only employed when an individual graduate student chooses to focus for their dissertation. I agree with the argument that audio and video recording methods are not taught deeply enough in graduate programs. I have been working in general transcription for a little while, and many of the people who run focus groups and interviews sessions have little knowledge of where to place the camera during the session. My graduate school experience was similar, even in an applied program. Much more reading about methods than actual practice, unless a student is incorporating them into a thesis. The key point Twine makes in this article is in comparing visual literacy and racial literacy in the UK. According to Twine, visual literacy was common in multiracial families in the UK who also strived for racial literacy. If you are raising a child between cultures, the visual symbols are more readily teachable than language. Through researching such families, Twine learned the importance of employing visual methods to record the layout of space, for example. This is part of a visual transmission of culture that really does makes sense to capture in-situ. When we are studying experience, a full reconstruction of the environment can be essential. I recently read an article of a Nazi guard who was finally charged with murder after researcher reconstructed the camp and were able to prove he would have seen what was happening there. Twine is spot on in arguing that a deeper understanding of how to use visual methods will make research so much more useful.

Wiles, R., Crow, G., & Pain, H. (2011). Innovation in Qualitative Research Methods: A Narrative Review. Qualitative Research, 11(5), 587–604.

This article reviews the concept of innovation as it has been presented through qualitative research studies. After reviewing 57 papers that made claims of innovative methods, the authors assert that the concept is overused. The studies revealed that most innovation refers to adapting existing methods or adopting methods from other fields. There are six categories of innovation noted in the article. These are creative methods, narrative methods, mixed methods, online and e-research methods, software tools, and focus group methodology. This study shows an important tendency for researchers to inflate their methods to have better sellable research projects. This article provides evidence for what I have experienced myself. Many researchers claim that they are using new methods, but it is something I have seen used in other fields many times. It is disappointing to me as a reader, because it shows that the researcher was not entirely aware of their potential approaches. This article tickles me, because after learning about the historical developments of theories on both anthropology and archaeology, this practice is all too common. For example, New Archaeology is a concept that is no longer new, but at the time it was seen as a more innovative way to see things.

Published by Nikki M

Applied Anthropologist and Digital Dance Specialist

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