Presumptions and premises underpinning decisions during initial qualitative research design; philosophical considerations projected onto sample or vice versa? By Euodia Ong

Presumptions and premises underpinning decisions during initial qualitative research design; philosophical considerations projected onto sample or vice versa?
By Euodia Ong

Bryman (2012, p.46) defines research design as a “framework for the collection and analysis of data”. In addition, Saunders et al. (2009) recognises research design an involvement between a combination of methods, strategies and philosophies when proposing, planning and carrying out research. Various authors have acknowledged the importance of considering various factors such as validity, reliability and replication when designing research (Dawson, 2009; Bryman and Bell, 2011; Bryman, 2012). However, are there other elements that researcher have to examine before constructing research?
Slife and Williams (1995 cited in Creswell, 2008) states that philosophical ideas are rarely identified within research; however, they need to be identified as they do influence the methods of research conducted. “Developing a philosophical perspective requires that the researcher make several core assumptions concerning two dimensions: the nature of society and the nature of science” (Burrell and Morgan, 1979 cited Holden and Lynch, n.d.). A researcher should consider the philosophy as a vital part of the research process as it helps the researcher to remain subjective and open to new possibilities, which may in turn aid in the appropriate method to conduct research (Holden and Lynch, n.d.). At the same, Ritchie et al. (2013) highlight the importance of the underpinning philosophical attributes. In fact, a researcher should first grasp these interpretive frameworks before selecting the most suitable qualitative approach to conduct their research (ibid).
In order to enhance the importance of philosophical considerations, the author would firstly define qualitative research. “Unlike quantitative research, qualitative analysts do not believe that there s a single truth” (Newby, 2010). Denzin and Lincoln (2005 cited in Creswell, 2007) describe qualitative research as the study of people and/or objects in the attempt of analysing and interpreting phenomena and the perception of people on the subject. The qualitative approach consists of many intricate layers and textures, due to the inconsistency in ontology, epistemology and human nature (Newby, 2010; Bryman, 2012; Holden and Lynch, n.d.). Moreover, qualitative research begins with assumptions that are viewed through different lenses, influenced by different groups or individuals, thus making it difficult in setting a research design (Creswell, 2007). The author would like to clarify, that there are various methods to carry out a qualitative research such as focus groups, in-depth interviews, semi-structured interviews and more (Marshall and Rossman, 1999; Silverman, 2010). However, for the purposes of this paper, the author will be comparing the research paradigm with in-depth interviews.

According to Marshall and Rossman (2011), the complexity of the chosen method depends highly on the focus of inquiry. Newby (2010) and Ormston et al. (2013) explain that various blend of factors can lead to multiple choices in the method to conducting qualitative research. For example, ontology: the beliefs of the society; epistemology: the conditioning and acquisition of knowledge; behaviour of the sample; the aim of research; the selected sample for research; funding and the setting of the researchers themselves (Ormston et al., 2013). Should researchers choose to study the underlying meaning and subjective truth, the logical manner would be choosing a gnostic approach (Fisher, 2010; Ritchie et al., 2013). For instance, if an aim of the research requires studying and deriving individual’s experiences, than the method of an in-depth interview may be most suited to achieve the aim; as this strategy extract the inner thoughts from the participant’s perspective. Like any method, in-depth interviews would have its challenges to overcome such as, close and personal interactions between the interviewer and the participant over a lengthy duration of time. However, after further research, there are in fact philosophical considerations to be projected onto a sample when attempting to design qualitative research.

When conducing in-depth interviews, the researcher or interviewer is often advised to remain objective and prevent their personality from being reflected onto the questions constructed for the sample; which could be achieved through a second reviewer and other ways. Researchers often follow a few interview techniques, one of which is to clarify and repeat a misinterpreted or misunderstood question. However, the author ponders if this scenario is in fact an unavoidable one. Factoring in ontology, epistemology and societal phenomena, researchers would have to comprehend and empathise with societal norms, and the revolution of human behaviour alongside subjective aspects conditioned by the human experience.

Researchers can attempt to understand all these aspects, but the author questions the measures researchers will go through to obtain fully valid results. Although a researcher could study a society and culture theoretically, is the theoretical knowledge reflected in reality? Some argue epistemology is the ultimate way to view and understand the world. Blaikie (2007) supports this by stating “only when evidence can be produced from the use of the human senses can knowledge of the world be regarded certain”. In fact, Frankfort-Nachmias and Nachmias (1996) state that previous researchers have immersed themselves in the culture and lifestyle of the poor (field research) instead of conducting in-depth interviews to collect data, to truly understand all these philosophical factors. While ontology suggests the external world conditions ones reality. The author proposes that this could also result in one denying the “truth” if it is absent from their environment. This in turn could result in unreliable or undesirable data for a researcher during an interview. The realism would result in a debate of two different truths.

Theoretically, one of the existing qualitative methods has the requirements to answer the researchers questions. Moreover, the understanding of underlying assumptions provides a researcher with the advantage of improving qualitative techniques by compensating the weaknesses of the chosen method (Fisher, 2010; Anon., n.d.), nevertheless the author cannot help but question research. Fundamentally the “truth” is regarded differently; the perspective is the deciding factor that confirms ideas into an existing reality or simply as wishful thinking. The author suggests that philosophical considerations in fact do hinder researchers from receiving valid results. The question is, does a single truth even exist?

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