Qualitative Spirit

I am deeply confused by many things this semester, and I felt I am almost near a breaking point at some moments. One reason is that I felt I am oppressed by some beliefs about conducting scientific research that are contradicting with part of my value system, but I don’t know how to defend myself for various intellectual and practical reasons. I don’t know whether I should defend myself, or what to defend. I don’t know whether I should learn to make compromise or is there a real compromise to make. There are, of course, various other social, emotional, practical and intellectual reasons resulting my situation now. Maybe all of these are normal during the process of growing up. I am going through some kind of transition and I don’t know how long it will take. All I can do is to be patient, and do whatever I should do. Worries and concerns will not do me any good at this moment.

I am learning qualitative research methods this semester, and the following are some excerpts from qualitative methods books. They resonate with my belief about research and sort of make me feel better.


“No one should plan or finance an entire study in advance with the expectation of relying chiefly upon interviews for data unless the interviewers have enough relevant background to be sure that they can make sense out of interview conversations or unless there is a reasonable hope of being able to hang around of in some way observe so as to learn what it is meaningful and significant to ask.” (Dexter, 1970, p. 17).

“Well-structured, focused questions are generally the result of an interactive design process, rather than being the starting point for developing a design.” (Maxwell, 2005, p. 66)

I got to know that changes happen during research, and it is normal. There are practical reasons such as IRB review, financial and time limits that constrain changes during research, but I should not feel bad when changes happen. They do happen!

Personal Goals, Practical Goals, and Intellectual (scholarly) Goals

“Traditionally, students ave been told to base this decision [of the topic, issue, or question selected for study] on either faculty advice or the literature on their topic. However, personal goals and experiences play an important role in many research studies.” (Maxwell, 2005, p. 16)

“Choosing a research problem through the professional or personal experience route may seem more hazardous than through the suggested [by faculty] or literature routes. This is not necessarily true. The touchstone of your own experience may be more valuable an indicator for you of a potentially successful research endeavor.” (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, p. 35-36)

“Traditionally, discussions of personal goals in research methods texts have accepted, implicitly or explicitly, the ideal of the objective, disinterested scientist, and have emphasized that the choice of research approaches and methods should be determined by the research questions that you want to answer. However it is clear from autobiographies of scientist (e.g., Heinrich, 1984) that decisions about research methods are often far more personal than this, and the importance of subjective motives and goals in science is supported by a great deal of historical , sociological and philosophical work.”  (Maxwell, 2005, p. 18)

“In addition to your personal goals, […] there are practical goals (including administrative or policy goals) and intellectual goals. Practical goals are focused on accomplishing something–meeting some need, changing some situation, or achieving some objective. Intellectual goals, in contrast, are focused on understanding something–gaining insight into what is going on and why this is happening, or answering some question that previous research has not adequately addressed.”   (Maxwell, 2005, p. 21)

I got to know that research questions are usually based on intelectual goals rather than practical goals, and actually, questions based on practical goals are usually not directly answerable. Practical goals are the “so what” piece, the implication of the research, and are of particular importance for justifying the research.