Qualitative Research: A Personal Skills Approach

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9780130209870: Qualitative Research: A Personal Skills Approach

This up-to-date book is the first of its kind to build upon the basic skills needed to do qualitative research. Skills, such as observing, conversing, participating, and interpreting are introduced through exercises and then developed based on the current understandings in the field. Comprehensive and user-friendly, this book incorporates hands-on learning into the overall process with ten exercises associated with the basic skills. Topics include: Being a Skilled Qualitative Researcher; Observing; Conversing; Participating; Interpreting; Conceptualizing; Reasoning; Analyzing; Narrating; Writing; The Seven Deadly Sins of Qualitative Research; Once and Future Qualitative Research. For qualitative researchers.

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Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK AND ORGANIZATION OF THE TEXT

When I set out to write an introductory textbook in qualitative research, I had several goals in mind.

First and foremost was my desire to create a hands-on learning environment that nonetheless gives instructors and students freedom to tailor and modify the text for their own needs. To that end, I have created 10 exercises that have been built into the text itself. Personally, I feel that the exercises associated with the basic skills are the most important, but instructors should feel free to augment, modify, omit, and substitute based on their particular needs and goals. The important thing is that this text offers a vehicle for incorporating hands-on learning into the overall process.

Secondly, I have long felt that qualitative research is in need of a basic vision, and that such a vision ought to be an integral part of any introductory text. To that effort, I have attempted to articulate an inclusive yet clarifying vision in the very first chapter of this text. This vision does not attempt to supplant or replace anyone's current understanding of qualitative research. Instead, I have tried to look at as many points of view and approaches within qualitative research as possible, and then distill out a set of common principles. Those common principles all seem to center around the notion of looking at meaning in empirical settings, and thus the vision used here was born.

Finally, I have attempted to integrate the first two points into a cohesive approach that takes advantage of what I feel is the big secret of all qualitative research—qualitative research is based on skills that we already possess. Learning qualitative research is not like learning statistics. When we look at all we do, we see that we are really refining such basic activities as talking, observing, pitching in, and the like. Furthermore, we all have our own areas of strengths and weaknesses. We can use the exercises and the materials dealing with personal skills to tailor our own development programs as qualitative researchers, even as we move beyond the boundaries of the course materials themselves. This should allow us to work from our strengths and to chart out systematic areas for growth at the same time.

FEATURES OF THE TEXT

This text is essentially divided into four parts.

The first part is contained in Chapter 1. In this first chapter, I lay out what I feel are the crucial assumptions and principles that we need in order to learn and then perform qualitative research.

The second part consists of the basic skills we need to do most forms of qualitative research. Chapter 2 outlines and discusses the skill of observing, built around an observation exercise. Chapter 3 focuses on the skill of conversing, and this skill is related via exercises and examples in the art of interviewing. Chapter 4 tackles the broad area of participating using a case study project. Chapter 5 rounds out the basic skills by taking a careful and hands-on look at the complex and often implicitly addressed skill of interpreting. Music is used as the foundation of the exercise for this chapter. One reason that music is used is to highlight the realization that, unlike other forms of research, which are primarily visual, qualitative research has a large auditory component to its basic makeup.

The third part moves us past the basic skills into the more advanced skills. These advanced skills often play key roles in qualitative research, but they are less obvious and intuitive. Chapter 6 starts us out by considering the task of conceptualizing. How do we wrap ourselves around the task of thinking through a developing qualitative process, toward eventually asking a qualitative research question? Chapter 7 takes us into the realm of reasoning. Logic has always played a part in research. What role does it play in qualitative research? Is the logic of qualitative research, like its basic vision, different from more traditional reasoning strategies? Chapter 8 looks at the task of analyzing. Here, great efforts have been made to present as broad a spectrum of analytic tools, perspectives, and styles as possible. Chapter 8 is designed not so much to teach various analytic strategies but to situate as many strategies as possible in relation to each other. Guidance is then given to direct students to more explicit prescriptions and procedures for particular analytic methods. In this way, the students have some valuable perspective on the range of analytic possibilities from which they might choose. Chapter 9 deals with the skill of narrating, and Chapter 10 deals with the skill of writing. Many books combine these skills, but I felt that it is important to look at them separately. In Chapter 9, we concentrate on the art of identifying and understanding narratives, while in Chapter 10, we tackle practical and theoretical issues dealing with the difficult but highly important task of writing up qualitative research findings.

In the fourth and final part, I address crucial evaluative and historical issues. We start with a look at the thorny task of evaluating qualitative research. The metaphor of the seven deadly sins is used in Chapter 11 as a guide to help us see areas for self-improvement. Finally, in Chapter 12, I end the book at the point where many other texts begin—with a look at the history of the field. Why do we look at history so late in the game? The answer is simple—Once students have experienced qualitative research from the perspective of their own skills and insights, they are then in the position to be more critical consumers of methods based on various historical positions. That is, we do not strive to perpetuate methods strictly because they have historical pedigrees. Instead, we hope to allow students to understand why these methods have been adopted so often and so extensively by past researchers in the field.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would first like to thank my editor, Kevin Davis, and his helpful and friendly staff. Kevin continued to believe in this project at every stage of its rather labyrinthine path of development. I would also like to thank my former graduate students at Northern Illinois University who helped me develop much of the content and many of the exercises used in this work. In these students I found many willing and trusted colleagues. I would also like to thank my doctoral advisees at Duquesne University, Michael, Joe, Josh, Carolyn, Lan, Rhonda, and Hotep for their help in reading and refining these materials and procedures. Of course, I am grateful to the School of Education at Duquesne University for its support, financial and otherwise, toward this effort. Finally, I would like to thank the many reviewers of this book in its various manuscript stages: Carole B. Shmurak, Central Connecticut State University; Dia Sekayi, Cleveland State University; Armando Trujillo, University of Texas, San Antonio; Shelley Roberts, University of Illinois; Michelle D. Young, The University of Iowa; Peter A. Hessling, North Carolina State University; James H. Banning, Colorado State University; and Janice Williams, Oklahoma State University. Without their extensive comments and suggestions, this text would not have evolved as it has. All mistakes and blunders, of course, are still my own fault.

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Gary D. Shank
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