Criteria for Qualitative Research in Psychology

Ever since the early days of my PhD research I’ve found Ian Parker’s work to be a consistently thought-provoking read. Long before I made the move into research Parker had proposed criteria for psychology as it pertains to conducting qualitative studies.

He suggests that there are 3 criteria for good qualitative psychological research. These are:

  1. grounding – locating the current research in what already exists and showing how it corroborates extant knowledge whilst illuminating new insights that adequately begin to fill ‘gaps’ in understanding.
  2. coherence – that this shouldn’t be limited to the creation of a traditionally linear, cumulative narrative (like the scientific research journal article). That sometimes fragmented and creative story-telling should be embraced and reported.
  3. accessibility – that underpinning concepts, study process and any original perspectives are very clearly explicated with maximum clarity of detail to allow others genuine insight into why and how things were achieved, as well as ‘what’. This also includes being able to determine the ‘reach’ of the research – who is it being aimed at? can anyone access it or just psych- or sociol- specialists?

He also takes some, relatively traditional, conceptualisations from those who deem qualitative research as non-scientific and provides a set of question stimuli to illustrate how these can be applied to conducting qualitative work. Here they are verbatim (for a better visual, Parker’s original article is available – just Google Scholar it):

(Parker 2004: 8)

What these suggest is that qualitative psych research can be designed with a view to these criteria and the design questioning process in order to ensure that the research robust and can be taken seriously as evidencing reliable new insights, however time and context contingent these insights may be.

This is all very laudable, and truly useful. I have these things posted for me to work with when I’m assessing my previous research and designing new studies. But there’s a significant sticking point, something that Parker briefly states but does not go on to analyse – and it’s omission currently causes me some ‘sleepless moments’ when I wake up in the middle of the night with my brain whirring away.

“The standard format of a research report is a secure framework for many writers, but it is itself a particular genre of writing that can turn into a constraint and inhibit innovative work.” (Parker 2004: 6)

This feels entirely true. I am really struggling to transform my highly qualitative thesis into journal articles. I feel like it’s just not working. I’m having to make so many compromises to make my work ‘fit’ with even the most progressive of journals, that I am truly scared that true qualitative integrity is being lost. There are many journals that support qualitative research but they are still fairly stringent on the form and format of their publications. Where is the innovation and progress in academic publishing? Why are we straight-jacketed, not in our actual research, but in the writing-up and public presentation of it?

I’m finding that I would rather work with books as they allow me a freedom and latitude to go into sufficient detail about my process and the contextualised, authentic narrative of my findings. However, I’m currently getting the message about research careers and books. I think I need to understand REF better but I’m still getting the message that ‘books’ don’t have the same value. Which, frankly, is rubbish. What do I do? How do I be part of the solution not the problem? How do I get my research findings out there, with reasonable compromise, but without having to decimate it?  Why is qualitative psychology not occupying the vanguard of publications that inspire difference and novelty in its reporting styles? Perhaps it is and I’m just not finding those journals…?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I wish someone as accomplished and learned as Parker were offering direction in our way forward when it comes to writing up, as well as designing and conducting the research.

Reference

Parker, I. (2004). Criteria for qualitative research in psychology. Qualitative research in psychology1(2), 95-106.