Qualitative Research

Ashley McKee

July 25th, 2007

Leisa Reichelt, over at Disambiguity, is writing a 3-part series on accepting the unscientific qualities of qualitative research, and using qualitative research as a flexible way to gather rich and insightful information about your intended audience.

In each part (part 3 is in the works,) Leisa states a way you might make qualitative research “look more scientific,” and then discusses some reasons why trying to make qualitative research more quantitative is a waste of time, money, and energy.

1) Use a relatively large sample size

    The richness of the information and insight you receive even from this small sample size makes the return on investment enormous – and the small sample size makes it an activity that almost any project can incorporate into their timeline and budget. At the end of the day – those things are far more important than scientific validity.

2) Ensure that your test environment doesn’t change

    If you want to quickly weed out problems with your site/application/prototype – then I recommend that you fix the problem and move on to spend your valuable research time learning about things you don’t already know about. It will certainly keep you awake as you’re researching, you’ll get rapid return on investment and excellent bang for buck as far as research techniques go.

3) Ensure that your test approach doesn’t change (don’t change the script, and stick to it)

Perhaps you can use her arguments when someone asks you about the validity of your qualitative research.

You can read part 1 here: Embracing the Un-Science of Qualitative Research Part One – Small Sample Sizes are Super

You can read part 2 here: Embracing the Un-Science of Qualitative Research Part Two – Ever-Evolving Prototypes are Ace

Part 3 is on the way.

6 Responses to “Qualitative Research”

  1. blog.dsetia.com» Blog Archive » Qualitative Research Says:

    [...] Ashley McKee points out a series of articles by Leisa Reichelt that discuss accepting the unscientific qualities of qualitative research, and using qualitative research as a flexible way to gather rich and insightful information about your intended audience. Source: [Link] [...]

  2. Michael Hughes Says:

    I take exception to the term “unscientific” being applied to qualitative research. Qualitative research has its origins in the naturalistic inquiry methods of the social sciences, such as anthropology and sociology. There is nothing unscientific about it.

  3. John Says:

    Michael is correct, and perhaps understating the point. There’s nothing inherently more scientific to quantitative data and analysis than there is to qualitative data. One can follow the principles of scientific inquiry either way. Unfortunately, K-12 education perpetuates some peculiar and entirely inaccurate notions of what exactly it means to be scientific. Science isn’t defined by the phenomenon being studied–it is not a subject. And it is not intrinsically linked to quantitative data–”math and science” are fully separate.

    Science is a particular set of epistemological principles, values about the process we use to build and evaluate knowledge. I’m no less as scientist when I work with NVivo or Atlas.TI to analyze qualitative data as a way to test hypotheses than I am when I do the same using SPSS or JMP when working with a quantitative dataset.

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