Qualitative research: We need to ask, “What’s going on?”
28 February 2017
by Rachel Ryves, SPCR Postgraduate Research Student, University of Southampton
Qualitative methodology is a fundamental part of primary care research. It allows us to explore phenomena, gain perspectives of individuals who experience them, and try to make sense of what is happening. Essentially, qualitative research aims to answer the question: “What’s going on?”
Writing Qualitative Research: A Masterclass
The Primary Care & Population Sciences Qualitative Group at the University of Southampton invited Professor David Silverman, one of the world’s leading qualitative experts based at Goldsmith’s University, to hold a masterclass on writing qualitative research. The aim of the masterclass was to find out how to derive theory from data, conducting credible research, and how to convey these findings effectively in publications. The masterclass included lectures from Silverman on theorising from qualitative data, and credibility. There were also breakout practical sessions to give delegates an opportunity to derive theory from interview transcript excerpts, and to discuss issues of credibility within our own research. During the course of the day, delegates had the opportunity to have one-to-one sessions with Professor Silverman to discuss their research projects.
What did we learn?
Silverman is a keen advocate of naturalistic observation studies, in order to gain a better understanding of how individuals respond to the world around them. While ethnographic approaches are beneficial, they are not always feasible in a primary care setting, so interviews are an acceptable alternative to collect data. Silverman recommends that qualitative research should “try to say a lot about a little, rather than a little about a lot”. Data collected from interviews should be recorded, transcribed as “verbatim” as possible, and the analysis should also focus on the sequences of talk between the participant and interviewer. By this, Silverman argues that data analysis should not just aim to interpret what a participant said, but to think why they have said it, both within its context and at that particular time during the interview. This constructivist approach will enable greater theory development to explain why people perceive their environment in the way they do. Moreover, Silverman highlighted that researchers can be too concerned with recruiting an adequate number of participants to obtain a sample size deemed “credible” for qualitative research. Instead, the researcher needs to dedicate more of their time conducting an in-depth analysis of the interviews, to gauge the true meaning behind what individuals are saying, and understanding of a particular phenomenon.
How will this help my PhD?
My PhD aims to explore primary care patients’ beliefs, attitudes, and behavioural intentions towards long-term depression management, with a particular focus on their antidepressant use. My research adopts a mixed-methods approach: a questionnaire survey with a sequential nested qualitative study. I am in the process of putting together my interview topic guide, and I am pleased that I went to Professor Silverman’s masterclass, as it has made me think about how my qualitative study will be used to answer questions that quantitative research never could, rather than using it as a “supplement” to numerical data. In essence, quantitative research collects data (input), which is processed, and forms a response (output). In the context of my research, the questionnaire will aim to see what psychosocial factors (input) influence patients’ intentions to continue or stop antidepressant treatment (output). I can use my qualitative study to bridge the gap between the “input” and “output”, by exploring how and why these psychosocial factors have shaped patients’ understanding and beliefs around long-term antidepressant use to manage their depression.
I would like to thank the PCPS Qualitative Group for hosting Professor Silverman’s masterclass. The event was highly engaging and thought-provoking, and really highlighted how qualitative research can play a huge role in improving the way care is delivered in a primary care setting.