Some thoughts for those new to qualitative research in education (clinical or any other).

1. “Qualitative” is massive and diverse. There aren’t any blanket rules that cover all of it, and so what I’m saying here is based on my understanding and approach, not everyone’s.
2. Qualitative's really a type of data, not a method or suite of methods, although the term is often used in that way. You don’t match the dataset (or data collection method) with its associated method, there are many different methods available for any given dataset or project.
3. Most decisions come down to the researcher’s judgement in relation to the purpose, the context, the researcher’s beliefs and skillset. Each decision comes with a requirement to provide a clear rationale for it. All this can be uncomfortable for a while.
4. Frequency (e.g. 6 participants said “X”) is often irrelevant. You won’t have a representative sample or clear categories of response. You’re usually not looking for how popular a view (or whatever) is, but for the range of views and nuances within that range.
5. If doing interviews, you don’t need a rigid set of questions. It’s not about consistency but depth and/or breadth. The best questions are those that keep participants talking about relevant stuff. “Can you say more about that” is a great question. “Mmm” is also a good one.
6. Aspects of your methodology (data collection, analysis, theoretical framework, even research question) might change as you go, as you learn about research and your topic / purpose. It’s often a sign of you attuning to what is required.
7. There isn’t a correct analysis. There can be multiple good yet different ways of analysing even a small dataset. This is ok. It’s valuable to have different interpretations of the same thing. Complex issues can and should be understood in multiple ways.
Good analysis takes A LONG TIME. As in, way longer than you currently think it will take. And it won’t be clear when you’re finished. Analysis could go on forever. You have to decide on an arbitrary moment to stop. “Theoretical saturation” happens when you say it happens.
9. Being surprised by your findings is a good sign. You should hope to generate results that you couldn’t have anticipated. This suggests you have been asking good questions and have kept an open mind.
10. You don’t need to solve everything. I often read “lack of generalisation due to small sample” as a limitation of a qualitative study. But this isn’t the aim. You’re opening a modest window into a complex world, not showing what the whole world looks like from space.
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