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Thinking about what makes for "good" qualitative research

“Good” qualitative research, in general:

  • Spells out (or at least indicates) epistemological and methodological commitments - Is there a clear link to epistemological (i.e. philosophy + methodology) commitments and does the author locate and evaluate their work in an appropriate, reasoned way?
  • Ensures the methodology and methods of data collection and analysis are clearly described and both coherent and systematically applied.
  • Demonstrates ethical integrity going beyond simple acknowledgements of participant anonymity – Researchers need instead to show how they have enacted their duty of care for their participants (and perhaps also take into account their audience/readers and themselves). Have appropriate consents/approvals been obtained and acknowledged? Has the author(s) shown sensitivity and an ethical sensibility?   
  • Offers in-depth findings that are rich, resonant, and nuanced. Bland, banal themes or trite, uninteresting narratives need to be avoided, while writing style needs to be engaging and readable.
  • Ensures the findings are appropriately evidenced and substantiated (e.g., using references to participants’ words or the wider literature). Unsubstantiated, polemic assertions are ideally avoided except as part of reflexive exploration.
  • Shows its broader relevance – Are understandings and implications stemming from the research spelt out? Has the author shown awareness of any debate context?  Will readers find the research of interest and value? Are there points or issues raised that are particularly interesting, strong, or original? For published papers, the researcher needs to consider the relevance of their article for the particular journal and/or for their personal/professional context.
  • Demonstrates critical thinking and/or appropriate researcher reflexivity – Is the research (context and processes) research examined with a thoughtful, critical eye?  This includes ensuring literature reviews are critical and there is some critical evaluation of both methodology and findings. Reflexive acknowledgment of the impact of the relationship between participants and researchers might also be appropriate depending on the methodology.
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thinking about research

I was recently asked "why do you want to do research?"  My reasons for doing research is that I believe that part of being a professional is being a reflective practitioner (in fact I’d say it is an ethical imperative to be reflective/reflexive and to critically evaluate our work). Here we need to reflexively monitor our work. The famous dictum, "The unexamined life is not worth living" supposedly said by Socrates, applies to our professionalism where I’d say (and I know others have as well), “The unexamined profession is not worth practicing”!  (see a previous paper I wrote on reflective practice: https://oro.open.ac.uk/68945/1/Finlay-%282008%29-Reflecting-on-reflective-practice-PBPL-paper-52.pdf )

I appreciate UKCP’s stated wish to cultivate a culture of research and also to challenge NICE’s current approach which focuses on 'scientific' (largely quantitative) evidence. I strongly argue that our psychotherapy research needs to be about 'Processes' as well as 'Outcomes'.  All too often, led by traditional views of science and its ‘hierarchy of evidence’, research gets equated to with outcomes and the need to demonstrate/prove the efficacy of what we do. However, we also need to do research on processes – both therapeutic processes and clients' life experiences.  My continuing project (shown in much my teaching, numerous writing and published research) is to do qualitative research on clients’ trauma experiences and on therapeutic processes in general.

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Linda Finlay - Psychotherapist

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