Designing Qualitative Research 4th Edition
Marshall, Catherine and Rossman, Gretchen
Sage Publications, London
How to write a qualitative research proposal which is likely to be accepted by funding agencies or dissertation committees? This would be an appropriate title for this book because of the fact that this book is rather about writing proposals for research projects based on qualitative methods than introducing those. The different chapters of Designing Qualitative Research can be divided in two different categories. Category one deals with persuasion strategies and hints for a successful proposal. I would like to call this category the 'guideline category': it provides suggestions for developing an appropriate qualitative research strategy and, much more important, a rationale for it. Four of the seven chapters of this book (Chapters 1, 2, 3 & 7) belong to this category.
Chapters 4, 5 and 6 belong to the category which could be called the 'tools category'. This category provides some basic information about possible tools to realise the developed research strategy. The link between these two categories is described by the authors as follows: 'The strategy is a road map, a plan for undertaking a systematic exploration of the phenomenon of interest; the research methods are the specific tools for conducting that exploration' (p.56). The chapters come along with practical vignettes or examples dealing with the discussed topics of the current chapter. All this is supplemented by an e-mail conversation about the topics of two research assistants of the authors at the end of each chapter.
One of the main goals of this book, introduced in Chapter 1, is to give readers the ability to write research proposals based on qualitative research that convince funding or dissertation committees which often consists of more quantitative orientated researchers. Chapter 1 provides some kind of philosophy of science discussion on questions concerning qualitative research e.g. ethical questions or questions of reflexivity. Chapter 2 offers information on how a researcher can articulate 'the what of the study' (p. 23). The authors talk about different sections a research proposal should have (e.g. introduction, literature, design) and the importance of a 'guiding hypothesis' (p. 47) for convincing quantitative orientated reviewers. Afterwards they discuss in Chapter 3 'the how of the study' (p. 51) by giving examples for arguments why 'the what of the study' could best be investigated by qualitative methods. In both of these chapters the authors repeatedly emphasize the importance of reflexivity. Reflexivity pushes the qualitative researcher to think about his/her research process and adapt it when necessary. The following chapters 4 to 6 provide an overview on the technical knowledge required to conduct an empirical investigation. Chapter 4 deals with different data collection methods, while the content of chapter 5 is data management and analysis methods. Thereafter, chapter 6 provides some essential knowledge on how to plan resources (time, personal etc.) on the basis of three practical examples. In chapter 7 the authors resume their arguments from the previous chapters, draw the attention of the reader to the importance of a clear rationale for the study, and bring some examples for how to articulate the value and the logic of a proposed project.
My opinion is that this book provides an excellent guideline for beginners in empirical work as it combines theoretical instructions with the practical knowledge of the two authors. Furthermore, the authors acknowledge that rhetorical cleverness is as important in research as technical and methodological knowledge. This book thereby levels out a shortcoming of so many textbooks in this area. From my point of view there is only one minor criticism: though many interesting ideas and arguments are discussed in this book (issues such as 'reflexivity' or 'ethical issues'), the authors failed to put them in a wider context. Most of the discussed issues are related to any kind of empirical social research and not only to qualitative research. Especially the chapters dealing with developing a rationale for the research could and should also be read by quantitative orientated researchers. They also would benefit from this knowledge as there is often to less reflexivity in main stream social research. In conclusion, generally this book is not only an excellent guide for researchers who are conducting qualitative research, but also a guide for any empirical social researcher who is interested in improving his/her research and enhancing knowledge on writing proposals and conducting research independent of the preferred research methods of the researcher.
University of Graz