Becoming a qualitative researcher has been a tough. I could soften that sentence but the truth is I have found it a painful process, at times I wanted to sit under the table and cry, there were moments when I wanted to call the whole thing off, to divorce myself from the research never to go anywhere near the idea of understanding Anything Ever Again.
I have left a healing gap between my study and reflecting on what it meant for me. The space has moderated my emotional response, I can’t wait to do it again, and the memory of an anguished sense of failing, of falling into a hole of stupidity has passed. Like anything of value I have ever created – I’m thinking of giving birth here, my daughters being the proudest aspect of my life – the curve is step but coming out the other end is exhilarating.
If you are considering qual research I hope these reflections may be of some help to you:
- My own enthusiasm for the topic has driven the study. Prior to sampling I asked myself how it feels when I wear an outfit that makes me happy. I hoped to be able to use my personal understanding to shape the questions I needed for my participants. I was able to approach the research with knowledge of my own bias; I didn’t intend to bracket the assumptions, my feelings that being part of the fashion system has been beneficial to me are part of my personality.
- I was concerned that my need for understanding how others experienced wearing happiness could result in producing results that were narcissistic. Was I being compelled to poke into this subject to satisfy my own needs? What was I genuinely interested in discovering? Was this any use to anyone else?
- After reading everything I could lay my hands on about IPA I had a crush on it as a method. Was I being clear that it was the right qualitative approach to my question? Did I just want to do IPA because I liked the idea of the depth of analysis it offered? Was the research question the right one for this line of investigation?
- How could I approach participants to get the best ones for the study? How could I make sure that my participants were going to produce the right responses? What if they didn’t understand what I was trying to achieve? I was aware that I felt too much pressure to make this study work; my need to get this perfect was hindering me in getting on with it.
- I was excited when people responded to my Facebook request; someone wanted to take part, what a relief. This whole process felt too personal, as if I were being rejected not my ideas. My sense of identity was tied up with this study. The need to see myself as a researcher became important as I presented my ideas to ask for participants.
- What did it mean to be a researcher? Why was it so important that my participants had confidence in me being a researcher? I knew that from my first contact with them I was performing this role, including how I dressed!
- First interview was daunting. What could go wrong? Double checked that I knew my questions, had extra batteries, had allowed enough time, had all paperwork printed for signing. It was better than I had expected, felt very natural, pleasant, enjoyable. For the first time I felt that this might work. I was delighted with the answers.
- When I listened back to the recording there was some good data. It was interesting how asking about one particular outfit led someone to talk about their feelings around the way they dressed in a more general way. It wasn’t just about that outfit.
- I had decided to conduct all the interviews before transcription, was this how you were supposed to do IPA? The books gave very vague guidelines.
- Each interview got easier by the third I was completely confident. I started all the interviews with the same question but then let them develop naturally form that point. It didn’t seem necessary to rigidly stick to the set questions. And actually it felt as if the participants weren’t really listening to what I asked, they were going to tell me what they wanted to say!
- Became very aware of participants wanting to please me. Some explicitly telling me they choose the outfit to make me happy as well as themselves??? This is more of a responsibility than I imagined. My participants want me to like them, understand them and it feels like a relationship.
- I want them to like me too. I feel as if we were sharing something significant that bonded us together. A subculture based on being this particular group who were involved in this study.
- I had asked to take photos but soon realised the obligation to show my participants in the best light was going to be too much pressure. I hadn’t factored how I wanted to make them look their best possible selves into the limitations of my photography skills.
TIME. Why does it take so long? Why did I think this was a good idea? How can I get out of this now?
Each transcription made me feel as if the participant had taken residency in my head. I dreamt about them!
I wish I had only had 3 interviews. This is too much data.
Where do I start? Just take one at a time and plough through.
I really don’t think it was a good idea to have 6 interviews. Each transcript is a case study and I would love to have the time to devote the attention that they deserve. I feel as if I am skimming the surface because of time restraints.
· It is daunting having all this information and working it into usable data. I can’t manage it just with text on a screen. At this point I printed off each set of transcripts on different coloured paper and did old fashioned cutting, sticking and moving around. That felt like a break through, suddenly combining themes was visible.I was able then to take the large posters I had made and see the bigger picture. I kept changing my view point from overview to details. This helped. As did reminding myself that this was about being true to my participants not to my own needs of sounding clever and being a good researcher.
cohesion to the results. I needed to realise that I couldn’t discuss it all. The choices that I was making about what to focus on were not about being right or wrong. I had to go with my intuition and feeling that I was doing my participants justice in the themes that I saw emerging. We were in this together!
- Actually turning the results back from tables into a narrative required a different vision again. I felt the funnelling of taking lots of information, turning into themes then zooming back out and making it readable was very scary. It was at this point that yet again I wanted to walk away.
- I can only do this my way, it’s not about producing a perfect IPA, I haven’t done this before, good enough will have to be OK… keep reminding yourself that there is an end. You will get there.
- Tables take much longer to produce than they should.
- Stop being scared of the data and just do it!
- Your participants have given you a gift, it’s your job to make sure that it is wrapped beautifully and displayed with pride. No Responsibility then!
- When can I do this again?
- I love the interview stage best.
- Transcription is painful but not the worst part of the process.
- Analysing data and grouping themes is horrible. It reminds me of being in therapy and not wanting to accept the ideas that are floating around in your mind. You know that all the denial in the world isn’t going to make them go away so the sooner you accept the inevitable the better.
- If I could do this for fun and not have to be judged I would like it more. I loved the process (in the end) but the fear of getting it wrong, not being good enough and letting my participants down was crippling; at times I came very close to giving up.
- The fact that I believed that fashion can be good for you kept me going. That and falling a little bit in love with my participants.
- I suspect that fear of being judged has been the one factor in this process that has created the most stress. If I had been able to let that go, the idea that once this study was out there it would be open to criticism, I would have been more relaxed about interpreting the data.
- I found it daunting having to attach my findings to theory; I would have liked the results to stand alone, outside of a need to fit in with pre-existing concepts. That feels as if it just about sums up the story of me as a researcher. I don’t actually want to fit, or undertake research in the way it is supposed to be conducted, but the need to be accepted by peers pulls me to conformity. If fashion is about the paradox of negotiating individuality and social approval then carrying out this study has highlighted that tension for me in other areas of life.
f you are embarking on quali research and would like support, advice or general chivvying along I will be happy to help.
Email me: Rebecca@10toshine.co.uk
Connect on twitter :@10toshine
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