Qualitative description is worth some thought

The serious post about how research gets divided up still has yet to be written, but today I thought I would get down some of my thoughts about which data are supposed to tell which story.

I mentioned Sandelowski’s work in an earlier post, and she has a slightly longer article called, ‘What’s in a name? Qualitative description revisited’ (2010). The most entertaining part was being able to picture health science students’ work citing a 2000 paper by Sandelowski as the foundation of qualitative description. However, the article is also useful in that it puts into plain (and at times rather aggressive) prose points that have been made many times before, but that make sense to me.

– quotes sans context and analysis does not necessarily make your work more objective or empower your interlocutors

– interview data are part of the reality you are studying

  • (I think similar points can be made for other data too. At the moment I am reading Dorothy Smith’s (2001) ‘Texts and the ontology of organizations and institutions’.)

– not bothering with theory does not make your work atheorietical

  • (I just finished Tavory and Timmermans (2009) ‘Two cases of ethnography’ which argues that Grounded Theory compared to The Extended Case Method results in cases being designated by the narratives encountered in the field rather than defined through theoretical framing. However, theory still matters and is also significant for the types of theoretical conclusions made.)

– catch-all terms such as ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ can obscure more than they expose.

– ethnography (she says ‘classical ethnographies’) make use of qualitative and quantitative data but it may not necessarily make sense to refer to them as ‘mixed method’ studies

– method/methodology refers to a theoretical/ philosophical orientation and technique can be used to talk about ways to operationalise a method

Sandelowski, M. (2010). “What’s in a name? Qualitative description revisited.” Research in Nursing & Health 33(1): 77-84.

Smith, D. (2001). “Texts and the ontology of organizations and institutions.” Culture and Organization 7(2): 159-198.

Tavory, I. and S. Timmermans (2009). “Two cases of ethnography: Grounded theory and the extended case method.” Ethnography 10(3): 243-263.



One Response to “Qualitative description is worth some thought”

  1. Tracey Says:

    Quick note to self….
    “…quotations do enliven an otherwise dull research report. But quotations are not self-validating and require analysis.” (from pg 4, Daly, J., K. Willis, et al. (2007). “A hierarchy of evidence for assessing qualitative health research.” Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 60(1): 43-49.)

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