Why do qualitative researchers embrace subjectivity?
Speaking in public is my passion. I became interested during my undergraduate education. At that time, I even did a research project entitled “Student attitudes toward public speaking”. Sometimes, despite our experiences, we may still feel like we are not engaging enough.
In order to encourage ourselves and build, it is great to follow and learn from prominent public speakers on social media to learn from them. Taking a course in public speaking is also of great help. In just a few weeks, of learning, you may be able to see great improvement in the way you communicate your content.
Why am I sharing this? I know many of us may at times experience perceived inefficiency of speaking in public. About 75% of us have fears in public speaking (see: https://www.psycom.net/glossophobia-fear-of-public-speaking). Although we may have the same fears, our experience, our understanding of it and how we share it may differ.
We have variations of experience of the same phenomenon because it has been infused, masked, filtered, supported, or influenced by our past experience, knowledge, perceptions and preconceptions. Let’s call these characteristics ‘background’. For instance, my background influences my experience of public speaking and even how I share the way I have experienced it.
Imagine you are a qualitative researcher and want to study experiences of public speaking. To adequately meet the purpose of the study, you need to collect rich information from participants through interviews, focus groups, observations and/or document collection.
Participants’ subjective experiences and their narrations add to the richness of the information you collect from them. Similarly, your own background helps you to make sense of the data, and produce findings which are partly reflective of your past experience, knowledge, perceptions and preconceptions.
Therefore, the findings are products of your subjective inclinations and data analysis strategy used. Just like a work of art: the artist’s identity (background) will always be a part of their masterpiece.
Although subjectivity is necessary for qualitative researchers to arrive at an authentic research outcome, if it is not well-managed, it could adversely affect the credibility of one’s findings.
Then, how do you manage your subjectivity? By:
Being Transparent – sharing the actions you take in the study including your relevant background
Engaging in bracketing – reflecting on your background and keeping them in check
Utilizing triangulation – collecting data from multiple sources, capturing variations of backgrounds (reflecting diverse viewpoints) when collecting data, and using more than one person to help analyze data
Do you want to invite me to speak to your colleagues about qualitative research? You can GM or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also join our now “Research Mindset Community” (https://philip-s-school-7d3a.thinkific.com/communities/Q29tbXVuaXR5LTI3Njk2) where we share ideas and resources about research.
Philip Adu, Ph.D.
Founder & Methodology Expert
Center for Research Methods Consulting, LLC
The Theoretical Framework in Phenomenological Research Development and Application: https://www.routledge.com/The-Theoretical-Framework-in-Phenomenological-Research-Development-and/Larsen-Adu/p/book/9780367540524
A Step-by-Step Guide to Qualitative Data Coding: https://www.routledge.com/A-Step-by-Step-Guide-to-Qualitative-Data-Coding/Adu/p/book/9781138486874