Research Guidelines

Australian Journal of Social Issues

Guidelines for the use of qualitative research material

There are a number of research approaches which fall under the umbrella of ‘qualitative methods’ and social science disciplines differ in their conventions on best practice in qualitative research. The AJSI has prepared the following guidance for the writing and assessment of papers which present qualitative data (either alone or in combination with quantitative methods). General principles of good practice for all research will also apply. These guidelines draw on those used by the journal Social Science and Medicine and we gratefully acknowledge this previous work.

1. Fitness for purpose

Are the methods of the research appropriate to the nature of the question(s) being asked:

  • Does the research seek to understand social processes or social structures and/or to illuminate subjective experiences or meanings?
  • Are the settings, groups or individuals being examined of a type which cannot be pre-selected, or the possible outcomes not specified (or hypothesised) in advance?
2. Methodology and methods
  • All papers must include a dedicated methods section which specifies, as appropriate, the sample recruitment strategy, sample size and key characteristics, and analytical strategy.

Principles of selection
Qualitative research is often based on or includes non-probability sampling. The unit(s) of research may include one or more types, such as people, events, institutions, samples of natural behaviour, conversations, written and visual material. The selection of these should be theoretically justified.

  • It should be made clear how respondents were selected.
  • There should be a rationale for the sources of the data (participants, settings, documents etcetera).
  • Consideration should be given to whether the sources of data were unusual in some important way.
  • Any limitations of the data should be discussed (such as non-response, refusal to take part).

The research process
In most papers there should be consideration of:

  • how access to the data was obtained;
  • how the data were collected and recorded;
  • who collected the data;
  • when the data were collected; and
  • how the research was explained to respondents/participants (where relevant).

Research ethics

  • Details of formal ethical approval should be stated in the main body of the paper. If authors were not required to obtain ethical approval (as is the case in some countries) or unable to obtain attain ethical approval (as sometimes occurs in resource-poor settings) they should explain this. Please anonymise this information as appropriate in the manuscript and give the information when asked during submission.
  • Procedures for securing informed consent should be provided.
  • Any ethical concerns that arose during the research should be discussed.
3. Analysis

The process of analysis should be made as transparent as possible (notwithstanding the conceptual and theoretical creativity that typically characterises qualitative research).  For example, answers to the following questions, as relevant, should be provided in the methodology section:

  • Conduct of analysis
    • How were themes, concepts and categories generated from the data?
    • Was analysis computer-assisted (and, if so, how)?
    • Who was involved in the analysis and in what manner?
  • Analytic rigour
    • What steps were taken to guard against selectivity in the use of data?
    • Are the data triangulated with information from other sources (where appropriate)?
    • If more than one person was involved in the analysis, how was consistency between interpretations achieved?
    • Have the researchers examined their own role, any possible bias and influence on the research (reflexivity)?
4. Presentation of findings

Consideration of context
The research should be clearly contextualised. For example:

  • Relevant information about the settings and respondents/participants should be supplied.
  • The phenomena under study should be integrated into their social context (rather than being abstracted or de-contextualised).
  • Any particular/unique influences should be identified and discussed.

Presentation of data

  • Quotations, field notes and other data should be identified in a way which enables the reader to judge the range of evidence being used. For example, each participant in an interview study should be assigned a unique pseudonym or number, and this identifier should be given when a participant is quoted.
  • Presentation of quotations from participants should make clear the question or prompt that elicited the reported response. Expressions such as ‘In her response to a question about […], Cecilie (worker, age 46) said ‘ …’.’
  • Distinctions between the data and their interpretation should be clear.
  • The iteration between data and explanations of the data (theory generation) should be clear.
  • Sufficient original evidence should be presented to satisfy the reader of the relationship between the evidence and the conclusions (validity).
  • There should be adequate consideration of cases or evidence which might refute the conclusions.

June 2011