When Martyn Hammersley describes himself as a trouble maker, we should believe him. So troubling is his approach that he seems to want an almost positivist approach to qualitative research. This is of course an exaggeration so extreme that it almost misrepresents him. None-the-less, he certainly leaves me doubtful about the value of qualitative work, while not precisely encouraging me to change direction and embrace big magic numbers.
What he does offer and what I think it worth considering is some discussion of how to evaluate the quality of qualitative research. Putting aside whether it is either necessary or desirable to do this, there is value in the fairly clear set of criteria he suggests. There is little point in basing the credibility of interpretive research on – for example – the numbers involved, or the replicability of the work undertaken, so what’s left?
I don’t agree with everything Hammersly says, but he is in my view a fantastic writer who I enjoy reading, not least of all because of his clarity. He holds his readers’ hand kindly throughout everything he says. He is mindful of wanting to ensure you understand him and that you appreciate the implications of his argument. But the stance he adopts in relation to research is not one I agree with. He would seem to prefer the application of a rigid, tightly defined, almost positivistic template upon qualitative research. I’ve reproduced a brief overview of some aspects of what he says below … troublemaker his is, but these are not unreasonable.
Box 1: Considerations in assessing the adequacy of research reports
The following considerations cover both clarity and sufficiency as standards:
1) The clarity of writing:
- Consistency in use of terms
- Are definitions provided where necessary?
- Are sentences sufficiently well constructed to be intelligible and unambiguous?
- Is there use of inappropriate rhetoric?
2) The problem or question being addressed:
- Is this clearly outlined?
- Is sufficient rationale provided for its significance?
3) The formulation of the main claims:
- Are these made sufficiently clear and unambiguous?
- Are the relations with subordinate claims (including evidence) made sufficiently explicit?
- Is the character of each claim (as description, explanation, theory, evaluation, or prescription) indicated?
4) The formulation of the conclusions:
- Is there a distinction between main claims about the cases studied and general conclusions?
- Is the basis for the conclusions signaled?
5) The account of the research process and of the researcher:
- Is there sufficient, and not too much, information about the research process?
- Is there sufficient, and not too much, information about the researcher? (In other words, is what is necessary and no more provided for assessing the validity of the findings, the value of the methods, the competence of the researcher, according to what is appropriate?)
Hammersley (2008) p162
Hammersley, M. (2008). Questioning qualitative inquiry: Critical essays. Sage.