The Study Dude – A Whiff of Data

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to collect, analyze?and whiff smells.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s Study Dude continues to explore Creswell’s book Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Creswell will get you bottling scents and capturing sounds in your research. Who knows: your research might end up as an art exhibit at the Banff Center.

The Not-So-Chiselled Features of Qualitative Research
Qualitative research moves from the unknown to the known: at first, the direction of qualitative research is not set in stone. Induction marks the word for research that starts from the unknown. Simple as that. Deductive research, on the other hand, starts from what you already know, such as a theory, which you then test.

In graduate studies, I couldn’t figure out what inductive research meant. If someone had said inductive research meant qualitative research, where you explore a topic, I might have clued in. Unfortunately, one professor drew an elaborate diagram on her chalkboard with the words “specific” and “general” on either side and drew arrows. According to her, one direction of arrows meant inductive and the other direction, deductive. I still don’t get her diagram. That’s even after I completed a logic course at the top 1% of the class.

Creswell puts an end to any misunderstandings about what induction means. More than that, he describes what qualitative research involves in general:
– Qualitative researchers collect many different types of data, from interviews to observations. The researcher chunks the data into meaningful themes.
– Qualitative research is never done in a lab; It’s done in the natural setting.
– Qualitative researchers can use an instrument (such as a questionnaire) they themselves developed, but not those developed by others.
– The themes that emerge in qualitative research should get more abstract as you go along, ending up as, say, four or five themes.
– If you do qualitative research for your thesis, add a section describing the characteristics of qualitative research if you think your readers might need some background.
– The meaning that participants give is the meaning qualitative researchers should examine. As a researcher, don’t look to your own meaning or the meaning found in the literature, the participant’s meaning means everything to qualitative research.
– Because qualitative research is inductive?an exploration?expect to change your research questions and approaches to data collection.

Get lots of different views in your research. You can use a visual model to capture the big picture.

Gather Data—Of the Stinky Kind
Data comes in many forms: text, observation notes, sounds, and even scents.

While attending a creative academic conference, I had the privilege of watching a performance based entirely on collected sounds. The graduate student’s performance piece contrasted the spirituality of an evangelist with the hardness of the city.

This artistic researcher took to the streets, recording noises. She came up with an ensemble of harsh engines revving; loud brash music wailing from car windows; and, wildly enough, a man preaching his religious values.

Amid the clatter and clang came the voice of what seemed to be an angel: the evangelist. Stunned, I asked her about the spiritual voice. She said that her recorded evangelist spoke rudely at times, but she chose to omit those parts?she intentionally altered the data, she said, to make a point of how sound recordings could be manipulated.

I cried during her performance, and she kindly gave me a copy of her CD.

Sounds can make interesting statements in research, but how do you collect and analyze scents? An 80’s Bugs Bunny cartoon talked about a smell-o-vision instead of a television, but that never materialized.

To analyze scents, should you tuck muck into individual bags, take the occasional whiff, and then jot down the sensation in words?

Creswell doesn’t delight us with a method for collecting scents, but he does provide a listing of data, smells included, to collect:
– Your data can come in the form of observations, interviews, documents, or audio-visual elements.
– The audio-visuals can include photos, videos, art items, software, and films.
– The documents can include government documents, company minutes, newspaper clippings, journals, or diaries.
– The interviews can include face-to-face interviews, focus groups (yes, a focus group serves as a type of interview), email interviews, or telephone recorded interviews.
– Observations can include the researcher serving as a full participant (incognito) all the way to a full observer (standing on the sidelines?not participating at all).
– Some of the documents include a researcher’s journal, a participant’s journal (for the duration of the study), book biographies, or photos or videos taken by the participants.
– Some of the interviews can be unstructured or semi-structured. In qualitative research, the interviews often aren’t structured. You can also mix up the types of interviews you do, from email to face-to-face to telephone recorded.
– Some of the audio-visual materials may include just sounds (such as laughter or crying), emails, phone texts, tastes?and smells. Please tell us more, Creswell, on how a researcher collects a smell. Maybe research studies that gauge a pet’s diet would benefit from collecting smells. Other than that, I can’t think of any reason to collect smells. If you can think of any, please email The Voice.

The Disneyland Part of Research: Interpreting Data
The joy of research lies in the analysis. When I worked in market research, I couldn’t wait to create charts of statistical data. Seeing the patterns that emerged excited me so much that I now long to open my own market research firm.

While interpreting statistical data brings joy, analyzing qualitative data feels like a vacation in Disneyland or Universal Studios?more fun than you can handle. Moreover, knowing how to interpret qualitative data comes in handy when writing a thesis?or even an undergraduate-level essay.

You see, if you figure out the steps of coding and finding themes, your A’s as an undergraduate student will turn into A+?s. I unknowingly used many of Creswell’s steps for interpreting data while I completed an undergraduate degree?and they work.

However, in graduate studies, I used a software program for coding data called Nvivo that is designed to organize and find relations in unstructured data. My coding sessions turned into Nvivo nightmares. Nvivo how-to videos didn’t exist back then. So, I randomly began entering into Nvivo every smidgeon of text on Suncor’s Website. I coded almost every verb and noun, which you shouldn’t do. To top things off, my feeble computer froze every Nvivo session; data mysteriously disappeared. After hours of coding irrelevant words?just to determine word frequency and gather themes?I gave up.

But Nvivo fever still lurks in my soul. I might purchase a Nvivo site license. After all, any essay, book project, or thesis can stand to benefit from a little Nvivo love. Just make sure your computer can handle the load.

Today (four weeks after first drafting this article), I’ve started learning Nvivo?the right way. I plan on doing a Nvivo guided research project in 2018?on graduate level study tips. If you can afford a license to Nvivo, and if you have some Endnote or RefWorks love happening, use Nvivo for your research projects. (Nvivo integrates with Endnote and RefWorks.)

Creswell lays out the steps?and software?for interpreting your data:
– Think about your data. Jot down frequent notes about your data. Ask yourself questions about the data. Get to know your data intimately.
– Whether you are collecting your data or writing it up, keep analyzing your data. don’t quit analyzing until you submit your final report.
– For interviews, use open-ended questions. Open-ended questions don’t reduce to numbers or yes or no or true or false dichotomies.
– Most qualitative data boils down to four or five themes.
– For interpreting grounded theory studies, position categories into a theory and then weave your themes into a story.
– For interpreting case studies and ethnographic research, describe in detail the participants and the settings. Follow-up with themes.
– For interpreting phenomenological research, look at statements participants make about their experience and views of the phenomenon you are studying.
– For interpreting narrative research, take the stories your participants tell and reframe them with a plot, a setting, characters, rising action, climax, and ending. Give your story the feel of a film or play script, in other words. Read up on playwriting and scriptwriting if you want to excel?and have fun?at narrative research.
– Transcribe your interviews. Scan your documents. Type up observations you’ve written. [Put the pdfs and word documents and videos and audios and tweets into Nvivo if you really want to up your game.]
– Read all of your documents thoroughly. Make notes in the margins. [Nvivo can give you an edge with note-making.]
– When coding, chunk bits of the documents together under a heading. These headings are your codes. Let the headings come directly from the recorded words of the participants you interview. Shorten these headings into abbreviations and write them up on a sheet for easy reference. You will constantly refine these headings, so don’t worry if they change. Just make sure that all of the pieces of the chunk still fit the heading. [Nvivo allows you to code text, parts of pictures, audio?and even video. Sigh! I’m in love.]
– You can either (1) let codes emerge from the data, (2) use pre-existing codes (perhaps as outlined by a theory?) and fit your data into them, (3) use both pre-existing codes and emerging codes.
– The major themes will end up as headings in your findings section of your thesis.
– Some qualitative software to consider using include: MAXqda, Atlas.ti, QSR Nvivo, and HyperRESEARCH. If you’ve got some extra cash lying around, I’d go with Nvivo. Nvivo has lots of video tutorials and some universities offer site licences (not AU unfortunately).

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Creswell, John W. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.