How to Measure Qualitative Research

Using consistent standards will help you measure or evaluate qualitative research results.

While some may see qualitative research as more difficult to measure or evaluate than quantitative research, using some commonly accepted principles and practices can help provide a framework for reviewing qualitative research according to consistent standards in the field. While qualitative researchers may report their results differently from quantitative researchers, those results should still demonstrate validity, address the degree to which they are generalizable to other populations or settings and provide some explanation of the context in which the research was conducted.

Consider the method you will use to conduct your research. Will you conduct interview research of several participants, or will you do a case study of just one or two? You could also conduct a content analysis of documents, identifying key themes and using those in your analysis. After you identify your method, you will be able to identify the design of the study. The design addresses the manner in which you will carry out your method. Will you conduct one interview, two interviews, an interview and an observation or some other approach? Whatever design you select, it must allow you to collect information to answer your main question in order to address the goal of the research.

Develop a strong data collection plan. The data collection plan is the description of how you plan to collect data to answer your question: when, where, how and from whom you will collect it. In this part of the research process you should be able to describe specifics of how you will obtain data: how many times you will visit a site, what people you will interview or observe and how long your visits will be. Will you record interviews or conversations, and if so, how will you make sure your participants consent? Will you also keep notes to remind yourself of key points?

Create a strong data analysis plan. Once you have collected your data, you will need to identify a process for making sense of the data and using it to answer your questions. Most often, researchers use coding, a process where they review the data and list key themes that emerge repeatedly. Frequently, researchers will group themes to identify larger categories that appear to be important to participants; for example, if seven teachers interviewed for a study identify "parent involvement" and "family environment" as important to their students' success, a researcher might group both of those themes under a larger category of "home life" or "family considerations."

Discuss the conclusions, results or implications. This is the final element in well-designed qualitative research. In addition to presenting the researcher's findings, the research should also address why those findings are important or how readers can apply them to experience. This might include discussing implications for policy or practice, explaining how the results can be applied to other settings or populations (if they can) or describing how this research is different from what has previously been found. Most important, the research should leave the reader with a clear understanding of why the study was needed and why the results are significant.

Tricia Smith began copy editing in 2001 for the "American Journal of Jurisprudence" and has been a grant-writing consultant since 2004. She also has experience with curriculum and instruction, educational fund-raising and special education. Smith has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Arts in English from the University of Michigan.