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Evaluating Qualitative Research for Social Work Practitioners



In the field of social work, practitioners must remain well informed regarding research advances in their respective areas. Proponents of evidence-based practice expect social workers to engage in practice informed by the best available evidence. Research studies conducted through the lens of qualitative inquiry provide important contributions to the social work knowledge base. In many cases, these studies can represent the best available research regarding emerging problems or application of evidence to diverse populations. Yet, despite the relevance of qualitative research, many social workers receive minimal training regarding qualitative methodology hindering their ability to conduct and evaluate research that uses qualitative methods. The purpose of this article is to provide students and practitioners some orientation regarding qualitative research methods and to highlight potential strategies researchers and consumers of research may use to evaluate the trustworthiness and quality of qualitative research. Specifically, the concept of trustworthiness is defined in the context of qualitative inquiry and questions social work practitioners can ask when evaluating the quality and applicability of a qualitative research study are provided.
Cynthia A. Lietz, Ph.D., and Luis E. Zayas, Ph.D., are Assistant Professors in the School of Social Work at Arizona State
University in Phoenix.
Copyright © 2010 Advances in Social Work Vol. 11 No. 2 (Fall 2010), 188-202
Evaluating Qualitative Research for Social Work Practitioners
Cynthia A. Lietz
Luis E. Zayas
Abstract: In the field of social work, practitioners must remain well informed regarding
research advances in their respective areas. Proponents of evidence-based practice
expect social workers to engage in practice informed by the best available evidence.
Research studies conducted through the lens of qualitative inquiry provide important
contributions to the social work knowledge base. In many cases, these studies can
represent the best available research regarding emerging problems or application of
evidence to diverse populations. Yet, despite the relevance of qualitative research, many
social workers receive minimal training regarding qualitative methodology hindering
their ability to conduct and evaluate research that uses qualitative methods. The purpose
of this article is to provide students and practitioners some orientation regarding
qualitative research methods and to highlight potential strategies researchers and
consumers of research may use to evaluate the trustworthiness and quality of qualitative
research. Specifically, the concept of trustworthiness is defined in the context of
qualitative inquiry and questions social work practitioners can ask when evaluating the
quality and applicability of a qualitative research study are provided.
Keywords: Qualitative, research methods, trustworthiness
As social workers intervene with individuals, families, and communities, it is critical
to remain informed regarding the literature base and research advances specific to one’s
field of practice. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW)’s Code of Ethics
(1999) asserts the importance of engaging in practice informed by prevailing research
when it states “social workers should critically examine and keep current with emerging
knowledge relevant to social work.” Similarly, the Council on Social Education (CSWE)
recently identified ten core competencies of social work practice, one of which involves
engaging in “research-informed practice and practice-informed research” (Holloway,
Black, Hoffman, & Pierce, 2009, p. 2). Moreover, the evidence-based practice (EBP)
movement has increased the expectation that social workers actively seek research
findings related to their particular domain of practice (Howard, McMillen, & Pollio,
2003; Jenson, 2005). Specifically, EBP asserts social workers make decisions guided by
research evidence working in conjunction with clinical expertise and client preferences
(Gambrill, 2007; Gilgun, 2005; McNeece & Thyer, 2004).
Although most would agree with the importance of identifying and reading research
articles related to one’s area of practice, there are many challenges social workers face as
they seek to achieve this goal (Adams, Matto, & LeCroy, 2009). First, social workers are
under increased pressure to do more in less time. Caseloads are increasing and budget
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Fall 2010, 11(2) 189
cuts in many agencies require social workers to serve multiple roles. Additionally, many
practitioners do not have access to library databases and other resources that may have
been available to them while pursuing their education. Coupled with the challenges of
finding the needed time and resources, even once social workers identify current research
articles related to their field of practice, many struggle to ascertain the quality and
applicability of a particular study to their work.
The purpose of this article is to address the question of quality and applicability as it
relates to qualitative research in social work. A growing literature base stemming from
qualitative research studies produce findings of relevance to social work practice.
However, a recent study reviewing master’s level social work syllabi found content
regarding qualitative methods was “generally very limited” (Drisko, 2008, p. 89)
suggesting many social workers receive limited education about evaluating qualitative
methods. To help overcome this limitation, this article seeks to provide social work
practitioners some guidance when assessing the methodological quality of studies that
employ qualitative methods.
Qualitative research represents a “family of methods” stemming from a variety of
traditions (Padgett, 2008 p. 1). Denzin and Lincoln (2008) explain, “qualitative
researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret,
phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them” (p. 4). Qualitative inquiry
developed through a rich history of research seeking contextualized, in-depth descriptions
that offer increased understanding.
Although qualitative inquiry is consistent in its naturalistic approach, researchers
adopt a variety of perspectives that inform their work. Many qualitative research articles
will identify or implicitly embrace a philosophical stance or paradigm to frame their
work, such as post-positivist, social constructivist, or critical theory (Creswell & Miller,
2000; Morrow, 2007). Understanding the perspective used to guide the study will help
the reader understand the epistemological position of the researchers and the methods
used to answer the research question (Drisko, 1997). For example, post-positivist
research seeks methods that are systematic, constructivist research asserts all knowledge
is co-constructed thus prioritizing depth over methodological structure, and the critical
paradigm calls for collaboration and corroboration with research participants (Creswell &
Miller, 2000). These paradigmatic stances impact the way researchers conceptualize their
qualitative studies (Morrow, 2007). Therefore, as Caelli, Ray, and Mill (2003) suggest,
“each qualitative approach needs to be evaluated in a manner that is congruent with its
epistemological and methodological origins” (p. 7).
Creswell (1998) identifies five qualitative inquiry traditions: ethnography,
phenomenology, biography/narrative, grounded theory, and case studies. Others also
discuss critical, feminist, and action research (Denzin & Lincoln, 2008; DePoy, Hartman,
& Haslett, 1999; Olesen, 2000), and new approaches continue to emerge. Many suggest
embracing one of these approaches when conceptualizing a qualitative study is one way
of enhancing the quality of the project as these frameworks rest on established
philosophical foundations. Also, certain strategies for rigor are deemed more suitable
than others based on the study’s approach (Padgett 2008). However, there has been a
recent increase in qualitative studies using generalized qualitative methods rather than a
specific tradition. Some suggest these generalized studies can produce useful findings
when conducted systematically, even if they do not embrace one of the recognized
qualitative approaches (Caelli et al., 2003; Patton, 2002).
Research seeks the development of knowledge derived from empirical evidence. Data
are collected and analyzed through procedures that are reported for review and
evaluation, an important part of the scientific tradition. Despite these commonalities,
there remain some specific differences between quantitative and qualitative research
(Frankel, 1999; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Rubin & Babbie, 2010). First, their purposes are
often different. Quantitative research often seeks through measurement to test
hypotheses, to determine outcomes and to draw generalizable conclusions to a defined
population. Qualitative research tends to be interpretivist and seeks to understand a
phenomenon in its context in greater depth (Denzin & Lincoln, 2008; Morrow, 2007). It
seeks to elucidate the nature of social practices, relationships, and beliefs along with the
meaning of human experiences from the participants’ point of view. Generally,
qualitative studies differ from quantitative studies in that they are inductive rather than
deductive, and they consider experiences within context rather than controlling for
variables as in an experiment (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007; Lincoln & Guba, 1986).
Quantitative studies may administer a standardized instrument to measure a variable with
closed-ended items developed and tested for their ability to produce valid and reliable
data. On the other hand, qualitative inquiry employs data collection strategies such as in-
depth interviews, participant observation, and archival reviews (Polkinghorne, 2005).
Understanding these differences is the first step in evaluating research articles as it is
essential that there is congruency between the purpose of the research and the methods
chosen to achieve those aims (Frankel, 1999).
Once practitioners gain some clarity regarding the fundamental commonalities and
differences between quantitative and qualitative research, social workers need to develop
an understanding regarding how to evaluate the quality of studies conducted within each
methodological tradition. Critique is a part of the research tradition. It is expected that
researchers conduct their projects through procedures that are presented to the research
community allowing readers to draw conclusions from findings that are appropriate
considering each study’s limitations. In quantitative research, studies are evaluated
according to the level of reliability and validity related to the measurement procedures,
the internal validity established through the design of the study, and the external validity
or the degree to which the sampling procedures allowed for generalizability (Creswell,
2008; Lincoln & Guba, 1986; Rubin & Babbie, 2010). In qualitative research, the process
for ascertaining the quality of research is quite different according to its varied purposes
and methods. The following section describes criteria used to evaluate qualitative
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Fall 2010, 11(2) 191
research along with the strategies used by researchers to increase the quality of their
qualitative studies.
The issue of evaluating qualitative research can prompt a lengthy debate about varied
perspectives regarding epistemology and whether the activity of truth finding is even
possible (Emden & Sandelowski, 1998; 1999; Kincheloe, 2001; Whittemore, Chase, &
Mandle, 2001). Although we acknowledge the importance and relevance of this ongoing
debate, our purpose here is not to engage in a philosophical discussion regarding ways of
knowing, but to instead provide practitioners some practical ways for looking at the
quality of qualitative research. We acknowledge there are differences of opinion on these
issues. Therefore, we chose to utilize the ideas of Lincoln and Guba (1985) when
discussing the topic of evaluating quality. Whittemore, Chase, and Mandle (2001)
conclude Lincoln and Guba’s (1985) criteria to be the “gold standard” with “staying
power” (p. 527). Their conceptualization represents the most cited standards for
evaluating qualitative work and provides some practical direction for practitioners.
Lincoln and Guba’s (1985) seminal work identified criteria evaluating qualitative
research. They suggest that qualitative studies should achieve “trustworthiness;” a study
that represents as closely as possible the perspectives of the research participants.
Consider that a research team wants to understand the experience of youth who age out of
foster care and choose to conduct a series of in-depth interviews with a sample of young
adults who identify with this experience. The researchers may have some preconceived
ideas regarding what these participants might share. Despite these ideas, the study is
trustworthy if steps are taken in the research procedures to ensure the perspectives of
these participants are authentically gathered and accurately represented in the findings.
Lincoln and Guba (1985) address this by considering four concepts that work together to
achieve trustworthiness – credibility, transferability, auditability, and confirmability.
These concepts are defined further to provide guidelines practitioners can use when
evaluating qualitative studies. A series of strategies researchers can use to enhance the
quality of qualitative research are also discussed.
Credibility refers to the degree to which a study’s findings represent the meanings of
the research participants (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Drisko (1997) suggests qualitative
“interpretations must be authentic and accurate to the descriptions of the primary
participants” (p. 191). Padgett (2008) explains that, to achieve credibility, qualitative
research must manage the risk of research reactivity and bias. Research reactivity refers
to the potential for the researcher or the study procedures to exert an impact on the
participants thereby changing the findings of the study. For example, a researcher
interested in family violence may design a study that videotapes family interactions for
the purpose of understanding the nature of relationships shaped by aggression. However,
the presence of the camera when researching a socially undesirable behavior will likely
affect the way families interact. When researchers analyze these tapes, they will observe
a family’s interaction while being recorded, not a true representation of how that family
may have behaved if the camera were not present. Research reactivity can also occur
based on how researchers develop and ask interview questions, display affirming or non-
affirming non-verbal communication, or even through their degree of participation when
engaging in observations. In order to manage this threat, qualitative researchers need to
remain aware of how the research procedures may exert an influence on the credibility of
the data.
In addition to reactivity, researchers also remain mindful regarding the potential
impact of their own bias. Researcher bias involves how researchers’ socio-political
locations and preconceived ideas may shape the way they design the study and engage in
analysis, thereby potentially leading to a misrepresentation of the data (Lietz, Langer, &
Furman, 2006). For example, if a researcher wants to explore client satisfaction with a
parent training program, the researcher may conduct a focus group in which participants
discuss their experiences. If the researcher has a stake in the outcome, she may be
tempted to engage in interviewing that encourages discussion of successful outcomes
while failing to attend or draw out comments related to negative impressions of the
program. Researcher bias can affect other aspects of a research project beyond data
collection. The research question, decisions about research procedures, and the process of
data analysis are all influenced to some degree by the experience, knowledge base and
standpoint from which one comes to a research project (Horsburgh, 2003).
As qualitative researchers seek to achieve credibility, there are strategies that can be
used to manage the threats of research reactivity and bias. To manage research reactivity,
researchers may try to make their data gathering efforts less conspicuous and intrusive
without deception. For example, video-recorders may be concealed or employed more
discretely with knowledge of the participants. Researchers conducting participant-
observation may choose at times to act less as a ‘participant’ and more as an ‘observer’ to
minimize reactivity. Junker (1960) describes a continuum of degrees of engagement that
ranges from complete participant to observer as participant to participant as observer
and to complete observer. Remaining mindful regarding the potential impacts research
procedures can have on the findings is an important part of conceptualizing a qualitative
research study.
In addition to reactivity, qualitative researchers manage the threat of researcher bias
as they seek to achieve credibility. To manage such bias, researchers engage in reflexivity
and seek to build self-awareness regarding their own influence on the research project
(Drisko, 1997). Reflexivity is defined by Horsburgh (2003) as “active acknowledgement
by the researcher that her/his own actions and decisions will inevitably impact upon the
meaning and context of the experience under investigation” (p. 308). Reflexivity involves
a thoughtful consideration of one’s standpoint through reflection that may occur through
keeping a written journal and engaging in dialog with peers (Johnson & Waterfield,
2004). Lietz and colleagues (2006) conducted a study that analyzed autobiographical
accounts regarding Jewish identity. The researchers describe extensive efforts to remain
reflexive. Specifically, a journal was kept during the analysis process that recorded the
analysts reactions to what was being read. In addition, the research team met and engaged
in lengthy debates about how the differences in spiritual identity within the research team
brought diverse perspectives of the transcripts. Ultimately, the journal and meetings
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Fall 2010, 11(2) 193
brought a spirit of openness and accountability to the research process that the authors
found highly important to their ability to offer a credible portrayal of the qualitative data.
Reflexivity is not an activity that occurs at one point in time, but instead represents a
process that unfolds throughout the entire research process (Guillemin & Gillam, 2004).
Evidence of reflexivity may be discussed in the methods section of an article. Some
authors may also include a statement of self disclosure where the researchers
acknowledge their own bias and report their potential influence on the findings.
Reflexivity is a critical part of managing research reactivity and bias and should be
evident in the research article. Creswell and Miller (2000) suggest this is particularly
relevant for studies stemming from a critical paradigm, although we contend reflexivity is
an appropriate strategy to enhance trustworthiness in any qualitative research regardless
of approach.
Other strategies to increase credibility include triangulation, member checking, and
thick descriptions. Padgett (2008) defines triangulation as a concept adapted from
navigational science involving the use of “two or more sources to achieve a
comprehensive picture of a fixed point of reference” (p. 186). By gathering data from
multiple sources (data triangulation) or utilizing multiple analysts to review the data
(observer triangulation), qualitative researchers are able to achieve what Drisko (1997)
refers to as “completeness” or an exhaustive response to the research question. Data
triangulation might involve gathering data at multiple points in time or using varied data
collection strategies such as interviews, focus groups, or observations (Creswell & Miller,
2000). Triangulation by observer involves having more than one researcher analyze the
data to be sure important ideas are not missed and that there is some consistency to how
data analysis is linked to the findings. Some projects may involve multiple observers and
interviewers working independently to collect the same type of data. For projects
stemming from a post-positivist perspective, training should be provided to standardize
their approach and minimize bias and variability in the way data is collected. Having a
list of guiding questions, for example, helps to focus the observations of multiple
observers in recording the phenomenon of interest. Padgett (2008) suggests that
triangulation is particularly relevant with case studies and grounded-theory approaches,
including mixed method studies (methodological triangulation).
When performing certain qualitative data analyses, such as content analysis, it may
also be important to compute the intra- or inter-rater reliability of coders or analysts
(Shek, Tang & Han, 2005). Particularly studies coming from the post-positivist
perspective prioritize the use of systematic procedures (Creswell & Miller, 2000).
However, for qualitative traditions which assert reality is constructed intersubjectively,
computing inter-rater reliability is not consistent with the philosophical underpinnings of
this position. When evaluating qualitative research, it is important to remember that
credibility stems from the “intended inquiry purposes;” thus credible research decisions
are consistent with one’s purpose (Patton, 2002, p. 266), requiring practitioners to think
critically and contextually when judging methodological decision making.
Member checking involves corroborating the research findings by seeking feedback
from the research participants (Creswell & Miller, 2000; Padgett, 2008). Member
checking can involve including selected research participants in the data analysis or
returning to a sample of participants with a draft of the findings to ascertain their sense of
agreement with the findings (Shenton, 2004). For example, a researcher interested in
resilience may interview adults who grew up in high risk circumstances to understand
how some individuals come to cope effectively with adversity over time. The research
team may identify a subset of their sample to provide feedback about the analysis. These
individuals are provided a description of the preliminary analysis and are encouraged to
offer feedback regarding whether the findings appear to reflect their own experiences. In
some cases, specific questions may be used to guide this discussion when the researchers
are seeking to clarify the meaning of certain quotes or accounts.
While some identify member checking to be one of the most valuable strategies for
increasing trustworthiness in qualitative research (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Lietz et al.,
2006), others acknowledge that member checking can raise practical concerns such as not
being able to locate research participants or assuming that a sample of members’
experiences are similar enough that they will all agree to the findings (Padgett, 2008).
Despite these concerns, member checking is particularly important for studies stemming
from the critical paradigm as these studies seek collaboration and corroboration with
research participants (Creswell & Miller, 2000).
The notion of thick description derives from the tradition of interpretive ethnography
in anthropology, and involves “deep, dense, detailed accounts” of a phenomenon of
inquiry with particular consideration of the context(s) in which it occurs (Denzin, 1989,
p. 83). According to Geertz (1975), cultures are “webs of significance” and their analysis
involves “an interpretive one in search of meaning” (p. 5). In this tradition, to adequately
study a phenomenon, it is important to obtain ample and contextual documentation from
which to derive knowledgeable and insightful interpretations. Specifically, Creswell and
Miller (2000) explain:
The purpose of thick description is that it creates verisimilitude, statements that
produce for the readers the feelings that they have experienced, or could
experience, the events being described in a study. Thus credibility is established
through the lens of readers who read a narrative account, and are transported
into a setting or situation (p. 128-129).
Thick description is deemed particularly significant in constructivist research and in
ethnographic studies. However, adequate description of the context and research
procedures is relevant for qualitative research regardless of paradigmatic positions.
One strategy used to support the process of obtaining thick descriptions includes
prolonged engagement. This involves conducting multiple interviews or spending
extended time observing participants to achieve a complete look at the experience
(Lincoln & Guba, 1986). While seeking to establish credibility, researchers may
document the training of interviewers or observers, the frequency, duration, and intensity
of data collection efforts, probing techniques, whether interviews were audio-recorded or
notes were taken, and whether data saturation was achieved. Ample use and discussion of
examples of thematic findings is also helpful. Although many journals cannot
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Fall 2010, 11(2) 195
accommodate lengthy descriptions, it remains the author’s responsibility to adequately
describe efforts taken to thoroughly account for the participants’ experiences.
Transferability refers to the degree to which the findings are applicable or useful to
theory, practice and future research (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Sandelowski (1986) refers
to this concept as “fittingness” suggesting transferability has to do with the degree to
which findings fit situations outside of the study and are found meaningful. Qualitative
research studies are not generalizable according to quantitative standards, because
probability sampling is not employed. Instead, qualitative studies typically use purposive
sampling to seek a specific group of participants who have experienced the phenomenon
being studied. The number of research participants is typically smaller than quantitative
studies, because as researchers seek to study experiences in-depth, the quality and
exhaustive nature of each case becomes more important than the number of participants
(Polkinghorne, 1995). In addition, constructivists challenge the relevance of
generalizability in qualitative research, “arguing that an emphasis on generalizing strips
away the context that imbues a qualitative study with credibility” (Padgett, 2008, p. 182).
Although qualitative researchers do not seek generalizability, transferability is
achieved when the findings have applicability to another setting, to theory, to practice, or
to future research. Devers (1999) suggests for findings to achieve transferability, “…the
contexts must be similar. Therefore, it is the role of the researcher to identify key aspects
of the context from which the findings emerge and the extent to which they may be
applicable to other contexts” (p. 1165). Therefore, as researchers seek to achieve
transferability, thick descriptions are again relevant allowing readers to understand ways
findings may be applicable to other settings (Creswell & Miller, 2000; Lincoln & Guba,
1986; Shenton, 2004). The study’s context should be described in detail and should relate
to the context of other groups or settings (Devers, 1999). For example, in a current study,
Zayas and colleagues are documenting the challenges that quality assurance professionals
experienced in performing their functions in community-based behavioral health
agencies. These study findings along with the suggestions that followed may be
applicable in and transferable to other community agencies that provide similar services
with comparable staff, resources, and clientele.
Finally, when assessing transferability, credibility is again important. Just as a study
that produces reliable, but invalid data is not useful in quantitative research, qualitative
studies that produce transferable findings that are not credible do not contribute to the
Lincoln and Guba (1985) identify the third criteria for evaluating qualitative research
projects as auditability. Auditability refers to the degree to which research procedures are
documented allowing someone outside the project to follow and critique the research
process (Padgett, 2008). While quantitative research requires strict adherence to study
procedures, qualitative methodology does allow for some flexibility. In fact, some
suggest high quality projects should demonstrate an iterative process that changes as the
study unfolds (Davies & Dodd, 2002; Drisko, 1997; Frankel, 1999; Morrow, 2007). For
example, interview instruments may be revised during early stages of data collection if
questions are not yielding quality information. Proposed sample sizes may be increased
or decreased based on data saturation. Also, codebook development involves painstaking
deliberations among analysts based on their assessment of a certain number and type of
data sources. When, why and how are such consequential decisions made? One way of
addressing the need to make decisions and changes along the way is to provide detailed
documentation throughout the research project. Projects stemming from a post-positivist
perspective will commonly prioritize systematic procedures such as these (Creswell &
Miller, 2000). However, we contend keeping an account of the research procedures and
decisions seems relevant for all approaches.
The strategies used to increase auditability include keeping an audit trail and
engaging in peer debriefing. An audit trail is a written account of the research process
that includes a reporting of what occurred throughout the research project along with a
demonstration of reflexivity. Mullins, Cheung, and Lietz (under review) recently
conducted a project that involved describing families’ descriptions of family preservation
services. In this project, the authors chose to maintain the audit trail through Google
Docs. This document included detailed accounts of each research meeting, the research
decisions that were made throughout the process, and each member’s reactions after
engaging in any coding of the transcripts. By using an online document, any member of
the team was able to go into and add to the document at any time, providing an efficient
way to maintain a detailed account of the project from beginning to end. Although a copy
or excerpts from the audit trail are rarely included in the research article, many authors
will report the maintenance of an audit trail to demonstrate auditability. It can help to
clarify concerns and increase the confidence of other researchers and reviewers about the
conduct of the study.
Additionally, peer debriefing involves consulting with colleagues experienced in
qualitative methodology (Padgett, 2008). By discussing research decisions and
procedures, important feedback can be provided enhancing the quality of the project
(Shenton, 2004). Peer debriefing can help to promote reflexivity allowing researchers to
become more sensitized to the effects of their socio-political position. It can also enhance
the research process by generating new ideas and identifying potential pitfalls related to
the methodology. For example, in the study referenced earlier of Jewish identity (Lietz et
al., 2006), the researcher engaged in the analysis of these autobiographical accounts did
not personally identify with this spiritual tradition. In order to increase reflexivity and
accountability, a decision was made to consult with another qualitative researcher who
was Jewish to provide an insider’s perspective to the data analysis process.
An audit trail is of particular relevance for post-positivist qualitative research while
peer debriefing is seen by some as necessary for projects stemming from a critical
standpoint (Creswell & Miller, 2000). However, some suggest that peer debriefing and
auditing may represent “…potentially contaminating influences that interfere with the
search for deep structures of meaning” in phenomenological approaches (Padgett, 2008,
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Fall 2010, 11(2) 197
p. 194). In other words, these approaches are divorced from the lived experience,
possibly leading the researchers away from their intimate interaction with data.
Confirmability refers to the ability of others to confirm or corroborate the findings
(Drisko, 1997; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Shenton (2004) asserts “steps must be taken to
help ensure as far as possible that the work’s findings are the result of the experiences
and ideas of the informants, rather than the characteristics and preferences of the
researcher” (p. 72). To achieve confirmability, a study demonstrates that the findings and
data are clearly linked. There are several strategies that a researcher can use to increase a
study’s confirmability. Already discussed were the benefits of member checking, peer
debriefing, and audit trails. These strategies allow collaborators external to the research
team an opportunity to evaluate or confirm the research procedures.
In addition, negative case analysis is a strategy used when a researcher deliberately
seeks contrasting evidence, a strategy commonly employed in a grounded theory
approach (Padgett, 2008). Frankel (1999) suggests looking at “deviant cases” is “perhaps
most important” when determining whether the qualitative researcher achieved an
adequate look at the research question (p. 344). An example might include a researcher
who is exploring diverse perspectives regarding immigration policy. If the sample
included a group of citizens who favored a particular policy position, negative case
analysis would require a researcher to continue recruitment into the study until alternative
or contrasting perspectives were represented in the findings. Negative case analysis is
relevant not just during sampling but also throughout data analysis. It requires that
analysts seek disconfirming evidence when analyzing their qualitative data. Creswell and
Miller (2000) note that this strategy is especially useful for constructivist research. Drisko
(1997) suggests seeking contradictory evidence and diverse experiences is essential to
achieving a complete or exhaustive exploration of a phenomenon.
Table 1 provides a summary of research strategies available to increase the
trustworthiness of a qualitative research project. Notwithstanding, no project is expected
to employ all of these strategies. There may be some projects where triangulation seems
particularly relevant, such as mixed-methods studies, whereas member checking may be
critical in another, such as participatory inquiry. As one evaluates the quality of a
qualitative project, while it is not necessary or even appropriate for a researcher to engage
in all of the strategies provided in Table 1, there should be evidence that the researcher
addressed research reactivity/bias and enhanced credibility, transferability, auditability,
and confirmability in accordance with the paradigmatic lens of the project (Creswell &
Miller, 2000).
Table 1. Research Strategies for Increasing Trustworthiness of Qualitative
Reflexivity A thoughtful consideration of how a researcher’s standpoint
can influence the research.
Observer Triangulation Using more than one researcher to analyze the data.
Data Triangulation Collecting data from multiple sources such as interviews,
focus groups and interviews.
Prolonged Engagement Conducting multiple interviews or spending extended time
with participants to achieve an exhaustive look at the
Member Checking Including participants in analysis or returning to a sample
of participants to corroborate the findings.
Thick Descriptions A thorough representation of the phenomenon of inquiry
and its context as perceived and experienced by study
Audit Trail Keeping a detailed written account of the research
Peer Debriefing Meeting with mentors or other researchers engaged in
qualitative research to dialogue regarding research
Negative Case Analysis Seeking contrasting evidence through sampling and
Sources: Lincoln and Guba (1985); Padgett (2008); Shenton (2004)
When evaluating qualitative research, Lincoln and Guba (1985) suggest researchers
plan and conduct their studies seeking to achieve trustworthiness. Trustworthiness is
evaluated according to the degree to which the study is credible, transferable, auditable
and confirmable. Table 1 summarizes ten strategies researchers can use to increase the
quality of their qualitative studies and Table 2 provides a list of questions practitioners
may ask to determine a study’s trustworthiness. Important to remember is that not all
strategies need to be utilized for a study to be trustworthy. It is for the reader to determine
whether the strategies chosen align with the purpose, epistemological positioning, and
design of the project, and whether they adequately manage threats to research reactivity
and bias. In addition, evaluators of qualitative research articles should remain mindful of
the impacts of these threats on both data collection and the analysis of the data.
Regardless of how rigorous data analysis strategies are, data collection procedures must
first collect data that are authentic and as exhaustive as possible, taking a comprehensive
look at an experience in spatio-temporal context. Once a researcher has established that
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Fall 2010, 11(2) 199
data are “thick” and complete, strategies are once again taken to ensure that analytic
processes lead to an accurate representation of the participants’ perspectives.
Table 2. Questions Practitioners Can Ask to Evaluate Trustworthiness of
Qualitative Research Articles
9 Did the research study identify a paradigmatic lens or research tradition in the
9 If there was no tradition, were the purpose and epistemological positions made
9 Were the methods consistent with the tradition and/or purpose?
9 How was research reactivity and bias managed in the study?
9 What strategies were used to establish the credibility?
9 How extensive or ‘thick’ were the descriptions supporting findings? Was the
context adequately described?
9 Were the findings applicable or useful for your population, setting or area of
9 Was there evidence of an audit trail and/or peer consultation on the project?
9 How did the researchers corroborate their conclusions?
9 To what degree do you find the research procedures increased the
trustworthiness of the findings?
Considering heightened expectations that social work practitioners are able to
identify, evaluate, and use research in their practice, knowledge of research procedures
has become an essential part of being a social work practitioner. Rigorous qualitative
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trustworthiness of qualitative research. As practitioners become more confident regarding
their understanding of qualitative methods, they can better ascertain the applicability or
usefulness of qualitative studies in their practice settings.
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Author’s note:
Address correspondence to: Cynthia A. Lietz, School of Social Work, Arizona State
University, 411 N. Central Ave, Suite 800, Phoenix, AZ, 85004-0689. Email:
... To ensure the trustworthiness of the study, a four-criterion framework was implemented that consisted of credibility, dependability, confirmability, and transferability [76]. First, 'credibility' refers to the accuracy of a research study's findings compared with the intention of the study, and how well the actual perspectives of participants are reflected by the findings [76,[82][83]. Credibility was obtained by gaining as much background information as possible about the case organisation prior to the interviews [83]. Data triangulation was then used, in which several participants from the case organisation were interviewed to gain different opinions and experiences about relationship power and supply chain sustainability practices [76,83]. ...
... It refers to the probability of finding similar results if the proposed research study were to be replicated with similar participants, methods, and conditions [76]. The dependability of the study is demonstrated through the provision of a detailed and comprehensive description of the methodology [82]. Third, the researcher must ensure that participants' true experiences and ideas are reflected by the study's findings, and not those of the researcher [76,83]. ...
... Third, the researcher must ensure that participants' true experiences and ideas are reflected by the study's findings, and not those of the researcher [76,83]. A link was made between the study's literature and the collected data to reflect the true experiences and ideas of the participants and not those of the researcher [76,[82][83]. Confirmability was therefore achieved. Last, 'transferability' refers to the extent to which the proposed research study's finding can be applied in different contexts, groups, or settings [76]. ...
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Buyers and suppliers of healthcare products and services are more dependent on each other than ever before for the provision of scarce and unique resources, which highlights the need to implement supply chain sustainability practices. Firms controlling these resources hold excessive power over others. This study adopted resource dependence theory as a theoretical lens to explore the role of relationship power in supply chain sustainability practices between a South African private healthcare provider and its suppliers. The study employed a generic qualitative single-case study design. Semi-structured interviews were used to collect data from 12 participants at various levels of the case organisation's hierarchy. The main findings revealed several types of environmental and social practice used in the supply chain of the private healthcare provider. Some of the environmental practices were effective waste management and recycling, while the social practices included supplier selection and periodic reviews. The healthcare provider exercised extensive power over its suppliers to implement these practices. By exploring the advantages and disadvantages of sustainability practices, the findings showed that relationship power acted as a driver of supply chain sustainability. Mutual commitment, continuous communication, and training support these practices. Healthcare managers must be aware of the importance of relationship power for supply chain sustainability practices implementation, and are advised to invest time and effort in building buyer-supplier relationships to aid sustainability. This study expands the literature on relationship power in supply chain sustainability practices in an underexplored developing country healthcare context.
... To this end, this research engaged in dialogues with civilian crime analysts, police investigators, legal professionals (court reporters, lawyers, and judges), and forensic mental health professionals, using the long-interview method of data collection (McCracken, 1988) in support of thick description and credibility (Lietz & Zayas, 2010). The long-interview method utilizes openended questions to foster the exploration of experiences and elicit relevant stories, in this case related to workplace exposure to violent videos (McCracken, 1988). ...
... Additional suggested criteria are the utility of the narrative in terms of assisting with comprehension of an experience and enhancing future problem-solving of a group (Loh, 2013). In this respect, our forms of trustworthiness included prolonged engagement, triangulation, peer validation, and member checking (Lietz & Zayas, 2010;Loh, 2013). Specifically, our collective prior experience in conducting research on the impact of workplace trauma exposure was essential. ...
High-quality video and audio recordings of violent crimes, captured using now ubiquitous digital technologies, play an increasingly important role in the administration of justice. However, the effects of exposure to gruesome material presented in this form on criminal justice professionals who analyze, evaluate, and use this potentially traumatic content in the context of their work, are largely unknown. Using long interviews and constructivist grounded theory, this qualitative study sought to explore experiences of exposure to video evidence of violent crime among Canadian criminal justice professionals. Sixteen individuals including police, lawyers, judges, psychiatrists, law clerks, and court reporters volunteered to participate in qualitative long interviews asking about workplace exposures to violent videos. Themes identified address the ubiquity of video evidence of violent crime; proximity to violence through video; being blindsided through lack of preparedness for violent content; repeated exposures through multiple and protracted viewings; insufficient customary methods for self-protection; and the enduring impact of exposure to videoed violence. We determine that criminal justice professionals are increasingly and repeatedly presented with deeply disturbing imagery that was once imperceptible or unknowable and thus previously held at a greater distance. Elements of what is newly visible and audible in video evidence of violent crime create a new emotional proximity to violence that potentially increases the risks of secondary trauma and underscores the need for improved safety measures.
... To increase the study's trustworthiness, the authors engaged in peer debriefing and discussed the emerging codes throughout the process (Padgett, 2017). The first author kept an audit trail of the decisions made during the analysis (Lietz & Zayas, 2010;Padgett, 2017). Within the coding document, the authors also engaged in reflexivity by writing memos about personal biases and connections to the data (Charmaz, 2006). ...
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Expectant or parenting youth (EPY) with foster care histories are often in need of a range of services yet experience barriers to accessing and utilizing those services. This exploratory qualitative study was informed by ecological systems theory and utilized interviews and focus groups with EPY (n = 11) and service providers (n = 28) to identify factors that facilitate service utilization for EPY. We found characteristics at the service provider, agency, and system levels that act as facilitators. Service provider characteristics that facilitate service use include empathy and trustworthiness, supportive navigation, and youth-centeredness. Agency facilitators included representative diversity and inclusivity, trauma-informed training and practice, and availability of tangible supports. System facilitators included having a variety of service providers, systems integration, and co-location. Findings provide a more nuanced understanding of the facilitators that contribute to EPY’s service utilization. Future research is warranted to examine how these youth- and provider-identified drivers of service use influence health, mental health, parenting, education, relationships, employment, and housing outcomes for EPY.
... Measures were employed to ensure trustworthiness and authenticity. Prolonged engagement over the 3 years of the study ensured thick descriptions of the youth and adult narratives (Lietz & Zayas, 2010). Rigor was established through documentation for auditing purposes (Padgett, 2008). ...
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Recognized as complex and relational, researchers endorse a systems/social-ecological framework in examining bullying and cyberbullying. According to this framework, bullying and cyberbullying are examined across the nested social contexts in which youth live—encompassing individual features; relationships including family, peers, and educators; and ecological conditions such as digital technology. Qualitative inquiry of bullying and cyberbullying provides a research methodology capable of bringing to the fore salient discourses such as dominant social norms and otherwise invisible nuances such as motivations and dilemmas, which might not be accessed through quantitative studies. Through use of a longitudinal and multi-perspective mixed methods study, the purpose of the current paper is to demonstrate the ways qualitative interviews contextualize quantitative findings and to present novel discussion of how qualitative interviews explain and enrich the quantitative findings. The following thematic areas emerged and are discussed: augmenting quantitative findings through qualitative interviews, contextualizing new or rapidly evolving areas of research, capturing nuances and complexity of perspectives, and providing moments for self-reflection and opportunities for learning.
... Kathy Charmaz (2014Charmaz ( , 2000 proposed an adaptation to grounded theory, constructivist grounded theory (CGT) in which data and meaning are co-constructed through the relationship between the researchers and participants (Chun Tie et al. 2019;Birks and Mills 2015;Charmaz 2017). To this end, this research engaged in dialogues using the long-interview method of data collection (McCracken 1988) in support of thick description and credibility (Lietz and Zayas 2010). The interviews were conducted by two members of the research team: a doctoral student in Information Studies and experienced archivist; and a doctoral student in Social Work and experienced clinician. ...
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There is growing awareness in archival communities that working with records that contain evidence of human pain and suffering can result in unsettling emotions for archivists. One important finding of this work, however, is the considerable variability in not only the nature of responses, but also the nature of records that provoke emotional responses. Using in-depth qualitative interviews with 20 archivists from across Canada and one from the United States, and employing grounded theory methodology, this study sought to better understand the nature of emotional responses and factors associated with distress. Archivists described a wide range of reactions including shock, intrusive thoughts, profound senses of anger, sadness and despair, and ultimately at times disrupted functioning in personal and occupational spheres. One factor that has been associated with increasing vulnerability to distress in other occupational groups is empathic engagement, which is understood to have two elements: a vicarious emotional process and a cognitive process. This article explores the impact of personal connections and the nature of empathic engagement between archivists, donors, community researchers, and the records themselves on emotional response.
... Investigator triangulation was used during the research to look at the data from different perspectives (Denzin, 1978). Before the research began, the data collection procedure was standardized and several meetings were held between the researchers to clarify the research methodology, thus ensuring consistency (Lietz and Zayas, 2010). Interviews were conducted by multiple researchers, and all researchers then independently analyzed all data collected. ...
Social entrepreneurship is a concept that has significant benefits for society. To shape the appropriate conditions for the development of this generally beneficial phenomenon, we need to ask what motivates entrepreneurs to give priority to social entrepreneurship over commercial entrepreneurship. Although several studies are looking at the motivations of social entrepreneurs, our current knowledge of this issue is limited in two respects. Most research has focused only on the motivations for starting social entrepreneurship. Another is that research on motivation has been mostly conducted in countries where the social entrepreneurship environment is friendly, which has led to a greater focus on the personality of entrepreneurs at the expense of the social context. Through a qualitative approach, this study aims to explore motivation to become a social entrepreneur and motivation to keep being a social entrepreneur in the unfavorable conditions of the Czech social entrepreneurial environment. The summary results of a qualitative study among 27 entrepreneurs supported by the presentation of five mini‐stories describe how social entrepreneurs face obstacles and how they perceive the gradual changes in society that give them the motivation to stay in social entrepreneurship. We also identify eight motives for becoming a social entrepreneur and show how the motives intersect.
... Case study research stresses the importance of context when it comes to understanding phenomena, dynamics and the like. To make sense of the relation between context and the object of study, researchers should provide an adequate description of this context (Lietz & Zayas, 2010). Describing the natural context in which a phenomenon or specific concept is studied may differ depending on the exact research objective. ...
Purpose The purpose of this study is to explore social barriers affecting participation in chosen instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) among community-dwelling persons with schizophrenia in Rwanda. Design/methodology/approach A qualitative study used an embedded single case study design and constructivist epistemology paradigm. Purposive sampling and semistructured interviews of 10 persons with schizophrenia and their 10 caregivers were conducted. Data analysis was done thematically using an inductive analysis approach, following within-case and cross-case analysis. Findings The hindrances to participation and community negative attitudes were explored as the two themes. This study focuses on the community negative attitudes including family exclusion and stigmatization, which hinder the participation of persons with schizophrenia in their chosen IADLs. Practical implications This study highlights the need for psychoeducation about mental illness for the caregivers of the persons with schizophrenia, community outreach activities for sensitizing about mental illness to address stigma toward persons with mental illness and strengthening the activities which promote the social interaction and sense of belonging of persons with mental illness. Originality/value Persons with schizophrenia are facing maltreatment and stigma from the community members while participating in their chosen IADLs. Awareness raising of the support needs of persons living with schizophrenia will contribute to relevant stakeholders advocating for inclusion into families and communities.
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Background: Global supply chain complexity and increased logistics outsourcing have made global supply chains more vulnerable to supply chain disruptions (SCDs). The proliferation of network partners has changed the role of outsourced logistics providers to be more strategic. However, this changing role comes with increased responsibility for the coordination and alignment of supply chain partners during supply chain disruption recovery (SCDR). Successful strategic supply chain alignment (SSCA) may improve overall supply chain performance during SCDR by aligning the recovery efforts of supply chain partners. Objectives: This study aimed to investigate the role of third-party logistics service providers (3PLs) in SSCA during SCDR in South Africa. Method: This research employed a generic qualitative design using purposive sampling techniques. Data were collected from five logistics triads that included 3PL, supplier and customer firms using semi-structured interviews. Results: Third-party logistics service providers play various roles in SSCA during SCDR namely transactional, relational, dependency, resilience and more advanced roles. In addition, 3PLs utilise a range of approaches to achieve SSCA during SCDR including using collaborative planning, transparent communication policies and platforms, performance measurement and supply chain visibility. Conclusion: This study expands on current literature by identifying the value-adding roles of 3PLs in SSCA during SCDR and the use of various approaches to achieve SSCA during SCDR in the South African context. For managers, the findings provide insight into the roles of 3PLs and the approaches used to achieve SSCA during SCDR that could increase overall supply chain performance.
Background The adverse impacts of child sexual abuse (CSA) are well documented in the literature but there is a paucity of research regarding a specific sub-type of CSA referred to as mother-daughter sexual abuse. Mother-daughter sexual abuse (MDSA) is a highly stigmatized and misunderstood form of child sexual abuse. Objective This study examines the nature of MDSA by identifying and analyzing patterns of abuse and the associated psychological impact experienced by survivors. Methods Information was gathered from publicly available social media posts on Reddit. A Google script and Pushshift were used to extract 82 posts and transfer the data into Dedoose for thematic analysis using select computational social science methods. Open and axial coding established a coding framework to develop and understand themes, contextualize the data, and examine the relationships between themes. Results Survivors describe feeling shame, disgust, and confusion about MDSA. Sexually abusive behaviors by the offending mothers included non-consensual touching, non-consensual vaginal penetration, body shaming, exposure to pornography at a young age, and grooming daughters for abuse by men. Survivors indicated tenuous relationships with their mothers lasting into adulthood, possible mental health disorders of their mothers, and the significant emotional abuse and inappropriate enmeshment. Survivor’s disclosed suffering a range of mental health challenges that contribute to difficulties with interpersonal relationships. Survivors were hesitant to disclose to friends, family, and helping professionals because they fear being misunderstood or judged because of their experiences with MDSA. Conclusion This study fills a large gap in the literature on MDSA and future studies need to examine how to better support survivors with interventions and resources more specifically. Increased understanding of survivor’s experiences with MDSA will help inform, educate, and raise awareness to ensure survivors are able to cope or overcome their traumatic experiences.
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Objective: This study examines the quality of evaluation studies using qualitative research methods in the social work literature in terms of a number of criteria commonly adopted in the field of qualitative research. Method: Using qualitative and evaluation as search terms, relevant qualitative evaluation studies from 1990 to 2003 indexed by Social Work Abstracts were examined, and their quality was evaluated. Results: The review shows that the quality of published evaluation studies using qualitative research methods in the social work field is not high and that many of the reviewed studies are not sensitive to the following issues: philosophical base of the study, auditability, bias, truth value, consistency, and critical interpretations of the data. Conclusions: Social workers using findings arising from published evaluation studies using qualitative research methods in social work should be cautious and social workers conducting qualitative evaluation studies should be sensitive to the issue of quality. Adequate training for social workers on qualitative evaluation should also be carried out.
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The scientific literature relevant to social work practice has grown expansively in recent years. Corollary developments, including the widespread availability of electronic bibliographic data- bases, improved indexing services, and increased acceptance of systematic reviews and evi- dence-based practice guidelines, have made research findings increasingly accessible to practitioners. For the first time in the history of the profession, social work educators are con- fronted with the challenges posed, and opportunities afforded, by this accumulating body of practice-relevant scientific information. Evidence-based practice is a new paradigm that pro- motes more effective social interventions by encouraging the conscientious, judicious, and explicit use of the best available scientific evidence in professional decision making. Peda- gogically, evidence-based practice involves teaching students the values and skills they need to identify, critically appraise, and apply practice-relevant scientific evidence over the course of their professional careers. This article describes the potential benefits of evidence-based social work professional education and ongoing efforts of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University to implement curriculum-wide changes supportive of evidence- based professional practice education.
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The essential features of contemporary evidence-based practice (EBP) are outlined, with specific reference to the applications of this model to various areas of social work, micro through macro. EBP is seen as a welcome addition to our field, representing a fuller and more comprehensive development of earlier and related positions such as empirical clinical practice within social work, and the delineation of empirically-supported therapies within psychology. Social work should proactively adopt EBP as its preferred conceptual model, reorient BSW and MSW training programs along the lines advocated by EBP, and inculcate these principles into the delivery of social work services. This is seen as both a professional and ethical imperative necessary for the survival of the field.
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The purpose of this article is to place evidence-based practice within its wider scholarly contexts and draw lessons from the experiences of other professions that are engaged in implementing it. The analysis is based primarily on evidence-based medicine, the parent discipline of evidence-based practice, but the author also draws on evidence-based nursing and evidence-based social work in the United Kingdom. It was found that the experiences of other practice professions have a great deal to offer social work practice. Similar to medicine, nursing, and our British colleagues, U.S. social work practice will benefit from increased research activity, more widespread availability of reviews of research, on-line resources, and many more training opportunities. Similar to nursing administrators, social work administrators have the responsibility to allow social work practitioners the time and training to become familiar with research relevant to their practice.
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This study examined how qualitative research is taught in foundation MSW courses using a content analysis of syllabi and a survey. The Council on Social Work Education required qualitative research content in 1994 and several authors advocate for greater inclusion of it. Yet no research about what qualitative content is included on syllabi is presently available. All accredited MSW programs were contacted, yielding 57 surveys and 48 syllabi. Wide variation in the numbers of course sessions, focal content, readings, and assignments was found nationally. Qualitative content was absent in 8% of syllabi, and only a single class session was the modal level of inclusion. Few syllabi included named qualitative research approaches. Further, very few assignments addressed qualitative research content. Recommendations for curriculum development are offered.
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As the use of qualitative inquiry increases within the field of social work, researchers must consider the issue of establishing rigor in qualitative research. This article presents research procedures used in a study of autoethnographies that were written regarding the experience of being Jewish. In this project, the researchers utilized reflexivity, audit trail, triangulation by observer, peer debriefing, member check and prolonged engagement in order to manage the threats to trustworthiness as discussed by Padgett (1998). Implications of the project suggest that research procedures utilized by qualitative researchers to establish rigor are an important way to increase our confidence that the voice of the participants is heard, therefore fitting the mission of the social work profession.
These four points denote the considerable educational and research efforts needed to fully connect EBP to the more ambitious goal of integrating science and intervention. The interest in EBP affords educators, researchers, practitioners, administrators, and policy officials a unique opportunity to improve connections between science and practice. It is critical that we move in concert to take advantage of this opportunity.
Different views of evidence-based practice (EBP) include defining it as the use of empirically-validated treatments and practice guidelines (i.e., the EBPs approach) in contrast to the broad philosophy and related evolving process described by the originators. Social workers can draw on their code of ethics and accreditation standards both to select a view of EBP that is most faithful to related obligations and to address obstacles to implementing it. For example, the Code of Ethics (National Association of Social Workers, 1999) calls on social workers to draw on practice- and policy-related research findings, to honor informed consent guidelines, and to respect clients and empower them. Copyright © 2007, Council on Social Work Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
The publication of the third edition of Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods offers the author an opportunity to reflect back over two decades of developments in qualitative inquiry. Major developments include: the end of the qualitative-quantitative debate; the flowering of diverse and competing approaches within qualitative inquiry; the increased importance of mixed methods; the elaboration of purposeful sampling approaches; increasing recognition of the creativity at the center of qualitative analysis; the emergence of ever more sophisticated software to facilitate qualitative analysis; and new ethical challenges in the face of the potential impacts of qualitative inquiry on both those studied and those engaged in the inquiry.