Light at the End of the Research Tunnel

(Source: Google Images, May 4, 2020)

Key Takeaways From:

Starks & Trinidad. “Choose your Method: A Comparison of Phenomenology, Discourse Analysis, and Grounded Theory”

At the end of my Research Methods Class, I appreciate the comparative study that Starks and Trinidad on prostate cancer screening, where they use three research methods: phenomenology, discourse analysis, and grounded theory. They provided a useful hourglass metaphor (Figure 1) illustrating the similarities and differences among the three research methods. It appears that these research methods are different in the beginning and end but converge in the analytic and post-analytic stages, especially in the sharing methodologies for decontextualizing and recontextualizing data.

The researchers decided to use a comparative approach since they were undecided in terms of which research design to use. It is refreshing to read that other researchers struggle with this intellectual decision. I also struggled with my research design. Earlier in the course, I had decided on grounded theory, then decided against it since the coding aspect appeared overwhelming. Then I entertained the idea of a case study and phenomenology, but obtaining IRB approval during remote learning may cause further delays in the completion of my research proposal. So, I have decided on autoethnography, which is similar to phenomenology, in that both incorporate elements of a narrative in its research design.

Another exciting aspect of Starks and Trinidad’s research study is that they have three different audiences with three different goals: the novice researchers, researchers who are familiar with one research design but another, and teachers of research methods classes. In retrospect, I believe that they accomplished their goal of providing a framework for researchers and teachers in the three different research designs. In terms of their secondary purpose of deciding which research method to use during prostate cancer screening, I would recommend the Discourse Analysis: How the Discourses of Medicine and Public Health Construct Doctor-Patient Roles and Identities. By providing novice doctors a script when discussing prostate cancer screening with patients, the conversation will be more precise. The discourse analysis approach will produce more beneficence than the other two research methods. In a way, Starks and Trinidad had two purposes for their research study. Therefore, it is crucial to keep in mind the purpose of the research when deciding on a research design.

In my research proposal, I like the idea of multiple audiences and goals. My first audience is graduate and undergraduate students and the impact on online grammar checkers on their writing. The second audience is high-school English teachers or content-area teachers and writing instructors who are interested in helping students revise and edit their writing. My third audience is a decision-maker who may need the data to purchase the online grammar checkers for the entire institution.

In terms of Sampling, the researchers contend that it is not necessary to have a large sample of quality data. The average sample size is 1 to 10 participants. I had initially assumed that a larger sample size would produce quality results; however, it does not hold.

A key difference in the design is within the Analytic Methods, specifically under the Coding section, where phenomenologists are writing stories of people’s experiences, and discourse analysts are coding people’s language for patterns, themes, and roles. In contrast, phenomenologists use “a constant, comparative coding process” through three stages: 1.) open coding (“examining, comparing, conceptualizing, and categorizing data”); axial coding (“reassembling data into groupings based on relationships and patterns within and among the categories identified in the data”); and 3.) selective coding (“identifying and describing the central phenomenon”). Hence, a novice researcher may need guidance with the coding section of a phenomenological study.

Although the researcher may use self-reflection in the analytic stage, they must refrain from inserting their preconceived notions. In phenomenology and discourse analysis, researchers must “bracket” themselves where they set aside their assumptions so as not to bias the research study. In terms of products of a research study, there are surveys, explanatory theories, and stories. 

I want to end with the most helpful takeaway, the Methodology (Formulating a Research Question) to help me formulatemy research questions:

  • What is your experience with online grammar checkers (Phenomenology)?
  • What discourses are used, and how do they shape identities, relationships, and activities? (Do the copy on Grammarly such as Awesome! motivate writers?) (Discourse Analysis)
  • How does the social process occur in a particular environment? (Grounded Theory)

The last question did not necessarily fit with the purpose of my research proposal, so I can rule out grounded theory (which I did). I would say that this exercise is helping in deciding the research design. Overall, this study is valuable to researchers and had wished that I had read this earlier in the semester.

Starks and Trinidad on Comparative Research

For our last week’s reading we checked out a comparative model between Grounded Theory, Phenomenology, and Discourse Analysis. This semester has gone in a direction I doubt any of us could have anticipated so it was nice to read this article, being able to pick up some threads from when we initially looked into these methods. But specifically the main purpose of this article, as stated by the authors, was to compare three different qualitative research methods as they were utilized for the case of health research. More specifically, though I will get more into this as the article does, health research into how physicians deal with decision making regarding prostate cancer screenings.

The article opens with an interesting diagram, detailing the similarities and differences between the three methods. The two important things to note about this diagram for me were its shape constituting more dissimilarities at the top and bottom, and a narrowing towards the center where the three methods became more closely resembling of each other. More or less, it gave it an interesting aesthetic. The other thing of interest for me in this diagram was the separation of the three methods with dotted instead of solid lines, depicting their “porous” boundaries as the authors state. Throughout this class it has become obvious that in using maybe some generalities, though here too some specifics, these methods, though they may not be interchangeable, may go hand-in-hand to really give a dynamic and full picture to a research question. At the very center of the diagram is the category of “Analytic Methods” in which the three methods are not even separated, and it expands outward to Sampling, Goals, History, etc.

There is then a short breakdown of each of the three methods. I enjoyed the inclusion of the Sokolowski quote to speak to Phenomenology which concluded with, “…They are not new information,but even if not new, they can still be important and illuminating, because we often are very confused about just such trivialities and necessities.” Similarly, and I am a sucker for a good quotation, the section itself concluded with Einstein’s remark on Relativity and despite being an article on the comparative qualities of research methods, I found myself smiling.

The Discourse Analysis introduction then followed. Discourse Analysis was labeled as having its roots in linguistic studies, literary criticisms, and semiotics. Its researcher utilize a careful study of language and as Gee attributes to it, the “seven ‘building tasks’ of language” to do achieve success with the method. The main idea, then, of the method is to see how language is affected by and itself alters cultural practices and norms.

Lastly, Grounded Theory was introduced. The article placed its roots in sociology, wherein the idea is that of meaning being derived through continual social interactions. Grounded Theory does not come into a research question with a theory in hand, but rather a question to which a theory emerges based solely, as much as possible, on the data collected for that research. Much like Discourse Analysis’s seven building tasks for language, Grounded Theory has “‘six C’s'” to help codify social processes to develop theories.

Once the three methods have been given brief, individual, introductions, Starks opens up the comparisons. This being an actual comparative study, the posing of the research into how physicians respond to a particular issue gave all of the conceptual nature of this article some solidity. The nature of the sampling choices between the three methods was initially discussed. Phenomenology, despite the potential for further and more broadly recognized data, chooses to suffice with up to only 10 participants. Discourse Analysis could use not only any particular sample size to fit the needs of the prompt, but also interestingly any particular sample population. As the article points out, it could be one person compared to multiple written sources, or it could be a large body of individuals. Of Grounded Theory, the sample size is entirely dependent on simply whether the study has concluded or not. Until GT’s data saturation has taken place in which the researcher can take nothing more from new subjects toward the research question, the number of participants will continue to increase.

The next section was Data Collection. The article’s actual discussion centered around doctors and patients, and utilized interviews with the doctors to fill out each research method. It stands to reason, then, that the mode for all three methods and largely that of qualitative research in general, is the interview. The difference is then in the approach to language. With DA, it is about parsing out the meaning of the words themselves and neither the interviewer or the interviewee are seen as being on the same page. With the other two it is about parsing out the experience, and understanding that the words speak for themselves. Further sections on Coding and Process were discussed.

Lastly, the authors tie the article together and convert the conceptual into the practical by comparing the methods against the physician-based research question. Each method’s section began with a qualifying factor to its approach. The phenomenological approach sought to contextualize the physician’s experience with something difficult and uncertain like prostate cancer screenings within the larger realm of doctor-patient relationship. Within Discourse Analysis the language between doctor and patient helped to clarify on a physician’s roles as they are constructed socially in those spaces. Lastly, Grounded Theory was used to create a theory based on these cancer screenings to determine what leads patients to discuss them with the doctors, as well as why. Although the purpose of the article is not to try to get any single researcher to approach the same research question three different ways, it does lay out how any gap in research up to that point may be filled with any of these three methods.

As someone coming from a comparative literature undergrad, I enjoyed this article. For one thing, as I mentioned previously, parts of this material came some time ago, and as I was interested in it then it was nice now to be reminded of some of the finer details. But more generally, I’ve always thought that through careful and intentional comparisons can we really better understand things. This is just one flushed out example, and I would not expect to find a nice selection of research methods practiced on a particular research question like this again, but having something like this at least allows one to see in what ways any question may be answered using different methods. The differences in approach, from what purpose they arose, who they choose to study and why, these are all things which honestly may differ, or they may not, as we saw how closely related these methods can be. Their proximity to each other in some areas and lack thereof in others does only serve to bolster my understanding and appreciation of these methods, as these were among some of my favorite of this semester.

Phenomenology, Discourse Analysis, and Grounded Theory

SUMMARY

This article gives a breakdown of the following qualative methodologies: Phenomenology, Discourse Analysis, and Grounded Theory. Within the artile, Starks and Trinidad gives a simplistic breakdown of these methodoligies as in defining them, explaining how data is collected, how to go about using the methods, and etc. This article really gets down to the nitty gritty and puts theory into practice (obviously my favorite saying at this point); these methodologies were put into use, using the same research topic in the health filed involoving Primary Care physiciand and prostate screen caring. Each methodology poses its own questions with t e set of data given for the research.

REBUTAL

I belive this article gives a great simplistic but informative breakdwon of these three methodologies, while also giving a great research to follow behind. Even though at this point of the semester, I already have an inderstanding of these methodologies, this article reassures me of my undersatnding. The authors explanations of this artcile, and the fact that it is short and sweet, made the reading even more enjoyable! I was a bit worried about the topic, due to being in the health field, but breakdown of the study made it so easy to understand. Quite honestly, this article is in my top 5 articles from this semester.

Turning Theory into Practice: Using this information in my own studies!

At this point in the semester, I am doing my last bits of cleanup for my research proposal paper! My main focus is to finish up my litearture review and breaking down the methodology I will be using (good old Grounded Theory!). I belive I will be using this article because it gives me an even better undersatnding of Grounded Theory and how to go about using it. My research topic does not having anything to do within the health field, but I am using the one of the methodologies and having more information to simplify it makes completing my proposal much easier.

Methodologies (Phenomenology, Discourse Analysis & Grounded Theory)

We are at almost at the finish line folks! We are coming to an end of Composition Studies: Research & Methodologies Spring 2020 semester! With all the different types of methods of writing research, three qualitative approaches have shown useful in health research: phenomenology, discourse analysis, and grounded theory.

Within this article, the authors were able to take the differences and similarities with close attention to their own historical development, goals, methods, audiences, and products. They will also be able to illustrate how these approaches can differ when applying them to the same data set.

As they are studying their goals, the authors also argue that by familiarizing themselves with details and the origins of these three approaches, they will be able to make better matches with their research question or questions and the goals they might have for the research topic.