Although qualitative research methods have grown increasingly popular,confusion exists over how their quality can be assessed and the idea persists that qualitative research is of lesser value when compared to quantitative research. Quantitative and qualitative research have different historical roots and are based on very different concepts, yet the dominance of positivist ideas about what constitutes good quality, valid research in psychology has often led qualitative research to be evaluated according to criteria, that are designed to fit a very different paradigm. Inevitably, the diverse perspectives which use qualitative methods and their differing views on how people should be studied mean there is disagreement and controversy over how quality should be evaluated. Despite this, it is seen as important to develop common criteria which allow the quality of qualitative research to be evaluated on its own terms.
It sometimes seems that the entire area of psychology is characterised by the friction between words and numbers. When I first considered a career in psychology, as a UK student, I was faced with the confusing choice of psychology as either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science. The former spoke to me of enticing social science research, such as interpersonal attraction, whilst the latter screamed scary statistics – avoid, avoid, avoid! However, in the years that have passed since I had this decision to make, psychology has increasingly come to be defined as a science and the presiding impression is that the discipline takes a distinct pride in its commitment to numbers. This is perhaps the natural outcome of living in a world which dictates that evidence counts for everything, a trend which is keenly reflected in the media’s thirst for statistics-based research stories. However, I hear you ask, what has happened to the fate of “words” during this numerical domination of psychology?
This is where the field of qualitative research enters into the equation, with a number of researchers having elected to favour data gathering in the form of words, pictures or objects rather than through the standard route of numbers and statistics. However, there has long been a sense of qualitative research as the “poor relation” of quantitative efforts. The question is whether qualitative research is still somehow perceived as being of lesser value than quantitative research, and how this affects publication possibilities?