Thursday, January 17, 2008

Reading :: Qualitative Research Design

Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach
By Joseph A. Maxwell

I've been meaning to read Qualitative Research Design for some time. Not only have I seen it cited, students of mine have recommended it to me as a good introductory book for grad courses in qualitative research (I usually use one of Creswell's books). So I finally got to it over the break. And I'm glad I did. The book isn't comprehensive by any means, but it's a good, solid, compact, clearly written discussion of how to design a qualitative research study.

The book was written in 1996 [Note: The above Amazon link is to the second edition, published in 2004], back when qualitative methods were less accepted in the social sciences, so Maxwell spends portions of each chapter discussing how to argue for qualitative research designs to skeptical audiences. This gets a little wearying. But he also lays out the basic components -- purposes, conceptual context, research questions, methods, and validity (p.5) -- and methodically goes through these components and their relationships. He also includes solid, cumulative exercises in each chapter, something that should benefit students at undergrad and grad levels. (The exercises should also help scholars who are reading up on qualitative research for the first time, and cumulatively they lead to a developed QR project.)

The chapter on methods is a bit thin, but I think that's by design. It's not feasible to go into much depth on the basic methods, so we get a high-level overview with cursory descriptions of data collection and analysis methods; readers will have to look elsewhere for descriptions detailed enough to actually implement a study. Fortunately, Maxwell recommends texts for us to read on these issues, particularly Miles and Huberman's excellent text on qualitative analysis.

The final chapter is on research proposals, and Maxwell reminds us here of what I always like to tell my students: your research design is an argument, and you need to be able to identify your claims and demonstrate how your research decisions will support those claims. While being sensitive to the differences of proposals in different fields and written to different agencies, Maxwell gives us good advice and includes a sample proposal.

Finally, Maxwell provides an appendix of recommended resources for those who want to read further.

Overall, a really impressive text. I borrowed this one from the library, but now I'll have to buy my own copy.

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