From the Editor
Often, qualitative research is not well understood. Many times, qualitative methods are equated with descriptive studies involving a handful of participants that have little methodological rigor. This is far from the truth. Qualitative studies are not simply descriptive studies. Qualitative studies come from strong theoretical traditions that apply rigorous methods. Commonly employed qualitative methods in speech-language pathology include grounded theory, ethnography, case studies, and discourse analysis, which I will briefly describe.
Grounded theory seeks to discover or generate theory from data (Creswell, 1998; Glaser & Strauss, 1967). In other words, the researcher does not start with a theory that she or he is trying to prove, but instead theory emerges through a systematic process of data collection and analysis. Researchers who apply this method study how individuals act or react to a phenomenon of interest. For example, the researcher may wish to understand the cultural and communicative contexts in which African American parents raise their children. To accomplish this, the researcher interviews African American parents and caregivers from a range of backgrounds. The number of participants interviewed is not predetermined; rather, the researcher interviews parents until saturation is achieved (or when no new information is gained from participants) and a theory can be generated.
Ethnography focuses on describing and interpreting a social or cultural group or system. Typically, the goal of ethnography is to describe the group members from their own perspective by observing their behaviors, customs, and ways of life (Patton, 2003). To achieve this understanding, the researcher observes the group over an extended period of time, typically through participant observation, during which the observer is immersed in the lives of the individuals he or she is studying. Data are collected through various means, including interviews, document reviews, and field notes from observations. Ways With Words (Heath, 1983), which describes the interrelationships of language, communication and culture in three communities, is a classic example of an ethnography that applies directly to the field of speech-language pathology.
Case study is another method that involves the investigation of a "bounded system" that may include an individual, an event or activity (such as therapy), or program. The case or cases are selected purposefully, and data are systematically collected through observations, interviews, document reviews, artifacts, and audio recordings. Often, the purpose of the case study in a qualitative tradition is to go beyond the case to develop or apply a theoretical perspective (Creswell, 1998).
Discourse analysis refers to the study of social interaction through detailed analysis of spoken or written language (Damico & Simmons-Mackie, 2003). It is designed to study the relationship among what is said or written, the discursive process, and the social context in which the communication occurs. It may be used, for example, to study how clients' voices are represented in models of evidence-based practices (Kovarsky, 2008).
Each of these qualitative traditions employs rigorous approaches to selecting participants and coding and analyzing data. Means of establishing reliability and validity of qualitative studies also exist and must be applied; however, the methods for establishing such reliability and validity differ from quantitative methods.
Given the potential contributions that qualitative methods can make to the field, AJLSP welcomes the submission of studies that address questions best answered through use of these methods. Through such studies, we can achieve a better understanding of the communicative contexts our clients experience at home or in schools, clinics, and hospitals while interacting with key individuals in their lives.