Facilitating Coherence across Qualitative Research Papers

Article excerpt

Bringing the various elements of qualitative research papers into coherent textual patterns presents challenges for authors and editors alike. Although individual sections such as presentation of the problem, review of the literature, methodology, results, and discussion may each be constructed in a sound logical and structural sense, the alignment of these parts into a coherent mosaic may be lacking in many qualitative research manuscripts. In this paper, four editors of The Qualitative Report present how they collaborate with authors to facilitate improvement papers' coherence in such areas as co-relating title, abstract, and the paper proper; coordinating the method presented with method employed; and calibrating the exuberance of implications with the essence of the findings. The editors share exercises, templates, and exemplary articles they use to help mentor authors to create coherent texts. Key Words: Qualitative Research, Writing, and Coherence

When reading, reviewing, and editing qualitative research papers, we take great care to attend to the paper's coherence (n.d.). From such a perspective we focus on the logical interconnection, consistency, or unity of the various parts of the paper and work with our authors to facilitate greater alignment of these elements to create a cohesive and logically constructed account (Chenail, 1997).

Bringing these various parts of qualitative research papers into a coherent textual pattern presents challenges for the authors and us. Although we may find individual sections such as presentation of the problem, review of the literature, methodology, results, and discussion to be constructed in a sound logical and structural sense, the alignment of these parts into a coherent mosaic across the span of the paper is lacking in many qualitative research manuscripts we receive.

Some of these coherency problems seem to come from very natural and common practices in writing. As authors we generally compose papers section by section and, when we are satisfied with the text of that particular section, we move on the next one and the next one until the paper is completed. Even when we review and revise our papers we may continue to reflect upon the paper from a section-focused perspective only. This style of reflection has its strengths, but it can also keep us as authors from grasping the big picture of the paper so as to judge whether or not the whole manuscript holds together or if the ideas of one section do not seem to agree or align with information conveyed in another section.

Another challenge in maintaining cohesion throughout one of these papers is the complexity of re-presenting the results of a qualitative research project in a paper-length form. There are many anticipated elements which must be covered in a scholarly qualitative research paper and each of these elements has its own prescriptions for quality (e.g., Ballinger, 2004; Critical Appraisal Skills Programme, 2002; Drisko, 1997; Elliott, Fischer, & Rennie, 1999; Russell & Gregory, 2003). Attention to the details within each of these sections may keep an author from examining the relationships between each section so as to manage the alignment and logical unity across the manuscript as whole.

The flexible nature of qualitative research design with its emphasis on emergent, interactive, or systemic approaches (Maxwell, 2005) can also contribute to problems of coherence when it comes time to re-present the focus/problem, literature, research questions, methodology, procedures, findings, and discussion in a paper or dissertation. Although the researcher may make macro or micro changes to the procedures as proposed and may even change the form and substance of the research questions themselves as new and interesting things are learned about the phenomenon, participants, or settings, these iterative acts to align these elements may lead to other parts of the overall study (e.g., review of the literature or statement of the problem) to come out of alignment. …