Avoiding Traps in Member Checking
Carlson, Julie A., The Qualitative Report
Due to the variations of design and protocol in qualitative inquiry, researchers may inadvertently create problems for themselves in terms of the trustworthiness of their research. Miscommunication between participants and researchers can especially arise from the unique and unpredictable nature of human dynamics. In this paper I contend that such problems, or traps, can easily and at times unknowingly be set during the qualitative process known as member checking, threatening the researcher/participant relationship and possibly the stability of the study. In this paper, I examine member checking through five vignettes personally experienced. These vignettes are preceded by a presentation of common procedures for increasing trustworthiness, and are followed by several recommendations for avoiding the setting and triggering of member checking traps. Key Words: Narrative Inquiry, Qualitative, Member Checking, and Trustworthiness
Introduction and Background
It has been poignantly noted by novelist, John Steinbeck (1954), that humans are the "only kind of varmint[s]" (p. 159) that set their own traps, and then habitually catch themselves in them. His assertion provides an appropriate caution for novice researchers of both the qualitative and quantitative variety. There is ample recognition that unintentional omissions or commissions in research procedures, can happen quite readily, resulting in researchers creating their own problems and threatening the credibility of their own studies. This recognition is evidenced by the volumes of publications over the past several decades on how to conduct pristine disciplined inquiry, and the scrupulous research oversight to which doctoral students are commonly subjected. Fortunately, many researchers learn quickly and avoid making the same mistake twice. However, that was not always true in my early research experiences; hence, the impetus for this paper.
Self-laid traps are potentially more common among qualitative researchers due to the variations in research design, protocol, and paradigm. The qualitative world of research entails interpretive recommendations rather than systematic requirements (Merriam, 1998; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Ideas for increasing trustworthiness are presented as should do's rather than must do's. Collecting and analyzing narrative data, characteristic of many qualitative studies, presents a plethora of unique challenges. Narrative inquiry is concerned with human experience, thought, memory, and interpretation, all of which, by nature, are subject to continuous change and transformation (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). With all of its shape-shifting tendencies, narrative inquiry continually presents its researchers with surprises and new experiences that have the potential of threatening relationships with participants. A pivotal point where participant rapport can be especially tenuous is during a particular aspect of qualitative inquiry used for increasing trustworthiness known as member checking.
Stemming from my own early research experiences, the author contends that traps can easily and, at times, unknowingly be set during member checking, threatening the researcher/participant relationship and possibly the stability of the study. If triggered, these traps may instill a participant with feelings of disappointment, uncertainty, or embarrassment, or squelch the willingness of a participant to continue in the study.
The primary purpose of this paper is to identify traps associated with qualitative member checking through the examination of five personally experienced vignettes. These vignettes are preceded by a discussion of common qualitative procedures for increasing trustworthiness including member checking, and are followed by several recommendations for avoiding the setting and triggering of such traps.
Aspects of Trustworthiness
Qualitative inquirers mindfully employ …
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Publication information: Article title: Avoiding Traps in Member Checking. Contributors: Carlson, Julie A. - Author. Journal title: The Qualitative Report. Volume: 15. Issue: 5 Publication date: September 2010. Page number: 1102+. © 2009 Nova Southeastern University, Inc. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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