Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Keeping and Using Reflective Journals in the Qualitative Research Process

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Keeping and Using Reflective Journals in the Qualitative Research Process

Article excerpt

The problem of bias in qualitative research particularly is still debated in methodology texts and there is a lack of agreement on how much researcher influence is acceptable, whether or not it needs to be "controlled," and how it might be accounted for. Denzin (1994) refers to this as "the interpretive crisis" (p. 501). I chose to make my experiences, opinions, thoughts, and feelings visible and an acknowledged part of the research process through keeping reflective journals and using them in writing up the research. The aim of this paper is to show how reflective journals were used in engaging with the notion of creating transparency in the research process, and explore the impact of critical self-reflection on research design.

Key Words: Self-reflection, Qualitative Research, and Research Journals

Introduction

A reflexive approach to the research process is now widely accepted in much qualitative research. Researchers are urged to talk about themselves, "their presuppositions, choices, experiences, and actions during the research process" (Mruck & Breuer, 2003, p. 3). Reflective practice such as this aims to make visible to the reader the constructed nature of research outcomes, a construction that "originates in the various choices and decisions researchers undertake during the process of researching" (Mruck & Breuer, p. 3). Increasingly qualitative research, particularly that which is situated within feminist, critical, and poststructuralist paradigms is,

 
   ... presented in ways that make it clear how the researcher's own 
   experiences, values, and positions of privilege in various 
   hierarchies have influenced their research interests, the way they 
   choose to do their research, and the ways they choose to represent 
   their research findings. (Harrison, MacGibbon, & Morton, 2001, p. 
   325) 

Rather than attempting to control researcher values through method or by bracketing assumptions, the aim is to consciously acknowledge those values. Keeping self-reflective journals is a strategy that can facilitate reflexivity, whereby researchers use their journal to examine "personal assumptions and goals" and clarify "individual belief systems and subjectivities" (Ahern as cited in Russell & Kelly, 2002, p. 2). Whilst keeping a reflective journal is a common practice in qualitative research, particularly reflexive research (Etherington, 2004), there is relatively little literature on the use of reflective journals in the research process, and limited guidance for novice researchers as to the purposes of keeping a reflective journal from a methodological perspective and how to use their reflections as an integral part of the research process.

This aim of this paper is to show the reader how reflective journals were used in engaging with the notion of creating transparency in the research process, and how keeping a reflective journal can have concrete effects on the research design. The goal is to provide a research "trail" of gradually altering methodologies and reshaping analysis. My target audience is novice researchers, perhaps doctoral students, who have been advised to keep a research journal, but are not sure about the purpose of keeping such a journal or how they might use it in their research. The purpose is to share my experiences with, and uses of, reflective research journals so that novice researchers can more consciously engage in journaling and make it part of their research from the beginning, and also, to illustrate in a descriptive way how journals might be written and how they might be used.

The project in which I used reflective journals was a doctoral research study that explored how tertiary supervisors understand and practise assessment of the early childhood practicum. Participants were tertiary supervisors who supervised and assessed students enrolled in pre-service early childhood education courses offered by universities and/or institutes of Technical and Further Education (TAFE) in Australia. …

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