Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Writing and Reviewing Manuscripts in the Multidimensional World of Qualitative Research

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Writing and Reviewing Manuscripts in the Multidimensional World of Qualitative Research

Article excerpt

Qualitative manuscripts occupy a multidimensional world and can vary by their "latitude" (where they are with respect to the humanities and sciences), "longitude" (where they are with respect to the length and number of data excerpts), and "altitude" (where they are with respect to the level of theorizing). In this article, I discuss these 3 dimensions as they relate to the field of family studies, delineate the options available to authors as they carry out their analyses and present their findings, and outline the criteria reviewers frequently use when they evaluate qualitative work. It is hoped that, with a map of the writing and reviewing process, authors will be better equipped to chart the coordinates of their qualitative manuscripts and reviewers will be better able to provide the kinds of recommendations that authors can profitably utilize.

Key Words: qualitative research, social context, theory construction.

Despite the abundance of guides on how to conduct qualitative research, considerable confusion exists over what constitutes good qualitative work. For example, some scholars believe qualitative research is distinctly different from, perhaps even antithetical to, quantitative research; others believe qualitative research and quantitative research are closely aligned. Some believe qualitative projects should develop abstract conceptual models; others believe qualitative projects should steer clear of such models (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005b; Mahoney & Goertz, 2006; Van Maanen, 1988).

Scholars occasionally stake out positions on these and other issues and insist that their own outlook is naturally correct. The reified methodological universe they inhabit can put them in direct conflict with other scholars who hold dissimilar but equally passionate views on qualitative work. If a member of the first group submits a manuscript for publication, and members of the second group happen to be the manuscript's reviewers (by which I mean the external readers), the manuscript is likely to be rejected. Such conflicts are not limited to instances in which quantitatively oriented reviewers are evaluating qualitative manuscripts; differences of opinion also exist among qualitatively oriented reviewers (e.g., see Gilgun, 1999; Goodwin & Horowitz, 2002).

The social world of qualitative research thus is a multidimensional world, characterized by diverse positions. Being effective in this world means knowing where a manuscript is located at any given time and deciding whether it should remain at that location or be moved to a presumably better location. If a manuscript is miles away from where reviewers think it should be, one is likely to run into publication trouble. This is why it helps to know the territory in which reviewers reside so as to anticipate what their opinions of one's work will likely be.

The geographic metaphor being used here is, of course, just another way of saying what every successful author knows, namely, that each journal is, in some respects, its own "thought community" (Zerubavel, 1997), with beliefs, values, norms, and expressive symbols that may or may not be similar to those of other journals. The metaphor is more than emblematic, however, in that it also brings to the fore two crucial questions. First, what are the most salient dimensions on which manuscripts are judged? Second, how do the various dimensions, taken together, establish the coordinates by which manuscripts can be located?

The objective of this article is to answer these questions. With special emphasis given to the thought community of the Journal of Marriage and Family (JMF), my aim is to provide a map of the writing and reviewing process in regard to qualitative family research. The ideas are based in part on what I have gleaned over the years as an author and reviewer of qualitative work, but they flow most directly from my recent experiences as a Deputy Editor for JMF. Serving as an editor has been especially informative in that it has given me the opportunity to pore over hundreds of manuscripts and reviews and see how scores of scholars evaluate submissions and revisions. …

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