Issues in Cross-Cultural Comparative Research

By Harrison, Tracie; Parker, Ramona Ann | Research and Theory for Nursing Practice, December 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Issues in Cross-Cultural Comparative Research


Harrison, Tracie, Parker, Ramona Ann, Research and Theory for Nursing Practice


It is the purpose of this article to describe the methodological issues when designing qualitative cultural comparative studies, which may be used to address health disparities. Overall, two broad types of comparative studies were found: primary and secondary comparative studies. Methodological issues to consider when designing primary studies were reviewed. The main areas discussed in this article relate to sampling and study purpose, sample boundaries, theoretical context, concept development, analogous comparisons, and systematic comparisons. Nurses are in a prime position to pose the qualitative research questions needed to address health disparities within their clinical settings. It is suggested that awareness of the method types and issues might inspire further qualitative comparative work.

Keywords: cross-cultural comparison; qualitative research; health disparities; research methodology; comparative design; ethnography

According to the National Institutes of Health, Institute of Nursing Research (USDHHS, 2007), studies explaining health disparities among many of our nation's subpopulations are needed. Although advances have been made in many areas, reasons for health disparities in areas such as disability outcomes remain unexplained (Harrison, 2009; Tripp-Reimer, Coi, Kelley, & Enslein, 2001). Qualitative research may provide the methodological means for developing the foundational knowledge base needed, but to develop theories of health disparities, the qualitative methods used for group comparisons need careful consideration.

When quantitative researchers compare quantitative data, the assumption is that the data is representative, somewhat like a microcosm, of the groups from which it was sampled. When qualitative researchers make comparisons of data, it is from nonrandomized samples. The evidence used for comparisons are not generalizable-but they may be transferable (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The qualitative data compared should be carefully crafted to complete a picture of a phenomenon of interest within each group to thoroughly understand the phenomenon before making comparison (Alasuutari, 1995; Morse, 2003). If this is not considered carefully, a critical advisor might pose the question: What was the point of making comparisons of two obviously different nonrepresentative samples? When constructed well, qualitative comparative data may be highly useful for public health intervention because it may describe the context as well as the range of experiences leading to health disparities. The purpose of this article is to discuss the issues researchers might consider when designing studies using qualitative comparisons. In keeping with the purpose of this article, the types of qualitative comparisons found in the extant literature are briefly described. Next, issues researchers might consider prior to designing comparative studies are discussed.

TYPES OF QUALITATIVE COMPARISONS

Based on a review of the extant literature in PubMed ( n = 1,015), CINAHL ( n = 16), and Anthropology Plus ( n = 3) over the past 5 years using the terms "qualitative method" and "comparison," a total of 20 manuscripts met the criteria of being English language, research-based, narrative comparisons between two distinct samples and were available for review. From this review, it is suggested that two broad types of methodological comparisons were published-primary and secondary comparative studies. These categories were considered beneficial groupings because they inspired consideration of different issues for designing qualitative comparative studies, which will be reviewed after a brief discussion of the comparative types. They may also provide researchers with ideas for future comparative studies using qualitative methods.

SECONDARY COMPARATIVE STUDIES

The first type, secondary comparative studies ( n = 3 out of 20), were comparisons of studies where data collection was completed for a different purpose in at least one of the two samples. …

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