The purpose of this post is to…
How many times have I taught public relations writing students to begin an assignment by completing this sentence fragment? Countless times.
I found it comforting that my study of advanced qualitative research methods led me back to this today. Writing qualitative research is new to me, and very soon, it will dominate my life as I work on my dissertation. I can’t wait! I am ready to get started. But for now, I must learn how to write qualitative research.
I have become interested in phenomenology, the purpose of which is to reduce individual experiences with a phenomenon to a description of the universal essence, to grasp the very nature of the thing (John W. Creswell, 2007). Lately, I have been concentrating on how to write phenomenological studies. Or, as the guru of qualitative research writing, Harry F. Wolcott, calls it, “writing up” qualitative research.
Creswell provided yet another useful lesson today, this time on organizing a research manuscript. At this stage of my development, guidance on phenomenological structure is most helpful. Creswell outlines six chapters:
- Introduction and statement of topic and outline. This is a good place to state, “the purpose of this phenomenological qualitative research study is…”
- Review of the relevant literature.
- Conceptual framework of the model.
- Presentation of data.
- Summary, implications, and outcomes.
Another expert I am studying is Sharan B. Merriam. Like Creswell, Wolcott, et al., she says that there is no standard format for reporting qualitative research. Merriam does offer helpful advice for getting organized before you write: determine the audience, select a focus, and outline the report.
Wolcott offers his own helpful guidance for the qualitative researcher who is staring at a blank word processor screen: develop a writing plan. His approach is simple:
- Write a statement of purpose. Here it comes — “the purpose of this study is ….”
- Outline or simply list the major topics and the sequence in which you intend to introduce them.
- Determine the basic story you are going to tell, who is to do the telling, and the representational style you intend to follow for bringing the observer and the observed together.
Wolcott adds that the question of authorial voice is critical in qualitative research. Because the qualitative researcher is ordinarily an integral part of the study, descriptive accounts can be written in first person.
As I read my assignments today, I kept thinking of a passage in the text I use to teach PR writing. In his book, Public Relations Writing, Thomas H. Bivens introduces a wonderfully adaptable frame work for making a reasoned argument, the motivated sequence (p. 50). Bivens says this common tactic used by persuaders has five steps:
- Attention. Open with a bang to get the attention of your audience. I suggest you also include this: “the purpose of this is to….”
- Need. Establish the importance of the topic to the audience. State the problem, or the research problem that motivates the qualitative researcher.
- Satisfaction. Present a legitimate solution to the problem.
- Support. Offer support for your solution while pointing out the weakness of alternatives.
- Action. Call for action on your message.
While this structure is not entirely appropriate for writing up qualitative research, I believe there are similarities between the motivated sequence and structures of qualitative writing. I strongly believe that students and working professionals alike, who follow the motivated sequence in writing memos, proposals, requests for funding, etc., will be much more successful.
My dilemma now is to find my way as a writer of qualitative research. I believe that my training in communication/public relations and years of writing experience will help me.
I do know one thing for sure: I will begin each work by saying, the purpose of this is to ….”
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