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Research in Practice, Article Critique Example

Pages: 18

Words: 5004

Article Critique

Qualitative research affords many advantages to the researcher. Although these same advantages have led to qualitative research being singled out for critique in times past, on the grounds that it is not sufficiently rigorous, the power of this flexible and dynamic research methodology has gained a great deal of recognition (Niaz 2009 p. 536, Polit and Beck 2009 pp. 258-260). Unlike quantitative research, qualitative research relies on emergent design, effectively designing over the course of the study, as the research is in progress (p. 259). The seminal advantage of this approach is that it is vastly more flexible and dynamic, and encourages the researcher not to impose conclusions on the data that are unfounded and unsupportable (pp. 259-260).

As Barbour (2007) elucidated, qualitative research answers very different kinds of questions from quantitative research (p. 11). Whereas quantitative research is concerned with tangible, discrete quantities and causes, qualitative research is concerned more with the ways in which any number of variables are interrelated by means of diverse mechanisms and integrating forces (p. 11). Qualitative research is much more concerned with how different factors and forces relate to each other, and how they are understood and interpreted by the individuals surveyed (pp. 11-12). Easily one of the biggest advantages of qualitative research is its emphasis on the relative and subjective nature of truth and experience (Barbour, 2007, p. 12). As Watson et al. (2008) explained, qualitative research is apt in studies wherein reality may safely be assumed to be, or treated as, “’fluid and plural’” (p. 5). Qualitative research is very localized in meaning: individuals have different interpretations even of the same event(s), based on their own personal experiences and the perspectives they bring to bear (p. 5).

As Ryan et al. (2007) explained, qualitative research tends to be “inductive/atheoretical or theory-generating research” (p. 740). Thus, rather than using an extant theory to direct and guide the study, the researchers in qualitative research are using the findings from the study to inform theory and further research. It is a precipitous inversion from the pattern seen with quantitative research, to be sure. Overall, this approach is termed grounded theory, and it is based on a view of the world wherein individuals construct their own interpretations of reality (p. 740). This theoretical lens or approach is called interpretivism, as well constructivism or the naturalistic point of view (p. 740).

Consequently, much of qualitative research takes place using such techniques as interviews and participant narration (Watson et al. 2008 pp. 24, 332). Interviews are seminal to the entire qualitative research endeavor, a staple technique, prized for their ability to deliver topical and informative data (Brod et al. 2009 p. 1265, Cluett and Bluff 2006 p. 223). The narrative research approach allows researchers to understand participants’ stories through the participants’ own eyes: in other words, the participants give their own subjective accounts pertaining to the data the researchers seek to elicit (Watson et al. 2008 p. 332). The aim here is to understand the “rich complexities” of participants’ stories: their own lived experience and what these lived experiences mean to them (p. 332). By applying these techniques, qualitative researchers are able to ascertain much useful and relevant information that would be undetectable by quantitative methods.

The research aims of the study conducted by Wilkes et al. (2011) were summarized as follows: “To explore the experiences of prospective adolescent fathers regarding their impending fatherhood” (p. 180). As the authors explained, this question is particularly of interest in order to address what has been, until recently at any rate, a lacuna in the literature: the perspectives and experiences of prospective adolescent fathers, neglected until recently (p. 181).

And with this new acknowledgement of prospective adolescent fathers, the authors explained, has come an expanded understanding of the role played by the young fathers in the lives of their children (Wilkes et al. 2011). As Wilkes et al. explained: “the consensus now is that the optimal resolution of adolescent pregnancy is just as dependent on the father as it is on the mother” (p. 181). A key ramification of this indicated by the literature is that in cases wherein the father is absent from the child’s life, and thus unable to help with the raising of the child, such children have substantially higher rates of suboptimal outcomes with respect to behavior and standards of living, including an increased tendency for sexual activity at an early age, with concomitant higher rates of pregnancy (p. 181). As a consequence, then, the role of the father is very important and of interest (Wilkes et al. 2011).

Another aspect of the research aims concerned the needs of adolescent fathers. Wilkes et al. (2011) explained that the general support service needs of prospective adolescent fathers are very well known: “education, psychological support, health care, legal representation, employment readiness, life skills and parenting skills training” (p. 181). However, the authors do note that there is considerable variance between individual prospective adolescent fathers, variance in terms of how urgently they may feel any one of these needs: for example, obtaining a job is the paramount concern for many young fathers, though how pressing this is may vary according to the individual and their circumstances (p. 181).

Many young fathers actually have a need to remain active and involved in the lives of their partners and their offspring (Wilkes et al. 2011 p. 181). Here, however, Wilkes et al. (2011) noted that some fathers have difficulty, inasmuch as they are uncertain as to how to become and stay involved in this manner. There may be familial issues or differences between the young father and his partner, the young mother. In quite a few cases, young fathers do not feel themselves ready to become fathers, even if they remain active in the lives of their partners and their children (p. 181). The study explains the research aims very well: to investigate the perspectives and experiences of prospective adolescent fathers. The reasons given as to why this is important make a great deal of sense, and, following Cottrell (2011), Wilkes et al. made their case well: they gave the evidence and arguments for their case, pointing out the needs of adolescent fathers and the risk factors that they face (pp. 167-169). In summation, then, the research aims would appear, then, to be well and truly justified.

Turning now to the research design, Wilkes et al. (2011) adopted a methodology that was thoroughly qualitative in nature. Qualitative research has the advantage of enabling the researcher to engage with the subjective perceptions and lived experiences of participants: the data that qualitative research generates have a much more human and experiential aspect to them, one that can lend itself to a much deeper, and arguably more transformative, kind of analysis (Ryan et al., 2007, pp. 738-739). The interview is a staple of qualitative methodology, and Wilkes et al. (2011) followed this convention with their use of in-depth interviews (Brod et al. 2009 p. 1265, Cluett and Bluff 2006 p. 223). As the authors explained, the purpose of these in-depth interviews was to “elicit narratives from prospective adolescent fathers” (p. 181). The essential idea is that it is through narration that experiential meaning and understanding are transferred (pp. 181-182). As Polit and Beck (2009) attested, conversational interviews are a natural tactic for qualitative researchers to use (p. 341). Conversational interviews are initiated by the interviewer with some questions of a more general nature, questions which essentially serve to encourage the interviewee to express themselves in a very conversational and narrative form (p. 341).

Wilkes et al. (2011) explained that the interviews they gave had two properties: they were “semi-structured” and “in-depth” (p. 182). The focus of the interviews was two-fold: firstly, the experiences of the prospective adolescent fathers in light of their impending fatherhood, and secondly, their own thoughts on the same (p. 182). Rather than collecting all their data at one stage of the pregnancies in question, Wilkes et al. chose to collect it over the course of the pregnancy, albeit with a particular emphasis on “the latter months of pregnancy” (p. 182). Thus, the interviews were semi-structured, in order to elicit free and open discourse on particular topics, which helped the young men to organize their thoughts and feelings (p. 182). The authors made mention of a number of difficulties and challenges in encouraging the young men to be open and expressive, including an apparent reluctance on the part of many of the prospective adolescent fathers to be open in this fashion due to an apparent lack of experience doing so (p. 182). The authors also explained that “prompts and probing questions were used to establish clarity and encourage amplifications of responses” (p. 182).

Wilkes et al. (2011) explained that they went to considerable lengths to put the young men at ease, developing a rapport with them in order to encourage them to open up and be expressive of thoughts, feelings and experiences (p. 182). This certainly demonstrates a sensitivity to the comfort and well-being of the participants that is laudable, and altogether in keeping with best practices in conducting qualitative research. After all, if the aim is to elicit truthful and useful data, particularly in narrative form, then one can hardly expect to obtain this from recalcitrant and reserved research participants.

Finally, in light of the emphasis on narrative, it would seem that Wilkes et al. (2011) adopted the correct approach: providing prompts and guiding the young men as deemed appropriate and necessary, in order to help them to open up and share their stories (p. 182). Again, this is thoroughly in keeping with the character and aims of qualitative research: to ascertain subjective information from the participants themselves, albeit information from which one can draw sound conclusions, even objective knowledge claims (Giorgi 2002 p. 11). In the final analysis, then, the approach taken would appear to be sound in all salient respects, entirely in keeping with the research aims of the study and best practices more generally.

Concerning the recruitment strategy, simple logic dictates that Wilkes et al. (2011) should restrict their research sample to young fathers-to-be. Indeed, and so they did: for the purposes of the study, “adolescent” or “young” was defined in terms of being aged 15 to 25 years. This is altogether in keeping with the definitions of adolescence by the Australian Federal Government (12-25 years of age) and the World Health Organization (10-24 years of age) (p. 182).

As to the recruitment of young fathers-to-be, this was achieved by means of flyers placed “at the antenatal clinic of a large maternity centre in a major metropolitan hospital in an Australian city with a high teenage birth rate” (p. 182). This strategy is not incontrovertibly the best: as Polit and Beck (2007) explained, the most effective means of recruitment is in person and face-to-face (p. 352). In fact, this method is “usually more effective than solicitation by a telephone call or a letter” (p. 352). Indeed, one problem of recruiting in the manner that Wilkes et al. (2011) did is that it could exert a selective influence on the study that would have unexpected ramifications. What, if anything, might distinguish prospective adolescent fathers who reply to such an ad over those that do not? To be sure, one cannot know without investigating this query through research—and this is precisely the point. That said, soliciting by flyer advertisement is not necessarily an injudicious means of recruitment. As King and Horrocks (2010) explained, public advertising can be very effective, if the location is well-chosen and the flyer well-designed (p. 34).

Other aspects of the recruitment strategy ought also to be discussed. Interested candidates made use of the contact information on the flyers in order to contact the research team and initiate proceedings (Wilkes et al. 2011). Again, this does raise some questions in terms of the possible selective pressures and biases. The researchers did encounter considerable difficulties in recruitment, difficulties which necessitated the extension of the period of recruitment on more than one occasion, such that in all, the period of recruitment ultimately reached some 12 months in length (p. 182). This strongly suggests a flawed methodology of recruitment, and mitigates against the central approach of the recruitment methodology. Wilkes et al. (2011) utilized a recruitment strategy that was rather passive. To be sure, it is to their credit that their research time focused on finding interview times that were convenient and doable for the prospective adolescent fathers, but a more active strategy might have been more successful. Other options include working through gatekeepers, individuals who have access to the desired study population, and ‘snowballing’, using a small number of participants to generate recommendations for other participants (King and Horrocks 2010 pp. 30-34).

The process of data collection appears to have been quite thorough and comprehensive (Wilkes et al. 2011 p. 182). This was the semi-structured, in-depth interview: a means of data collection that provided some structure and encouraged the young men to open up and be expressive regarding their thoughts, feelings and experiences (p. 182). As seen, the use of some structure was probably a sound decision: the researchers aimed to collect the data in question in a narrative, story-telling form, and for the data to be useful they had to address particular topics in the young men’s lived experiences, thoughts, and feelings. This methodology can be very advantageous in eliciting more information (Wengraf 2001 p. 23). Moreover, as also noted, the young men were often reluctant to be expressive, and had to be encouraged to express themselves to the researchers who interviewed them.

The authors indicated a very meet consideration of the relationship between the researchers and the participants. Upon recruitment, all of the potential participants “were offered the choice of a male or female interviewer”, to which all replied by indicating their preference for a female interviewer (Wilkes et al. 2011 p. 182). This is a good example of undertaking due sensitivity towards the expressed preferences of research participants—in fact, of giving them the option, of asking them to express a preference (p. 182). The fact that all of them had an actual preference also indicates that the findings can be taken with a higher level of confidence, given greater rapport between interviewer and participant (Wengraf 2001 p. 23). People respond differently to different people, and this remains true of participants and researchers in a research setting (Polit and Beck 2007 pp. 399-400). In such a situation, anything that might put a research participant at ease, without compromising the ethics or aims of the study, ought to be encouraged (pp. 399-400). And it may rightly be expected that with greater participant ease comes more openness and willingness to be expressive.

Rigorous data analysis consists of using a thorough methodology to comb through the data in order to ascertain relevant themes and findings (Porter 2007 pp. 82-83). Care must be taken not to screen out or discard pertinent information, whether it supports a hypothesis, undermines it, or has no effect one way or the other: the researcher must be careful, diligent, and above all, thorough (Polit and Beck 2009 p. 486). The data collected through the interviews were analyzed, Wilkes et al. (2011) explained, with an eye towards ascertaining “recurrent and common ideas and issues pertaining to their experiences and perspectives of impending fatherhood” (p. 182). These seem like sound criteria for a rigorous and thorough data analysis: the focus is on finding themes that are recurrent, and describing them with all due thoroughness and richness (Onwuegbuzie and Leech 2007 pp. 243-245). Such themes ought, indeed, to enable the researchers to ascertain much of the character of the thoughts, feelings, and lived experiences of these prospective adolescent fathers. However, this is the only sentence in the relevant section about data analysis: thus, from this one section, it is not clear whether or not the data were truly analyzed in a rigorous fashion, with all due thoroughness and care.

That said, with regards to the findings presented by Wilkes et al., these do give pertinent and relevant indications of the amount of thoroughness with which the authors subjected their data to all due analysis. The authors explained that indeed, they had identified four significant themes from the research data: “mixed feelings, work and money, being a father figure and future plans” (p. 183). Concerning the first theme, that of mixed feelings, Wilkes et al. (2011) explained that they had found that all of the prospective adolescent fathers were “willing to face the responsibilities associated with fatherhood,” and yet were also feeling “ill-prepared for the challenges that lay ahead” (p. 183). This indicates a thorough data analysis for this theme indeed. With regards to the second theme, work and money, Wilkes et al. (2011) found that this was an issue for all seven of their participants, four of whom were unemployed (p. 183). Financial stress and concerns, as well as time-related issues pertaining to work were significant concerns (p. 183). Again, rigorous analysis appears to have been observed with regards to this key and important theme as well (Porter 2007, Tappen 2010 p. 153).

With regards to the third theme, Wilkes et al. (2011) found that all seven participants were agreed with regard to the conviction that “babies and children need to have a father figure” (p. 183). Moreover, all seven expressed a readiness to fulfill this key and important role for their children. They also expressed a desire to remain active fathers, even in the event that their relationships with the mothers of their prospective offspring were to founder and break off (p. 183). Again, thorough data analysis procedures seem to have been followed here. With regards to future plans, Wilkes et al. (2011) found that different participants had different answers. For some, the future was relatively well-planned and clear: they knew what they planned to do. For other prospective fathers, however, the future was not at all clear, and they were in a situation of having to take things one day at a time (p. 183). Here, a common theme was that the pregnancy and anticipated offspring had altered future plans for all of the young men, including such things as “job training, social life and even getting new jobs” (p. 183). Again, as with the other themes, this indicates thorough data analysis and the observation of a sound methodology (Porter 2007).

A portion of the findings of Wilkes et al. (2011) has been discussed above. In the abstract, the authors summarized their findings as indicating “mixed emotions and many challenges” for their research participants (p. 180). This summarization touched on the participants’ desire to be good fathers for their offspring, as well as their very real fears and concerns that they would falter or in some way prove unequal to the task (p. 180). With regards to the young men’s basic material circumstances, the authors explained that all seven participants were still in relationships with their partners, and for all of them the anticipated offspring would be their first (p. 182). The material circumstances of the participants varied considerably, with one married to the prospective mother and living with her, while “three were unmarried and cohabiting with their partners, two lived with their parents and one with other relatives” (pp. 182-183). Three participants were employed full-time; the other four were unemployed (p. 183).

Returning to the four important themes identified in the course of the research, with regards to the first theme, mixed feelings, Wilkes et al. (2011) were very clear: the young men were all, without exception, possessed of the will to be active fathers for their children (p. 183). However, their mixed feelings had much to do with feeling unprepared, specifically “that they had not received any education in school that prepared them for becoming a father” (p. 183). A key response here was the opinion that the schools needed to have “better sex and baby education… [in order to] help prospective young fathers” (p. 183). The young men’s own feelings on the subject of their impending fatherhood were also quite mixed, inasmuch as they felt everything from shock and fear to excitement (p. 183).

Wilkes et al. (2011) explained that the young men all had mixed feelings: all were desirous of being good and active fathers; however, they felt unprepared, because they had not received adequate training and education in the context of their schooling endeavors. All of them expressed the opinion that schools should be more active in promoting awareness of these crucial topics and helping young people who were experiencing them, an opinion that makes a great deal of sense in light of the other findings and the young men’s self-reported experiences.

With regards to the second theme, work and money, this was a very important concern for all seven of the participants. An awareness of the financial and pecuniary responsibilities of caring for a dependent offspring engendered a certain fear in all of the participants, namely that they would be unable to discharge these responsibilities with all alacrity (Wilkes et al. 2011 p. 183). Financial stress at the current time, as well as fears of financial stress in the future, were reported by the participants: all were concerned about money (p. 183). Regarding jobs, some four participants were unemployed, as previously mentioned (Wilkes et al. 2011 p. 183). An interesting finding here is that all of these four expressed “feeling they could not work because work would reduce the amount of time they would be able to spend with their girlfriends” (p. 183). Concerning the three that were employed full-time, owing to their comparative youth and lack of relevant experience, as well as the nature of their work, they were not highly paid and thus feared that their earnings would prove inadequate to support their incipient families (p. 183). It would seem that Wilkes et al. were quite thorough: they identified the young men’s fears and concerns, as well as some of the reasons for them. Excerpts of the young men’s responses were given that provided attestation for the conclusions described by Wilkes et al. (2011). Again, here too the methodology and analyses of Wilkes et al. stand up to scrutiny (Porter 2007, Sorrell and Redmond 1995 pp. 1117-1119).

The third key theme was that of being a father figure, and it is here that the findings of Wilkes et al. (2011) are particularly important, relevant, and insightful. All seven participants expressed a desire to be father figures for their offspring, and “insight into the fact that their relationships may have future problems, may falter and even may not last” (p. 183). However, these insights did not diminish the desire of the prospective adolescent fathers to be active father figures for their offspring (p. 183). Another particularly insightful finding was that prospective fatherhood led the young men to consider their own experiences with their fathers (Wilkes et al. 2011). As Wilkes et al. explained, the experience inspired them to “reflect on the relationships they had with their own fathers and the ways they had been fathered themselves” (p. 183). A key theme here was a desire “to be better fathers, to avoid some of the pitfalls their own fathers had fallen into” (pp. 183-184). One young man reported that he had had problems with alcohol consumption, but had quit drinking alcohol altogether in response to his partner challenging him by pointing out what impact it might have on their anticipated offspring (p. 184). This individual also explained that he had cut back on smoking (p. 184). Again, Wilkes et al. were very clear in elucidating their findings.

With regards to the fourth and final theme, future plans, Wilkes et al. (2011) were again very clear: some of the young men had very clear future plans, whilst others did not (p. 184). All had been inspired to give more thought to the future as a result of the pregnancy, however, and this had led them to be much more thoughtful about their lives and their habits. One common theme was a desire to live in a more healthy fashion, in order to set a good example for their offspring: “three out of seven of the prospective fathers were smokers with two of them trying to quit before the baby was born” (p. 184). These are quite thorough statements of findings indeed, and evince considerable analysis.

From the above, it seems very clear indeed that all due rigour has been observed in the study. The authors were quite thorough in collecting the pertinent evidences, in analyzing them, and in arriving at conclusions as a result (Boswell and Cannon 2010 p. 348). The findings were elucidated at length, and well-supported by relevant evidences; all methodological rigor was observed in order to ascertain the most parsimonious and well-attested claims (Brockopp and Hastings-Tolsma 2003, Tashakkori and Teddlie 2003). Thus, the assessment of the pertinent evidences and data was relevant to the aims of the study, a requirement seminal to the effective practice of transparency and validity in qualitative research (Macnee and McCabe 2008). Consequently, it would appear indeed that this study was quite rigorous, and proffers an example of many best practices in action (Hays and Singh 2012, Heppner et al. 2008 p. 294).

Concerning professional, legal, and ethical obligations, the evidence indicates that these were indeed respected. The ethical principles, Wilkes et al. (2011) explained, were derived from those “outlined in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research”, with a cardinal emphasis on “individual autonomy, research merit, fair treatment in recruiting participants and distribution of the benefits and burdens related to the study” (p. 182). The ethics were approved by both the university and the hospital, informed consent procedures were followed, and the option of free counseling was extended to all participants (p. 182). The study evinces an adherence to the ethical norms of best practices in nursing, particularly with respect to the caution observed in adhering to beneficence, obtaining informed consent and avoiding confusion of roles (Streubert et al. 2011, Thompson et al. 2006, Watson et al. 2008 p. 283). These things are foundational to the proper practice of nursing research, as attested by Holloway and Wheeler (2009).

The value of the research to clinical practice is considerable. For one thing, as Wilkes et al. (2011) explained, it is of considerable interest for evaluating the needs of prospective adolescent fathers themselves (p. 186). The challenges faced by these young men are considerable, and so are their corresponding needs. This research casts further light on the professional understanding of the needs of young expectant fathers, which can lead to appropriate changes to better meet these needs in clinical practice (p. 186). It could also lead to a renewed emphasis on proper education on topics pertaining to sexual intercourse and to parenting in the schools. Finally, a very important ramification is the value of the research towards encouraging young expectant fathers to “engage in discussions about fathering and fatherhood with their own fathers and grandfathers” (p. 186). This research, then, has broad-spectrum ramifications for clinical practice and for society, and can be expected to be of considerable interest to young fathers. Importantly, it provides crucial insights towards better meeting the needs of this long-neglected but socially important group.

References

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BROCKOPP, D. Y., and HASTINGS-TOLSMA, M. T. (2003). Fundamentals of Nursing Research. 3rd ed. London: Jones and Bartlett.

BROD, M., ET AL. (2009). Qualitative research and content validity: developing best practices based on science and experience. Quality of Life Research, 18, pp. 1263-1278. DOI 10.1007/s11136-009-9540-9

CLUETT, E. R., and BLUFF, R., eds. (2006). Principles and practice of research in midwifery. 2nd ed. London: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

COTTRELL, S. (2011). Critical thinking skills: developing effective analysis and argument. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

GIORGI, A. (2002). The question of validity in qualitative research. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 33(1), pp. 1-18.

HAYS, D. G., and SINGH, A. A. (2012). Qualitative inquiry in clinical and educational settings. New York: The Guilford Press.

HEPPNER, P. P., ET AL. (2008). Research design in counseling. 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.

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ONWUEGBUZIE, A. J., and LEECH, N. L. (2007). Validity and qualitative research: An oxymoron? Quality & Quantity, 41, pp. 233-249. DOI 10.1007/s11135-006-9000-3

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