Questions and more questions

The best and worst thing about doing qualitative research is people. Unlike doing an experiment in a science lab where your participants are chemicals, and unlikely to talk back to you, in qualitative research your participants are people and pretty much guaranteed to answer back. Which is of course exactly what you want to happen. It’s just that sometimes you won’t get the answers you think you will. And then the question is, “are you asking the right questions?”

As we start writing ethics applications for our LISRA projects the questions about “interview questions” are starting to arise. One of the greatest things about having a collaborative group to work with is the ability to tap into different knowledge and perspectives. It’s also one of the most challenging things as well. And as researchers we need to be challenged.

For our team the research problem is finding out the research problem is finding out about non-library user immigrants’ information experience. But the tricky thing is that we are exploring a relatively new concept – information experience. As this was something new to most of the group they did one of the most helpful things colleagues can do – asked us to explain what we meant, and what our interview questions were going to explore in relation to IX. Sometimes these questions, that should be easy to answer are the most difficult.

As researchers and research teams, we can get trapped in bubbles, where we all speak the same language and think in similar patterns. While this makes things easier, I think you can sometimes be less rigorous. So that’s why being asked ‘why are you asking this?’ is a great thing to hear, because why are we asking this? What do we actually want to know? We know what we want to know, but are the questions we are asking going to let us know what we want to know? Sorry it’s all getting a bit abstract!

The crux of the matter is, sometimes before you go out into the wide world and ask your participants questions, you need someone else, a colleague, a friend or even yourself, to answer them, and to tell you what they think the likely answers will be, This makes you step all the way back to your research problem, so you can step forward with the right participant questions. Because as much as we might like research to be a linear process sometimes, sometimes looping all the way back to the beginning is sometimes needed. And that’s what makes collaboration so valuable.

By Kathleen Smeaton

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