Sunday, December 15, 2013

Participant Summaries

This weekend I spent several hours writing individual summaries for each of my participants for two purposes: 1) to send to the respective participants for the purpose of member checking, and 2) to use in Chapter 4.  This writing process amazed me by how little and how much I could write.  Because these were summaries of the participants and not any theory, I tried my best to describe them without hypothesizing or forming a ground theory.  In this sense, I wrote little in the way of my findings based on any previous conceptual models or theories. 

However, I produced a total of about fifteen pages that could be inserted into Chapter 4.  This is a bit alarming.  These fifteen pages mostly serve as single-case analyses.  There is no cross-case analysis, which is where most of the grounded theory is emerging.  I fear that I leave this fifteen pages as they are, which I most likely will not, the scholarly reader may want me to get to the point. 

Writing these fifteen pages or so of participant summaries show how I could have written small case studies on each.  There were a few participants that seemed to have provided me enough data for a single case study, and there were a couple that did not.  In this sense, the writing process has helped me reflect on how I succeeded and failed in the data collection process.  For example, there was one participant who answered interview questions very succinctly.  Even during the time of the interview, I was not satisfied with the quality of his answers, but I felt like I would be pestering him by asking him to elaborate on nearly every question.  Even though I was able to get him to elaborate on a few key questions, this writing processes demonstrated that I should have been more aggressive.  However, this may have jeopardized any rapport I had with him.  Perhaps this is evidence of my newness to conducting qualitative interview.  One of my principles as a researcher is to respect my participants so they feel like active contributors to the research process.  I don't want them to feel like they are just regurgitating data for my benefit.

Another surprising element in this writing process is that I was able to identify at least three themes for each participant and describe them with bits of evidence from their blogs and interviews within a few pages.  I was quite happy that I was able to do this for the purposes of publishing in a journal with very strict limitations on word count.  However, I was a bit upset because I felt like that I could have written at least triple the amount of pages for most of the participants.  If I had done this, the single-case study reports would be around fifty pages.  That's fifty pages of description with little or no grounded theory and no cross-case analysis.

That reflection helped me to develop a strategy for tackling the monstrosity that can be Chapter 4.  The most important point of Chapter 4 is to describe my grounded theory in the cross-case analysis clearly with enough support and evidence from the single-case analyses.  I do not want to misdirect my report towards the unique themes that arose from each case.  There are enough cross-case patterns that answer my research questions that I need to focus on report on those to make my own case.

Finally, writing a summary for each of my participants is another example of how often I revisit my participants data.  Looking back at the minimum number of past visits after the first blog reading or interview, here is a rough count of the number of times I have read through the data for each participant:
  1. Skimming the blog data to make sure the participant met the criteria
  2. Reading through the blog data after the participant consented for the interview
  3. Selecting relevant parts of the blog to bring in to parts of the interview
  4. Copying, pasting, and organizing the blog data onto MS Word documents
  5. Copying, pasting, and organizing the interview survey data onto MS Word documents
  6. Transcribing and organizing the online video conferencing interview data onto MS Word documents
  7. Reading through the first part of interview answers to identify areas to follow up on in the second stage
  8. Reading through the second stage of interview answers to identify areas to follow up on in the third stage
  9. Reading through the third stage of interview answers to identify areas to follow up in the closing
  10. Reading though all of the blog and interview data for the initial stage of coding
  11. Reorganizing all of the blog and interview data to prepare for the second stage of coding
  12. Reading through the reorganized and shortened blog and interview data to prepare for analysis
  13. Organizing the blog and interview data into major themes
  14. Reading through the blog and interview data now divided into themes instead of participants for cross-case analysis
  15. Reorganizing the data back to participants with the themes identified in order of strength
  16. Reading through the reorganized data to form the participant summaries
  17. Reading through the participant summaries to check if they made more sense to my participants than my dissertation committee for the purpose of member checking
  18. Preparing the same summaries for Chapter 4 with purpose of using them for reporting on a grounded theory
I went through this quite fast, but it gives you an idea of how many times I had to pour over the same data over and over again, although some data was removed from further analysis at #12.  Even though I have looked over this data so much, I know I may have missed or misinterpreted something in one or more of these steps.  And that is why the member check is an important step for this study. 

As a side note, this posting may provide an example of how research can encourage obsessive-compulsive behavior.  If I weren't doing research, this behavior would be truly upsetting to my family, my participants, and myself. 

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