I am quite the novice when it comes to research methods. I never took a research methods course as an undergraduate, and I have not yet taken a research methods class in graduate school (and judging by one of Eric’s comments, from his blog post, I may not have the time or funding to take such a class at WVU). Thus it pleases me to see some introductory texts to qualitative and quantitative methodological concepts amongst this week’s readings, like Koerber and McMichael’s “primer” on “Qualitative Sampling Methods” (454) and Slavin’s “A Practical Guide to Statistics”. It seems particularly important that technical communicators, or at least those people, like me, wishing to become technical communicators, learn more about research methods since the traditional view of the field, as Lay might argue, is in a similar stratosphere as science due to its affiliation “with the quantitative and objective scientific method” (151).
I also noticed a couple of similarities between two of the “methods” discussed in this week’s readings. The theoretical sampling method the Koerber and McMichael paper introduced to me (465) appeared much like the “method as explicitly argued praxis” from the Sullivan and Porter work (310). “Praxis”, according to Sullivan and Porter, is a “practical rhetoric” (305). When praxis is applied to research (and I’m assuming that Sullivan and Porter mean both qualitative and quantitative research), researchers acknowledge that multiple community frameworks/ideologies, and not just the one implied by the use of one methodology, are applicable to their studies. How in actuality, though, researchers succeed in not only “accept[ing] that the methods [they] normally choose to use provide powerful filters through which [they] view the world” (Sullivan and Porter, 310), but “become critical of methodology” (311) and apply praxis, comes about in two ways, as far as I can tell. Researchers alter their methodologies according to the context of their situations, and they explicitly tell the readers that they veered from a single methodological structure when composing their research.
Koerber and McMichael’s theoretical sampling method, though discussed by those authors as a sampling practice for qualitative research, seems to rely on the context of a study – “sampling emerge[s] along with the [researcher’s] study itself” (465). Sampling methods change as a study moves along, just as it should in “method explicitly argued as practice”.
In general, the two ideas matched up fairly well. However, when I took a second look at the theoretical sampling method, I realized that it did not resemble methodology as praxis as closely as I had imagined. The main reason I noticed a difference between the two theories was that their critical stances seemed much more dissimilar than I had initially thought.
Koerber and McMichael take a relatively casual stance towards critical research. During research, when a general direction for data starts to formalize, those who employ theoretical sampling methods will look for data that disproves any early assumptions (Koerber and McMichael 465). As I already mentioned, Sullivan and Porter hope that researchers become “critical of methodology”, but they can do this a few ways. One of them, as posited by Sullivan and Porter is to simply refuse to follow a method strictly by the numbers. That is not to say that researchers can be critical just by haphazardly changing the courses of their studies; the contexts of their situations must demand, as they usually do, that researchers stray from the methodological norm (Sullivan and Porter 308). Stated less simply, a researcher can be critical of methodology by “see[ing] the activity [of following the generally accepted framework for a methodology] as at least in part ‘constructing methodology’” (Sullivan and Porter 311).
That last quote, though, shows that the two ideas/methods/theories, while not quite identitical twins, are still closely related. By using a phrase like “constructing methodology”, Sullivan and Porter stress that all researchers are implicit in the social construction of the conventions of methodologies (308). Furthermore, the socially constructed ideas implicit in the term “methodology” can be subsumed under the umbrella term of theory – Sullivan and Porter outright say that view “research methodologies as theories”. Then again, Koerber and McMichael might think of things the same way: they write that sampling changes according to new data directions, but also that researchers “[adjust] the theory [they’re employing] according to trends that appear in the data” as well (465), treating the term “theory” like a synonym for “sampling method”.
Lay, Mary M. “Feminist Theory and The Redefinition of Technical Communication.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 146-159. Print.
Porter, James E., and Patricia Sullivan. “On Theory, Practice, and Method: Toward a Heuristic Research Methodology for Professional Writing.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Suart A. Selber. New York: Oxford, 2004. 300-313. Print.