Journal article Open Access

"My Participants Told Me I Got It Wrong. Now What Do I Do?"

Yanow, Dvora

The question which the title poses was asked by Allison Quatrini at the 2016 “Textual Analysis and Critical Semiotics” APSA Short Course. In methods terms, one answer to it might be “member-checking,” discussed here in its contemporary understanding as an activity carried out at some point after a research encounter (an interview, an interaction, an observation) is completed in which the researcher “checks” with the situational member about the former’s understanding of the latter’s words, experiences, or both. It is understood as a strategy to optimize the descriptive, interpretive, or theoretical validity of qualitative research findings (Sandelowski 2008). Given the qualitative or interpretivist methodological goal of understanding the lived experiences and lifeworlds of research participants, the idea has intuitive appeal. Why not “check back” with those studied to assess one’s understanding of what they’ve said or done? The method has increasingly been adopted among interpretive and some qualitative researchers conducting interviews and participantobserver/ ethnographic field research. Indeed, Schwartz- Shea’s (2014) analysis of methods textbooks shows that member-checking has become an accepted indicator of the quality of a research project—that it follows expected standards for particular research methods. Researchers can use it to demonstrate that their manuscript meets methods criteria; reviewers can use it to assess whether, indeed, it does. Having and knowing such “standardized technical procedures,” as Elliot Eisner (1979, 73) pointed out, provides “[o]ne of the sources of intellectual security for doctoral students as well as for professors.”

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