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As the book Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods states, a design is a plan of action. In other words it constitutes the beginning of action itself. It is a direction to move in and a path to follow. More importantly it is malleable – it can be changed as need be. However, there must first be a plan to work with. This plan requires, firstly an area to work with – a sample to test.
The sample size is extremely important. Too small a sample and the research could become over-specialized and have no relevance outside of the chosen sample itself, whereas if it is too large (which is usually considered better), there is a greater risk of it being corrupted by false information and human error (Merriam 1998). By and large, the ideal sample size is one which is between these two extremes, though tempered by the object of the research itself. If the researcher wishes to study a very specific areas, such as the eating habits of a particular community, an ethnographic study of a single family might suffice. Studying just one individual will make it too specific, whereas studying many families might yield very wide results due to cultural evolution and changing circumstances of the families involved. On the other hand, if one wished to study a larger area such as the general response of the public to a new brand or product in the market, a large sample size of a few hundred individuals might be considered moderate. Too small a sample size of just a few individuals might lead to biased and inaccurate data being collected and too large a sample size and the possibility of human error increases greatly (Yin 2014).
But no matter how carefully a plan is made and evaluated, there is always the possibility that some error might have occurred (Berg 2010). It is for this reason that a meta-evaluation would be used. Patton notes that a meta-evaluation is essentially an ‘evaluation of an evaluation’. This is done in order to reduce internal inaccuracies and inconsistencies as much as possible. This further sharpens the sample used for research and allows the researcher to adapt his/her research better to the actual realities of the area of research.
Once this is done, greater clarity must be had as to the type of research being done. One must be able to situate one’s reasearch, at least largely, as one of the five possible kinds of qualitative research. These five kinds are - (1) Basic, (2) Applied, (3) Summative, (4) Formative, and (5) Action research. It is a temptation to imagine that the first kind of evaluation (the Basic kind) is the easiest or most straightforawrd, but this is a misconception on many levels. A basic evaluation deals with theories itself and may contain facets of the other four kinds because theory can only evolve out of reality. Applied evaluations are ones which attempt to find soutions to specific social problems, while a summative evaluation looks into whether or not solutions which have been applied have worked. Formative evaluations, unlike applied ones, do not posit new solitions, rather, they attempt to find ways to improve on the solution being implimented. Finally action research focuses less on knowledge production and more on solving a problem as quickly as possible.
For exetensive family-based research proposals, it is best to keep the sample size moderate (anywhere from 5 to 20 families) and use basic evaluation or Summative evaluation (Yin 2014). This is because a family is very sensitive unit – attempting to provide solutions when not asked to do so could be potentially destructive to the research being carried out. It is worth noting that large scale studies such as the Minnesota Twin Family Study (Bouchard et.al. 1990) and Malinowski’s ethnographic studies on Australian Aboriginal exchange (Clifford 1988) had massive funding and many years were spent in the field doing the research. These particular research projects were renowned for their accuracy and clarity because not only was the initial planning accurate, and the way in which it was carried out excellent, they were also constantly re-evaluated and conclusions were checked and rechecked and modified to suit new data.
The next problem to address is how one is to carry out the data collection. The survey method is absolutely inappropriate, given the setting, so the best method would be to interview the members of the families (Ritchie et.al. 2014). Questions must be carefully crafted to find the necessary information and not contaminate it with bias. To this end, open-ended question are the best to be used because it does not restrict the interviewee’s responses and the researcher is at liberty to use his or her discretion to weed out bias. Questions must be sharp and clear but also capable of evolution. Another important point to bear in mind is that the sort of questions asked here must be open and not of a statistical nature. This is not to say that numbers are to be avoided, it is simply thath they are not to be used as the only source of information. In other words, statistics are to be excluded since they are the exclusive province of quantitative studies. The question of where the boundary lies between qualitative nad quantitative research lies is problematic on many levels and has been discussed extensivly for the natural sciences, though not quite as much for the social sciences (Sandelowski 1986)
Now, the researcher must consider how he/she will study its sample. For a family study, both cross-sectional and longditudinal research would be appropriate, but for study on family habits it is best to use a cross-sectional study, while making it clear exactly when and where the research was conducted. Once this is decided the researcher must consider whether their research will be concentrated and intensive or broad and extensive. The first will study a narrow set of phenomena in great depth which would yield good data on a particular topic, whereas the second would yield a large amount of data from which general principles or theories could be derived. For a family study, depending on whether it is conducted to study a specific part of the family’s culture or the culture in general, either one can be used (Patton 2014).
Finally, after all the points mentioned above have been considered and executed, it is up to the researcher to anticipate the possibility of future research. For this, he/she must have a clear conception of which parts of their study is specific to the time and place they studied and which parts are likely to change over time and with location. Once such a research design is created, the rest of the research consists of copious amounts of reading and reviewing and finally execution and drawing of conclusions.
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