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Occupational Therapy

Qualitative Study Guidelines

Introduction (Level 1 Heading)

As with any paper, the opening paragraph is written in a way that catches the reader's interest to read more. It includes the following common components (these items are not bulleted in your final paper): 

  • Background and Need for Study: This sections contains literature or theory that supports the need for your study. It is a summary of the key points found during your perusal of the literature for supportive evidence or lack of evidence regarding your topic. You will also address how your study was proposed to benefit your profession and intended populations or groups. This is where you explain why you chose your topic. The general theories or outcomes from other studies used in this section may be expanded upon or changed in a later section of your paper, in order to clarify different perspective regarding your findings. 
    • In qualitative research, the central phenomenon is important to identify to help you write your purpose statement as well as your research questions. Decide on a general topic area of interest to you wish to explore. This will include your framing of the problem and why this topic needs to be explored further. Summarize any major themes you found in the literature, discuss the similarities and differences in the literature and idenfty any gaps in the literature. This will assist you in relaying the justification for your study and how the review of the literature supports your study. 
  • Purpose of the Study: The purpose of the study is a statement that summarizes the information in your background and needs and states why you are conducting the study. 
    • Example: "The purpose of this qualitative study will be to explore what it means to be an occupational therapy graduate students at a private University in the Midwest." 
  • Research Question: Generally, research questions in qualitative research are open-ended and often being with the words "what" or "how". 
    • Example: Your topic may be "occupational therapy students." Then you need to decide what it is what you want to know about the OT students.  Do you want to know about all OT students or specific to an area or type pf program, etc? 
      • Example: What does it mean to be an occupational therapy in the professional program at the University of Mary.?"
    • It is a broad question, which can then be broken down into sub questions and in this manner the study into a doable one. 
      • What does an occupational therapy graduate students at the University of Mary do?
      • What is easy/hard about being an occupational therapy graduate student at a private University in the Midwest? 
      • How did you determine that OT  was your porfession of choice? Try not to use words that quanitiative in nature, such as, compare, relates, predict, etc. Be aware that as you complete your study you may change the research questions and the problem statement to better reflect what you are actually finding in your study.

Literature Review (Level 1 Heading) 

This section examines the literature that is available to support the need for the study and for the research question. 

  • In a qualitative study, this literature review is not as extensive as in a quantitative study so as not to influence the findings. This allows for the actual information gathered from the participants to be a key factor in your paper. 
  • Literature should be current. You may include older literature if there is limited information on your topic, or if it is considered to be a historic" piece of literature. Literature should include a mix of both qualitative and quantitative studies. 
  • Additional literature is reviewed and added to support or refute the themes or findings in your study as they being to emerge. 
  • Theoretical constructs or framework that support your study are included in this section. 
  • Generally, it is good to start with a broader review and work down into more narrow or manageable information more specific to your topic. As in the case of the occupational therapy student, you might choose general resaerch words such as health profession and then narrow it down to occupational therapy students' perspectives. However, you may choose to organize the review chronologically, historically, or ideologically. 

Methodology (Level 1 Heading) 

This section describes how you complete you study. It includes a thorough description of the steps taken to accomplish this tack. This section may include the following components in Level 2 headings: 

  • Research Design: Describe the type of design you chose and why it is appropriate for your study. (i.e. Qualitative phenomenological design; or qualitative case study design). Also, briefly touch on the techniques used to gather data. Typical qualitative research methods include 3 to 5 main techniques for data collection. These include observation, interviews, document collection and open-ended surveys (focus groups) and audiovisual materials. You will discuss these in depth in data collection. 
  • Population Selection and Access: Identify the steps taken to access your population. Thoroughly describe how permission was granted to allow you, the researcher, to gain entry to a site and your population for potential participants. Did you go through an individual or "gatekeeper" who gave permission or arranged for entry and participation of individuals in the study? (i.e., "gained access through collaborations with CEO of agency).
  • Participants: Thoroughly describe your participants; how many, gender, age, type of sampling (purposive, snowball, etc). Briefly explain how informed consent was obtained and participants were protected. Reporting IRB approval is essential. 
  • Instrumentation and Administration of the Instrument: If you designed your own interview or observation format, you should consult with an expert on the population, and/or pilot the instruments to like-minded individuals you hope to study. A pilot study will assist you with further developing your questions based on whether the answers are what you hope to acquire. You should also describe the process used to eliminate or clarify questions as a result of the pilot study. If you use an established or published instrument, describe the instrument and show that validity and reliability are established for the tool through literature (evidence). 
  • Data Collection Procedures: Describe the interview or focus group or observation procedures used, scheduled observations times or interview times and any training techniques provided to the researcher or assistants. 
  • Data Analysis Procedures: Describe the process of organizing and transcribing your data. Did you analyze your data by hand or computer? Describe the coding process used to narrow the data to a workable level. 
    • Please thoroughly review the process of coding, categorizing, and the development of themes with your preceptor or a faculty member skilled qualitative analysis. A number of texts are available for additional information. Try to use an established method of analysis that may be specific to your identified qualitative methodology. 
    • May include a diagram or figure to show what steps you plan to use for your data analysis. 
  • Trustworthiness or Validity: Identify the strategies used and how they assisted the validity of your study throughout the research process. Discuss the triangulation of data collection strategies, and other methods used to establish validity of your study (e..g. member-checking, peer debriefing, audit trail. etc.). 
  • Appendices will be referred to throughout the methodology section of your manuscript. Simply refer to them in-text chronologically and include them in Appendices section(s) at the end of your manuscript. They will be displayed in the order in which they were presented in the manuscript. Appendices may include a copy of Informed Consent, a copy of any interview protocols uses, or any other forms or letters deemed appropriate by your preceptor. Examples of Appendices formatting are included later in this guide. 

Results (Level 1 Heading)

This section describes the themes and relationships discovered in your study. It includes narratives, quotes or stories from your participants. Consider the following components: 

  • Organization of your results: Identity each pattern or theme and provide the discussion for each. Direct quotes or narratives from your participants relating to individual themes help to support your findings. This will probably be your longest section. 
  • A figure that displays your identified codes, categories, and themes is appropriate in this section to illustrate how you arrived at your results. This may be used to clarify rather repeat information. 

Discussion (Level 1 Heading) 

This discussion section is the heart of a research article. It reflects your interpretation of the results in terms of the purpose of the study and the outside world. In this part of the paper the author(s) express opinions, including comments on the importance of the results, limitations of the study, suggestions for future research, practice implications, and how the information will be disseminated. It is a good idea to reread your study in its entirely as you write this section because you may find that a significant connection or finding may suddenly become evident that you missed before. 

In this section: 

  • Briefly summarize your purpose and findings in a short paragraph. 
  • Then thoroughly discuss the significance of your outcomes. 
    • Discuss or compare the literature that supports or refutes your study, or any new literature that you found related to that topic or theme. 
    • Discuss how your findings support or conflict with the theory base. 
    • Discuss the importance of your work and how your study compares with others. 
    • Author Bias and Subjectivity: Qualitative researchers may have strong feelings about the subject they are researching. This may be considered bias, and it is important to identify any potential bias that may be evident. The author needs to determine what will be done to help them recognize the bias and subjectivity as it arises. This may be addressed earlier in the manuscript depending on specific methodologies used. 
    • Limitations of the study: Discuss limitations in your study that may have affected the results. These might be extraneous factors over which the researcher had no control. These may have been identified in another part of the study. Please discuss them further and bring forth additional limitations not previously foreseen. 
    • Recommendations for Future Research: You may include those things that were found in your study that were unexpected that would warrant further study. Identity areas that you did not explore but would do so if you were to do the study again. 
    • Implications to Practice: Discuss the effects your study may have on the practice of occupational therapy. Identity who has benefited from your study, and how and to what extent it will help them, the situation, or others in understanding the field of OT. 

Conclusion (Level 1 or 3 Heading)

The conclusion is typically brief, but provides the reader with concise summary of your findings, and what you want the reader to take away from the study.