Qualitative Research in Education: A Critical Review of Qualitative Studies

For the case assignment assigned in module number five I have chosen to conduct a critical review of Len Austin and Julie Kortum’s “Self-Injury: The Secret Language of Pain For Teenagers”. I will be using the six criteria for conducting qualitative research as outlined by James Drisko as a basis for my evaluation. The six criteria were formulated in Drisko’s “Strengthening qualitative studies and reports: Standards to promote academic integrity”.

Drisko’s findings suggest that through the six criteria of evaluating qualitative research reports in social work the following objectives will be met: guide qualitative researchers, enhance the teaching of qualitative research methods, and aid the reporting of research.

The first criteria mentioned calls for the researcher to identify the chosen philosophy. Once a philosophical approach is chosen, the researcher must use methods consistent with the make-up of the philosophy. The purpose of these first criteria is to make sure that the line between qualitative and quantitative is clearly drawn. In the report by Austin and Kortum about self-injury the researchers have chosen to conduct a case study based on the experiences of one young girl. In evaluating this research the chosen philosophy is clear and consistent. The data that is provided is not quantitative data but in fact it is experienced data that consist of memories and conclusions. It is important not to mix research methods. The case study is consistent with effective qualitative research in its attempt to answer the question “why” students hurt themselves?

The second criteria by Drisko concerns identification of the participant and objectives for the study. The type of research conducted by Austin and Kortum is consistent with what is referred to as “standpoint research” because it provides case specific knowledge. The research is about a young girl who recounts her experiences with self-injury. These experiences afford the research with clarity and integrity. The objectives of the research are also clearly outlined by Austin and Kortum who attempt to provide answers to an adolescent phenomenon. Additionally, the researchers provide important advice for parents, teachers, children, and counselors.

The third criteria mentioned by Drisko require the researchers to identify the methodology. There are several factors that need to be considered which include: the nature of the sample, data collection methods, analysis, and data presentation. In the research by Austin and Kortum, they select a case study as their methodology. This methodology consists of an interview of a young girl. However, the report by Austin and Kortum is vague because it does not say how the interview is conducted. For example, in the research it states that the young girl tells her story in written form. It does not clearly state whether the researcher asked this young girl to write down her experiences or if they recorded her story and later presented it in written form? Additionally, it does not provide information as to how they came to use a case study as their methodology? The researchers included this story and do not include how they came upon this information. In this research, the most important criterion is to determine the credibility of the case study subject. The interpretations of the data must be authentic and the data provided must be truthful. I think it would be hard to discount this young girl’s experiences. Of course, the researchers cannot prove her wrong or prove her right. They simply must go on her memories and decide later whether to believe the story. In this research, it possesses the reporting of raw data, which would support the descriptions of behavior associated with self-injury. The researcher has summarized and interpreted the subject’s behavior and experiences and applied them to the concept of self-injury.

The fourth criterion by Drisko is to identify biases. The researchers do not do an effective responsibility of identifying their biases. For example, it is important that the researcher report both personal bias and interpretations that have changed from those with which they began the case study. The researchers might have included a self-reflection section or self-analysis to portray their ability to perceive and interpret the subject’s experiences. Especially in such an intimate and personal account of abuse, it would be important and pertinent for the researchers to include their own biases and limitations within the study. The true purpose of identifying biases is to enhance the credibility of the study.

The fifth criterion concerns ethics of qualitative research. Ethics is a very important criterion for any research. Ethics is the process by which we acquire permission to conduct social research. For example, it would be criminal to conduct a case study on a woman if she did not know that for what purpose the research was being made? The research by Austin and Kortum does not offer whether the subject gave prior consent. Ethically, and more morally speaking, the sensitive nature of self-injury requires documentation of consent. The research does not show the proper participant authorization.

The final criterion by Drisko calls for consistency. This consistency must be included in the final conclusions, philosophies, data analysis, and recommendations. The researchers have offered conclusions that are consistent with their chosen philosophical approach. The methodology and framework of the case study are also consistent with the final conclusions and recommendations offered to professionals using this research. This study is consistent with the original objectives outlined in the philosophy of the research. The case study is used as supporting data to current literature and research already presented and documented.

After reading Drisko’s criteria for strengthening qualitative studies and applying these notions to the research presented by Austin and Kortum it is evident to see how the research could have possessed more academic integrity. I think it would have been applicable for the researchers to provide more information about their subject’s participation. Additionally, it might have been helpful to provide more than one case study to support the final recommendations and findings. All researchers should strive to present authentic and quality qualitative research. Drisko’s six criteria are meant to aid in the review of qualitative reports and it emphasizes the need to examine all potentially disconfirming data. The report by Austin and Kortum, although very important, could have used these six criteria to strengthen the overall integrity of the project.


Austin, L & Kortum, J. Spring 2004, Self injury: The secret language of teenagers. Education. 124 (3) 517-528

Drisko.James W. Journal of Social Work Education. Washington: Winter 1997.Vol.33, Iss. 1; pg. 185, 13 pgs.

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