Open Science Practices in Qualitative Communication Research?
Preregistering Research – Fostering Trust through Transparency
In the pursuit of greater transparency and to ensure public trust in research findings, preregistrations have emerged as a useful tool for quantitative researchers. The idea is straightforward - when preregistering a study, researchers outline and timestamp the research idea, hypotheses, and analysis strategies before the data collection. That way, undisclosed deviations such as post-hoc adjusting hypotheses to fit the results (HARKING; Hypothesizing after Results are Known) or testing multiple analysis strategies to find significant results can be prevented (or made transparent).
But does it work with qualitative research?
Unlike quantitative research, which typically tests specific hypotheses using numerical data, qualitative research often approaches a project from a more explorative starting point i.e. without testing specific expectations. The aim is to explore subjective experiences, meanings, and the contextual aspects of phenomena using interpretative methods. As a result, the data collection is often intertwined with the analyses, allowing more data to be added in the analysis process.
Because of the exploratory approach, qualitative purists may disagree with the idea of setting rigid data collection rules or upfront expectations – arguing it may bias or limit the exploratory research process afterwards. However, some qualitative projects in communication science specifically are much more structured. For instance, we often find projects that want to better understand specific phenomena based on prior (quantitative) data. When we already have ideas about the research process or phenomena we study qualitatively, preregistration can ensure clarity in the combination of theoretical preconceptions and researcher-derived conclusions from the data. The goal is to be transparent about the concepts we investigate, why specific data was chosen for that, and how the analysis will be approached, thereby facilitating a clear understanding of how conclusions are drawn from the data. To avoid restrictions in the exploratory approach, researchers retain the flexibility to deviate from the initial preregistration – but will have to transparently disclose it.
Besides preregistering steps such as the design and analysis strategy, qualitative preregistration can also encourage researchers to think about credibility strategies – i.e. practices to enhance the trustworthiness and validity of findings. Those strategies may include the commitment to a research diary to document emerging patterns in the data and category formations, debriefings with other experts, and even reflecting on possible biases of the researcher in the context of the studied domain.
So, what are some of the main advantages for qualitative research specifically?
1. Planning: It encourages planning and reflecting on all steps of the study.
2. Transparent results: By providing insights into how the data is approached and interpreted, it helps to distinguish researcher-derived, interpretative conclusions from pre-existing theoretical ideas.
3. Accountability: it encourages researchers to elaborate on the data collection and analysis, any deviations in the process, and ways to ensure agreement and validity.
4. Facilitating future research: Other researchers exploring similar topics can gain a comprehensive understanding of the study’s design, promoting opportunities for additional studies in the field.
To conclude, while initially associated with quantitative research, preregistration can hold valuable benefits for structured qualitative communication research. Through promoting transparency, accountability, and planning, it can enhance trust in complex research projects beyond numbers and the credibility of findings.
Thinking about preregistering some of your upcoming qualitative work? Platforms such as OSF offer helpful templates!
For more information on qualitative preregistration:
Haven, T. L., Errington, T. M., Gleditsch, K. S., van Grootel, L., Jacobs, A. M., Kern, F. G., Piñeiro, R., Rosenblatt, F., & Mokkink, L. B. (2020). Preregistering Qualitative Research: A Delphi Study. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 19. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406920976417
Lina Buttgereit (MSc, University of Amsterdam) is a PhD candidate at the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR), The Netherlands. Her interests include polarization, (right–wing) populism, and mis‐ and disinformation in political communication.