Qualitative Methods

3. Observation

The answer was, to some extent, positive. Two quantitative measures were helpful in relation to the ceremonial order.

  1. The measure of the extent to which the doctor fixed treatment or attendance at the patient's convenience.
  2. The measure of whether patients or doctor engaged in polite small-talk with one another about their personal or professional lives (referred to above as 'social elicitation').

Importance of Observational Methods:
The data shown in Table 3 could not offer proof of different interactional forms. However, coupled with the qualitative data, they provided strong evidence of the direction of difference, as well as giving a simple measure of the sample as a whole which contextualized the few extracts of talk that the researcher was able to use.

Limits of Methodology:

  1. Research tabulations were dependent on observational fieldnotes. Without access to tape-recordings of these doctor-patient encounters, the database was dependent upon the inferences made by the researcher at the time. Therefore, it lacked some reliability because it could not claim to use low-inference descriptors.
  2. This study also lacked some theoretical credibility. The researcher was using a constructionist model concerned with describing the actors' own methods of ordering the world. Yet the categories that had been counted (e.g. social elicitation) were the researcher’s own and had an unknown relation to the categories actually used at the time by the people being studied.

Additionally, a practical difficulty with observational research is that it is labor-intensive and time-consuming. For instance, the oncology study took two years (12 months field observation and 12 months data analysis). The appeal of interviews and focus groups is that data collection can be much more rapid.

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Table 3

Private and NHS Clinics: Ceremonial Orders

  Private Clinic (n=42) NHS Clinics (n=104)
Treatment or attendance fixed at patients' convenience 15 (36%) 10 (10%)
Social elicitation 25 (60%) 31 (30%)