Tips for qualitative researchers seeking funding – what NOT to leave out of your grant applications

It is grant reviewing season and I’ve been reading through some very interesting applications from some accomplished qualitative researchers in the social sciences and media studies. The rationale and background for projects are usually very well described and justified, as are the track records of the applicants.

But I’ve seen some common areas across several of the applications that need more detail. These are:

  1. There is often not enough (or sometimes even any) information about the approach taken to analysing the qualitative data you are collecting. Simply saying you are ‘using NVivo to analyse the data’ and leaving it at that is not enough. NVivo seems to have become a magic word to use to explain and justify qualitative data analysis. But it is just a data management tool. I want to know what you are going to do with it. There are many approaches to analysing qualitative data. Which approach are you using? Have you had previous experience with this approach? Please justify the reason for your approach and provide some information about what you will be looking for in the data, and why.
  2. If you are recruiting research participants for interviews, focus groups or other types of participation, please provide details of whether you have used your recruitment methods before and how successful they were. I know from experience that recruiting participants can be difficult and time-consuming, and achieving this successfully is crucial to the feasibility of your project. I would like you to explain to me more carefully how you are going to find people, and how you will keep them involved if they are required for more than one activity or you are asking them to be involved over quite a long time in the project.
  3. This issue is particularly important if you are proposing to recruit hard-to-reach or marginalised social groups, and also high-status groups (such as busy professionals, for whom time is money). Here you need to provide even more information about how you will successfully recruit these participants and commit them to be involved. What will persuade them to be part of your study?
  4. Which leads on to the ethics of recruiting participants from marginalised groups, or those you wish to engage in discussions about potentially distressing experiences. How will you persuade these people to want to speak to you? How will you protect them from harm, if you are raising sensitive and distressing issues and inviting them to discuss them with you? How will you protect yourself and other researchers involved in the project from the distress you may yourselves feel at discussing sensitive and very personal issues which may be very sad or otherwise confronting for all involved? I am concerned to see that often these very important issues are not discussed in enough detail, or are even glossed over, as if the applicants do not consider them important or have not considered their implications.
  5. Many qualitative researchers now make statements suggesting that their research will have impact outside universities. Yet here again, often not enough fine details are provided to convince assessors and funders how feasible these claims are. Please tell us more about how this impact will be achieved.
  6. And finally … many major funding bodies now mandate that the publications generated from the projects they fund should be made available open access. Yet very few qualitative researchers demonstrate any awareness of this, or describe how they will meet these requirements. Here again, more detail is required. Will you be depositing your publications into your university’s e-repository? Will you need to ask for funding in your budget to pay journals to publish your accepted manuscript as open access? Please explain your strategy.

8 thoughts on “Tips for qualitative researchers seeking funding – what NOT to leave out of your grant applications

  1. These are useful tips excellent, thanks Deborah.

    However I wonder whether these tips are actually required for ethically sound research, and should also be requirements for ethics committees.

  2. Hi, Deborah! This is so timely, as I was just developing a guideline of things to say (in publications, grant applications, etc.) about Qualitative Data Analysis Software with some colleagues who are experts in other QDAS (I use NVivo and co authored “Qualitative Data Analysis with NVivo). Tell me what you (and others!) think of this list from a funder (or grant-reviewer) perspective? (and what is missing?)
    1. Reason for choosing this particular software
    2. Strategies for learning how to use it
    3. All costs associated with purchase, training, support, data storage, transcription, etc.
    4. Level of experience with the software
    5. Citation of prior research that exemplifies QDAS use or influenced the framework for the present proposal.
    6. Relationship between software and purpose/method/methodology
    7. Specific tools to be used, how, and why
    8. Approach to coding (e.g., first and second wave; grounded theory; content analysis) and how this translates into the tactics used to develop/handle codes in the database.
    9. Anticipated duration and frequency of engagement with the software.
    10. Relationship between QDAS and other technologies/software (e.g., data will be exported to Excel, data will be collected with OverTheShoulder and then imported into NVivo)
    11. Visualizations that communicate/represent software interface and use
    12. Ethical issues related to software use (data storage, dissemination of findings, etc.)

  3. Quite marginal tips in a long ‘to do’s’ list that has not been delineated. Just like any academic text, funding proposals are open texts with many points of entry (and exit). Such tips occasionally constitute ex post facto rationalizations that aim at justifying political decisions (but also pragmatic, including the ‘appropriation’ of intellectual property).

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