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Qualitative pre-registration and protocols

Author: Sarah MacQuarrie, Manchester Institute of Education

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Case study: Qualitative pre-registration and protocols

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Pre-registration is a recognised aspect of research across many disciplines. However, there are few published examples of such pre-registration regarding qualitative research.

In this case study we surmount this obstacle by developing a qualitative protocol or qualitative form of pre-registration that identifies in advance research plans and supports transparency in qualitative research. Several sources were consulted to ensure relevant aspects were addressed and are documented in the protocol.

Applying open research practices

A qualitative study pre-registration was devised and attempted. Prior to data collection research plans (a qualitative protocol in effect) were recorded online. The plans included a table summarising the method as it has been planned based on the reporting standards advised for qualitative research by Tong, Sainsbury, and Craig (2007). Materials have been shared online and are accessible openly at the time of data collection. They form an example that is suited to particular forms of qualitative data collection and analysis. 

Overcoming challenges

Qualitative researchers often employ and adhere to epistemologies that respond to different forms of analysis and relate to different considerations across a project. Thus, within the qualitative researcher community, it is anticipated that qualitative pre-registration may receive a lukewarm reception in some circles and be positively received in others. The variety of qualitative methods is vast and not all will be suited to a pre-registration format, this is recognised in the pre-registration.

Benefits of using these open research practices 

Qualitative research is often misconstrued as inferior to quantitative studies, this is one step towards addressing such a myth. Such qualitative forms of pre-registration will also ensure that open science practices are applicable to all area of studies, supporting researchers who are involved in mixed-methods investigations as well as researchers who focus on qualitative approaches. By documenting the in-depth decision-making taken in advance, open research practices make clear the scrutiny applied within qualitative research that is often hidden within a project. 

Top tip

Allowing time into the preparatory stages and overall project timeline is crucial and enabled a joined-up approach to be valued and enjoyable.

Related links

A series of materials were devised for the qualitative pre-registration (qualitative checklist, Semi structured interview and focus group schedule, Participant demographic sheet, Participant information sheet and pre-registration protocol). These are hosted on the open science framework.