1 Academy of Management Journal 2012, Vol. 55, No. 3, 509–513. http://dx.doi.org/10.5465/amj.2012.4003 FROM THE EDITORS PUBLISHING IN —PART 7: AMJ WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT QUALITATIVE RESEARCH? This editorial concludes a seven-part series, “Publishing in ,” in which the editors give suggestions and advice for AMJ improving the quality of submissions to the Journal. The series offers “bumper-to-bumper” coverage, with installments ranging from topic choice to crafting a Discussion section. -J.A.C. I’m comfortable with my knowledge of qualitative we have cast in our tenure as associate editors respon- work—and my ability to give some insight on a sible for qualitative manuscripts. Instead of providing specific piece—but for whatever reason, this quan- a point-by-point comparison with what has been titative-to-qualitative comparison is hard for me to written previously in the series (a result that would be make. And I don’t understand the reasons that is too long and too tedious), we offer a more holistic hard! -Panelist view of the unique attributes of a qualitative paper for AMJ . In this way, an author who reads this editorial Over the past six issues, our editorial team has will receive helpful guidance on the writing process presented a series on how to write effective AMJ without having to read the other six pieces but could submissions. Much of what this series has covered also find direct comparisons if reading the current is relevant to both quantitative and qualitative pa- FTE in conjunction with the previous six pieces. We pers. For example, the five criteria that Colquitt and AMJ illustrate our points from the many qualitative George (June 2011 “From the Editors” [vol. 54: 432– Best Article Award Winners. We hope this editorial 435]) identify for choosing topics—significance, will prove insightful not only for those researchers novelty, curiosity, scope, and actionability—apply who have attempted to publish qualitative research in equally well to qualitative work. However, there AMJ in the past, but also for those who may wish to are also key differences. For example, qualitative do so for the first time in the future. work does not typically suffer from the measure- ment, operationalization and model specification problems identified by Bono and McNamara (Au- BUILD THEORY INDUCTIVELY gust 2011 “From the Editors” [vol. 54: 657–660]). typically change, chal- AMJ Papers published in As our opening quote illustrates, these differences lenge, or fundamentally advance theory through in- are not always easy to articulate or explain. In this sights on focal phenomena. Most qualitative papers final FTE for the “Publishing in ” series, we AMJ advance theory by building it inductively, although provide our perspective on the key differences. qualitative data can be used for theory testing, or To do this, we focus our thoughts around this deduction, as well. This difference in purpose drives provocative question: If a colleague who has only the most significant differences between qualitative ever published quantitative papers before asked papers, which we discuss be- AMJ and quantitative you to identify the main differences between qual- low. itative and quantitative papers (besides the type of data presented), how would you respond? We put ’s top qual- this question to a panel of some of AMJ A Short, Multipurpose Front End itative authors and reviewers. We believe we hit a chord with this question, as we received 24 replies Qualitative researchers often have to build a case for (from more than half of the people we contacted), a their research question and motivate their work more strongly than quantitative researchers ... return that far exceeded our expectations. There Thus in the front end of the manuscript, the writer was a range of responses from our colleagues; some has to work harder to establish the theoretical gap felt the differences were stark, whereas others felt and make a compelling case for why this research the differences were superficial. question is important. Rather than merely reporting back what they said, we synthesized their views (and sprinkled in some of All AMJ articles need an engaging front end that the more revealing quotes) while bringing to bear our motivates the research (see Grant and Pollock, Oc- tober 2011 “From the Editors” [vol. 54: 873-879]). own experiences from the more than 180 decisions 509 Copyright of the Academy of Management, all rights reserved. Contents may not be copied, emailed, posted to a listserv, or otherwise transmitted with out the copyright holder’s express written permission. Users may print, download, or email articles for individual use only.
2 Academy of Management Journal June 510 The introduction and literature review provide key in a complex and dynamic discussion, especially opportunities to grab and direct the reader’s atten- given the high interdependence of the anchoring tion toward an understanding of theory that will theory, data analysis, and theoretical contribution. Plowman et al. succinctly summarized their find- carry throughout the paper. The front end of a ings in a single sentence in the back end of their quantitative article typically includes an introduc- article: “Mission Church’s experience of decline tion, literature review, and the development of new and renewal supports the notion that change can be theory by way of hypotheses. The literature review, therefore, sets the background for the hypotheses. also y...but viewed as continuous/evolutionar Because qualitative papers fulfill a different pur- provides empirical evidence that continuous change, whose pace is much slower than that of pose, their front end is shorter, yet it serves more episodic change, can become radical” (2007: 537; functions. embedded citations removed for clarity). To effi- The front end of a qualitative manuscript ciently manage the theoretical extension, Plowman must not only hook the reader, expose a significant et al. listed their propositions in a table, juxtaposed gap in a current theoretical conversation that war- against the theory of change and complexity theory, rants the development or extension of theory, and which allowed them more room to discuss the im- situate research questions in that conversation, but also provide a framework for the textual data that plications. This emphasized the uniqueness and importance of their work. follow and a springboard for the new emergent theory. If the literature review reveals too much, then readers feel that theory did not emerge from Comprehensive, Personal, and Transparent the data; if the literature review reveals too little, Methods the project will seem too broad in scope to be manageable. Thus, much is riding on these first There is not as clear an agreement among qualitative sections of a qualitative paper. researchers as to what constitutes acceptable meth- Plowman, Baker, Beck, Kulkarni, Solansky, and odology and analysis ...The signature of qualitative Travis’s (2007) article on radical change, for exam- research is its solid grounding in the phenomenon; ple, grabbed readers’ attention by describing however each researcher’s journey in uncovering the phenomenon is unique and nonlinear. changes at “Mission Church” and built the theoret- ical platform from extant theory on radical organi- Qualitative researchers have considerable lati- zational change and from complexity theory. Even tude in their methods, including the way in which the framing of their research question was able to they conduct interviews or ethnographies and the simultaneously describe their project, create in- techniques they use to analyze data. Unlike quan- trigue, and expose the theoretical gap: “In this re- titative studies, qualitative research cannot simply search, we attempt to understand how and why an reference well-known data sets and statistical tests. initial small change, whose ultimate consequences It is critical, then, that qualitative researchers offer were unintended, escalated and led to radical or- detailed accounts of their data sources and analy- ganizational change” (Plowman et al., 2007: 516). sis. Communicating the journey (from initiating their project to submitting their manuscript) gives A Long, Robust Back End meaning to the accounts of the data and emergent theory as well as signaling the quality of the re- Quantitative work often builds theory in the front search exercise, the credibility of the researcher, end by developing hypotheses that are then tested. and, ultimately, the trustworthiness of the data and Since new theory is discussed in the front end, the the emergent theorizing. As such, the researcher back end of a quantitative paper focuses primarily often features prominently, in first person and re- on the implications of the empirical results. Qual- flexively, in the description of the methods. itative works, on the other hand, reserve the biggest Describing that journey is a hallmark of many of punch for the back end. A strong Discussion sec- the award-winning qualitative articles published in tion should not only summarize the findings and AMJ . Dutton and Dukerich’s (1991) study of home- ultimately delineate the theoretical and practical lessness at the New York and New Jersey Port Au- implications that are also demanded of quantitative thority is often hailed as an exemplar of qualitative papers (see Geletkanycz and Tepper, April 2012 research. Their description of their methods is de- “From the Editors” [vol. 55: 256–260]), but also tailed and personal and clearly reflects their non- integrate data and theory in a way that explicitly linear journey: conveys the connections between the analyzed data, the emergent theory, and the literatures at Our initial research objective was to explore differ- ences in how groups in the organization interpreted which the contribution is aimed. This often results
3 Bansal and Corley 511 2012 and responded to the issue. The objective was con- scripts, but story is the very essence of qualitative sistent with research on organizational culture and research. Quantitative articles generally follow a ... How- the creation of meaning in organizations well-defined structure: introduction, literature re- ever, the data generated by informants indicated a view, hypotheses, methods, results, and discus- surprisingly consistent pattern of issue interpreta- sion. Accounts of the data are spliced between ac- tion s... [that] emphasizes the dominant logic, counts of theory; data and theory appear almost collective beliefs, and consensual elements in how episodic. Qualitative researchers, on the other the homeless issue was interpreted over time. (Dut- hand, attempt to create narratives through these ton & Dukerich, 1991: 552; embedded citations re- accounts. The theory narrative comprises current moved for clarity) and emergent theory; the data narrative describes the collection, the analysis (the methods), and the Creative Data Displays actual data (the results or findings). Qualitative and quantitative scholars are similar. We all try to edit the messiness out of our research Two Narratives Jointly Contributing to an presentation. Yet, on the margin, qualitative re- search comes a bit closer to representing the messi- Overarching Story ness. And, that is the strength of what we do. Whereas quantitative researchers typically look at a Unlike quantitative data, qualitative data cannot handful of “trees” and try to draw the implications be easily synthesized or reduced into tables, so for the forest, in qualitative research, we are trying qualitative researchers must think creatively about to see the forest through the trees. showing their data. Some researchers account the Through the two data and theory narratives, data chronologically, others seek patterns across qualitative articles tell a compelling story. They observations and prefer data displays based on create tension through a provocative question, first- and second-order codes. Most importantly, build plot through a data narrative, and provide an data must be shown, not merely described, so the interesting and even provocative explanation and reader can connect the raw data with the analyzed conclusion through a theory narrative. Moreover, data, and the analyzed data with the emergent the- the data and theory narratives are tightly interwo- orizing. The data must transport the reader into the ven—so interwoven that it is sometimes difficult to context to provide a personal experience of the isolate either narrative (unlike in quantitative focal phenomenon and support for the emergent works, in which the data and theory are clearly theory. The challenge is to show enough richness marked). The data are needed to give the theory and depth of the data while respecting ’s page AMJ context, and the theory is needed to give the data limits. The data deluge forces qualitative research- meaning. Qualitative articles, thus, use current the- ers to confront the limitless possibilities and show ory as the backdrop for interpreting the data, the discipline by discarding irrelevant data. data to provide the context and describe the phe- Gersick (1989), for example, investigated transi- nomenon in-depth, and the emergent theory to ex- tions in work groups asked to complete a creative pose the phenomenon in new light. task over an hour. She video-recorded teams’ ef- For example, Elsbach and Kramer (2003) created forts and a wall clock that showed the elapsed time. their story by asking how experts assessed the cre- Her article illustrates the transitions with an aster- ative potential of others. They grounded their theory isk in a figure that showed every team’s efforts over narrative in social judgment theory, which, they ar- the hour. The pattern of asterisks in the diagram gued, has focused on laypeople, not professionals, vividly illustrates the transitions and pacing that and been developed in the lab, not in the field. They contributed to successful outcomes. wove the data narrative through the theory narrative by providing a rich account of screenwriters pitching ideas to Hollywood studio executives and producers, TELL THE STORY sprinkling this account with quotes and rich descrip- I think all academic writing has to tell a compelling tions of incidents. They concluded their theory nar- story, and this is doubly true of qualitative research. rative by showing that assessors judge targets’ cre- Over half of our colleagues used the word “story” ative potential not only on the basis of the targets’ in their responses to us and emphatically expressed attributes, but also on the basis of their relationship with the targets. The two narratives interlocked to tell the belief that a compelling story is critical to good qualitative work (see also Golden-Biddle & Locke, a compelling story. Like a good novel, good qualita- 2006). There is no question that quantitative re- tive work seduces readers and motivates them to con- tinue reading. searchers also try to build stories in their manu-
4 Academy of Management Journal June 512 A Unique and Inspiring Story Tight interweaving of the theory and data stories in a work of qualitative research breaks down the When I read qualitative research, I want to be wowed. boundary between “researching” and “writing,” so I want to have the experience of a “shazzam!”—a that the two occur simultaneously. For instance, spark of inspired recognition or deep insight that qualitative researchers find that their data analysis comes from an author providing me with an idea or a is closely tied to the writing process. Often the way of seeing that I had not previously entertained. emergent theory narrative is revealed when the A good story is engaging and pushes frontiers. back end of a paper is written, which forces Qualitative research does so through both its data changes to how theory is narrated at the front end and theory narratives. The data narrative situates and how data are narrated. Once the data are re- data in a unique context, narrates skillfully, and written, additional theoretical insights may reveals something new and powerful about man- emerge. Theoretical discovery, therefore, often oc- agement and organizations. The theory narrative curs when writing. Such an iterative process defies connects to a prior conversation and reveals some- the detailed planning that is often characteristic of thing new that changes the way in which readers a good quantitative study. see other phenomena. The theory narrative must offer a significant contribution, involving both re- velatory and scientifically useful insight (Corley & Submission: Just Another Beginning Gioia, 2010), but the revelatory dimension is par- Much of the discovery occurs as one writes in that as ticularly important in qualitative research. one writes, one identifies remaining gaps, inconsis- AMJ Best Article Each of the articles that earned an tencies and questions requiring further exploration. Award offers something truly unique. For example, So in that sens writing in qualitative research is e... Dutton and Dukerich (1991) offered insights into a highly iterative process. homelessness in New York—insights drawn from data that revealed the important interaction of image As many of our panelists explained, this highly and identity. Greenwood and Suddaby (2006) iterative process is often sustained through the re- showed the processes by which institutional entre- view process for a submitted paper. Reviewers often preneurs mobilize change in heavily institutionalized become cocreators (but should not become anony- environments—insights to theory that were revealed mous coauthors) because the true scope of an induc- by a deep dive into the evolution of the multidisci- tive study’s theoretical implications cannot be fully plinary practices of the Big Five accounting firms. understood until reviewers have provided feedback on the socially constructed meaning of the data. In this way, qualitative researchers can be thought of as EMBRACE THE PROCESS, NOT THE PLAN like sculptors: they use an array of tools to work and rework their materials to form their composition. Quantitative research is about careful preparation and faithful execution of the plan laid out in the beginning; Critics and reviewers expose new ways of seeing the qualitative research is about exploring ideas. composition, which sometimes forces a significant reworking. As our panel noted, often a qualitative The tools, techniques, and processes of qualita- researcher cannot finalize the front end of a paper tive researchers vary considerably, not just at the until the back end has been finalized; both will con- beginning, but throughout the research endeavor, tinue to be revised during the review process all the including the writing process. At the beginning of way until the final draft is accepted. the process, qualitative researchers often do not know where they will land. Quantitative research- ers often follow detailed plans because data collec- FINAL THOUGHTS tion is so focused on testing a priori theorizing. In reflecting on our journey in preparing for and Qualitative researchers often do not even know the writing this editorial, we saw as many similarities as theory they will anchor their insights on prior to we saw differences between good quantitative papers collecting the data. Where they land may be very . Writing a strong AMJ and good qualitative papers at different from where they started. This iterative scholarly article is a challenging yet rewarding under- process poses immense challenges to qualitative taking, regardless of the type of data one reports. In researchers. that sense, our aim here was not to make qualitative papers seem more difficult to write, or to push quan- Concurrent Writing and Research titative and qualitative research apart. In fact, quali- tative manuscripts have benefited from the strong I think the main difference is that the ideas and findings get reconceptualized with each writing. traditions of quantitative research, and they have
5 Bansal and Corley 513 2012 36: Academy of Management Review, tribution? much to offer for the composition of quantitative 12–32. manuscripts. Our ultimate goal was to help researchers publish Dutton, J. E., & Dukerich, J. M. 1991. Keeping an eye on their qualitative data in and understand some of AMJ the mirror: Image and identity in organizational ad- the unique attributes of writing qualitative papers Academy of Management Journal, 34: aptation. 517–554. that typically are learned from experience. Because the hallmark of qualitative work is its ability to ex- Elsbach, K. D., & Kramer, R. M. 2003. Assessing creativity pose theoretical boundaries and push theoretical in- in Hollywood pitch meetings: Evidence for dual- sights, we all will benefit from better qualitative re- process model of creativity judgments. Academy of search gracing the pages of our most-read journals. Management Journal, 46: 283–301. Hopefully the insights and knowledge provided in Gersick, C. J. G. 1989. Marking time: Predictable transi- this editorial will encourage more scholars to publish Academy of Management tions in task groups. strong qualitative research in . AMJ Journal, 32: 274–309. Pratima (Tima) Bansal Greenwood, R., & Suddaby, R. 2006. Institutional entre- University of Western Ontario preneurship in mature fields: The Big Five account- Kevin Corley ing firms. Academy of Management Journal, 49: 27–48. Arizona State University Plowman, D. A., Baker, L. T., Beck, T. E., Kulkarni, M., Solansky, S. T., & Travis, D. V. 2007. Radical change REFERENCES accidentally: The emergence and amplification of small change. Academy of Management Journal, Corley, K. G., & Gioia, D. A. 2011. Building theory about 50: 515–543. theory building: What constitutes a theoretical con-
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