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Critiquing Qualitative Research Articles
by
Mark Firth
- 1

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how we can critique a qualitative research article according to the criteria as recommended by McMillan & Wergin (1998:pp.7-12). The sample article being examined is by Goh (1999), A cognitive perspective on language learners’ listening comprehension problems. Whilst it is not possible to reproduce the article here, it is suggested that the critique procedure itself is being exercised in order to demonstrate its usefulness to readers of qualitative research. The guiding questions operate as effective criteria to understanding the quality and benefits of any given qualitative research paper.

Introduction

With regards to qualitative designs, Punch (1998:p.150) explains that within any given piece of research a combination of elements from different designs can overlap. As a result, a study may not necessarily be a case study, an ethnographical study nor a work based on grounded theory but rather a mixture of two or more of these approaches. Punch does however suggest that it is ‘still useful to consider each separately’. This is important to keep in mind when critiquing an article such as this as in fact components of different approaches and paradigms co-exist within the one research body as the author has attempted to uncover what it is she is looking for. This does not necessarily mean however that a research article needs to be labeled as being one type of research or another, but rather to take it as what it is; within the context of the investigation and considering the limitations in which it was carried out, we can still grasp an idea of its validity and usefulness.

Is the general purpose of the study clear? The introduction cites numerous references of previous research describing general and specific factors affecting listener difficulties in a second language. The author, Goh (1999), describes the different approach to be taken in this particular research concerning categorizing ‘real-time processing problems’. Paradigm issues in regards to methods for gathering and indeed the ways of treating data are revealed in the introduction. This provides the reader with a feeling for the approach to which the researcher values and thinks about evaluating listeners’ difficulties.

Is the study significant? We are directed to go along with the assumption held by the researcher about the potential value of understanding the mental processes relating to difficulties in listening and gaining insights into students’ attitudes towards these difficulties. Again, the value of such research to the discipline of language acquisition is relative to the approaches within the approach of using metacognitive processing data and categorizing according to cognitive frameworks. For the purpose of thinking about learner listening difficulties and how teachers can cater for students’ needs the research is justified.

Will it make a practical or theoretical contribution? The pragmatic potential benefit of this study is mentioned in the introduction i.e. to be better able to identify the source of learner difficulties from a cognitive point of view, but oddly enough a lengthy paper is presented after the summary of findings. Here the researcher prescribes how teachers should deal with learners’ listening difficulties. Therefore, the researcher could be seen to be trying to verify her own beliefs about teaching approaches and how to assist learners in becoming better listeners and to support what certain others have suggested, namely Field (1998) on p.69. Assuming good reliability the recommendations made by Goh could be viewed as being potentially very useful.

Following this, the article serves another purpose regarding methodology; as introduced in the abstract, the author attempts to validate the methods used and suggests similar approaches for further research. This suggests that if the reader is willing to accept the way in which the data has been treated and analyzed then there is a potentially significant contribution to be made to the conceptualization of and in turn practice of dealing with listening difficulties.

Is the introduction well organized and clear? Difficulties in reading the article may arise simply by the layout of the document. Notably, the combining of the literature review with the introduction makes it hard to distinguish between the empirical studies which form a historical context for thinking about the issues involved and the current literature that has led the researcher to formulate the specific research questions. Ideally it would have been better to separate these for their attributing purposes.

The organization of the introduction does however effectively establish a framework for the way in which the researcher proposes to study difficulties in listening. Firstly, the idea of understanding problems from learners’ own perspectives and secondly, the cognitive framework for understanding language comprehension.

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