Last week I started writing about my new book, Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism. I introduced the book and then explained how it came about from a perfect storm of scholarship, teaching, and service.
Today, I want to write about learning qualitative empirical research methods. The book is an interview-based book, so my co-author and I had to learn how to do interview-based empirical research. Neither of us is formally trained in this, so it was quite the undertaking. Thankfully, though, there were a lot of great resources available to us. Here's a list of useful tips/resources, in no particular order:
Your IRB: Your Institutional Review Board is not just there to give you nightmares about paperwork and hoops that you have to jump through. A great piece of advice we got early on was to talk with the people at the IRB before we started filing anything. They were really helpful in thinking through various aspects of our methodology and framework for our research.
Faculty colleagues: I am very fortunate to have many colleagues on my faculty who have advanced degrees in fields that use qualitative research more than law, several of whom really know qualitative methodology. They were incredibly helpful throughout this. Like the IRB, we talked with them very early in the process to help think about basic methodological approaches and then continued to talk with them for details. If your law school doesn't have people like this, chances are, if you are part of a university, colleagues in other departments would be more than willing to help.
Professors elsewhere: One of the most important decisions I made early on with this project was to not be shy in reaching out to people, even if I had no prior connections with them. I reached out to people who had written books in this field as well as other law professors who did qualitative research that was somewhat related. Almost everyone responded and gave generously of their time in helping and thinking through what it was that we were doing.
AALS: The AALS occasionally offers workshops on qualitative empirical research. I went to one as part of an annual meeting and found it immensely helpful, even though I had already started doing interviews.
Books: Sage publishes a litany of books on qualitative empirical research. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research is excellent for all-around help. For overall understanding of qualitative research and the beginnings of study design, my favorite was Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches by John Creswell. Theoretical Frameworks in Qualitative Research by Anfara and Mertz was also useful.
Videos: There are some professors who teach in this area who have recorded videos of classes going through methodology issues. The videos from Graham Gibbs were the ones that I found most useful, especially when getting into the nitty-gritty of doing the interviews and then coding/analysis.
Other qualitative studies: Reading other qualitative empirical studies is very valuable as well. Seeing what other scholars have done, both legal and non-legal scholars, can help with your own study design.
There are other resources out there, of course, but these were the most useful ones that I found. I think one other thing to keep in mind is that many of us lawyers have a good head start on qualitative research because we have developed interviewing skills already. Qualitative research interviews are not identical to client interviews, but there are many similarities.
Tomorrow I'll continue in this vein with some more specifics related to conducting qualitative research (once you've learned what it is that you're doing).