Expert qualitative researchers and the use of audit trails

Authors

  • John R. Cutcliffe BSc PhD RMN RGN,

  • Hugh P. McKenna BSc PhD RMN RGN AdvDipEd RNT FFN RCSI FRCN FEANS


John Cutcliffe, 3333 University Way, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, British Columbia V2N 4Z9, Canada.
E-mail: dr.johnr@shaw.ca

Abstract

Background.  Determining the credibility of qualitative research findings remains a contested area and leaves the way open for additional theoretical and methodological discussion.

Aims.  In this paper we focus on audit trails and confirmability, within the context of ‘expert’ qualitative researchers. Having outlined the audit trail process, we develop existing arguments about the ‘expert’ qualitative researcher. We then juxtapose the two, highlighting a number of issues in an attempt to advance the debate.

Discussion.  These issues discussed are: (1) The shifting sands of methodological orthodoxy – the historical context in which audit trails emerged. (2) The individual construction of logic. (3) ‘Grounded in the data’ or ‘going beyond the words’– the key differences between descriptive and interpretive findings. (4) The singular relationship between qualitative researcher and their data. (5) The growing acknowledgement that method alone is insufficient. (6) The challenging example of visionaries.

Conclusion.  We argue that using audit trails as a means to achieve confirmability of qualitative research findings is an exaggeration of the case for method, and may do little to establish the credibility of the findings. We also introduce a preliminary case for testing the credibility of theory induced by expert qualitative researchers, in part by means of its usefulness; its ‘fit and grab’, rather than by the researcher's adherence to contemporary methodological orthodoxy. In other words, the absence of audit trails does not necessarily challenge the credibility of qualitative findings, particularly if an expert qualitative researcher produced the findings.

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