How to Use Bracketing in Qualitative Research

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Bracketing is a key part of some qualitative research philosophies, especially phenomenology and other approaches requiring interviews and observations, such as ethnography. Also known as "mind mapping" or "phenomenological reduction," this process intends to develop a "non-judgmental research team" whose objectivity about the participants and the material will not impede the perception of the phenomenon at the heart of the study, according to Chris Tattersall, et al. This "truly radical" process must be undertaken with care and rigor, explains the peer-reviewed Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Philosopher Edmund Husserl called it "epoche," or "freedom from suppositions."

Things You'll Need

  • Pen and paper
  • Word processor (optional)
  • Digital recorder (optional)

The Researcher Begins

  • Write a central idea or question in the center of a blank sheet of paper; you could also draw a meaningful symbol. This central term or image should relate to the research project.

  • Brainstorm other terms that relate to this central concept, and write them around it on the page.

  • Draw connections among the various terms you have written as you see them, based on how the ideas relate to each other.

  • Continue jotting down terms and drawing connections among them, without pausing to edit yourself, until you have exhausted your ideas about this central topic. Use additional sheets of paper if necessary.

  • Reread your "mind map," the brainstormed diagram of concepts and their connections; on a separate sheet of paper, list the connections that reoccur or that seem most prominent.

  • Create a new "mind map," using the listed term(s) as the new central concept(s).

Researcher and Participant Engage

  • Arrange a pre-interview with the research participant(s), individually. Explain this informal pre-interview is intended to help you both explore and isolate your preconceptions about the subject of the research.

  • Ask each participant broad questions about the context of the research subject, and encourage him or her to ask you questions.

  • Answer the participants' questions thoroughly and frankly; conceive of this interview as a conversation, rather than a one-sided information-gathering exercise.

  • Write up your reflections after each of these pre-interviews.

Tips & Warnings

  • Bracketing is viewed by many researchers as an ethical imperative, so it should be undertaken seriously and thoroughly; depending on the reasons for your research -- such as for an academic journal or for a grant proposal -- you may be asked to provide your bracketing notes or at least to describe the procedures you used as part of your methodology.
  • Some researchers recommend writing up a narrative or a formal essay based on these bracketing exercises. You may find it useful to leave your mind map and interview notes for a day or two, then reread them before writing up such a reflection.
  • Researchers typically record interviews, and you may find it helpful to record the bracketing pre-interview. If you do so, your participant(s) may find the setting to be more formal and less conversational, so undertake the recording with sensitivity and, of course, with your participants' consent.

References

  • Photo Credit taking notes image by Charles Jacques from Fotolia.com
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