Understanding the interpretive paradigm: a guide for sports students learning through qualitative research

Sprake, Andrew orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-5164-770X and Palmer, Clive Alan orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-9925-2811 (2022) Understanding the interpretive paradigm: a guide for sports students learning through qualitative research. Journal of Qualitative Research in Sports Studies, 16 (1). pp. 45-68. ISSN 1754-2375

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For many students, the phrase ‘research paradigm’ conjures up a sense of uncertainty. Like all academic disciplines, qualitative research has its own unique vocabulary, and getting to grips with these ‘isms’ and ‘ologies’ is a crucial step toward producing quality research. This paper seeks to navigate research paradigms for the benefit of students undertaking interpretive, qualitative research, either at undergraduate or postgraduate levels. There is a broad consensus that research paradigms consist of a researcher’s ontological worldview; on the nature of reality, their epistemological position; as to how knowledge can be attained and/or claimed, and an appropriate methodology; an overarching theory or lens through which various methods or data collection strategies can be used in fieldwork. More recently however, scholars of qualitative inquiry have posited that, as part of their research paradigm, researchers should lay bare their axiology; values and demonstrate a commitment to reflexivity; a transparency about how their presence and values affect the entire research process. By presenting a student-friendly discussion about these ‘isms’ and ‘ologies’, we hope to instil a degree of methodological confidence to undertake qualitative research. For better or worse, a fundamental aspect of becoming (and being) a qualitative researcher is to embrace uncertainty in what we may claim to know. But if you knew how every story ended, the research journey could become predictable and the story that emerges may not be as compelling.

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