Quantitative methods can reveal, for example, what percentage of the population supports assisted conception, their distribution by age, marital status, residential area and so on, as well as changes from one survey to the next (Kovacs , 2009); and the relationship between the attitude of donor-conceived people to learning of their donor insemination conception and their family ‘type’ (one or two parents, lesbian or heterosexual parents; Beeson , 2011).In contrast, ‘qualitative’ methods are used to answer questions about experience, meaning and perspective, most often from the standpoint of the participant.These data are usually not amenable to counting or measuring.
The way in which parents conceptualise unused embryos and why they discard rather than donate was explored and understood via in-depth interviews, showing how and why the meaning of those embryos changed with parenthood (de Lacey, 2005).
In-depth interviews were also used to establish the intricate understanding by embryo donors and recipients of the meaning of embryo donation and the families built as a result (Goedeke , 2015).
In the rejection letter one of the reviewers (not from ) lamented, ‘Even for a qualitative study, I would expect that some form of confidence interval and paired t-tables analysis, etc. This comment reveals the reviewer's inappropriate application to qualitative research of criteria relevant only to quantitative research.
In this commentary, we give illustrative examples of questions most appropriately answered using qualitative methods and provide general advice about how to appraise the scientific rigour of qualitative studies.
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When legislative change meant that gamete donors could seek identifying details of people conceived from their gametes, parents needed advice on how best to tell their children.
Small-group discussions were convened to ask adolescents (not known to be donor-conceived) to reflect on how they would prefer to be told (Kirkman , 2007).
It is possible to combine quantitative and qualitative methods, although great care should be taken to ensure that the theory behind each method is compatible and that the methods are being used for appropriate reasons.
The two methods can be used sequentially (first a quantitative then a qualitative study or vice versa), where the first approach is used to facilitate the design of the second; they can be used in parallel as different approaches to the same question; or a dominant method may be enriched with a small component of an alternative method (such as qualitative interviews ‘nested’ in a large survey).