Dealing with controversial findings

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Doing Research in Applied Linguistics Realities, dilemmas, and solutions, 2017, pp. 203 - 213 (10)
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Qualitative studies in applied linguistics often rely on interviews as key research tools designed to generate data that illuminate participants’ views, opinions, and experiences. As such, interviews are frequently a central feature of ethnographies, case studies, action research and narrative inquiries (Talmy & Richards 2011). However, some opinions and behaviours reported by participants in interviews, or recorded in observational field notes may be quite confronting or unpalatable in that they transgress the views of the researcher or may potentially offend a wider audience who may eventually read the research findings. This is especially true of much sociolinguistic research, which traverses topics such as nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, identity, language beliefs, attitudes and learner behaviours. For example, participants’ views or behaviours may be perceived by the researcher as racist or sexist, they may reveal interviewees’ involvement in questionable or illegal activities, or they may pertain to issues and experiences that are deeply personal, intimate, emotionally charged, or taboo. Research of this sort is often referred to as ‘sensitive’ and requires careful negotiation by the researcher (Cohen, Manion & Morrison 2013). In this chapter, I discuss my own experiences of dealing with controversial findings in an extended research project that led to multiple publications and I draw out some general points that are intended to guide other researchers when negotiating similarly sensitive topics
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