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Qualitative Article Review and Critique Example


Work-related stress is an increasing problem in everyday life, indicating the excessive demands faced by modern workers. Different researchers have focused on studies related to stress in order to identify its causes, understand the specific factors behind burnout, and offer solutions for organizations. In their article titled “Stress and Burnout among Social Workers”, ChristianaMarc and Claudia Osvat (2013)present a qualitative research to highlight the primary causes and signs of burnout for social workers and the way to prevent workplace stress. They review current literature on the problem to identify its theoretical aspects and provide the findings of their study. While the article offers important results illustrating the issue of stress and burnout for social workers, it has certain limitations related to its title, sampling, data collection, ethical considerations, rigor, presentation, and bias of findings.

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Summary of the Article
The aim of the qualitative research was to illustrate the ways of addressing and dealing with workplace stress and burnout by the social workers. To explore the issue, the authors interviewed a sample of 18 professionals from public and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Oradea (Marc &Osvat, 2013). Data from the subjects was collected using interview-based surveys containing questions on positive and negative work aspects and interpreted with the help of thematic content analysis. The authors grouped the items into separate themes and examined them in relation to the relevant topic (Marc &Osvat, 2013). According to the results, all but one interviewee admitted facing stress at work and associated it with burnout. Job demands, time constraints, limited social work interventions, family issues, insufficient rest, and absent appreciation, reward, and support from supervisors were found to contribute to burnout syndrome. The participants also identified physical and emotional symptoms of burnout and shared possible adaptive strategies to cope with stressful situations (Marc &Osvat, 2013). The authors promote further research on the burnout consequences for social workers and organizations as well as the relationship between the individual characteristics and the condition.

Analysis of the Article
The introduction provided by the authors is solid and centers on the stated purpose of the study. The content supports the need for deeper understanding of the issue, which necessitates the current research. Additionally, the theoretical analysis of the literature provides a definite scope and the direction the study will take since Marc and Osvat (2013) evaluate current and past studies undertaken by other researchers. However, the title of the study does not portray the investigative nature of the qualitative research that investigates the reasons of burnout and stress in the workplace. It is rather general, since it does not express the need to identify gaps in the knowledge on the problem from an investigative point of view. A specific title would inform the reader that the study will examine the factors causing work-related stress and strategies of addressing burnout in the workplace. Additionally, Marc and Osvat (2013) indicate the need to determine factors causing stress but do not offer justifications why the study should be undertaken at that particular time. It is imperative for the authors to state why the findings will increase the general body of knowledge on stress as a research phenomenon.

The sample and setting of the study were described in detail to show their representative nature. The participants were selected on the basis of their ability to match the exposures to work-related stress and burnout. Thus, the purposeful sample recruited for this research can really guarantee rich data as highlighted by Ryan, Coughlan, and Cronin (2007);however, it is rather small considering the extent of prevalence of stress in organizations. Indeed, although Ryan et al. (2007) state that qualitative samples are generally small but adequately represent the general population, it should still be large enough for the derived findings to have a big impact on the research problem. An appropriate sample ensures that all participants are suitable subjects to inform the research by their likelihood and willingness to describe their experiences in relation to the research problem.

Apart from the sample, there are reservations for the setting of the research since it only focuses on urban areas. In order to address the general position of social workers, the study should have also considered rural locations. The findings are therefore only representative of the stress and burnout trends of urban areas, which restricts the application in policy or uptake of recommendations for all the professionals in the field. Additionally, the sample did not allot the subjects in regard to gender, which lowers the significance of the study. Responses tend to vary between men and women, which would warrant the examination of male and female answers about stress and burnout in the workplace.
Since data for a qualitative study is based on human experiences, a semi-structured interview is an appropriate data collection method. Such responses increase accuracy and are helpful in controlling content for the study. However, there are limitations to the use of self-reported interviews, when gathering information on human experiences. Such answers may be distorted due to exaggerations and social desirability bias. Some respondents may be embarrassed to report about their personal details such as reactions to burnout. Since some questions require responses indicating the emotional state and cognitive assessments of subjects, risks of under-reporting, forgetting key details and inaccuracies may be observed. Participants may distort facts, especially when answering interview questions about their workplaces in order to intentionally portray their employers in bad light. When organizing the content for the semi-structured interviews, it was essential to include questions about job description. The rates of burnout vary, which makes responses about the specific nature of the subjects’ job essential when analyzing aspects of stress. Missing this important feature of social work minimizes the derived extents of stress in sample population.

In qualitative research, there is active interaction between the researcher and the respondents. The former should ensure anonymity and protect the identity of the participants as much as possible. Assuring respondents that the raw data based on their personal experiences is treated privately is imperative to avoid ethical dilemmas (Ryan, et al. 2007). Marc and Osvat (2013) do not mention offering the participants to fill in informed consent forms to safeguard their participation in the study. However, the semi-structured interview contains questions about aspects the respondents do not like about their current job, the way they perceive their working tasks, and their organizations’ actions to reduce work related-stress among others (Marc &Osvat, 2013). Responses to these questions require personalized answers that could be used to victimize employees by malicious employers. Although the interviews encourage respondents to open up and share their experiences with stress, there should be autonomy allowing them to withdraw from the study anytime they deem fit (Ryan, et al.2007). In this very case, the consent process did not take place, the respondents were unable to ascertain their preference to continue or discontinue with the data collection process, and the ethical committee was not constituted; at least, there lacks evidence of any of these, which makes it difficult to determine whether the research adhered to ethical principles or participants and their responses were protected.

The authors recommend some adaptive strategies that will help social workers to cope with emotional stress and improve their ability to control burnout. The study promotes staff training, improved communication, and conflict managements as some of the solutions that can balance working conditions (Marc &Osvat, 2013). However, these recommendations are constrained in their application since all issues related to burnout in the study were not adequately examined and addressed. One of the characteristics of an effective qualitative research is rigor; socially constructed realities based on experiences such as stress require a value-laden inquiry that demonstrates the reliability and trustworthiness of the findings (Ryan, et al 2007). Although the research questions examined the positive and negative elements of the respondents’ work, it was important to achieve dependability in findings by producing a decision trail for every respondent. Part of the problem lies in aggregating the results during interpretation using thematic content analysis. The responses provided were flexible and did not reflect personalized answers since different respondents had different experiences with stress and burnout. Grouping the research items into themes lowers the transferability of the findings into other contexts. When meaningful experiences are confirmed and recorded, it is easier to demonstrate the relationship between the interpretations and conclusions. However, the study generalized some of the findings, especially when examining the factors leading to burnout. By constraining the study to describing the responses from the predominant subjects, it limits the applicability of its recommendations since they can only be applied in the exact social work context as is the case in the research.

The authors used demographic data from respondents to reveal the trends of stress and burnout in their work. They provide long description of the summarized responses, identifying the causes of stress, factors contributing to burnout, its symptoms, and solutions for its prevention (Marc &Osvat, 2013). Although these responses were summarized and analyzed, the presentation of the findings is poor, which reduces the comprehension and identification of any patterns from the data. Properly developed qualitative research should be easy to understand and visualize. The manner in which the results are presented is not effective in sustaining the interest of the reader. Findings from a qualitative research can be written in a narrative form to describe the phenomenon; however, when the outcomes discussed are interrelated, it is important to represent and communicate using appropriate visualization that facilitates comparisons, relationships, and tracks the study context of the larger research. For example, the data analysis and interpretation stage would have used tables to list the answers from 18 respondents since there were 11 different interview questions to be addressed. The long description of the findings is monotonous and difficult to follow, which interferes with the clarity of the conclusion.

The interpretations of the research findings were aligned with what the respondents reported. There are logical connections between the responses and the patterns of burnout, which fits the context of previous studies identified in the literature review. The findings are connected to current literature, and there are significant implications on how to reduce stress and burnout in organizations. However, the recommendations from the study may suffer from bias, limiting their application in the general discipline. Generally, there are numerous ways in which the researcher can introduce bias while collecting data for the study (Simundić, 2013). For example, there was sampling bias in selecting the geographical distribution of the sample, which means that the Oradea population may differ from other population in regard to patterns of stress and burnout. In addition, there is no evidence of how the selection of the sample was done, and whether participants were picked randomly or assigned equal chances of taking part in the study. Since respondents were being asked personal questions about work, their answers could be skewed by emotions, leading to risks of performance bias. Besides, during interpretation and presentation of results, a bias was possible since associations between responses could be overlooked due to their flexible aggregation into summaries without using visualizations such as tables and graphs.

Stress in the workplace is an increasing problem and focus of different studies. The qualitative research conducted by Marc and Osvat (2013) illustrates the issue of stress and burnout for social workers by examining the factors causing it, its symptoms, and possible solutions. The study presents implications of the result and offers directions for future research although some key issues pose significant limitations. The title does not indicate the investigating approach of the study or the justification of the research. The sample of the study is limited in number, which restricts its ability to have a considerable impact on the findings and direction of future research. Concentrating the sample in the urban setting limits the applicability of the findings in rural areas. Use of interview questions during data collection is prone to inaccuracies and exaggerations since responses are based on human experiences. Ethical considerations were not upheld because participants did not fill in any consent forms during data collection. The interpretation did not provide a decision trail, which reduces the rigor of the findings. Additionally, there was no visualization of the findings, which makes the reporting of the results cumbersome to comprehend and relate with the rest of the study. Finally, there was evidence of bias in the sampling, performance, and interpretation of findings, which dilutes the connection between the responses and their relationship with stress and burnout in social workers.

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Marc, C., & Osvat, C. (2013). Stress and burnout among social workers. Revista de Asistenţă Socială, 12(3), 121-130.
Ryan, F., Coughlan, M., & Cronin, P. (2007). Step-by-step guide to critiquing research. Part 2: qualitative research. British Journal of Nursing, 16(12), 738-744.
Simundić, A.-M. (2013). Bias in research. Biochemia Medica, 23(1), 12-15.

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