Just Tell Me What I Need To Know: Reflexivity and Positionality Statements

Today, I’m back with the next part of this series: Just Tell Me What I Need To Know.

Part three is about reflexivity and writing your positionality statement.

I was having a conversation a few weeks ago about people who engage in qualitative research topics that reflect their personal experiences. Afterall, research is we-search, right?

This conversation was how people should not research some topics because they haven’t yet healed from it themselves. It comes out when you talk to them. The it being the pain, the harm, the years of deflection, and all the emotional stuff.

We-searchers already knowing what they are going to find from the data...because they experienced it. So since they have personal knowledge and experience, then, of course, the rest of the world has experienced it the same way. Right?


Today’s topic is another overlooked aspect of qualitative research, engaging in reflexivity and stating your positionality as a researcher.

Some things to remember:

  • I’m providing a starting point. This is not meant to be taken as the right way to write. It is intended to give you some guidance during a confusing process.
  • It is easier to edit an existing thing than to start from scratch. So…the goal is to write the worst draft ever! This is not about spending hours and hours making the perfect first sentence. Writing is a process. You will spend more hours editing than you think. So the goal is to have something to edit.
  • Show up with something! Always, always, always refer to the Graduate’s school guidelines, your program’s manual, and your advisor/chair. This guide is meant to give you something to show up with.

Reflexivity is an attitude of attending systematically to the context of knowledge construction, especially to the effect of the researcher, at every step of the research process (Cohen & Crabtree, 2006).

Who you are and what you’ve been through influences how you see the world, your decisions, actions, etc. (i.e., paradigm).

Therefore, who you are and where you’ve been ALSO influences your research.

Now, I don’t believe in bias per se.

I do believe it is important for you to situate yourself within your research so that the reader knows about the researcher (i.e., the research instrument).

However, if you don’t know who are, how will we?

"A researcher's background and position will affect what they choose to investigate, the angle of investigation, the methods judged most adequate for this purpose, the findings considered most appropriate, and the framing and communication of conclusions" (Malterud, 2001, p. 483-484).

I argue that coming to one’s positionality statement requires a few caveats:

  • One must continuously engage in the process of reflexivity throughout the research process.
  • Positionality is not fixed or static. We are constantly evolving in our understanding of self and the world.
  • The researcher-participant relationship is fluid, not one-sided. Each one is constantly influencing the other through their interactions.

Reflexivity is the process of examining both oneself as researcher, and the research relationship. Self-searching involves examining one’s “conceptual baggage,” one’s assumptions and preconceptions, and how these affect research decisions, particularly, the selection and wording of questions. Reflecting on the research relationship involves examining one’s relationship to the respondent, and how the relationship dynamics affect responses to questions (Hsiung, 2010).

Most are familiar with the concept of a researcher’s journal. This journal is not only to capture the researcher’s data collection process. The journal is there to capture your understandings (e.g., histories, life experiences, emotional baggage) and their connections to the research project.

I suggest that you begin your journaling even before you write your first word of your proposal. Use your journal to reflect even as you brainstorm topics and questions.

Positionality Statement

It is important to note here that a researcher’s positionality not only shapes their own research, but influences their interpretation, understanding and ultimately their belief in the ‘truthfulnesss’ of other’s research that they read or are exposed to. Open and honest disclosure and exposition of positionality should show where and how the researcher believes that they have influenced their research, the reader should then be able to make an informed judgement as to the researcher’s influence on the research process and how ‘truthful’ they feel the research is (Holmes, 2014).

In essence, the positionality statement should address who you are, how you see the world (your paradigm), and your relationship with the participant and research project.

Here are some questions to consider as you begin to write your positionality statement:

  • How do you understand the research process and knowledge? (paradigm)
  • Who are you?
  • What are your beliefs about this topic?
  • Any history or personal interaction with this topic?
  • What are your understandings of systems of oppression and their influence on your research?
  • What is your connection to your participants? Do you share any commonalities, identities, or experiences with your participants?
  • What do you think you will find in this study?
  • What are your hopes for this study?
  • Anything else that is important for the reader to know about you?

No right page limit exists for this section. However, to give some guidance, I would aim for 1-2 paragraphs in a paper and 1-5 pages for the dissertation. Again, refer to your chair.

All parts of the research proposal are interconnected. You will notice that clearly understanding your paradigm, purpose, and methodology is critical to writing your positionality statement and vice versa.

Need help writing that paper?

Join me on December 28th for the Qualitative Paper Workshop!

Cohen, D., & Crabtree, B. (2006, July). Qualitative research guidelines project. Retrieved from http://www.qualres.org/HomeRefl-3703.html

Holmes, A. (2010, March). Researcher positionality: A consideration of its influence and place in research. Retrieved from https://www.scribd.com/document/305906312/Researcher-Positionality-a-Consideration-of-Its-Influence-and-Place-in-Research

Hsiung, P. (2010, August). Reflexivity: A Process of Reflection. Retrieved from http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~pchsiung/LAL/reflexivity

Malterud, K. (2001). Qualitative research: Standards, challenges and guidelines. The Lancet, 358(9280) 483-488. doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(01)05627-6