Qualitative research, as a unique methodology, facilitates the gathering of information while simultaneously investigating the rationale behind the provided data. This piece illuminates the applications of this form of research, its primary users, the strategies for qualitative data acquisition and analysis, along with the principal benefits and potential drawbacks associated with this research approach.
Qualitative Research – Definition
Qualitative research involves gathering and then analyzing data that is recorded non-numerically, such as video, audio, or text. The data is used to understand complex concepts, experiences, and opinions. Qualitative research is used to develop new insights into problems or to generate new research ideas.
As such, qualitative research is the opposite of quantitative research. This latter form of research utilizes numerical data to search for patterns and perform statistical analysis.
Qualitative data can be used in any field, but it is most commonly employed by the humanities and social sciences. This research method is popular in subjects like anthropology, history, sociology, and so on.
Qualitative Research Methods
The most common types of qualitative research are interviews, focus groups, and ethnographic research.
Interviews are the most common form of qualitative research. They are generally conducted on a one-to-one basis and are purely conversational. During the interview, the interviewer aims to obtain detailed answers on specific topics from the research participant.
Interviews are an effective tool for gathering data on people’s beliefs and their motivations. Skilled researchers are capable of asking useful follow-up questions to gain more data on useful topics.
Interviews can be performed face-to-face, over the phone, or via a video chat application. They generally last anywhere from 30 minutes to over two hours. Face-to-face interviews grant the most opportunities for gathering data since they provide opportunities to gain extra information from things like body language.
2. Focus Groups
A focus group involves gathering around six to ten people and asking them questions as a collective. Participants should be chosen based on their knowledge or experience with the research question.
Focus groups ask questions centered around ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘why’. One of the advantages of these groups is that researchers can ask an initial question and then let the ensuing conversation between group members occur naturally.
Focus groups are one of the more difficult to organize qualitative research methods since they require a large number of people with similar experiences to be available at the same time. However, focus groups are an effective way of letting research participants explore concepts that are too complex for individuals to grasp effectively.
3. Ethnographic Research
Ethnographic research is the most in-depth form of qualitative research and involved studying people in their natural environment. Researchers aim to observe their audiences while remaining undetected by adapting to their audiences’ environments.
Instead of relying on people’s testimonies about their experiences, ethnographic research seeks to interpret these experiences directly as they occur. Studying audiences this way makes ethnographic research one of the slowest ways to collect data. A study of this type can require anything from a few days to a few years. Ethnographic research is also heavily dependent on the capabilities of the researcher to infer useful data from their observations.
Qualitative Research: How to Analyze the Data?
Qualitative data analysis can be carried out using these three steps:
1. Develop and Apply Codes.
Codes can be thought of as categories of data. Every created code needs a meaningful title consisting of a word or short phrase. Events, behaviors, activities meanings, and more can all be assigned one of these three types of code.
Open coding. The initial sorting of all the raw data into some kind of order.
Axial coding. Creating links between categories of codes.
Selective coding. Connecting categories together in order to formulate a story.
2. Identify Themes, Patterns, and Relationships
There are no universal methods for identifying patterns in qualitative research data. However, there is a set of techniques for identifying common themes and relationships with reference to the previously created codes. These are the most popular techniques for interpreting qualitative data:
- Scanning the data for words or phrases that are commonly used during responses.
- Comparing results from primary data gathering sessions with results in secondary sources and analyzing the differences between the two sets.
- Scanning the data for words or phrases that were expected but did not appear. The lack of a discussion about an aspect also provides information.
- Comparing the primary research data and comparing it to phenomena from a different area using relevant metaphors and analogs.
3. Summarize the Data
The final step is connecting the research data to the hypotheses. Highlight major themes and trends by utilizing noteworthy quotations from the data as well as possible contradictions.
One of the key aspects of qualitative data is that there is no unified, formal approach to collecting and analyzing data. Each research project will require its own set of methods and techniques. The key lies in examining the unique requirements of each project and adjusting the research methodology accordingly.
Pros & cons
|✓ Pros||✗ Cons|
|Qualitative research is capable of capturing attitudes as they change. Opinions can change and evolve over the course of a conversation and qualitative research can capture this.||The sample sizes involved in qualitative research are usually small.|
|Qualitative research methods are not bound by limitations in the same way that quantitative methods are. When gathering non-numerical data there is an opportunity for explanations that reveal more about the data.||The researchers are responsible for creating useful questions and determining what data is applicable. This can lead to biases affecting the results.|
|Qualitative data collection and analysis allows for a great deal of flexibility.||Looking for volunteers to participate in interviews or form part of a focus group leads to self-selection bias.|
|Techniques and methods that do not work can be changed to suit the circumstances.||Qualitative research gathers individuals to answer questions in artificial environments. This may alter the way participants provide data by altering the way they feel about the subject.|
|Qualitative methods allow for speculative investigations into areas that researchers feel are useful.||It is difficult to be certain that the questions being asked are the right or best questions for the project. Researchers may struggle to select the most effective questions, particularly when time is a limiting factor.|
|Qualitative information gathering can be more directly targetted at the research participants.|
This type of research is used by people who seek subjective answers that will allow them to explore ideas. It is often used to explore the meaning behind quantitative data. Alternatively, qualitative data can provide direction before quantitative research is utilized.
Qualitative research focuses on gaining as much data as possible from a relatively small sample size. It is a more flexible approach than quantitative research since it enables participants to express themselves while providing data.
The most common approaches to qualitative data gathering include action research, ethnography, grounded theory, narrative research, and phenomenological research.
Qualitative research studies seek between 20 and 60 participants. The research results are used to provide actionable direction and cannot be quantified.
The number of questions depends on the research format. When leading a focus group, there should be three to eight questions that guide the discussion.