Types of Qualitative Research

What is qualitative research? Qualitative research is the process of studying a research problem or question to gain a better understanding of a specific phenomenon. The researcher identifies a major research question and then administers a study using a method for collecting data (e.g. interviews, surveys, observations, or focus groups). Data analysis in qualitative research is then conducted and the researcher explains the study, collection methods, results, and conclusions.

Usually, this type of research is exploratory and should be done when the focus will be on words instead of numbers. It’s particularly used in the social sciences, education, psychology, and other disciplines in which information can be gathered without analyzing numerical figures.

Why Use Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is not meant to introduce solutions or manipulate data. The purpose of qualitative research is to be objective in pursuit of answers to phenomena occurring in the world as we know. It is one form of primary or fundamental research and is driven by the researcher’s curiosity over an idea, an event, a product, or other research sources. It lets the information (data) to emerge from participants as organically as possible. It attempts to gain a better understanding through firsthand experience, honest reporting, and words from actual people.

  • What are the advantages of qualitative research?

    One of the biggest advantages of using qualitative research is that it opens the door for further research (possible secondary research). Another advantage is that it helps you understand the values, perceptions, and feelings of people that influence their behavior. You get much more depth and detail in the study’s responses. People are encouraged to expand on their responses which can lead to new questions or issues that you may not have previously considered. This can lead to even more studies or one that is more comprehensive than the one you are currently working on.

  • What are the limitations of qualitative research?

    One of the limitations of this kind of study is that there are usually fewer people who participate and therefore the data collected may not provide an accurate account of what the greater population feels about a subject. It’s also harder to generalize information since you have a smaller sample size of responses with which to work. Another limitation is that you may receive wide-ranging responses which will make it extremely difficult (if not impossible) to make systematic comparisons. Finally, you need to have well-developed interview skills to sit down with someone, speak to them on the phone, or moderate a focus group.

  • What are the benefits of qualitative research?

    A benefit that many researchers point to is that qualitative studies reduce the distortion that may occur between the research and the person(s) being interview or observed. Interactions occur in natural settings and not in laboratories or controlled environments. This allows more room for objectivity because people are often more relaxed and willing to provide honest and complete responses. The researcher can also encourage people to go more in-depth or clarify responses that can be hard to interpret without a follow-up. The connection made between the two sides leads to more valuable information that can be analyzed with much more accuracy.

What Are the 4 Data Collection Methods in Qualitative Research?

There are a variety of ways to collect data for a qualitative study. However, there are four distinct types which are used most commonly:

  1. Interviews – This is the most widely used types of qualitative research methods. It allows for both a telephone or in-person interview. It also allows the researcher to ask follow-up questions or ask for clarification. Interviews also encourage personal connections which often lead to more detailed and highly-valuable content that the interviewee may not have given using a different method.

  2. Surveys – This is the easiest of all the types of qualitative research method for data collection because it allows a researcher to create a set of questions and distribute it online to gather information from any number of people. Today’s tools make it easy to break the data down into desired categories. The only limitations are that the person creating the survey must be careful about which questions to use since they need to be unbiased.

  3. Observations – This is a way to gather data by watching people or “getting to know them” by observing them either covertly or overtly. In most cases, researchers observing others for different types of qualitative research will do so from a distance. But in some cases, the researcher may actually put himself or herself in the “person’s shoes” by entering and participating in the subject’s world.

  4. Focus Groups – This is one of the most popular types of qualitative research methods because it brings a small group of people together (about 6 – 10) for a discussion. These are led by a moderator who guides the conversation by asking members of the group to elaborate or respond to one another, thus giving the researcher much more content to work with.

Triangulation qualitative research refers to the use of a combination of 2 or more of any type of qualitative research methods listed above. Triangulation is used because it gives a more comprehensive understanding of the phenomena or subject being studied. While there is more work required, the results are often far more reliable because correlations can be made utilizing all of the information collected no matter which methods were used.

Why is Qualitative Research Important?

There are three important characteristics of why qualitative research designs continue to be used in modern scientific studies and why many choose qualitative vs quantitative research in a lot of specific situations:

  • The validity in Qualitative Research

    A qualitative research study has two qualities that allow for it to be used in a variety of settings: applicability and consistency. First, this type of study can be applied to situations outside of the core work and often when other researchers can find meaningful ways to put a qualitative research study into their experiences. Second, this type of study is also consistent.

  • The trustworthiness in Qualitative Research

    The issue of trust is something else that researchers consider when choosing a qualitative research methodology. It must contain all of the rigorous work that goes into any other type of research study (e.g., purpose, study method, process decision, available literature, and data collection. This allows for other researchers to conduct the same study under the same conditions and arrive at the same result.

  • The credibility in Qualitative Research

    Credibility is given to this kind of study when the results are recognized by experts in the field. They must be presented with detailed descriptions and put into the appropriate context. The qualitative research design used in the study must be something that others in the field can easily grasp and apply their experiences to. Simply stated, the design must be something that others can apply to their own experiences.

You can see why these characteristics help answer any questions regarding issues of validity and reliability in qualitative research. And while it may seem that this is the easier of the two major approaches to a research study, this could be further from the truth. The characteristics of qualitative research allow for greater application to other projects but because it relies on data that does not include numerical information and considered unstructured, the approach must be carefully taken with the utmost diligence to ensure all data is collected and analyzed accurately.

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