What is Qualitative Research?

Interviews, surveys, and observation are all methods of obtaining qualitative research data.
Interviews, surveys, and observation are all methods of obtaining qualitative research data.

Research is a process that pertains creatively undertaking a systematic work to understand more about either human beings and their ways of life, the society as a whole, or their culture. It is done through two structured methods: quantitative and qualitative. This article will discuss qualitative research.

Qualitative research is one of the social researches in which the researcher collects non-numerical data and uses the interpretation of this data to understand a social life of a targeted community or population.

Collection of Non-numerical Data

Now that we have defined qualitative research, the next question is, “How does a researcher collect data in this type of research?” This question provokes us to ask, “What is Data Collection?” We will answer these two questions concurrently.

Data collection is a process that involves gathering and evaluating the information obtained from the participants in a systematic manner that helps one get answers for the research topic. In qualitative research, this can be done through two ways, either through direct conversation with the people or participating in a group discussion. However, due to its time-consuming nature, data is mostly collected from a smaller number of samples using the following various methods: interviewing the individual, observing, having focus groups, and participating in the action. However, an interview is the most commonly used method of generating data.

Other favorite ways of generating data among the qualitative researchers are the examination of personal documents, photographs, and public and government reports, a process called content analysis.

Knowing the methods of collecting data alone may not be beneficial unless you learn how to obtain only the critical data. To do so, a researcher should ask the following question: How will I use the collected data in a manner that makes sense to the research? And as the researcher collects data, the following questions should be the guiding principles in the whole process: Who are the participants? What should I focus? What is the extra information that I should obtain? What is new among the participants? Is the new factor in the participants affect the research and if so, how?

Types of Data Collection

Direct Observation

In the direct observation, the researchers joined the participants during their daily routine only as an observer without interfering or involving himself or herself in their activities. The people under the study are aware, and therefore the research should be done in a place that does not need privacy. For instance, the researcher might choose to find out how people of a particular community interact when they meet in their social places. In this case, the researcher will visit most frequented places and take note of every action that will be crucial in answering the researcher’s questions.

Open-ended Surveys

Despite the leaning towards quantitative research, in this method, the questions are designed in a manner that gives the participant room to provide information more than what the researcher requires. For example, research can be conducted to find out not just the popular former president of a given country but also the reasons why he or she is famous. The questions are frame using “who,” “what,” or “how.” For instance, “Who is the most popular former president of United States of America?”

Focus Group

This is where the researcher involves a small group of people in one-on-one interaction designed to produce data that will assist in arriving at the final decision in regards to the research topic. The group freely discussed the topic, and the researcher notes any important information.

In-depth Interviews

This is where the researcher speaks directly to every participant in one-on-one pacing. The interviewer approaches the participant with an already determined number of questions or the sub-topics for deliberation. The questions are not restrictive but allow room for additional information during the conversation. Also, the researcher can have some topics of interest that will enable him or her guide the direction of the discussion.

Oral History

This method is used to formulate historical patterns of events, community, group, and mostly involves some in-depth interviews carried out with either one or more participants for an extended period.

Participant Observation

It is almost like the observation method, but in participant observation, the researcher carries the same action as the participant with the aim of getting first-hand information.

Content Analysis

This method had been used by sociologists to determine the social life of communities through the interpretation of words, and images from film, music, documents, art, and other indigenous products. The researcher finds out how the images or words are used and in which context to draw a conclusion about the cultural perspective of a particular community.

Analyzing the Data

Once the researcher has gathered enough data, the next and determining step is called Data Analysis. Qualitatively, data analysis involves the following steps: transcription of data, coding of data, and more importantly interpreting and generalizing of data. We will briefly explain the steps.

Transcription of data: This involves converting the visual and audible data into a written manner that will form the researcher judgment. This process can be facilitated by the use of Microsoft Word in a computer.

Coding of data: It pertains finding phrases or words with similarities and placing them in one category after doing the sorting. This process is essential in classifying more extensive data with same characteristics into what is called themes so that the whole relationship can be understood.

Interpretation and generalization of data: with the support of presence literature, the researcher forms his or her conclusive impression in the respective themes, considered the parameters of the study and presents his or her findings in a report. Although there are many ways of synthesizing and presenting the results, the researcher should ensure that the conclusion is directly supported by participants’ quotations. The quotations make it clear to the readers that the discussed topics came from the participants’ interviews and it is not the opinion of the researcher.

It is essential to take note that, the guiding principle in qualitative data interpretation is the researcher impression. He or she observes the examined data and interpret by forming an individual opinion and report in a structured qualitative form.


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