Qualitative research is one of the most common methods of gathering information. Often used by social scientists, it finds application in several other fields. It involves studying data collected from individuals’ experiences or observations. It’s an exploratory, open-ended approach to knowledge-building that entails positing a theory, gathering evidence, drawing conclusions and generating meaning.
Qualitative research methods rely on subjective collection of data. This approach requires in-depth research involving groups of people for conversations or observation. The aim is to record their views, feelings and opinions before a researcher decides what conclusions to draw from them.
Want to know more about what is qualitative research? Let’s dive in.
Definition Of Qualitative Research
Qualitative research methods are ideal for understanding phenomena that can’t be standardized or quantified. This is where they differ from methods used in the other dominant research—quantitative research.
When researchers want to study a phenomenon that can be easily translated into numbers, they opt for quantitative research. The meaning of qualitative research is that it can be used to understand the world beyond numbers. Ideas, thoughts, feelings and perceptions can all be tackled through qualitative research methodology.
You can use these two kinds of research separately or together to understand the subject of your study. Qualitative research allows you to draw inferences, form hypotheses and then test them, just like quantitative research. Moreover, you may notice threads in responses that might be overlooked by researchers focused on statistical significance.
The qualitative research methodology is chosen depending upon three factors:
- The purpose of the research
- The characteristics of the person who might be involved in the process (respondent, observer, participant)
- The nature of the unit (an individual or a group)
These scenarios will help you better understand the definition of qualitative research:
- The study of problems in business or public policy by collecting what people say about their experiences.
- Studies on social change and practices.
- Attempts to learn how customers feel about a certain product or service and what they would like to see changed, improved or offered in the future.
- Insights on customer preference before starting the development process for a new product.
- Studies on markets and current trends in an industry.
- Learning what customers think of an organization or brand.
- Finding out how customers act or react to changes in products, services or markets.
- Studying the impact of promotional activities on customers.
Quantitative research can provide a rudimentary understanding in these examples of qualitative research. But, to gather deeper insights and information that gives the complete picture, qualitative research adds another dimension to our knowledge.
Qualitative Research Methodology
Examples of qualitative research are many. It’s easy to demonstrate how useful it can be. It can capture much richer data and more subtle phenomena than quantitative methods. Doing this thoroughly and fairly can present several challenges. The following are examples of qualitative research methods:
1. Personal Interviews
This technique involves the researcher interacting with primary or secondary source respondents to collect information or data for analysis or interpretation of an issue. The researcher has a preconceived idea about the individuals being interviewed and the type of information they might offer. This technique is often used in surveys to get information or data for analysis. It can be quick or time-consuming, depending on the subject matter.
There are two types of observations: participant observation and independent observation. In participant observation, the researcher gets involved in the daily activities of participants they’re observing. They work with the cohort to gain its trust alongside the study. Independent observers are simply observers who aren’t part of an ongoing relationship with participants being observed. They don’t impact their environment in any way for the duration of the study.
3. Ethnographic Research
This is a more immersive version of observation where researchers are embedded in the society or group they’re studying for an extended period of time. It’s a practice that grew out of sociological research but is now applied elsewhere as well.
4. Focus Group Discussion
A focus group is a set of people brought together to take part in a discussion on a specific topic. Their discussion points, interaction and reactions can all be recorded for study. For example, there could be a focus group of 10 people discussing their views on the rough cut of a film. Often, studios will conduct such discussions and then suggest changes to the director if the audience doesn’t respond to the existing footage in the desired way.
5. Case Study Research
Case studies are descriptive, in-depth analyses of individuals, groups, events and experiences. They’re written by the researcher, but they take the viewpoint of an individual respondent.
6. Study Of Existing Literature
Qualitative research methods are used to study the existing work on a subject, often before a new study is conducted. In some cases, it can form a part of the report. It can also comprise the entire research if the subject calls for it. For instance, a study of the colonial impact on recorded history might only involve examining existing written history books.
While these are the common qualitative research methods, various tools can be used to conduct and record the findings. For instance, interviews can be conducted through a survey and recorded through a questionnaire. Respondents might also be recorded in audio or video formats.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of Qualitative Research
The true meaning of qualitative research is realized when respondents’ voices are heard. This is most powerful when the researcher lets the data speak for itself and doesn’t force it into pre-existing theories. However, as with all research, it’s necessary to verify the assumptions by testing the same hypotheses using other research designs.
There are certain subjects of study that lend themselves well to numbers. For instance, in studying the efficacy of a vaccine in keeping patients out of hospitals with a disease, quantitative data is the need of the hour. However, to study its side-effects, a combination of quantitative data and qualitative data is necessary. Relying too heavily on one method when you need a balanced approach leads to problems. Let’s take a closer look at some pitfalls of qualitative data:
- Qualitative research can be overused. This can lead to data that is so broad that it’s hard to pinpoint what it means. It can also be hard to find facts within the data that has been collected
- Qualitative research can be too subjective. This makes it difficult to reach a consensus as the data will vary from researcher to researcher and reader to reader
- Some have argued that qualitative research is better than quantitative research because it provides a depth of understanding that numbers can’t. This is the result of detailed data analysis, which is a much more insightful and rigorous process than what’s possible with quantitative methods. However, only quantification can render an issue in a logical form that’s comparable with other phenomena to find patterns and structures
- The scientific method requires that the results of studies be replicated. Often, with qualitative research, this just isn’t possible
But the advantages of qualitative research are equally notable. Let’s end by summing up its plus points:
- It provides rich observations that are difficult to obtain with just quantitative data
- It allows for the study of issues that are too complex to break down, such as policy issues, business dynamics and change management
- Data analysis makes it easier for researchers to identify patterns in complex phenomena
- It’s more reflective and provides possibilities for further understanding and exploration
- Data collection is more open. Qualitative data can be gathered from as many subjects as possible
- More time is spent in data analysis within context, which allows the researcher to find patterns and meaning behind the subjects, words and events described. Qualitative research allows the researcher to be more open-minded about the results of the study as it provides them with new insights into what they’re researching
- Qualitative research provides an opportunity to identify problems in a field and recommend solutions
- Qualitative research methods can be more cost-effective than quantitative research
Learning to work with data from research is a skill that will hold every manager in good stead. Understanding what is qualitative research and how it can be used will help you break down complex problems and analyze what’s the best move for the future. It encourages decision-making and leadership with vision and purpose. With Harappa’s Thinking Critically course, learners will master all this and more with our experienced faculty showing the way. Help your teams work smarter today.
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