Qualitative research is a type of scientific research. Its main attributes are that it;
• Systematically uses a predefined set of methods to answer the question
• Collects evidence
• Aims to work in natural conditions
• Produces findings that are not determined in advance
• Produces findings that are applicable beyond the immediate boundaries of the study
Moreover it seeks to understand a given research problem from the perspectives of the local population it involves. Qualitative research is especially effective in obtaining culturally specific information about the values, opinions, behaviors, and social contexts of particular populations.
The major strength of the qualitative research method is its ability to contextualize people’s experiences on a given research problem. It provides information about the “human” side of an issue – that is, the often contradictory behaviors, beliefs, opinions, emotions, and relationships of individuals. It is used to gain information about people’s attitude, behavior, culture, life style, motivations through surveys, open ended interviews and questionnaires. It involves the analysis of unstructured material including reports, feedbacks and media clipping and informing the policy formation, business decisions and communication and research.
Pros of Qualitative Methods
• It gives more detailed and comprehensive information as compare to the quantitative research method.
• This method is often less expensive as compare to quantitative research method as it does not involve many participants or extensive methods.
• It is more flexible regarding the time and location. As in this method we don’t need to interview large number of people at the same time and place.
• This method is effective in identifying the intangible factors like socioeconomic issues, gender roles and religion.
• It is sensitive to the contextual factors.
• It increases the opportunities to develop new ideas and promote the in depth and detail analysis of the phenomena.
• It promotes to understand the reasons working behind the results obtained from the quantitative research
Cons of Qualitative Methods
• It does not have ability to quantify the behavior of the target audience. As it cannot tell that how many of people share the similar behavior regarding any issue or phenomena.
• It cannot generalize the audience to broaden the research area.
• This method can be high risk and low yield as it takes time to negotiate, to gather and assemble the information.
• Qualitative studies are often accused of being impressionistic, subjective and biased lacking in precision (Atkinson, 1990).
Qualitative Research Methods
The main methods used in the qualitative research methods are
• Unstructured Interviews
• Document analysis
• Focus groups
One of the most common methods for data collection in qualitative research method is observation. The observation can be direct observation or participant observation. In participant observation the researcher becomes the part of the culture of life style that is being observed. It is very extensive work as the researcher has to become the part of the culture to get information about them. Where as in direct observation the researcher does not become the participant rather he strives to be as unobtrusive as possible so as not to bias the observations. The direct observation is more detached perspective as compare to the participant observation and in direct observation sometimes it is hard to extract information because people hesitate to share their views with the strangers on the other hand in participant observation the researcher seems to be the part the community being observed and this covers the communication gap between the community and the researcher. The direct observer will use videotapes, or observe from behind one way mirrors to record the information. Thus the direct observer needs to be more focused and it take less time as compare to participant observation but in some cases the direct observation has some short comings regarding the communication as compare to participant observation.
2. Unstructured Interviews
The unstructured interviews involve direct interaction among the respondent and the researcher. This interviewing process is different from the structured interviews in number of ways. Firstly the researcher has some key questions or guiding questions in mind but there is no formal protocol or hard and fast rule to follow. Secondly the interview has no strict boundaries; it is free to move in any direction of interest during the conversation. Therefore it has flexibility regarding the opinions of people and is useful in generating the new concepts and ideas broadly. However the drawback of this kind of interview is that each interview is unique with no predetermined questions, and such interviews are difficult to analyze.
3. Document Analysis
Documents are useful source of data for the qualitative analysis. The most widely used documents are personal documents, official documents and questionnaires. Documents can help reconstruct events, and give information about social relationships. Official documents include registers, timetables, minutes of meetings, planning papers, lesson plans and notes, confidential documents on pupils, school handbooks, newspapers and journals, school records, files and statistics, notice boards, exhibitions, official letters, textbooks, exercise books, examination papers, work cards, blackboard work, photographs. But all of these documents do not always give objective information. They need to be contextualized according to the relevant circumstances. The personal documents includes diaries, creative writing exercises, pupils’ ‘rough’ books, graffiti, personal letters and notes. If theses have been created before a part of natural situation, it will help the researcher to get information about the community or culture being targeted. Questionnaires are though not one of the prominent methods of qualitative research as they are not naturally occurring. However they are very important in collecting information from a wider sample that is out of the reach of simple interviews. For example, where certain clearly defined facts or opinions have been identified by more qualitative methods, a questionnaire can explore how generally these apply, if that is a matter of interest.
4. Focus Groups
They are effective in producing the data on cultural norms of groups and in generating broader views of the issues concerning the cultural groups and sub groups.
Form of Qualitative Data
In qualitative research only one population is selected for study. The research objectives and characteristics of population (size and diversity) determine which and how many people to select. The data collected is usually in the form of field notes, audio recordings, transcripts and sometimes questionnaires.
Hence qualitative research method is subjective, inductive and more flexible as compare to the quantitative methods. Qualitative research along with the quantitative research can help us to interpret and better understand the complex reality of a given situation and the implications of quantitative data.
• Atkinson, P., Delamont, S. and Hamersley, M. (1988) ‘Qualitative research traditions: a British response to Jacob’, Review of Educational Research, 58, 2, pp. 231Ó50.
• Burke, J. (1986) ‘Concordia Sixth Form College: a sociological case study based on history and ethnography’, D.Phil. thesis, University of Sussex.
• Dean, J. P.(1954) ‘Participant observation and interviewing’ in Doby, J., Suchman, E.A., McKinnet, J.C., Francis, R.G. and Dean,, J.P. (eds) An introduction to Social Research, Harrisburg, Pa., The Stackpole Co., pp. 225-252.
• Richardson, L. (1994) ‘Writing: a method of inquiry’ in Denzin, N. and Lincoln, Y. Handbook of Qualitative Research, London and New York, Sage.
• Soltis, J.F. (1989) ‘The ethics of qualitative research’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 2, 2, pp. 123-30.
• Wolcott, H.F. (1994) Transforming Qualitative Data: description, analysis, and interpretation, London, Sage.
• http://www.qsrinternational.com/what-is-qualitative-research.aspx, what is qualitative research, retrieved on May 11th, 2011.
• http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/qual.php, Qualitative research methods, retrieved on May 11th, 2011.
• http://www.orau.gov/cdcynergy/demo/content/activeinformation/tools/toolscontent/qualitativemethods.htm, Description of qualitative method, retrieved on May 11th, 2011.