What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is a method used in market research that obtains data through conversational and open-ended communication. This research method aims to find out what people think and why they think so. Qualitative research is done in the social sciences field like anthropology, sociology, and psychology. Therefore, qualitative research methods enable further and in-depth questioning and probing of respondents, where the researcher/interviewer tries to understand their feelings and motivation. When you understand how your audience makes decisions, you will be able to develop conclusions in market research.

Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative research methods are developed in a way that helps expose the perception and behavior of a target audience regarding a certain topic. There are various types of qualitative research methods like case study research, content analysis, focus groups, and in-depth interview.

The results or outcomes of qualitative methods are more expressive and the conclusions can be drawn quite easily from obtained data. The origin of qualitative research methods is the behavioral and social sciences. In our world today, things are more complicated making it harder to understand what people perceive and think. But, qualitative research makes it easier to comprehend as it is descriptive and communicative.

The following are types of qualitative research methods that are in common use.

  1. One-on-one Interview

Carrying out in-depth interviews is among the most common qualitative research methods. This is a personal interview involving one respondent at a time. This is exclusively a conversational method and welcomes opportunities to obtain details from the respondent.

One of the merits of this method is that it provides an excellent opportunity to collect accurate data on what people belief and their motivations. If the individual carrying out the research is experienced, he/she will ask the right questions to enable him/her collect useful data. If they require more information, researchers should ask follow up questions to help them gather more information.

You can perform the interviews on phone or face-to-face and they usually last between thirty minutes to two hours or more. An in-depth interview done face-to-face is a better chance for the researcher to read the respondents’ body language and match the responses.

  1. Focus Groups

Focus groups are other commonly used methods in qualitative research to collect data. In a focus group, there is a limited number of respondents (6-10) from your target market. The main objective of a focus group is to obtain answers to the “how” “what” and “why” questions. One benefit of focus groups is that you do not have to necessarily interact with the group individually. Today, researchers can send online surveys to a focus group on various devices and answers can be obtained at the click of a button.

Compared to other online qualitative research methods, focus groups are more expensive. Usually, they are used to describe complex processes. This is a very useful method when testing new concepts and doing market research on new products.

  1. Case Study Research

The case study research method had evolved during the past few years and advanced into a valuable method in qualitative research. As the name indicates, a case study is used to explain an entity or an organization.

You can apply case studies in several areas such as social sciences, education and the like. Although this research method may seem difficult to execute, it is however, it is among the simplest ways of doing research as it entails a deep dive and a comprehensive understanding of inferring data and data collection methods.

  1. Records

This is a research method that makes use of existing reliable documents and related sources of information as a source of data. The data obtained can be applicable to new research. The use of records is the same as going to the library where you can go over books and other materials to gather useful data that can be used in research.

  1. Observation

Qualitative observation is a method of research that applies subjective methodology to collect systematic data or information. The emphasis on qualitative observation is the process in research of using subjective methods to obtain data or information. Qualitative observation is mainly used to compare quality differences.

Observation in qualitative research deals with the five primary sensory organs – hearing, taste, touch, smell, and sight. It does not involve numbers or measurements but characteristics instead.

Approaches to Qualitative Research

A qualitative approach is a common way of thinking about carrying out qualitative research. It explains, either implicitly or explicitly, the aim of the qualitative research, the stages of research, the role of the researcher (s) and qualitative data analysis method.

The following are the four main qualitative approaches:

  1. Ethnography

The ethnographic approach of qualitative research is commonly used in the anthropology field. Ethnography emphasizes on studying an entire culture. Initially, the notion of a culture was tied to the perception of geographic location and ethnicity, but has been widened to include practically any organization or group. That is, the researcher can study the “culture” of a defined group or a business.

Ethnography is a very broad area with a wide variety of methods and practitioners. But, the most popular ethnographic approach is participant observation as a form of field research. The ethnographer becomes engrossed in the culture as a vibrant participant and records comprehensive field notes. In an ethnographic study, there is no actual ending point or preset in restricting what will be observed.

  1. Phenomenology

Phenomenology is at times seen as a philosophical perspective and an approach to qualitative methodology. It has been used for a long time in social research fields such as social work, sociology, and psychology. Phenomenology is a school of thought that stresses a focus on a population’s subjective interpretations and experiences of the world. Specifically, the phenomenologist seeks to understand how others perceive the world.

  1. Field Research

Field research can be categorized as a method of collecting qualitative data or a broad approach to qualitative research. The most significant point is that the researcher observes the phenomenon in situ or its natural state out there in the field. Therefore, this method is closely related to the participant observation method. The field researcher basically takes general field notes which are then analyzed and coded in various ways.

  1. Grounded Theory

This is a qualitative research approach originally created in the 1960s by Glaser and Strauss. The self-defined objective of grounded theory is to develop a theory about a phenomenon of interest.  However, this is not merely abstract theorizing, the theory needs to be rooted or grounded in observation; hence the term.

The grounded theory is a complicated repetitive process. The research start with the formulation of generative questions to help guide the research but they are not meant to e either confining or static. As the researcher start of collect data, core theoretical concepts are recognized. Probable linkages are developed between the data and the theoretical core concepts. This initial stage of the research tends to be very open but it can take months to complete. Thereafter, the researcher is busy with authentication and summary. This effort tends to advance towards a central single core category.

There are a few primary analytic strategies:

  • Integrative sessions and diagrams. These are used to bring together all the detail and help make sense of the data with regard to the emerging theory. The diagrams may be any type of graphic that may be useful at that moment in theory development. They can be simple cartoons, directed graphs, or concept maps that can play the role of summarizing devices. This work can be done in group sessions where members of a research team can share ideas and interact to increase insight.
  • Memoing. This is a process of recording the ideas and thoughts of the researcher as they progress throughout the research study. From the word “memo”, memoing can be perceived as extensive marginal comments and notes. Early on in the practice, the memos are very open but later on increasingly concentrate on the core concept.
  • Coding. This is a process for describing the details and implications of data categories and for categorizing qualitative data. In the beginning, one does open coding seeing the data in minute detail while creating some initial categories. Afterwards, the researcher moves to more selective coding where they systematically code with regard to a core concept.

Advantages of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research often attempts to retain the perspective and the voice of participants and can be changed as new qualitative research questions arise. The advantages of qualitative research are:

  • The process of collecting and analyzing data can be adjusted as new patterns or ideas emerge. These processes are not rigid or decided beforehand.
  • Natural settings. Collection of data happens in naturalistic ways or in real-world contexts.
  • Meaningful insights. In-depth descriptions of people’s perceptions, feelings and experiences can be used to improve, test or design products or systems.
  • Generation of new ideas. Open responses imply that the researcher can find novel opportunities or problems that they would not have otherwise thought of.

Disadvantages of Qualitative Research

Researchers must think about theoretical and practical limitations in interpreting and analyzing their data. Qualitative research has the following limitations:

  • Unreliability. The actual-world setting regularly makes qualitative research unreliable because of the uncontrolled factors affecting the data.
  • Subjectivity. Because of the researcher’s main role of interpreting and analyzing data, you cannot replicate qualitative research. The researcher decides what data is important and what is immaterial in qualitative data analysis, therefore, interpretations of the same data greatly varies.
  • Limited generalizability. Small samples are regularly to collect detailed data about particular contexts. Regardless of the difficult analysis procedures. It is challenging to draw generalizable conclusions as the data may be prejudiced and unrepresentative of the larger population.
  • Labor-intensive. Although you can use software to record and manage large amounts of data, qualitative data analysis often has to be performed or checked manually.

Characteristics of Qualitative Research

The following are some features of qualitative research

  1. Natural setting (natural environment). Qualitative researchers gather field data at the points where participants experience the issue of problem to be studies. They do not change the environmental activities and settings of the participants. Qualitative researchers gather information by talking to people one-on-one and seeing them act in a natural context.
  2. Researcher as a key instrument. Generally, qualitative researchers collect research data through direct interviews with participants, documentation, or participant observation. The researchers do not usually use questionnaires or instruments by other researchers, as they hold the key to the study.
  3. Multiple data sources. Qualitative researchers normally opt to collect the necessary data from various sources such as observations, documentation, and interviews, instead of depending on a single source of data.
  4. Inductive data analysis. Researchers in qualitative research build themes, patterns, and categories from the ground up (inductive) or from different data into a whole conclusion.
  5. Participant’s meaning. During the whole research process, the researcher has to concentrate of studying the meaning derived from the participants about the research problem or issue, not the meaning portrayed by other researchers or authors in certain literatures.
  6. Emergent design. Qualitative researchers claim that qualitative research is dynamic and always evolving. This may imply that the original plan is not standard that it must be adhered to, every research stage can change after the researcher starts collecting data in the field. As long as the changes are still in line with meeting the research objectives, namely obtaining information about the research issue or problem.
  7. Theoretical perspective. Qualitative researchers regularly use particular perspectives to conduct research, such as race, gender differences, cultural differences, ethnography and others.
  8. Researchers in qualitative research interpret what they hear, see, and understand. Normally, there are differences in interpreting between participants, readers, and researchers. Therefore, it seems that qualitative research provides diverse views on a problem or context.
  9. A holistic account. Researchers typically try to create a complex picture of a research problem of issue. They explain factors and perspectives related to the issue as a whole.

Qualitative Data Analysis

It is crucial to analyze your data, as you have devoted time and effort collecting it. The process is essential as you do not want to be in the dark after putting so much effort in the work. But, there are no standard rules for qualitative data analysis, it all starts with understanding the two primary approaches to qualitative data – deductive approach and inductive approach.

Deductive approach. This approach entails analyzing qualitative data with regards to a predetermined structure by the researcher. The researcher can use questions to guide him/her in analyzing the data. This strategy is easy and quick and is applicable when the researcher has a clue about the possible responses that will be obtained by the sample population.

Inductive approach. In contrast, an inductive approach is not founded on a predetermined structure or set framework or ground rules. It is a thorough and time-consuming approach of analyzing qualitative data. This approach is often applied when the researcher has little or no clue about the research phenomenon.

Steps to Qualitative Data Analysis

  1. Arrange your data. After collecting all the data, it is mostly unstructured and sometimes senseless when you look at it at a glance. So, it is vital that you start by transcribing the data collected. Begin by systematically arranging the data, which is, converting it into a text format. You can either manually type in the data, export it into a spreadsheet, or choose any computer-aided qualitative data analysis tools.
  2. Organize all the data. After arranging and transforming your data, the next step is to organize the data. Chances are that you have large volumes of information that needs arranging in a systematic manner. One excellent way to organize the data is by revising your research objectives and then organize the data in consideration of the questions asked. Place the research objectives in a table to make them visually clear. Do not be tempted to work with unorganized data as you waste time in the end and you will have no conclusive results obtained.
  3. Give the data collected a code. You will be a step ahead by setting up appropriate codes for your data. Coding is among the best ways of compressing large amounts of information. Coding in qualitative data analysis means classifying and assigning patterns and properties to the data collected. It is an essential step in qualitative data analysis as you can develop theories from applicable research findings. After you’ve assigned codes to the data, you can start to develop on patterns to gain detailed insight into the data to help you make knowledgeable decisions.
  4. Validate your data.

Validation is an important step in qualitative data analysis if you want your research to succeed. As data is typical of research, it is essential to ensure that it is not flawed. You should be aware that data validation is a recurring process in qualitative data analysis. Data validation ensures:

  • Accuracy of research methods and design
  • Reliability
  1. Conclude the analysis process. It is vital to conclude your data, which is systematically presenting your data through a ready-to-use report. The report should talk about your research methods, the positives, negatives and limitation of the study. Do not forget to include your inferences/suggestions on the findings and any possible areas for future research.

Final Thoughts

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