Qualitative research

Qualitative research

Overview
Qualitative research is a method of inquiry employed in many different academic disciplines, traditionally in the social sciences
Social sciences
Social science is the field of study concerned with society. "Social science" is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a plurality of fields outside of the natural sciences usually exclusive of the administrative or managerial sciences...

, but also in market research
Market research
Market research is any organized effort to gather information about markets or customers. It is a very important component of business strategy...

 and further contexts. Qualitative researchers aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behavior
Human behavior
Human behavior refers to the range of behaviors exhibited by humans and which are influenced by culture, attitudes, emotions, values, ethics, authority, rapport, hypnosis, persuasion, coercion and/or genetics....

 and the reason
Reason
Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

s that govern such behavior. The qualitative method investigates the why and how of decision making
Decision making
Decision making can be regarded as the mental processes resulting in the selection of a course of action among several alternative scenarios. Every decision making process produces a final choice. The output can be an action or an opinion of choice.- Overview :Human performance in decision terms...

, not just what, where, when. Hence, smaller but focused sample
Sample (statistics)
In statistics, a sample is a subset of a population. Typically, the population is very large, making a census or a complete enumeration of all the values in the population impractical or impossible. The sample represents a subset of manageable size...

s are more often needed than large sample
Sample
Sample or samples may refer to:* Sample , a subset of a population* Sample , a digital discrete sample of a continuous analog signal* Sample , a specimen or small quantity of something...

s.

In the conventional view, qualitative methods produce information only on the particular cases studied, and any more general conclusions are only propositions (informed assertions).
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Encyclopedia
Qualitative research is a method of inquiry employed in many different academic disciplines, traditionally in the social sciences
Social sciences
Social science is the field of study concerned with society. "Social science" is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a plurality of fields outside of the natural sciences usually exclusive of the administrative or managerial sciences...

, but also in market research
Market research
Market research is any organized effort to gather information about markets or customers. It is a very important component of business strategy...

 and further contexts. Qualitative researchers aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behavior
Human behavior
Human behavior refers to the range of behaviors exhibited by humans and which are influenced by culture, attitudes, emotions, values, ethics, authority, rapport, hypnosis, persuasion, coercion and/or genetics....

 and the reason
Reason
Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

s that govern such behavior. The qualitative method investigates the why and how of decision making
Decision making
Decision making can be regarded as the mental processes resulting in the selection of a course of action among several alternative scenarios. Every decision making process produces a final choice. The output can be an action or an opinion of choice.- Overview :Human performance in decision terms...

, not just what, where, when. Hence, smaller but focused sample
Sample (statistics)
In statistics, a sample is a subset of a population. Typically, the population is very large, making a census or a complete enumeration of all the values in the population impractical or impossible. The sample represents a subset of manageable size...

s are more often needed than large sample
Sample
Sample or samples may refer to:* Sample , a subset of a population* Sample , a digital discrete sample of a continuous analog signal* Sample , a specimen or small quantity of something...

s.

In the conventional view, qualitative methods produce information only on the particular cases studied, and any more general conclusions are only propositions (informed assertions). Quantitative methods can then be used to seek empirical support for such research hypotheses. This view has been disputed by Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg
Bent Flyvbjerg
Bent Flyvbjerg is the first Chair and BT Professor of Major Programme Management at Oxford University's Saïd Business School and is Founding Director of the University's BT Centre for Major Programme Management. He was previously Professor of Planning at Aalborg University, Denmark and Chair of...

, who argues that qualitative methods and case study research may be used both for hypotheses-testing and for generalizing beyond the particular cases studied.

Data collection


Qualitative researchers may use different approaches in collecting data, such as the grounded theory
Grounded theory
Grounded theory is a systematic methodology in the social sciences involving the generation of theory from data. It is mainly used in qualitative research, but is also applicable to quantitative data....

 practice, narratology
Narratology
Narratology denotes both the theory and the study of narrative and narrative structure and the ways that these affect our perception. While in principle the word may refer to any systematic study of narrative, in practice its usage is rather more restricted. It is an anglicisation of French...

, storytelling
Organizational storytelling
Organizational storytelling is an emerging discipline in the study of management, strategy and organization studies. As an emerging discipline it is contested ground, with some academics describing it is a purposeful tool to be used by business people, and others describing it is a way of...

, classical ethnography
Ethnography
Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

, or shadowing
Shadowing
Shadowing may refer to:* Shadow fading in wireless communication, caused by obstacles* File shadowing, to provide an exact copy of or to mirror a set of data* Job shadowing, learning tasks by first-hand observation of daily behavior...

. Qualitative methods are also loosely present in other methodological approaches, such as action research
Action research
Action research or participatory action research – is a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams or as part of a "community of practice" to improve the way they address issues and solve problems. Action research is done simply by action,...

 or actor-network theory
Actor-network theory
Actor–network theory, often abbreviated as ANT, is a distinctive approach to social theory and research which originated in the field of science studies...

. Forms of the data collected can include interviews and group discussions, observation and reflection field notes, various texts, pictures, and other materials.

Qualitative research often categorizes data into patterns as the primary basis for organizing and reporting results. Qualitative researchers typically rely on the following methods for gathering information: Participant Observation, Non-participant Observation, Field Notes, Reflexive Journals, Structured Interview, Semi-structured Interview, Unstructured Interview, and Analysis of documents and materials.

The ways of participating and observing can vary widely from setting to setting. Participant observation is a strategy of reflexive learning, not a single method of observing. In participant observation
Participant observation
Participant observation is a type of research strategy. It is a widely used methodology in many disciplines, particularly, cultural anthropology, but also sociology, communication studies, and social psychology...

 researchers typically become members of a culture, group, or setting, and adopt roles to conform to that setting. In doing so, the aim is for the researcher to gain a closer insight into the culture's practices, motivations and emotions. It is argued that the researchers' ability to understand the experiences of the culture may be inhibited if they observe without participating.

Some distinctive qualitative methods are the use of focus group
Focus group
A focus group is a form of qualitative research in which a group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging...

s and key informant interviews. The focus group technique involves a moderator facilitating a small group discussion between selected individuals on a particular topic. This is a particularly popular method in market research
Market research
Market research is any organized effort to gather information about markets or customers. It is a very important component of business strategy...

 and testing new initiatives with users/workers.

One traditional and specialized form of qualitative research is called cognitive testing or pilot testing which is used in the development of quantitative survey items. Survey items are piloted on study participants to test the reliability and validity of the items.

In the academic social sciences the most frequently used qualitative research approaches include the following:
  1. Ethnographic Research, used for investigating cultures by collecting and describing data that is intended to help in the development of a theory. This method is also called “ethnomethodology” or "methodology of the people". An example of applied ethnographic research, is the study of a particular culture and their understanding of the role of a particular disease in their cultural framework.
  2. Critical Social Research, used by a researcher to understand how people communicate and develop symbolic meanings.
  3. Ethical Inquiry, an intellectual analysis of ethical problems. It includes the study of ethics as related to obligation, rights, duty, right and wrong, choice etc.
  4. Foundational Research, examines the foundations for a science, analyses the beliefs and develops ways to specify how a knowledge base should change in light of new information.
  5. Historical Research, allows one to discuss past and present events in the context of the present condition, and allows one to reflect and provide possible answers to current issues and problems. Historical research helps us in answering questions such as: Where have we come from, where are we, who are we now and where are we going?
  6. Grounded Theory
    Grounded theory
    Grounded theory is a systematic methodology in the social sciences involving the generation of theory from data. It is mainly used in qualitative research, but is also applicable to quantitative data....

    , is an inductive type of research, based or “grounded” in the observations or data from which it was developed; it uses a variety of data sources, including quantitative data, review of records, interviews, observation and surveys.
  7. Phenomenology
    Phenomenology (science)
    The term phenomenology in science is used to describe a body of knowledge that relates empirical observations of phenomena to each other, in a way that is consistent with fundamental theory, but is not directly derived from theory. For example, we find the following definition in the Concise...

    , describes the “subjective reality” of an event, as perceived by the study population; it is the study of a phenomenon.
  8. Philosophical Research, is conducted by field experts within the boundaries of a specific field of study or profession, the best qualified individual in any field of study to use an intellectual analyses, in order to clarify definitions, identify ethics, or make a value judgment concerning an issue in their field of study.

Interpretive techniques


The most common analysis of qualitative data is observer impression. That is, expert or bystander observers examine the data, interpret it via forming an impression and report their impression in a structured and sometimes quantitative form.

Coding



Coding is an interpretive technique that both organizes the data and provides a means to introduce the interpretations of it into certain quantitative methods. Most coding requires the analyst to read the data and demarcate segments within it. Each segment is labeled with a “code” – usually a word or short phrase that suggests how the associated data segments inform the research objectives. When coding is complete, the analyst prepares reports via a mix of: summarizing the prevalence of codes, discussing similarities and differences in related codes across distinct original sources/contexts, or comparing the relationship between one or more codes.

Some qualitative data that is highly structured (e.g., open-end responses from surveys or tightly defined interview questions) is typically coded without additional segmenting of the content. In these cases, codes are often applied as a layer on top of the data. Quantitative analysis of these codes is typically the capstone analytical step for this type of qualitative data.

Contemporary qualitative data analyses are sometimes supported by computer programs, termed Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software
Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software
Computer Assisted/Aided Qualitative Data AnalysiS is the use of computer software to aid qualitative research such as transcription analysis, coding and text interpretation, recursive abstraction, content analysis, discourse analysis, grounded theory methodology, etc.-Definition:CAQDAS is used in...

. These programs do not supplant the interpretive nature of coding but rather are aimed at enhancing the analyst’s efficiency at data storage/retrieval and at applying the codes to the data. Many programs offer efficiencies in editing and revising coding, which allow for work sharing, peer review, and recursive examination of data.

A frequent criticism of coding method is that it seeks to transform qualitative data into quantitative data, thereby draining the data of its variety, richness, and individual character. Analysts respond to this criticism by thoroughly expositing their definitions of codes and linking those codes soundly to the underlying data, therein bringing back some of the richness that might be absent from a mere list of codes.

Recursive abstraction


Some qualitative datasets are analyzed without coding. A common method here is recursive abstraction, where datasets are summarized, those summaries are then further summarized, and so on. The end result is a more compact summary that would have been difficult to accurately discern without the preceding steps of distillation.

A frequent criticism of recursive abstraction is that the final conclusions are several times removed from the underlying data. While it is true that poor initial summaries will certainly yield an inaccurate final report, qualitative analysts can respond to this criticism. They do so, like those using coding method, by documenting the reasoning behind each summary step, citing examples from the data where statements were included and where statements were excluded from the intermediate summary.

Mechanical techniques


Some techniques rely on leveraging computers to scan and sort large sets of qualitative data. At their most basic level, mechanical techniques rely on counting words, phrases, or coincidences of tokens within the data. Often referred to as content analysis
Content analysis
Content analysis or textual analysis is a methodology in the social sciences for studying the content of communication. Earl Babbie defines it as "the study of recorded human communications, such as books, websites, paintings and laws."According to Dr...

, the output from these techniques is amenable to many advanced statistical analyses.

Mechanical techniques are particularly well-suited for a few scenarios. One such scenario is for datasets that are simply too large for a human to effectively analyze, or where analysis of them would be cost prohibitive relative to the value of information they contain. Another scenario is when the chief value of a dataset is the extent to which it contains “red flags” (e.g., searching for reports of certain adverse events within a lengthy journal dataset from patients in a clinical trial) or “green flags” (e.g., searching for mentions of your brand in positive reviews of marketplace products).

A frequent criticism of mechanical techniques is the absence of a human interpreter. And while masters of these methods are able to write sophisticated software to mimic some human decisions, the bulk of the “analysis” is nonhuman. Analysts respond by proving the value of their methods relative to either a) hiring and training a human team to analyze the data or b) letting the data go untouched, leaving any actionable nuggets undiscovered.

Paradigmatic differences


Contemporary qualitative research has been conducted from a large number of various paradigm
Paradigm
The word paradigm has been used in science to describe distinct concepts. It comes from Greek "παράδειγμα" , "pattern, example, sample" from the verb "παραδείκνυμι" , "exhibit, represent, expose" and that from "παρά" , "beside, beyond" + "δείκνυμι" , "to show, to point out".The original Greek...

s that influence conceptual and metatheoretical concerns of legitimacy, control, data analysis
Data analysis
Analysis of data is a process of inspecting, cleaning, transforming, and modeling data with the goal of highlighting useful information, suggesting conclusions, and supporting decision making...

, ontology
Ontology
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

, and epistemology, among others. Research conducted in the last 10 years has been characterized by a distinct turn toward more interpretive
Interpretivism
Interpretivism is a school of thought in contemporary jurisprudence and the philosophy of law. The main claims of interpretivism are that*Law is not a set of given data, conventions or physical facts, but what lawyers aim to construct or obtain in their practice. This marks a first difference...

, postmodern
Postmodernism
Postmodernism is a philosophical movement evolved in reaction to modernism, the tendency in contemporary culture to accept only objective truth and to be inherently suspicious towards a global cultural narrative or meta-narrative. Postmodernist thought is an intentional departure from the...

, and critical
Critical theory
Critical theory is an examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities. The term has two different meanings with different origins and histories: one originating in sociology and the other in literary criticism...

 practices. Guba and Lincoln (2005) identify five main paradigms of contemporary qualitative research: positivism
Positivism
Positivism is a a view of scientific methods and a philosophical approach, theory, or system based on the view that, in the social as well as natural sciences, sensory experiences and their logical and mathematical treatment are together the exclusive source of all worthwhile information....

, postpositivism
Postpositivism
In philosophy and models of scientific inquiry, postpositivism is a metatheoretical stance that critiques and amends positivism. Postpositivists believe that human knowledge is based not on unchallengeable, rock-solid foundations, but rather upon human conjectures...

, critical theories
Critical theory
Critical theory is an examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities. The term has two different meanings with different origins and histories: one originating in sociology and the other in literary criticism...

, constructivism
Constructivist epistemology
Constructivist epistemology is an epistemological perspective in philosophy about the nature of scientific knowledge. Constructivists maintain that scientific knowledge is constructed by scientists and not discovered from the world. Constructivists claim that the concepts of science are mental...

, and participatory/cooperative paradigms. Each of the paradigms listed by Guba and Lincoln are characterized by axiomatic differences in axiology
Axiology
Axiology is the philosophical study of value. It is either the collective term for ethics and aesthetics—philosophical fields that depend crucially on notions of value—or the foundation for these fields, and thus similar to value theory and meta-ethics...

, intended action of research, control of research process/outcomes, relationship to foundations of truth and knowledge, validity (see below), textual representation and voice of the researcher/participants, and commensurability with other paradigms. In particular, commensurability involves the extent to which paradigmatic concerns “can be retrofitted to each other in ways that make the simultaneous practice of both possible”. Positivist and postpositivist paradigms share commensurable assumptions but are largely incommensurable with critical, constructivist, and participatory paradigms. Likewise, critical, constructivist, and participatory paradigms are commensurable on certain issues (e.g., intended action and textual representation).

Validation


A central issue in qualitative research is validity (also known as credibility and/or dependability). There are many different ways of establishing validity, including: member check
Member check
In qualitative research, a member check, also known as informant feedback or respondent validation, is a technique used by researchers to help improve the accuracy, credibility, validity, and transferability of a study....

, interviewer corroboration, peer debriefing, prolonged engagement, negative case analysis, auditability, confirmability, bracketing, and balance. Most of these methods were coined, or at least extensively described by Lincoln and Guba (1985)

Academic research


By the end of the 1970s many leading journals began to publish qualitative research articles and several new journals emerged which published only qualitative research studies and articles about qualitative research methods.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the new qualitative research journals became more multidisciplinary in focus moving beyond qualitative research’s traditional disciplinary roots of anthropology, sociology, and philosophy.

The new millennium saw a dramatic increase in the number of journals specializing in qualitative research with at least one new qualitative research journal being launched each year.

See also


  • Analytic induction
    Analytic induction
    Analytic induction refers to a systematic examination of similarities between various social phenomena in order to develop concepts or ideas. Social scientists doing social research use analytic induction to search for those similarities in broad categories and then develop subcategories...

  • Case study
    Case study
    A case study is an intensive analysis of an individual unit stressing developmental factors in relation to context. The case study is common in social sciences and life sciences. Case studies may be descriptive or explanatory. The latter type is used to explore causation in order to find...

  • Content analysis
    Content analysis
    Content analysis or textual analysis is a methodology in the social sciences for studying the content of communication. Earl Babbie defines it as "the study of recorded human communications, such as books, websites, paintings and laws."According to Dr...

  • Critical ethnography
    Critical Ethnography
    Critical ethnography applies a critical theory based approach to ethnography. It focuses on the implicit values expressed within ethnographic studies and, therefore, on the unacknowledged biases that may result from such implicit values. It has been called critical theory in practice...

  • Critical theory
    Critical theory
    Critical theory is an examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities. The term has two different meanings with different origins and histories: one originating in sociology and the other in literary criticism...

  • Dialectical research
    Dialectical research
    Dialectical research or dialectical inquiry or dialectical investigation is a form of qualitative research which utilizes the method of dialectic, aiming to discover truth through examining and interrogating competing ideas, perspectives or arguments...

  • Discourse analysis
    Discourse analysis
    Discourse analysis , or discourse studies, is a general term for a number of approaches to analyzing written, spoken, signed language use or any significant semiotic event....

  • Educational psychology
    Educational psychology
    Educational psychology is the study of how humans learn in educational settings, the effectiveness of educational interventions, the psychology of teaching, and the social psychology of schools as organizations. Educational psychology is concerned with how students learn and develop, often focusing...

  • Ethnomethodology
    Ethnomethodology
    Ethnomethodology is an ethnographic approach to sociological inquiry introduced by the American sociologist Harold Garfinkel . Ethnomethodology's research interest is the study of the everyday methods people use for the production of social order...



  • Ethnography
    Ethnography
    Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

  • Focus group
    Focus group
    A focus group is a form of qualitative research in which a group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging...

  • Grounded theory
    Grounded theory
    Grounded theory is a systematic methodology in the social sciences involving the generation of theory from data. It is mainly used in qualitative research, but is also applicable to quantitative data....

  • Hermeneutics
  • Online research communities
  • Participatory action research
    Participatory action research
    Participatory action research – or action research – is a recognized form of experimental research that focuses on the effects of the researcher's direct actions of practice within a participatory community with the goal of improving the performance quality of the community or an area of...

  • Phenomenology (science)
    Phenomenology (science)
    The term phenomenology in science is used to describe a body of knowledge that relates empirical observations of phenomena to each other, in a way that is consistent with fundamental theory, but is not directly derived from theory. For example, we find the following definition in the Concise...

  • Phenomenography
    Phenomenography
    Phenomenography is a qualitative research methodology, within the interpretivist paradigm, that investigates the qualitatively different ways in which people experience something or think about something...



  • Phronetic social science
    Phronetic social science
    Phronetic social science is an approach to the study of social – including political and economic – phenomena based on a contemporary interpretation of the Aristotelian concept phronesis, variously translated as practical judgment, common sense, or prudence. Phronesis is the intellectual virtue...

  • Qualitative economics
    Qualitative economics
    Qualitative economics refers to representation and analysis of information about the direction of change in some economic variable as related to change of some other economic variable...

  • Quantitative research
    Quantitative research
    In the social sciences, quantitative research refers to the systematic empirical investigation of social phenomena via statistical, mathematical or computational techniques. The objective of quantitative research is to develop and employ mathematical models, theories and/or hypotheses pertaining to...

  • Qualitative marketing research
    Qualitative marketing research
    Qualitative marketing research is a set of research techniques, used in marketing and the social sciences, in which data is obtained from a relatively small group of respondents and not analyzed with inferential statistics...

  • Qualitative psychological research
    Qualitative psychological research
    In psychology, qualitative research has come to be defined as research whose findings are not arrived at by statistical or other quantitative procedures. Qualitative research is often said to be naturalistic. That is, its goal is to understand behaviour in a natural setting...

  • Sampling (case studies)
  • Semiotics
    Semiotics
    Semiotics, also called semiotic studies or semiology, is the study of signs and sign processes , indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication...

  • Sensemaking
    Sensemaking
    Sensemaking is the process by which people give meaning to experience. While this process has been studied by other disciplines under other names for centuries, the term "sensemaking" has primarily marked three distinct but related research areas since the 1970s: Sensemaking was introduced to...

  • Theoretical sampling
    Theoretical sampling
    Theoretical sampling refers to the process of choosing new research sites or cases to compare with ones that have already been studied. It is one of the tools of qualitative research...



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