Qualitative research

What is it?
Qualitative approaches deal with how people understand their experiences (i.e., qualities). The focus is on exploration, pattern definition, obtaining meaning, achieving understanding, and being able to interpret. Qualitative research admits and accepts subjectivity.

Background/context and objectives
Qualitative research involves Inductive reasoning, a bottom-up approach that moves from the specific to the general. The process is iterative, and as patterns emerge, new questions or concepts may also.

Creswell (2009) provides an excellent summary of the key elements of qualitative research: “Qualitative research is a means for exploring and understanding the meaning individuals or groups ascribe to a social or human problem. The process of research involves emerging questions and procedures, data typically collected in the participant's setting, data analysis inductively building from particulars to general themes, and the researcher making interpretations of the meaning of the data. The final written report has a flexible structure. Those who engage in this form of enquiry support a way of looking at research that honours an inductive style, a focus on individual meaning, and the important of rendering the complexity of a situation.” [1]

Guidance for applying the framework
Qualitative research employs primarily inductive reasoning. The research problem is stated initially in planning for the study, reformulated just before data collection begins, and reformulated as necessary throughout data collection. The continuing reformulation of the research problem reflects an emergent design. The specific research problem emerges and is condensed toward the end of data collection. Qualitative research design generally begins with the preliminary development of both a problem and purpose statement, followed by the development of initial research questions. (Because of the emergent nature of qualitative research, these tend to evolve during the course of the research.)

A research problem statement is a clear, concise description of what a particular body of research (context) the study intends to focus on, which is generally an unknown that is worth investigating (significant and compelling). The problem statement is used to limit the scope of the problem, and highlights the potential for research results to advance knowledge and, when applied, contribute to practice. Because qualitative research is based on inductive reasoning, the research problem is stated initially during the planning phase of the study, reformulated just before data collection begins, and reformulated as necessary throughout data collection. The specific research problem emerges and is condensed toward the end of data collection.

A qualitative research purpose statement tends to begin with “The purpose of this study is to explore/understand/discover…” followed by the central phenomenon under study. It also identifies the type of qualitative research design being employed, and delimits the scope of the research (e.g., the research site, time frame, participants).

Qualitative research tends to begin with central, overarching question that is then narrowed by being subdivided into issue and/or procedural sub-questions. The structure of these questions tends to follow the type of research design employed in the study (e.g., experimental, grounded theory, ethnographic, casual-comparative, survey, interview, case study, mixed methods design). Qualitative research questions are more open, and tend to be descriptive (e.g., What happened?), interpretive (What was the meaning to people of what happened?) and/or process oriented (What happened over time?).

Good practice tips
Qualitative research is excellent when the pattern of something is not well defined or understood. It can help determine what potential differences and variations may exist in the pattern, making it possible to design and employ quantitative methods in order to capture this variability. Thus qualitative research is very useful in the development of hypotheses for further testing, but is inappropriate when the objective is statistical validation. A mixed methods research design can maximize the strengths of both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Success stories
Qualitative research is very useful for understanding perceptions, attitudes, reactions, and emotions. These methods are particularly important when relevance is critical, such as when stakeholders need to be engaged or for the generation and development of new ideas or products.

To learn more
[1] Creswell, J.D. 2009. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Sage, Thousand Oaks, California, USA, p.4.

Bernard, H.R. 2006. Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Altamira Press, Lanham, Maryland, USA.

Patton, M.Q. 2015. Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods: Integrating Theory and Practice 4th Edition. Sage, Thousand Oaks, California, USA.


Created on 27 Sep 2016 07:32 by Barron Orr
Updated on 11 Oct 2016 12:53 by Barron Orr

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