Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is becoming popular research types now a days. It mainly focus on theory building  particularly in academic world. It was emerge after the second world war to overcome the  limitation of positivism prospective which is widely used in quantitative research in systematic investigation of research problem. The popularity of grounded theory, interpretivism, narrative analysis, meta analysis, etc. also contribute for gaining popularity of qualitative research. The wider perspective adopted by the research to understand the social reality and the freedom given to the respondent to respond on social phenomena also act as vital for the emerging of qualitative research. Qualitative research is a process of naturalistic inquiry focusing on in-depth understanding of social phenomena using the scientific process. It depends on the direct experiences of human beings focusing on why rather than what about the subject matter allowing understanding a research query as a humanistic or idealistic approach for study. Mostly, the qualitative research is design to understand people’s beliefs, experiences, attitudes, behavior, and interactions according to situation using the non-numerical data supply by them. Qualitative research has the ability to add a new dimension to interventional studies that cannot be obtained through measurement of variables alone. Qualitative research was initially used in psychological studies when researchers found it tedious to evaluate human behavior in numeric. Later it gain popularity in all disciples to explore the facts. It is conduct using logical and statistical procedures to generate the knowledge. For the generation of the knowledge the qualitative researchers use multiple systems of inquiry for the study of human phenomena including biography, case study, historical analysis, discourse analysis, ethnography, grounded theory and phenomenology.

The word qualitative implies an emphasis on the qualities of entities and on processes and meanings that are not experimentally examined or measured [if measured at all] in terms of quantitative terms. Qualitative researchers stress the socially constructed nature of reality, the intimate relationship between the researcher and what is studied, and the situational constraints that shape inquiry.

Qualitative researchers looks at socially constructed nature of reality, the intended relationship between the researcher and subject matter of studied, and the situational constraints that shape inquiry. They seek answers to questions that stress how social experience is created and given meaning. Thus qualitative research, firstly, focus on naturalism meaning seek to understand social reality in its terms. Secondly on ethnomethodology meaning try to how social other is created through discussion and interaction. Thirdly, emotionalism, exhibit a concern with subjectivity, and gaining access to inside experience concern with inner human reality. Lastly, postmodernism, emphasis “method talk” is sensitive to different ways social reality can be constructed.

The qualitative research assumption that knowledge is subjective which and researcher learns from the participants by understanding the meaning of their lives using unstructured questionnaire, participatory observations or from case study methods.

Feature of Qualitative Research

There are different feature of the qualitative research methods. some of the feature can match in quantitative research also although they are research. following are the distinct feature that separates the qualitative research from quantitative research:

Openness of Respondents: In the qualitative research mostly open ended question are used for interview with the aim to collected the data from participants on different dimension. Thus, there is room to explore the different dimension of subject matter in qualitative research then quantitative research.

Variety of Approaches and Methods: the qualitative research is not based on unified method as used by quantitative research. the different methods of data analysis and interpretation are used. the research may used ethnography, interpretivism, grounded theory, contain analysis, narrative analysis, etc as per the necessity of the study.

Flexibility on Researcher: in qualitative research the research have flexibility to define the concept and choose the methodology. while defining concept and choosing research methods the research must consider the epistemology and ontology. The concept is not define in rigid way like quantitative research for focing on the discription of information which are collected at the time of data collection.

Non-probability Sampling: All most all the qualitative research are conduct using non-probability sampling methods and most of the sampling methods used is purposive using relatively small size of sample. but in quantitative research most of sample are taken using probability sampling methods by taking relatively large samples.

Qualitative Research and Science

Qualitative research does not perform by following same approach that are used by natural science, thus the question is rise that is the qualitative study is consider as science? the answer of the question is itself is the question to answer. at first lets what is considered as science? in short the study is consider as science if there is the logic of explanation and later the experiment can be done on that logic. The qualitative research is not based on theory followed by natural science basically start with general questions which stimulate for conducting research and later stage the question is specified after gathering the data and interpretation is done for further collection of data and interpretation. Thus, there is reason to believe that the method used in qualitative research is not appropriate to consider as science. In this point again considering the definition of scientific method as the method of logic suggest that there is some confusion while not considering the qualitative research as scientific methods. Using different approach according to the situation of research subject matter and not having the unified methods of interpretation is not always the case to judge the research activities as science. The methodology, approach used in qualitative research are different according to the situation and subject matter of the research which is carefully reported by researcher considering the epistemology and ontology by collecting the data on small group of people using purposive sampling technique. Thus the qualitative research is context base research conducted by following logical sequence of activities.

in the qualitative research the information about the background of the researcher, connection with participants, situation of conducting research is presented which may affect the data collection and interpretation to draw the conclusion. Thus qualitative research display the credibility of researcher by defining the concept used, data collection and interpretation in research. The intellectual definition of concept and interpretation of data is reflect in qualitative research. the researcher engagement in data for the construction of categories, themes, constructs, interpretations and explanation shows the creativity of the research in qualitative research. All these also count to consider the research using scientific methods or not. in qualitative research the researcher must spend enough time for familiar with all the aspects of the context and theme develop in research and identify contextual factors that influence the observed or theme of interest by collecting reliable data which is difficult without rapport with the participants. to develop the theme in research the research focus on persistent observation which allows the researcher to identify and focus on the most relevant characteristics of the situation or context.

The creativity of research also determine by the ability of researcher for triangulation of data. for this researcher use multiple and different sources of data to provide the reliability and validity in research findings. in qualitative research it is used to reduce systematic bias in the data and involves checking findings against different sources and perspectives. The process guards the researcher from being accused that the findings are simply a result of a single method, a single source or the single researcher’s personal bias. Thus, in qualitative research multiple source is used for data collection focusing on reduction of biasness. From this point qualitative research is scientific study or not?

In qualitative research the finding are not generalized but the conclusion are drawn from the conceptual framework or theme developed in research. the conclusion of the research may used any other person for the judgement or verification or decision making. the conceptual framework have transferability and dependability for the decision making and judgement. It is the feature of scientific methods.   

The finding or conclusion of qualitative research is tested through experiment or logical reasoning. The trangularism methods used for data collection, collecting the further data and its interpretation (see Steps of Qualitative research) verify the theme or conceptual framework develop in research. Thus, the conceptual framework of qualitative research have Confirmability. It is also the element of scientific study.

Stage of Qualitative Research

There are no universally accepted steps of the qualitative research process. The different scholar follows the different process of research process with their own justification. Some scholar use qualitative research for theory building and in modern days the research used qualitative research for theory building as well as theory testing.  Following are the steps as suggested for qualitative research:

  • Developing General Research Questions: Generally the qualitative research begin with lack of theoretical and conceptual background so, there is little knowledge about the possible solution of the problem. Thus, the qualitative research begins with general questions.
  • Selection of Sites and Subjects: After developing research questions the researcher must set the study area and the subject for the study. The researcher must selected the research sites  where the problem is mostly found. 
  • Collection of Relevant Data: After the selection of sites and subject the research will collected data using different methods of data collection like unstructured interview, observation, focus group, oral history, etc. 
  • Interpretation of Data: The collected data are analysis and interpreted using appropriate approach. For the interpretation of the data knowledge and ability of researcher and perception used in research play vital role. 
  • Conceptual and Theoretical Review: The conceptual and theoretical framework is developed from the interpretation of data where the variables of theory are indentified and link between the variable are developed. The researcher may further specify of research question if necessary and further collect and interpret the data for the verification as well as giving fine tune to the theory. 
  • Report Writing: It is the final stage of research. In this stage the research report is prepared in format as suggested by expert. It also act as proof of conduction research. 


Bryman A. (2012). Social Research Methods. China: Oxford University Press.

Flick U. (2009). An Introduction to Qualitative Research, 4th edition, Great Britian: Sage publication

Merriam S. B. (2009). Qualitative Research. USA:JOSSY-BASS, A Wiley Imprint.

Ritchie J. & Lewis J. ed. (2003). Qualitative research practice. New Deihi: Sage Publication.

Tracy S. J. (2013).Qualitative Research Methods. UK:Wiley-Blackwell.

University of Southern Califonia (2018, oct. 5). Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Qualitative Methods. Retrieved from:https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/qualitative

Thoughtco.(n.a.). An Overview of Qualitative Research Methods, Direct Observation, Interviews, Participation, Immersion, and Focus Groups. retrieved from: https://www.thoughtco.com/qualitative-research-methods-3026555





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