Qualitative research is a set of observation-based research methods used to fully understand a phenomenon without using numerical data. This type of research focuses on questions like why something happens, how often, and what consequences it has. In this article we will discuss about the Characteristics of qualitative research.
Unlike quantitative research, qualitative research tends to focus on a single phenomenon and therefore hardly uses statistics to draw its conclusions. On the contrary, when applied, techniques such as observation, semi-structured interviews or questionnaires are used.
Qualitative research traditionally has a bad reputation in the field of pure science, but it is becoming increasingly important in all areas. It is generally applied especially in disciplines related to the natural and social sciences, such as biology, psychology and sociology. Its methods can also be used in other contexts such as journalism or economics.
Despite initially being a less structured research method than the quantitative one, in recent decades numerous techniques and procedures have been developed that must be followed for the correct performance of qualitative research. In this article, we will see what its most important features are and in which contexts it is applied.
Characteristics of qualitative research
– Study a phenomenon in depth
The main objective of qualitative research is to understand why the phenomenon under study occurs, in addition to the consequences it produces in its environment and the nature of all the causes and effects involved. To achieve this, researchers collect data through different methods and focusing on different elements.
For example, in qualitative research in psychology, open-ended interviews can be conducted to better understand a phenomenon from the participants’ point of view; but at the same time observation will be used to understand it from a more external and impartial perspective.
– Break complex problems into smaller parts
The phenomena studied from qualitative research are usually extremely complex and full of nuances; therefore, in most cases, it is necessary to break them down into smaller parts to understand them correctly.
For example, an ethologist studying the breeding habits of a primate species cannot encompass the phenomenon in its entirety. Instead, I’d like to study what parts of the problem first and focus on each.
So, for example, it could study the behavior of females when they are in heat, the effects of hierarchy among herd members, or the presence or absence of monogamy in the species. Later, after all the data is collected, you can create a unified theory that would try to explain the entire phenomenon.
– Occurs in a natural environment
One of the most common criticisms of quantitative research is that the studies are carried out in controlled and unnatural environments, so it is possible that this affects the results indirectly. On the contrary, in the qualitative, it is the researcher who must approach the phenomenon and observe it, interfering as little as possible in its development.
In social psychology, one of the fields that most uses qualitative research, this would mean that the specialist would have to observe groups of people interacting in a normal way, if possible without them being aware of their presence. In this way, it would be possible to collect much more reliable data about the phenomenon to be studied.
Types of qualitative research
It focuses on describing the way in which a participant experiences a specific event. For this, techniques such as interviews, direct observation or questionnaires are used to collect information directly from the participating subjects.
This type of qualitative research is more concerned than others about how participants feel during an activity or event. Therefore, it is mainly used in areas such as psychology, sociology or marketing and sales research.
The ethnographic model is one of the most popular styles in qualitative research. It is used in disciplines such as anthropology and ethology. In it, researchers need to enter the culture or group they wish to study, in order to fully understand its characteristics, motivations and challenges.
case study model
In the case study model, information about the same phenomenon is collected using different methods and extracting it from different sources. To understand it in depth, all the details collected are used to create an overall conclusion on the subject.
In qualitative research, the historical model studies past events, their causes and consequences, with the aim of better understanding what is currently happening. This model answers questions based on a hypothetical idea and then uses all available resources to test it.
This kind of qualitative research can be used in all kinds of fields, from the field of business to sociology or anthropology.
Techniques and instruments
Qualitative research uses methods that are very different from other types of studies. Next, we will see which are the most used techniques and instruments in this sector.
With direct observation, the researcher studies the people or subjects he wants to understand, trying to interfere with their routines and customs as little as possible. This type of research is usually carried out secretly, so that subjects do not know that they are taking part in a study.
Questionnaires are typically designed to collect quantitative data. However, there is a qualitative version of it, in which open-ended questions are used so that participants can express their thoughts more freely.
Within focus groups, researchers meet with a small group of participants in a conversation in which they try to collect data relevant to the study being carried out. This method is commonly used in areas such as marketing or social psychology.
Semi-structured interviews are conversations between the researcher and a participant, in which various topics of interest to the study are discussed, but in an open context, so that the person answering the questions can express their point of view and contribute to everyone. the information you want.
Participatory or ethnographic observation
Participatory or ethnographic observation is similar to direct observation in that the researcher focuses on studying a more or less complex phenomenon from within the field. However, in this version, the professional participates directly in what is happening, to try to understand it in greater depth.
So, for example, an anthropologist could come into contact with an indigenous tribe and continue to live as its members for a more or less long period, in order to better understand their customs, motivations, beliefs and ways of acting.
Recent real-world examples of qualitative research
The publication of the book God Choice , written by Alan Peshkin in 1986, is a good example of a qualitative research process. This author wanted to understand in depth the reasons that lead American families to take their children to religious schools instead of public centers, as well as the effects this has on students.
To collect all the data needed to write his book, Peshkin spent 18 months living with members of the educational community at a religious college, Bethany Baptist Academy. During this time, he carried out direct observations, individual interviews with students, parents and teachers, and all kinds of questionnaires to better understand what was going on.
Understanding among young people about health claims
A recent study published by John Wiley & Sons tried to understand what the attitudes of young people are towards the supposed health benefits of some consumer products, such as energy drinks or certain beauty products.
To understand the attitude of young people towards these elements, semi-structured interviews were carried out with 27 Australian students and, after transcribing them, the responses were analyzed to try to find patterns in them.
The study found that most young people seemed almost completely unaware of everything related to health research; therefore, they had great difficulty differentiating between true messages and messages that were simply used as a marketing strategy.
The role of digital technologies in open innovation processes
This qualitative research sought to understand why new technologies are playing an increasingly important role in all creative or innovative processes, especially in companies. For this, they analyzed in depth the creative processes of several companies of different sizes.
During the analysis, they used all sorts of methods, from case studies to employee interviews and questionnaires. His conclusion was that new technologies increasingly occupy a larger space in our daily lives and offer us opportunities for creativity that simply did not exist before.