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Qualitative Research Methods: Types & Examples
Qualitative research is based on the disciplines of social sciences like psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Therefore, the qualitative research methods allow for in-depth and further probing and questioning of respondents based on their responses. The interviewer/researcher also tries to understand their motivation and feelings. Understanding how your audience makes decisions can help derive conclusions in market research.
What is qualitative research?
Qualitative research is defined as a market research method that focuses on obtaining data through open-ended and conversational communication .
This method is about “what” people think and “why” they think so. For example, consider a convenience store looking to improve its patronage. A systematic observation concludes that more men are visiting this store. One good method to determine why women were not visiting the store is conducting an in-depth interview method with potential customers.
For example, after successfully interviewing female customers and visiting nearby stores and malls, the researchers selected participants through random sampling. As a result, it was discovered that the store didn’t have enough items for women.
So fewer women were visiting the store, which was understood only by personally interacting with them and understanding why they didn’t visit the store because there were more male products than female ones.
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Types of qualitative research methods with examples
Qualitative research methods are designed in a manner that helps reveal the behavior and perception of a target audience with reference to a particular topic. There are different types of qualitative research methods, such as in-depth interviews, focus groups, ethnographic research, content analysis, and case study research that are usually used.
The results of qualitative methods are more descriptive, and the inferences can be drawn quite easily from the obtained data .
Qualitative research methods originated in the social and behavioral research sciences. Today, our world is more complicated, and it is difficult to understand what people think and perceive. Online research methods make it easier to understand that as it is a more communicative and descriptive analysis .
The following are the qualitative research methods that are frequently used. Also, read about qualitative research examples :
1. One-on-one interview
Conducting in-depth interviews is one of the most common qualitative research methods. It is a personal interview that is carried out with one respondent at a time. This is purely a conversational method and invites opportunities to get details in depth from the respondent.
One of the advantages of this method is that it provides a great opportunity to gather precise data about what people believe and their motivations . If the researcher is well experienced, asking the right questions can help him/her collect meaningful data. If they should need more information, the researchers should ask such follow-up questions that will help them collect more information.
These interviews can be performed face-to-face or on the phone and usually can last between half an hour to two hours or even more. When the in-depth interview is conducted face to face, it gives a better opportunity to read the respondents’ body language and match the responses.
2. Focus groups
A focus group is also a commonly used qualitative research method used in data collection. A focus group usually includes a limited number of respondents (6-10) from within your target market.
The main aim of the focus group is to find answers to the “why, ” “what,” and “how” questions. One advantage of focus groups is you don’t necessarily need to interact with the group in person. Nowadays, focus groups can be sent an online survey on various devices, and responses can be collected at the click of a button.
Focus groups are an expensive method as compared to other online qualitative research methods. Typically, they are used to explain complex processes. This method is very useful for market research on new products and testing new concepts.
3. Ethnographic research
Ethnographic research is the most in-depth observational research method that studies people in their naturally occurring environment.
This method requires the researchers to adapt to the target audiences’ environments, which could be anywhere from an organization to a city or any remote location. Here, geographical constraints can be an issue while collecting data.
This research design aims to understand the cultures, challenges, motivations, and settings that occur. Instead of relying on interviews and discussions, you experience the natural settings firsthand.
This type of research method can last from a few days to a few years, as it involves in-depth observation and collecting data on those grounds. It’s a challenging and time-consuming method and solely depends on the researcher’s expertise to analyze, observe, and infer the data.
4. Case study research
T he case study method has evolved over the past few years and developed into a valuable quality research method. As the name suggests, it is used for explaining an organization or an entity.
This type of research method is used within a number of areas like education, social sciences, and similar. This method may look difficult to operate; however , it is one of the simplest ways of conducting research as it involves a deep dive and thorough understanding of the data collection methods and inferring the data.
5. Record keeping
This method makes use of the already existing reliable documents and similar sources of information as the data source. This data can be used in new research. This is similar to going to a library. There, one can go over books and other reference material to collect relevant data that can likely be used in the research.
6. Process of observation
Qualitative Observation is a process of research that uses subjective methodologies to gather systematic information or data. Since the focus on qualitative observation is the research process of using subjective methodologies to gather information or data. Qualitative observation is primarily used to equate quality differences.
Qualitative observation deals with the 5 major sensory organs and their functioning – sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. This doesn’t involve measurements or numbers but instead characteristics.
Qualitative research: data collection and analysis
A. qualitative data collection.
Qualitative data collection allows collecting data that is non-numeric and helps us to explore how decisions are made and provide us with detailed insight. For reaching such conclusions the data that is collected should be holistic, rich, and nuanced and findings to emerge through careful analysis.
- Whatever method a researcher chooses for collecting qualitative data, one aspect is very clear the process will generate a large amount of data. In addition to the variety of methods available, there are also different methods of collecting and recording the data.
For example, if the qualitative data is collected through a focus group or one-to-one discussion, there will be handwritten notes or video recorded tapes. If there are recording they should be transcribed and before the process of data analysis can begin.
- As a rough guide, it can take a seasoned researcher 8-10 hours to transcribe the recordings of an interview, which can generate roughly 20-30 pages of dialogues. Many researchers also like to maintain separate folders to maintain the recording collected from the different focus group. This helps them compartmentalize the data collected.
- In case there are running notes taken, which are also known as field notes, they are helpful in maintaining comments, environmental contexts, environmental analysis , nonverbal cues etc. These filed notes are helpful and can be compared while transcribing audio recorded data. Such notes are usually informal but should be secured in a similar manner as the video recordings or the audio tapes.
B. Qualitative data analysis
Qualitative data analysis such as notes, videos, audio recordings images, and text documents. One of the most used methods for qualitative data analysis is text analysis.
Text analysis is a data analysis method that is distinctly different from all other qualitative research methods, where researchers analyze the social life of the participants in the research study and decode the words, actions, etc.
There are images also that are used in this research study and the researchers analyze the context in which the images are used and draw inferences from them. In the last decade, text analysis through what is shared on social media platforms has gained supreme popularity.
Characteristics of qualitative research methods
- Qualitative research methods usually collect data at the sight, where the participants are experiencing issues or research problems . These are real-time data and rarely bring the participants out of the geographic locations to collect information.
- Qualitative researchers typically gather multiple forms of data, such as interviews, observations, and documents, rather than rely on a single data source .
- This type of research method works towards solving complex issues by breaking down into meaningful inferences, that is easily readable and understood by all.
- Since it’s a more communicative method, people can build their trust on the researcher and the information thus obtained is raw and unadulterated.
Qualitative research method case study
Let’s take the example of a bookstore owner who is looking for ways to improve their sales and customer outreach. An online community of members who were loyal patrons of the bookstore were interviewed and related questions were asked and the questions were answered by them.
At the end of the interview, it was realized that most of the books in the stores were suitable for adults and there were not enough options for children or teenagers.
By conducting this qualitative research the bookstore owner realized what the shortcomings were and what were the feelings of the readers. Through this research now the bookstore owner can now keep books for different age categories and can improve his sales and customer outreach.
Such qualitative research method examples can serve as the basis to indulge in further quantitative research , which provides remedies.
When to use qualitative research
Researchers make use of qualitative research techniques when they need to capture accurate, in-depth insights. It is very useful to capture “factual data”. Here are some examples of when to use qualitative research.
- Developing a new product or generating an idea.
- Studying your product/brand or service to strengthen your marketing strategy.
- To understand your strengths and weaknesses.
- Understanding purchase behavior.
- To study the reactions of your audience to marketing campaigns and other communications.
- Exploring market demographics, segments, and customer care groups.
- Gathering perception data of a brand, company, or product.
LEARN ABOUT: Steps in Qualitative Research
Qualitative research methods vs quantitative research methods
The basic differences between qualitative research methods and quantitative research methods are simple and straightforward. They differ in:
- Their analytical objectives
- Types of questions asked
- Types of data collection instruments
- Forms of data they produce
- Degree of flexibility
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- What Is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples
What Is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples
Published on June 19, 2020 by Pritha Bhandari . Revised on June 22, 2023.
Qualitative research involves collecting and analyzing non-numerical data (e.g., text, video, or audio) to understand concepts, opinions, or experiences. It can be used to gather in-depth insights into a problem or generate new ideas for research.
Qualitative research is the opposite of quantitative research , which involves collecting and analyzing numerical data for statistical analysis.
Qualitative research is commonly used in the humanities and social sciences, in subjects such as anthropology, sociology, education, health sciences, history, etc.
- How does social media shape body image in teenagers?
- How do children and adults interpret healthy eating in the UK?
- What factors influence employee retention in a large organization?
- How is anxiety experienced around the world?
- How can teachers integrate social issues into science curriculums?
Table of contents
Approaches to qualitative research, qualitative research methods, qualitative data analysis, advantages of qualitative research, disadvantages of qualitative research, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about qualitative research.
Qualitative research is used to understand how people experience the world. While there are many approaches to qualitative research, they tend to be flexible and focus on retaining rich meaning when interpreting data.
Common approaches include grounded theory, ethnography , action research , phenomenological research, and narrative research. They share some similarities, but emphasize different aims and perspectives.
Note that qualitative research is at risk for certain research biases including the Hawthorne effect , observer bias , recall bias , and social desirability bias . While not always totally avoidable, awareness of potential biases as you collect and analyze your data can prevent them from impacting your work too much.
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Each of the research approaches involve using one or more data collection methods . These are some of the most common qualitative methods:
- Observations: recording what you have seen, heard, or encountered in detailed field notes.
- Interviews: personally asking people questions in one-on-one conversations.
- Focus groups: asking questions and generating discussion among a group of people.
- Surveys : distributing questionnaires with open-ended questions.
- Secondary research: collecting existing data in the form of texts, images, audio or video recordings, etc.
- You take field notes with observations and reflect on your own experiences of the company culture.
- You distribute open-ended surveys to employees across all the company’s offices by email to find out if the culture varies across locations.
- You conduct in-depth interviews with employees in your office to learn about their experiences and perspectives in greater detail.
Qualitative researchers often consider themselves “instruments” in research because all observations, interpretations and analyses are filtered through their own personal lens.
For this reason, when writing up your methodology for qualitative research, it’s important to reflect on your approach and to thoroughly explain the choices you made in collecting and analyzing the data.
Qualitative data can take the form of texts, photos, videos and audio. For example, you might be working with interview transcripts, survey responses, fieldnotes, or recordings from natural settings.
Most types of qualitative data analysis share the same five steps:
- Prepare and organize your data. This may mean transcribing interviews or typing up fieldnotes.
- Review and explore your data. Examine the data for patterns or repeated ideas that emerge.
- Develop a data coding system. Based on your initial ideas, establish a set of codes that you can apply to categorize your data.
- Assign codes to the data. For example, in qualitative survey analysis, this may mean going through each participant’s responses and tagging them with codes in a spreadsheet. As you go through your data, you can create new codes to add to your system if necessary.
- Identify recurring themes. Link codes together into cohesive, overarching themes.
There are several specific approaches to analyzing qualitative data. Although these methods share similar processes, they emphasize different concepts.
Qualitative research often tries to preserve the voice and perspective of participants and can be adjusted as new research questions arise. Qualitative research is good for:
The data collection and analysis process can be adapted as new ideas or patterns emerge. They are not rigidly decided beforehand.
- Natural settings
Data collection occurs in real-world contexts or in naturalistic ways.
- Meaningful insights
Detailed descriptions of people’s experiences, feelings and perceptions can be used in designing, testing or improving systems or products.
- Generation of new ideas
Open-ended responses mean that researchers can uncover novel problems or opportunities that they wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
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Researchers must consider practical and theoretical limitations in analyzing and interpreting their data. Qualitative research suffers from:
The real-world setting often makes qualitative research unreliable because of uncontrolled factors that affect the data.
Due to the researcher’s primary role in analyzing and interpreting data, qualitative research cannot be replicated . The researcher decides what is important and what is irrelevant in data analysis, so interpretations of the same data can vary greatly.
- Limited generalizability
Small samples are often used to gather detailed data about specific contexts. Despite rigorous analysis procedures, it is difficult to draw generalizable conclusions because the data may be biased and unrepresentative of the wider population .
Although software can be used to manage and record large amounts of text, data analysis often has to be checked or performed manually.
If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Chi square goodness of fit test
- Degrees of freedom
- Null hypothesis
- Discourse analysis
- Control groups
- Mixed methods research
- Non-probability sampling
- Quantitative research
- Inclusion and exclusion criteria
- Rosenthal effect
- Implicit bias
- Cognitive bias
- Selection bias
- Negativity bias
- Status quo bias
Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.
Quantitative methods allow you to systematically measure variables and test hypotheses . Qualitative methods allow you to explore concepts and experiences in more detail.
There are five common approaches to qualitative research :
- Grounded theory involves collecting data in order to develop new theories.
- Ethnography involves immersing yourself in a group or organization to understand its culture.
- Narrative research involves interpreting stories to understand how people make sense of their experiences and perceptions.
- Phenomenological research involves investigating phenomena through people’s lived experiences.
- Action research links theory and practice in several cycles to drive innovative changes.
Data collection is the systematic process by which observations or measurements are gathered in research. It is used in many different contexts by academics, governments, businesses, and other organizations.
There are various approaches to qualitative data analysis , but they all share five steps in common:
- Prepare and organize your data.
- Review and explore your data.
- Develop a data coding system.
- Assign codes to the data.
- Identify recurring themes.
The specifics of each step depend on the focus of the analysis. Some common approaches include textual analysis , thematic analysis , and discourse analysis .
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- Open access
- Published: 27 May 2020
How to use and assess qualitative research methods
- Loraine Busetto ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-9228-7875 1 ,
- Wolfgang Wick 1 , 2 &
- Christoph Gumbinger 1
Neurological Research and Practice volume 2 , Article number: 14 ( 2020 ) Cite this article
This paper aims to provide an overview of the use and assessment of qualitative research methods in the health sciences. Qualitative research can be defined as the study of the nature of phenomena and is especially appropriate for answering questions of why something is (not) observed, assessing complex multi-component interventions, and focussing on intervention improvement. The most common methods of data collection are document study, (non-) participant observations, semi-structured interviews and focus groups. For data analysis, field-notes and audio-recordings are transcribed into protocols and transcripts, and coded using qualitative data management software. Criteria such as checklists, reflexivity, sampling strategies, piloting, co-coding, member-checking and stakeholder involvement can be used to enhance and assess the quality of the research conducted. Using qualitative in addition to quantitative designs will equip us with better tools to address a greater range of research problems, and to fill in blind spots in current neurological research and practice.
The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of qualitative research methods, including hands-on information on how they can be used, reported and assessed. This article is intended for beginning qualitative researchers in the health sciences as well as experienced quantitative researchers who wish to broaden their understanding of qualitative research.
What is qualitative research?
Qualitative research is defined as “the study of the nature of phenomena”, including “their quality, different manifestations, the context in which they appear or the perspectives from which they can be perceived” , but excluding “their range, frequency and place in an objectively determined chain of cause and effect” [ 1 ]. This formal definition can be complemented with a more pragmatic rule of thumb: qualitative research generally includes data in form of words rather than numbers [ 2 ].
Why conduct qualitative research?
Because some research questions cannot be answered using (only) quantitative methods. For example, one Australian study addressed the issue of why patients from Aboriginal communities often present late or not at all to specialist services offered by tertiary care hospitals. Using qualitative interviews with patients and staff, it found one of the most significant access barriers to be transportation problems, including some towns and communities simply not having a bus service to the hospital [ 3 ]. A quantitative study could have measured the number of patients over time or even looked at possible explanatory factors – but only those previously known or suspected to be of relevance. To discover reasons for observed patterns, especially the invisible or surprising ones, qualitative designs are needed.
While qualitative research is common in other fields, it is still relatively underrepresented in health services research. The latter field is more traditionally rooted in the evidence-based-medicine paradigm, as seen in " research that involves testing the effectiveness of various strategies to achieve changes in clinical practice, preferably applying randomised controlled trial study designs (...) " [ 4 ]. This focus on quantitative research and specifically randomised controlled trials (RCT) is visible in the idea of a hierarchy of research evidence which assumes that some research designs are objectively better than others, and that choosing a "lesser" design is only acceptable when the better ones are not practically or ethically feasible [ 5 , 6 ]. Others, however, argue that an objective hierarchy does not exist, and that, instead, the research design and methods should be chosen to fit the specific research question at hand – "questions before methods" [ 2 , 7 , 8 , 9 ]. This means that even when an RCT is possible, some research problems require a different design that is better suited to addressing them. Arguing in JAMA, Berwick uses the example of rapid response teams in hospitals, which he describes as " a complex, multicomponent intervention – essentially a process of social change" susceptible to a range of different context factors including leadership or organisation history. According to him, "[in] such complex terrain, the RCT is an impoverished way to learn. Critics who use it as a truth standard in this context are incorrect" [ 8 ] . Instead of limiting oneself to RCTs, Berwick recommends embracing a wider range of methods , including qualitative ones, which for "these specific applications, (...) are not compromises in learning how to improve; they are superior" [ 8 ].
Research problems that can be approached particularly well using qualitative methods include assessing complex multi-component interventions or systems (of change), addressing questions beyond “what works”, towards “what works for whom when, how and why”, and focussing on intervention improvement rather than accreditation [ 7 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 ]. Using qualitative methods can also help shed light on the “softer” side of medical treatment. For example, while quantitative trials can measure the costs and benefits of neuro-oncological treatment in terms of survival rates or adverse effects, qualitative research can help provide a better understanding of patient or caregiver stress, visibility of illness or out-of-pocket expenses.
How to conduct qualitative research?
Given that qualitative research is characterised by flexibility, openness and responsivity to context, the steps of data collection and analysis are not as separate and consecutive as they tend to be in quantitative research [ 13 , 14 ]. As Fossey puts it : “sampling, data collection, analysis and interpretation are related to each other in a cyclical (iterative) manner, rather than following one after another in a stepwise approach” [ 15 ]. The researcher can make educated decisions with regard to the choice of method, how they are implemented, and to which and how many units they are applied [ 13 ]. As shown in Fig. 1 , this can involve several back-and-forth steps between data collection and analysis where new insights and experiences can lead to adaption and expansion of the original plan. Some insights may also necessitate a revision of the research question and/or the research design as a whole. The process ends when saturation is achieved, i.e. when no relevant new information can be found (see also below: sampling and saturation). For reasons of transparency, it is essential for all decisions as well as the underlying reasoning to be well-documented.
Iterative research process
While it is not always explicitly addressed, qualitative methods reflect a different underlying research paradigm than quantitative research (e.g. constructivism or interpretivism as opposed to positivism). The choice of methods can be based on the respective underlying substantive theory or theoretical framework used by the researcher [ 2 ].
The methods of qualitative data collection most commonly used in health research are document study, observations, semi-structured interviews and focus groups [ 1 , 14 , 16 , 17 ].
Document study (also called document analysis) refers to the review by the researcher of written materials [ 14 ]. These can include personal and non-personal documents such as archives, annual reports, guidelines, policy documents, diaries or letters.
Observations are particularly useful to gain insights into a certain setting and actual behaviour – as opposed to reported behaviour or opinions [ 13 ]. Qualitative observations can be either participant or non-participant in nature. In participant observations, the observer is part of the observed setting, for example a nurse working in an intensive care unit [ 18 ]. In non-participant observations, the observer is “on the outside looking in”, i.e. present in but not part of the situation, trying not to influence the setting by their presence. Observations can be planned (e.g. for 3 h during the day or night shift) or ad hoc (e.g. as soon as a stroke patient arrives at the emergency room). During the observation, the observer takes notes on everything or certain pre-determined parts of what is happening around them, for example focusing on physician-patient interactions or communication between different professional groups. Written notes can be taken during or after the observations, depending on feasibility (which is usually lower during participant observations) and acceptability (e.g. when the observer is perceived to be judging the observed). Afterwards, these field notes are transcribed into observation protocols. If more than one observer was involved, field notes are taken independently, but notes can be consolidated into one protocol after discussions. Advantages of conducting observations include minimising the distance between the researcher and the researched, the potential discovery of topics that the researcher did not realise were relevant and gaining deeper insights into the real-world dimensions of the research problem at hand [ 18 ].
Hijmans & Kuyper describe qualitative interviews as “an exchange with an informal character, a conversation with a goal” [ 19 ]. Interviews are used to gain insights into a person’s subjective experiences, opinions and motivations – as opposed to facts or behaviours [ 13 ]. Interviews can be distinguished by the degree to which they are structured (i.e. a questionnaire), open (e.g. free conversation or autobiographical interviews) or semi-structured [ 2 , 13 ]. Semi-structured interviews are characterized by open-ended questions and the use of an interview guide (or topic guide/list) in which the broad areas of interest, sometimes including sub-questions, are defined [ 19 ]. The pre-defined topics in the interview guide can be derived from the literature, previous research or a preliminary method of data collection, e.g. document study or observations. The topic list is usually adapted and improved at the start of the data collection process as the interviewer learns more about the field [ 20 ]. Across interviews the focus on the different (blocks of) questions may differ and some questions may be skipped altogether (e.g. if the interviewee is not able or willing to answer the questions or for concerns about the total length of the interview) [ 20 ]. Qualitative interviews are usually not conducted in written format as it impedes on the interactive component of the method [ 20 ]. In comparison to written surveys, qualitative interviews have the advantage of being interactive and allowing for unexpected topics to emerge and to be taken up by the researcher. This can also help overcome a provider or researcher-centred bias often found in written surveys, which by nature, can only measure what is already known or expected to be of relevance to the researcher. Interviews can be audio- or video-taped; but sometimes it is only feasible or acceptable for the interviewer to take written notes [ 14 , 16 , 20 ].
Focus groups are group interviews to explore participants’ expertise and experiences, including explorations of how and why people behave in certain ways [ 1 ]. Focus groups usually consist of 6–8 people and are led by an experienced moderator following a topic guide or “script” [ 21 ]. They can involve an observer who takes note of the non-verbal aspects of the situation, possibly using an observation guide [ 21 ]. Depending on researchers’ and participants’ preferences, the discussions can be audio- or video-taped and transcribed afterwards [ 21 ]. Focus groups are useful for bringing together homogeneous (to a lesser extent heterogeneous) groups of participants with relevant expertise and experience on a given topic on which they can share detailed information [ 21 ]. Focus groups are a relatively easy, fast and inexpensive method to gain access to information on interactions in a given group, i.e. “the sharing and comparing” among participants [ 21 ]. Disadvantages include less control over the process and a lesser extent to which each individual may participate. Moreover, focus group moderators need experience, as do those tasked with the analysis of the resulting data. Focus groups can be less appropriate for discussing sensitive topics that participants might be reluctant to disclose in a group setting [ 13 ]. Moreover, attention must be paid to the emergence of “groupthink” as well as possible power dynamics within the group, e.g. when patients are awed or intimidated by health professionals.
Choosing the “right” method
As explained above, the school of thought underlying qualitative research assumes no objective hierarchy of evidence and methods. This means that each choice of single or combined methods has to be based on the research question that needs to be answered and a critical assessment with regard to whether or to what extent the chosen method can accomplish this – i.e. the “fit” between question and method [ 14 ]. It is necessary for these decisions to be documented when they are being made, and to be critically discussed when reporting methods and results.
Let us assume that our research aim is to examine the (clinical) processes around acute endovascular treatment (EVT), from the patient’s arrival at the emergency room to recanalization, with the aim to identify possible causes for delay and/or other causes for sub-optimal treatment outcome. As a first step, we could conduct a document study of the relevant standard operating procedures (SOPs) for this phase of care – are they up-to-date and in line with current guidelines? Do they contain any mistakes, irregularities or uncertainties that could cause delays or other problems? Regardless of the answers to these questions, the results have to be interpreted based on what they are: a written outline of what care processes in this hospital should look like. If we want to know what they actually look like in practice, we can conduct observations of the processes described in the SOPs. These results can (and should) be analysed in themselves, but also in comparison to the results of the document analysis, especially as regards relevant discrepancies. Do the SOPs outline specific tests for which no equipment can be observed or tasks to be performed by specialized nurses who are not present during the observation? It might also be possible that the written SOP is outdated, but the actual care provided is in line with current best practice. In order to find out why these discrepancies exist, it can be useful to conduct interviews. Are the physicians simply not aware of the SOPs (because their existence is limited to the hospital’s intranet) or do they actively disagree with them or does the infrastructure make it impossible to provide the care as described? Another rationale for adding interviews is that some situations (or all of their possible variations for different patient groups or the day, night or weekend shift) cannot practically or ethically be observed. In this case, it is possible to ask those involved to report on their actions – being aware that this is not the same as the actual observation. A senior physician’s or hospital manager’s description of certain situations might differ from a nurse’s or junior physician’s one, maybe because they intentionally misrepresent facts or maybe because different aspects of the process are visible or important to them. In some cases, it can also be relevant to consider to whom the interviewee is disclosing this information – someone they trust, someone they are otherwise not connected to, or someone they suspect or are aware of being in a potentially “dangerous” power relationship to them. Lastly, a focus group could be conducted with representatives of the relevant professional groups to explore how and why exactly they provide care around EVT. The discussion might reveal discrepancies (between SOPs and actual care or between different physicians) and motivations to the researchers as well as to the focus group members that they might not have been aware of themselves. For the focus group to deliver relevant information, attention has to be paid to its composition and conduct, for example, to make sure that all participants feel safe to disclose sensitive or potentially problematic information or that the discussion is not dominated by (senior) physicians only. The resulting combination of data collection methods is shown in Fig. 2 .
Possible combination of data collection methods
Attributions for icons: “Book” by Serhii Smirnov, “Interview” by Adrien Coquet, FR, “Magnifying Glass” by anggun, ID, “Business communication” by Vectors Market; all from the Noun Project
The combination of multiple data source as described for this example can be referred to as “triangulation”, in which multiple measurements are carried out from different angles to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon under study [ 22 , 23 ].
To analyse the data collected through observations, interviews and focus groups these need to be transcribed into protocols and transcripts (see Fig. 3 ). Interviews and focus groups can be transcribed verbatim , with or without annotations for behaviour (e.g. laughing, crying, pausing) and with or without phonetic transcription of dialects and filler words, depending on what is expected or known to be relevant for the analysis. In the next step, the protocols and transcripts are coded , that is, marked (or tagged, labelled) with one or more short descriptors of the content of a sentence or paragraph [ 2 , 15 , 23 ]. Jansen describes coding as “connecting the raw data with “theoretical” terms” [ 20 ]. In a more practical sense, coding makes raw data sortable. This makes it possible to extract and examine all segments describing, say, a tele-neurology consultation from multiple data sources (e.g. SOPs, emergency room observations, staff and patient interview). In a process of synthesis and abstraction, the codes are then grouped, summarised and/or categorised [ 15 , 20 ]. The end product of the coding or analysis process is a descriptive theory of the behavioural pattern under investigation [ 20 ]. The coding process is performed using qualitative data management software, the most common ones being InVivo, MaxQDA and Atlas.ti. It should be noted that these are data management tools which support the analysis performed by the researcher(s) [ 14 ].
From data collection to data analysis
Attributions for icons: see Fig. 2 , also “Speech to text” by Trevor Dsouza, “Field Notes” by Mike O’Brien, US, “Voice Record” by ProSymbols, US, “Inspection” by Made, AU, and “Cloud” by Graphic Tigers; all from the Noun Project
How to report qualitative research?
Protocols of qualitative research can be published separately and in advance of the study results. However, the aim is not the same as in RCT protocols, i.e. to pre-define and set in stone the research questions and primary or secondary endpoints. Rather, it is a way to describe the research methods in detail, which might not be possible in the results paper given journals’ word limits. Qualitative research papers are usually longer than their quantitative counterparts to allow for deep understanding and so-called “thick description”. In the methods section, the focus is on transparency of the methods used, including why, how and by whom they were implemented in the specific study setting, so as to enable a discussion of whether and how this may have influenced data collection, analysis and interpretation. The results section usually starts with a paragraph outlining the main findings, followed by more detailed descriptions of, for example, the commonalities, discrepancies or exceptions per category [ 20 ]. Here it is important to support main findings by relevant quotations, which may add information, context, emphasis or real-life examples [ 20 , 23 ]. It is subject to debate in the field whether it is relevant to state the exact number or percentage of respondents supporting a certain statement (e.g. “Five interviewees expressed negative feelings towards XYZ”) [ 21 ].
How to combine qualitative with quantitative research?
Qualitative methods can be combined with other methods in multi- or mixed methods designs, which “[employ] two or more different methods [ …] within the same study or research program rather than confining the research to one single method” [ 24 ]. Reasons for combining methods can be diverse, including triangulation for corroboration of findings, complementarity for illustration and clarification of results, expansion to extend the breadth and range of the study, explanation of (unexpected) results generated with one method with the help of another, or offsetting the weakness of one method with the strength of another [ 1 , 17 , 24 , 25 , 26 ]. The resulting designs can be classified according to when, why and how the different quantitative and/or qualitative data strands are combined. The three most common types of mixed method designs are the convergent parallel design , the explanatory sequential design and the exploratory sequential design. The designs with examples are shown in Fig. 4 .
Three common mixed methods designs
In the convergent parallel design, a qualitative study is conducted in parallel to and independently of a quantitative study, and the results of both studies are compared and combined at the stage of interpretation of results. Using the above example of EVT provision, this could entail setting up a quantitative EVT registry to measure process times and patient outcomes in parallel to conducting the qualitative research outlined above, and then comparing results. Amongst other things, this would make it possible to assess whether interview respondents’ subjective impressions of patients receiving good care match modified Rankin Scores at follow-up, or whether observed delays in care provision are exceptions or the rule when compared to door-to-needle times as documented in the registry. In the explanatory sequential design, a quantitative study is carried out first, followed by a qualitative study to help explain the results from the quantitative study. This would be an appropriate design if the registry alone had revealed relevant delays in door-to-needle times and the qualitative study would be used to understand where and why these occurred, and how they could be improved. In the exploratory design, the qualitative study is carried out first and its results help informing and building the quantitative study in the next step [ 26 ]. If the qualitative study around EVT provision had shown a high level of dissatisfaction among the staff members involved, a quantitative questionnaire investigating staff satisfaction could be set up in the next step, informed by the qualitative study on which topics dissatisfaction had been expressed. Amongst other things, the questionnaire design would make it possible to widen the reach of the research to more respondents from different (types of) hospitals, regions, countries or settings, and to conduct sub-group analyses for different professional groups.
How to assess qualitative research?
A variety of assessment criteria and lists have been developed for qualitative research, ranging in their focus and comprehensiveness [ 14 , 17 , 27 ]. However, none of these has been elevated to the “gold standard” in the field. In the following, we therefore focus on a set of commonly used assessment criteria that, from a practical standpoint, a researcher can look for when assessing a qualitative research report or paper.
Assessors should check the authors’ use of and adherence to the relevant reporting checklists (e.g. Standards for Reporting Qualitative Research (SRQR)) to make sure all items that are relevant for this type of research are addressed [ 23 , 28 ]. Discussions of quantitative measures in addition to or instead of these qualitative measures can be a sign of lower quality of the research (paper). Providing and adhering to a checklist for qualitative research contributes to an important quality criterion for qualitative research, namely transparency [ 15 , 17 , 23 ].
While methodological transparency and complete reporting is relevant for all types of research, some additional criteria must be taken into account for qualitative research. This includes what is called reflexivity, i.e. sensitivity to the relationship between the researcher and the researched, including how contact was established and maintained, or the background and experience of the researcher(s) involved in data collection and analysis. Depending on the research question and population to be researched this can be limited to professional experience, but it may also include gender, age or ethnicity [ 17 , 27 ]. These details are relevant because in qualitative research, as opposed to quantitative research, the researcher as a person cannot be isolated from the research process [ 23 ]. It may influence the conversation when an interviewed patient speaks to an interviewer who is a physician, or when an interviewee is asked to discuss a gynaecological procedure with a male interviewer, and therefore the reader must be made aware of these details [ 19 ].
Sampling and saturation
The aim of qualitative sampling is for all variants of the objects of observation that are deemed relevant for the study to be present in the sample “ to see the issue and its meanings from as many angles as possible” [ 1 , 16 , 19 , 20 , 27 ] , and to ensure “information-richness [ 15 ]. An iterative sampling approach is advised, in which data collection (e.g. five interviews) is followed by data analysis, followed by more data collection to find variants that are lacking in the current sample. This process continues until no new (relevant) information can be found and further sampling becomes redundant – which is called saturation [ 1 , 15 ] . In other words: qualitative data collection finds its end point not a priori , but when the research team determines that saturation has been reached [ 29 , 30 ].
This is also the reason why most qualitative studies use deliberate instead of random sampling strategies. This is generally referred to as “ purposive sampling” , in which researchers pre-define which types of participants or cases they need to include so as to cover all variations that are expected to be of relevance, based on the literature, previous experience or theory (i.e. theoretical sampling) [ 14 , 20 ]. Other types of purposive sampling include (but are not limited to) maximum variation sampling, critical case sampling or extreme or deviant case sampling [ 2 ]. In the above EVT example, a purposive sample could include all relevant professional groups and/or all relevant stakeholders (patients, relatives) and/or all relevant times of observation (day, night and weekend shift).
Assessors of qualitative research should check whether the considerations underlying the sampling strategy were sound and whether or how researchers tried to adapt and improve their strategies in stepwise or cyclical approaches between data collection and analysis to achieve saturation [ 14 ].
Good qualitative research is iterative in nature, i.e. it goes back and forth between data collection and analysis, revising and improving the approach where necessary. One example of this are pilot interviews, where different aspects of the interview (especially the interview guide, but also, for example, the site of the interview or whether the interview can be audio-recorded) are tested with a small number of respondents, evaluated and revised [ 19 ]. In doing so, the interviewer learns which wording or types of questions work best, or which is the best length of an interview with patients who have trouble concentrating for an extended time. Of course, the same reasoning applies to observations or focus groups which can also be piloted.
Ideally, coding should be performed by at least two researchers, especially at the beginning of the coding process when a common approach must be defined, including the establishment of a useful coding list (or tree), and when a common meaning of individual codes must be established [ 23 ]. An initial sub-set or all transcripts can be coded independently by the coders and then compared and consolidated after regular discussions in the research team. This is to make sure that codes are applied consistently to the research data.
Member checking, also called respondent validation , refers to the practice of checking back with study respondents to see if the research is in line with their views [ 14 , 27 ]. This can happen after data collection or analysis or when first results are available [ 23 ]. For example, interviewees can be provided with (summaries of) their transcripts and asked whether they believe this to be a complete representation of their views or whether they would like to clarify or elaborate on their responses [ 17 ]. Respondents’ feedback on these issues then becomes part of the data collection and analysis [ 27 ].
In those niches where qualitative approaches have been able to evolve and grow, a new trend has seen the inclusion of patients and their representatives not only as study participants (i.e. “members”, see above) but as consultants to and active participants in the broader research process [ 31 , 32 , 33 ]. The underlying assumption is that patients and other stakeholders hold unique perspectives and experiences that add value beyond their own single story, making the research more relevant and beneficial to researchers, study participants and (future) patients alike [ 34 , 35 ]. Using the example of patients on or nearing dialysis, a recent scoping review found that 80% of clinical research did not address the top 10 research priorities identified by patients and caregivers [ 32 , 36 ]. In this sense, the involvement of the relevant stakeholders, especially patients and relatives, is increasingly being seen as a quality indicator in and of itself.
How not to assess qualitative research
The above overview does not include certain items that are routine in assessments of quantitative research. What follows is a non-exhaustive, non-representative, experience-based list of the quantitative criteria often applied to the assessment of qualitative research, as well as an explanation of the limited usefulness of these endeavours.
Given the openness and flexibility of qualitative research, it should not be assessed by how well it adheres to pre-determined and fixed strategies – in other words: its rigidity. Instead, the assessor should look for signs of adaptation and refinement based on lessons learned from earlier steps in the research process.
For the reasons explained above, qualitative research does not require specific sample sizes, nor does it require that the sample size be determined a priori [ 1 , 14 , 27 , 37 , 38 , 39 ]. Sample size can only be a useful quality indicator when related to the research purpose, the chosen methodology and the composition of the sample, i.e. who was included and why.
While some authors argue that randomisation can be used in qualitative research, this is not commonly the case, as neither its feasibility nor its necessity or usefulness has been convincingly established for qualitative research [ 13 , 27 ]. Relevant disadvantages include the negative impact of a too large sample size as well as the possibility (or probability) of selecting “ quiet, uncooperative or inarticulate individuals ” [ 17 ]. Qualitative studies do not use control groups, either.
Interrater reliability, variability and other “objectivity checks”
The concept of “interrater reliability” is sometimes used in qualitative research to assess to which extent the coding approach overlaps between the two co-coders. However, it is not clear what this measure tells us about the quality of the analysis [ 23 ]. This means that these scores can be included in qualitative research reports, preferably with some additional information on what the score means for the analysis, but it is not a requirement. Relatedly, it is not relevant for the quality or “objectivity” of qualitative research to separate those who recruited the study participants and collected and analysed the data. Experiences even show that it might be better to have the same person or team perform all of these tasks [ 20 ]. First, when researchers introduce themselves during recruitment this can enhance trust when the interview takes place days or weeks later with the same researcher. Second, when the audio-recording is transcribed for analysis, the researcher conducting the interviews will usually remember the interviewee and the specific interview situation during data analysis. This might be helpful in providing additional context information for interpretation of data, e.g. on whether something might have been meant as a joke [ 18 ].
Not being quantitative research
Being qualitative research instead of quantitative research should not be used as an assessment criterion if it is used irrespectively of the research problem at hand. Similarly, qualitative research should not be required to be combined with quantitative research per se – unless mixed methods research is judged as inherently better than single-method research. In this case, the same criterion should be applied for quantitative studies without a qualitative component.
The main take-away points of this paper are summarised in Table 1 . We aimed to show that, if conducted well, qualitative research can answer specific research questions that cannot to be adequately answered using (only) quantitative designs. Seeing qualitative and quantitative methods as equal will help us become more aware and critical of the “fit” between the research problem and our chosen methods: I can conduct an RCT to determine the reasons for transportation delays of acute stroke patients – but should I? It also provides us with a greater range of tools to tackle a greater range of research problems more appropriately and successfully, filling in the blind spots on one half of the methodological spectrum to better address the whole complexity of neurological research and practice.
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Loraine Busetto, Wolfgang Wick & Christoph Gumbinger
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Busetto, L., Wick, W. & Gumbinger, C. How to use and assess qualitative research methods. Neurol. Res. Pract. 2 , 14 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42466-020-00059-z
Received : 30 January 2020
Accepted : 22 April 2020
Published : 27 May 2020
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/s42466-020-00059-z
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Qualitative research is a type of research that explores and provides deeper insights into real-world problems.  Instead of collecting numerical data points or intervene or introduce treatments just like in quantitative research, qualitative research helps generate hypotheses as well as further investigate and understand quantitative data. Qualitative research gathers participants' experiences, perceptions, and behavior. It answers the hows and whys instead of how many or how much. It could be structured as a stand-alone study, purely relying on qualitative data or it could be part of mixed-methods research that combines qualitative and quantitative data. This review introduces the readers to some basic concepts, definitions, terminology, and application of qualitative research.
Qualitative research at its core, ask open-ended questions whose answers are not easily put into numbers such as ‘how’ and ‘why’.  Due to the open-ended nature of the research questions at hand, qualitative research design is often not linear in the same way quantitative design is.  One of the strengths of qualitative research is its ability to explain processes and patterns of human behavior that can be difficult to quantify.  Phenomena such as experiences, attitudes, and behaviors can be difficult to accurately capture quantitatively, whereas a qualitative approach allows participants themselves to explain how, why, or what they were thinking, feeling, and experiencing at a certain time or during an event of interest. Quantifying qualitative data certainly is possible, but at its core, qualitative data is looking for themes and patterns that can be difficult to quantify and it is important to ensure that the context and narrative of qualitative work are not lost by trying to quantify something that is not meant to be quantified.
However, while qualitative research is sometimes placed in opposition to quantitative research, where they are necessarily opposites and therefore ‘compete’ against each other and the philosophical paradigms associated with each, qualitative and quantitative work are not necessarily opposites nor are they incompatible.  While qualitative and quantitative approaches are different, they are not necessarily opposites, and they are certainly not mutually exclusive. For instance, qualitative research can help expand and deepen understanding of data or results obtained from quantitative analysis. For example, say a quantitative analysis has determined that there is a correlation between length of stay and level of patient satisfaction, but why does this correlation exist? This dual-focus scenario shows one way in which qualitative and quantitative research could be integrated together.
Examples of Qualitative Research Approaches
Ethnography as a research design has its origins in social and cultural anthropology, and involves the researcher being directly immersed in the participant’s environment.  Through this immersion, the ethnographer can use a variety of data collection techniques with the aim of being able to produce a comprehensive account of the social phenomena that occurred during the research period.  That is to say, the researcher’s aim with ethnography is to immerse themselves into the research population and come out of it with accounts of actions, behaviors, events, etc. through the eyes of someone involved in the population. Direct involvement of the researcher with the target population is one benefit of ethnographic research because it can then be possible to find data that is otherwise very difficult to extract and record.
Grounded Theory is the “generation of a theoretical model through the experience of observing a study population and developing a comparative analysis of their speech and behavior.”  As opposed to quantitative research which is deductive and tests or verifies an existing theory, grounded theory research is inductive and therefore lends itself to research that is aiming to study social interactions or experiences.   In essence, Grounded Theory’s goal is to explain for example how and why an event occurs or how and why people might behave a certain way. Through observing the population, a researcher using the Grounded Theory approach can then develop a theory to explain the phenomena of interest.
Phenomenology is defined as the “study of the meaning of phenomena or the study of the particular”.  At first glance, it might seem that Grounded Theory and Phenomenology are quite similar, but upon careful examination, the differences can be seen. At its core, phenomenology looks to investigate experiences from the perspective of the individual.  Phenomenology is essentially looking into the ‘lived experiences’ of the participants and aims to examine how and why participants behaved a certain way, from their perspective . Herein lies one of the main differences between Grounded Theory and Phenomenology. Grounded Theory aims to develop a theory for social phenomena through an examination of various data sources whereas Phenomenology focuses on describing and explaining an event or phenomena from the perspective of those who have experienced it.
One of qualitative research’s strengths lies in its ability to tell a story, often from the perspective of those directly involved in it. Reporting on qualitative research involves including details and descriptions of the setting involved and quotes from participants. This detail is called ‘thick’ or ‘rich’ description and is a strength of qualitative research. Narrative research is rife with the possibilities of ‘thick’ description as this approach weaves together a sequence of events, usually from just one or two individuals, in the hopes of creating a cohesive story, or narrative.  While it might seem like a waste of time to focus on such a specific, individual level, understanding one or two people’s narratives for an event or phenomenon can help to inform researchers about the influences that helped shape that narrative. The tension or conflict of differing narratives can be “opportunities for innovation”. 
Research paradigms are the assumptions, norms, and standards that underpin different approaches to research. Essentially, research paradigms are the ‘worldview’ that inform research.  It is valuable for researchers, both qualitative and quantitative, to understand what paradigm they are working within because understanding the theoretical basis of research paradigms allows researchers to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the approach being used and adjust accordingly. Different paradigms have different ontology and epistemologies . Ontology is defined as the "assumptions about the nature of reality” whereas epistemology is defined as the “assumptions about the nature of knowledge” that inform the work researchers do.  It is important to understand the ontological and epistemological foundations of the research paradigm researchers are working within to allow for a full understanding of the approach being used and the assumptions that underpin the approach as a whole. Further, it is crucial that researchers understand their own ontological and epistemological assumptions about the world in general because their assumptions about the world will necessarily impact how they interact with research. A discussion of the research paradigm is not complete without describing positivist, postpositivist, and constructivist philosophies.
Positivist vs Postpositivist
To further understand qualitative research, we need to discuss positivist and postpositivist frameworks. Positivism is a philosophy that the scientific method can and should be applied to social as well as natural sciences.  Essentially, positivist thinking insists that the social sciences should use natural science methods in its research which stems from positivist ontology that there is an objective reality that exists that is fully independent of our perception of the world as individuals. Quantitative research is rooted in positivist philosophy, which can be seen in the value it places on concepts such as causality, generalizability, and replicability.
Conversely, postpositivists argue that social reality can never be one hundred percent explained but it could be approximated.  Indeed, qualitative researchers have been insisting that there are “fundamental limits to the extent to which the methods and procedures of the natural sciences could be applied to the social world” and therefore postpositivist philosophy is often associated with qualitative research.  An example of positivist versus postpositivist values in research might be that positivist philosophies value hypothesis-testing, whereas postpositivist philosophies value the ability to formulate a substantive theory.
Constructivism is a subcategory of postpositivism. Most researchers invested in postpositivist research are constructivist as well, meaning they think there is no objective external reality that exists but rather that reality is constructed. Constructivism is a theoretical lens that emphasizes the dynamic nature of our world. “Constructivism contends that individuals’ views are directly influenced by their experiences, and it is these individual experiences and views that shape their perspective of reality”.  Essentially, Constructivist thought focuses on how ‘reality’ is not a fixed certainty and experiences, interactions, and backgrounds give people a unique view of the world. Constructivism contends, unlike in positivist views, that there is not necessarily an ‘objective’ reality we all experience. This is the ‘relativist’ ontological view that reality and the world we live in are dynamic and socially constructed. Therefore, qualitative scientific knowledge can be inductive as well as deductive.” 
So why is it important to understand the differences in assumptions that different philosophies and approaches to research have? Fundamentally, the assumptions underpinning the research tools a researcher selects provide an overall base for the assumptions the rest of the research will have and can even change the role of the researcher themselves.  For example, is the researcher an ‘objective’ observer such as in positivist quantitative work? Or is the researcher an active participant in the research itself, as in postpositivist qualitative work? Understanding the philosophical base of the research undertaken allows researchers to fully understand the implications of their work and their role within the research, as well as reflect on their own positionality and bias as it pertains to the research they are conducting.
The better the sample represents the intended study population, the more likely the researcher is to encompass the varying factors at play. The following are examples of participant sampling and selection: 
- Purposive sampling- selection based on the researcher’s rationale in terms of being the most informative.
- Criterion sampling-selection based on pre-identified factors.
- Convenience sampling- selection based on availability.
- Snowball sampling- the selection is by referral from other participants or people who know potential participants.
- Extreme case sampling- targeted selection of rare cases.
- Typical case sampling-selection based on regular or average participants.
Data Collection and Analysis
Qualitative research uses several techniques including interviews, focus groups, and observation.    Interviews may be unstructured, with open-ended questions on a topic and the interviewer adapts to the responses. Structured interviews have a predetermined number of questions that every participant is asked. It is usually one on one and is appropriate for sensitive topics or topics needing an in-depth exploration. Focus groups are often held with 8-12 target participants and are used when group dynamics and collective views on a topic are desired. Researchers can be a participant-observer to share the experiences of the subject or a non-participant or detached observer.
While quantitative research design prescribes a controlled environment for data collection, qualitative data collection may be in a central location or in the environment of the participants, depending on the study goals and design. Qualitative research could amount to a large amount of data. Data is transcribed which may then be coded manually or with the use of Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software or CAQDAS such as ATLAS.ti or NVivo.   
After the coding process, qualitative research results could be in various formats. It could be a synthesis and interpretation presented with excerpts from the data.  Results also could be in the form of themes and theory or model development.
To standardize and facilitate the dissemination of qualitative research outcomes, the healthcare team can use two reporting standards. The Consolidated Criteria for Reporting Qualitative Research or COREQ is a 32-item checklist for interviews and focus groups.  The Standards for Reporting Qualitative Research (SRQR) is a checklist covering a wider range of qualitative research. 
Examples of Application
Many times a research question will start with qualitative research. The qualitative research will help generate the research hypothesis which can be tested with quantitative methods. After the data is collected and analyzed with quantitative methods, a set of qualitative methods can be used to dive deeper into the data for a better understanding of what the numbers truly mean and their implications. The qualitative methods can then help clarify the quantitative data and also help refine the hypothesis for future research. Furthermore, with qualitative research researchers can explore subjects that are poorly studied with quantitative methods. These include opinions, individual's actions, and social science research.
A good qualitative study design starts with a goal or objective. This should be clearly defined or stated. The target population needs to be specified. A method for obtaining information from the study population must be carefully detailed to ensure there are no omissions of part of the target population. A proper collection method should be selected which will help obtain the desired information without overly limiting the collected data because many times, the information sought is not well compartmentalized or obtained. Finally, the design should ensure adequate methods for analyzing the data. An example may help better clarify some of the various aspects of qualitative research.
A researcher wants to decrease the number of teenagers who smoke in their community. The researcher could begin by asking current teen smokers why they started smoking through structured or unstructured interviews (qualitative research). The researcher can also get together a group of current teenage smokers and conduct a focus group to help brainstorm factors that may have prevented them from starting to smoke (qualitative research).
In this example, the researcher has used qualitative research methods (interviews and focus groups) to generate a list of ideas of both why teens start to smoke as well as factors that may have prevented them from starting to smoke. Next, the researcher compiles this data. The research found that, hypothetically, peer pressure, health issues, cost, being considered “cool,” and rebellious behavior all might increase or decrease the likelihood of teens starting to smoke.
The researcher creates a survey asking teen participants to rank how important each of the above factors is in either starting smoking (for current smokers) or not smoking (for current non-smokers). This survey provides specific numbers (ranked importance of each factor) and is thus a quantitative research tool.
The researcher can use the results of the survey to focus efforts on the one or two highest-ranked factors. Let us say the researcher found that health was the major factor that keeps teens from starting to smoke, and peer pressure was the major factor that contributed to teens to start smoking. The researcher can go back to qualitative research methods to dive deeper into each of these for more information. The researcher wants to focus on how to keep teens from starting to smoke, so they focus on the peer pressure aspect.
The researcher can conduct interviews and/or focus groups (qualitative research) about what types and forms of peer pressure are commonly encountered, where the peer pressure comes from, and where smoking first starts. The researcher hypothetically finds that peer pressure often occurs after school at the local teen hangouts, mostly the local park. The researcher also hypothetically finds that peer pressure comes from older, current smokers who provide the cigarettes.
The researcher could further explore this observation made at the local teen hangouts (qualitative research) and take notes regarding who is smoking, who is not, and what observable factors are at play for peer pressure of smoking. The researcher finds a local park where many local teenagers hang out and see that a shady, overgrown area of the park is where the smokers tend to hang out. The researcher notes the smoking teenagers buy their cigarettes from a local convenience store adjacent to the park where the clerk does not check identification before selling cigarettes. These observations fall under qualitative research.
If the researcher returns to the park and counts how many individuals smoke in each region of the park, this numerical data would be quantitative research. Based on the researcher's efforts thus far, they conclude that local teen smoking and teenagers who start to smoke may decrease if there are fewer overgrown areas of the park and the local convenience store does not sell cigarettes to underage individuals.
The researcher could try to have the parks department reassess the shady areas to make them less conducive to the smokers or identify how to limit the sales of cigarettes to underage individuals by the convenience store. The researcher would then cycle back to qualitative methods of asking at-risk population their perceptions of the changes, what factors are still at play, as well as quantitative research that includes teen smoking rates in the community, the incidence of new teen smokers, among others.  
Qualitative research functions as a standalone research design or in combination with quantitative research to enhance our understanding of the world. Qualitative research uses techniques including structured and unstructured interviews, focus groups, and participant observation to not only help generate hypotheses which can be more rigorously tested with quantitative research but also to help researchers delve deeper into the quantitative research numbers, understand what they mean, and understand what the implications are. Qualitative research provides researchers with a way to understand what is going on, especially when things are not easily categorized. 
- Issues of Concern
As discussed in the sections above, quantitative and qualitative work differ in many different ways, including the criteria for evaluating them. There are four well-established criteria for evaluating quantitative data: internal validity, external validity, reliability, and objectivity. The correlating concepts in qualitative research are credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability.   The corresponding quantitative and qualitative concepts can be seen below, with the quantitative concept is on the left, and the qualitative concept is on the right:
- Internal validity--- Credibility
- External validity---Transferability
In conducting qualitative research, ensuring these concepts are satisfied and well thought out can mitigate potential issues from arising. For example, just as a researcher will ensure that their quantitative study is internally valid so should qualitative researchers ensure that their work has credibility.
Indicators such as triangulation and peer examination can help evaluate the credibility of qualitative work.
- Triangulation: Triangulation involves using multiple methods of data collection to increase the likelihood of getting a reliable and accurate result. In our above magic example, the result would be more reliable by also interviewing the magician, back-stage hand, and the person who "vanished." In qualitative research, triangulation can include using telephone surveys, in-person surveys, focus groups, and interviews as well as surveying an adequate cross-section of the target demographic.
- Peer examination: Results can be reviewed by a peer to ensure the data is consistent with the findings.
‘Thick’ or ‘rich’ description can be used to evaluate the transferability of qualitative research whereas using an indicator such as an audit trail might help with evaluating the dependability and confirmability.
- Thick or rich description is a detailed and thorough description of details, the setting, and quotes from participants in the research.  Thick descriptions will include a detailed explanation of how the study was carried out. Thick descriptions are detailed enough to allow readers to draw conclusions and interpret the data themselves, which can help with transferability and replicability.
- Audit trail: An audit trail provides a documented set of steps of how the participants were selected and the data was collected. The original records of information should also be kept (e.g., surveys, notes, recordings).
One issue of concern that qualitative researchers should take into consideration is observation bias. Here are a few examples:
- Hawthorne effect: The Hawthorne effect is the change in participant behavior when they know they are being observed. If a researcher was wanting to identify factors that contribute to employee theft and tells the employees they are going to watch them to see what factors affect employee theft, one would suspect employee behavior would change when they know they are being watched.
- Observer-expectancy effect: Some participants change their behavior or responses to satisfy the researcher's desired effect. This happens in an unconscious manner for the participant so it is important to eliminate or limit transmitting the researcher's views.
- Artificial scenario effect: Some qualitative research occurs in artificial scenarios and/or with preset goals. In such situations, the information may not be accurate because of the artificial nature of the scenario. The preset goals may limit the qualitative information obtained.
- Clinical Significance
Qualitative research by itself or combined with quantitative research helps healthcare providers understand patients and the impact and challenges of the care they deliver. Qualitative research provides an opportunity to generate and refine hypotheses and delve deeper into the data generated by quantitative research. Qualitative research does not exist as an island apart from quantitative research, but as an integral part of research methods to be used for the understanding of the world around us. 
- Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes
Qualitative research is important for all members of the health care team as all are affected by qualitative research. Qualitative research may help develop a theory or a model for health research that can be further explored by quantitative research. Much of the qualitative research data acquisition is completed by numerous team members including social works, scientists, nurses, etc. Within each area of the medical field, there is copious ongoing qualitative research including physician-patient interactions, nursing-patient interactions, patient-environment interactions, health care team function, patient information delivery, etc.
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Disclosure: Steven Tenny declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.
Disclosure: Janelle Brannan declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.
Disclosure: Grace Brannan declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.
This book is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/ ), which permits others to distribute the work, provided that the article is not altered or used commercially. You are not required to obtain permission to distribute this article, provided that you credit the author and journal.
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What is qualitative research.
Qualitative research methodologies seek to capture information that often can't be expressed numerically. These methodologies often include some level of interpretation from researchers as they collect information via observation, coded survey or interview responses, and so on. Researchers may use multiple qualitative methods in one study, as well as a theoretical or critical framework to help them interpret their data.
Qualitative research methods can be used to study:
- How are political and social attitudes formed?
- How do people make decisions?
- What teaching or training methods are most effective?
Qualitative Research Approaches
In this type of study, researchers will actively pursue some kind of intervention, resolve a problem, or affect some kind of change. They will not only analyze the results but will also examine the challenges encountered through the process.
Ethnographies are an in-depth, holistic type of research used to capture cultural practices, beliefs, traditions, and so on. Here, the researcher observes and interviews members of a culture — an ethnic group, a clique, members of a religion, etc. — and then analyzes their findings.
Researchers will create and test a hypothesis using qualitative data. Often, researchers use grounded theory to understand decision-making, problem-solving, and other types of behavior.
Researchers use this type of framework to understand different aspects of the human experience and how their subjects assign meaning to their experiences. Researchers use interviews to collect data from a small group of subjects, then discuss those results in the form of a narrative or story.
This type of research attempts to understand the lived experiences of a group and/or how members of that group find meaning in their experiences. Researchers use interviews, observation, and other qualitative methods to collect data.
Often used to share novel or unique information, case studies consist of a detailed, in-depth description of a single subject, pilot project, specific events, and so on.
- Hossain, M.S., Runa, F., & Al Mosabbir, A. (2021). Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on rare diseases: A case study on thalassaemia patients in Bangladesh. Public Health in Practice, 2(100150), 1-3.
- Nožina, M. (2021). The Czech Rhino connection: A case study of Vietnamese wildlife trafficking networks’ operations across central Europe. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 27(2), 265-283.
Researchers will recruit people to answer questions in small group settings. Focus group members may share similar demographics or be diverse, depending on the researchers' needs. Group members will then be asked a series of questions and have their responses recorded. While these responses may be coded and discussed numerically (e.g., 50% of group members responded negatively to a question), researchers will also use responses to provide context, nuance, and other details.
- Dichabeng, P., Merat, N., & Markkula, G. (2021). Factors that influence the acceptance of future shared automated vehicles – A focus group study with United Kingdom drivers. Transportation Research: Part F, 82, 121–140.
- Maynard, E., Barton, S., Rivett, K., Maynard, O., & Davies, W. (2021). Because ‘grown-ups don’t always get it right’: Allyship with children in research—From research question to authorship. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 18(4), 518–536.
Researchers will arrange to observe (usually in an unobtrusive way) a set of subjects in specific conditions. For example, researchers might visit a school cafeteria to learn about the food choices students make or set up trail cameras to collect information about animal behavior in the area.
- He, J. Y., Chan, P. W., Li, Q. S., Li, L., Zhang, L., & Yang, H. L. (2022). Observations of wind and turbulence structures of Super Typhoons Hato and Mangkhut over land from a 356 m high meteorological tower. Atmospheric Research, 265(105910), 1-18.
- Zerovnik Spela, Kos Mitja, & Locatelli Igor. (2022). Initiation of insulin therapy in patients with type 2 diabetes: An observational study. Acta Pharmaceutica, 72(1), 147–157.
Unlike quantitative surveys, open-ended surveys require respondents to answer the questions in their own words.
- Mujcic, A., Blankers, M., Yildirim, D., Boon, B., & Engels, R. (2021). Cancer survivors’ views on digital support for smoking cessation and alcohol moderation: a survey and qualitative study. BMC Public Health, 21(1), 1-13.
- Smith, S. D., Hall, J. P., & Kurth, N. K. (2021). Perspectives on health policy from people with disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 32(3), 224–232.
Structured or Semi-Structured Interviews
Researchers will recruit a small number of people who fit pre-determined criteria (e.g., people in a certain profession) and ask each the same set of questions, one-on-one. Semi-structured interviews will include opportunities for the interviewee to provide additional information they weren't asked about by the researcher.
- Gibbs, D., Haven-Tang, C., & Ritchie, C. (2021). Harmless flirtations or co-creation? Exploring flirtatious encounters in hospitable experiences. Tourism & Hospitality Research, 21(4), 473–486.
- Hongying Dai, Ramos, A., Tamrakar, N., Cheney, M., Samson, K., & Grimm, B. (2021). School personnel’s responses to school-based vaping prevention program: A qualitative study. Health Behavior & Policy Review, 8(2), 130–147.
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- Published: 22 March 2008
Methods of data collection in qualitative research: interviews and focus groups
- P. Gill 1 ,
- K. Stewart 2 ,
- E. Treasure 3 &
- B. Chadwick 4
British Dental Journal volume 204 , pages 291–295 ( 2008 ) Cite this article
Interviews and focus groups are the most common methods of data collection used in qualitative healthcare research
Interviews can be used to explore the views, experiences, beliefs and motivations of individual participants
Focus group use group dynamics to generate qualitative data
Qualitative research in dentistry
Conducting qualitative interviews with school children in dental research
Analysing and presenting qualitative data
This paper explores the most common methods of data collection used in qualitative research: interviews and focus groups. The paper examines each method in detail, focusing on how they work in practice, when their use is appropriate and what they can offer dentistry. Examples of empirical studies that have used interviews or focus groups are also provided.
You have full access to this article via your institution.
Having explored the nature and purpose of qualitative research in the previous paper, this paper explores methods of data collection used in qualitative research. There are a variety of methods of data collection in qualitative research, including observations, textual or visual analysis (eg from books or videos) and interviews (individual or group). 1 However, the most common methods used, particularly in healthcare research, are interviews and focus groups. 2 , 3
The purpose of this paper is to explore these two methods in more detail, in particular how they work in practice, the purpose of each, when their use is appropriate and what they can offer dental research.
Qualitative research interviews
There are three fundamental types of research interviews: structured, semi-structured and unstructured. Structured interviews are, essentially, verbally administered questionnaires, in which a list of predetermined questions are asked, with little or no variation and with no scope for follow-up questions to responses that warrant further elaboration. Consequently, they are relatively quick and easy to administer and may be of particular use if clarification of certain questions are required or if there are likely to be literacy or numeracy problems with the respondents. However, by their very nature, they only allow for limited participant responses and are, therefore, of little use if 'depth' is required.
Conversely, unstructured interviews do not reflect any preconceived theories or ideas and are performed with little or no organisation. 4 Such an interview may simply start with an opening question such as 'Can you tell me about your experience of visiting the dentist?' and will then progress based, primarily, upon the initial response. Unstructured interviews are usually very time-consuming (often lasting several hours) and can be difficult to manage, and to participate in, as the lack of predetermined interview questions provides little guidance on what to talk about (which many participants find confusing and unhelpful). Their use is, therefore, generally only considered where significant 'depth' is required, or where virtually nothing is known about the subject area (or a different perspective of a known subject area is required).
Semi-structured interviews consist of several key questions that help to define the areas to be explored, but also allows the interviewer or interviewee to diverge in order to pursue an idea or response in more detail. 2 This interview format is used most frequently in healthcare, as it provides participants with some guidance on what to talk about, which many find helpful. The flexibility of this approach, particularly compared to structured interviews, also allows for the discovery or elaboration of information that is important to participants but may not have previously been thought of as pertinent by the research team.
For example, in a recent dental public heath study, 5 school children in Cardiff, UK were interviewed about their food choices and preferences. A key finding that emerged from semi-structured interviews, which was not previously thought to be as highly influential as the data subsequently confirmed, was the significance of peer-pressure in influencing children's food choices and preferences. This finding was also established primarily through follow-up questioning (eg probing interesting responses with follow-up questions, such as 'Can you tell me a bit more about that?') and, therefore, may not have emerged in the same way, if at all, if asked as a predetermined question.
The purpose of research interviews
The purpose of the research interview is to explore the views, experiences, beliefs and/or motivations of individuals on specific matters (eg factors that influence their attendance at the dentist). Qualitative methods, such as interviews, are believed to provide a 'deeper' understanding of social phenomena than would be obtained from purely quantitative methods, such as questionnaires. 1 Interviews are, therefore, most appropriate where little is already known about the study phenomenon or where detailed insights are required from individual participants. They are also particularly appropriate for exploring sensitive topics, where participants may not want to talk about such issues in a group environment.
Examples of dental studies that have collected data using interviews are 'Examining the psychosocial process involved in regular dental attendance' 6 and 'Exploring factors governing dentists' treatment philosophies'. 7 Gibson et al . 6 provided an improved understanding of factors that influenced people's regular attendance with their dentist. The study by Kay and Blinkhorn 7 provided a detailed insight into factors that influenced GDPs' decision making in relation to treatment choices. The study found that dentists' clinical decisions about treatments were not necessarily related to pathology or treatment options, as was perhaps initially thought, but also involved discussions with patients, patients' values and dentists' feelings of self esteem and conscience.
There are many similarities between clinical encounters and research interviews, in that both employ similar interpersonal skills, such as questioning, conversing and listening. However, there are also some fundamental differences between the two, such as the purpose of the encounter, reasons for participating, roles of the people involved and how the interview is conducted and recorded. 8
The primary purpose of clinical encounters is for the dentist to ask the patient questions in order to acquire sufficient information to inform decision making and treatment options. However, the constraints of most consultations are such that any open-ended questioning needs to be brought to a conclusion within a fairly short time. 2 In contrast, the fundamental purpose of the research interview is to listen attentively to what respondents have to say, in order to acquire more knowledge about the study topic. 9 Unlike the clinical encounter, it is not to intentionally offer any form of help or advice, which many researchers have neither the training nor the time for. Research interviewing therefore requires a different approach and a different range of skills.
When designing an interview schedule it is imperative to ask questions that are likely to yield as much information about the study phenomenon as possible and also be able to address the aims and objectives of the research. In a qualitative interview, good questions should be open-ended (ie, require more than a yes/no answer), neutral, sensitive and understandable. 2 It is usually best to start with questions that participants can answer easily and then proceed to more difficult or sensitive topics. 2 This can help put respondents at ease, build up confidence and rapport and often generates rich data that subsequently develops the interview further.
As in any research, it is often wise to first pilot the interview schedule on several respondents prior to data collection proper. 8 This allows the research team to establish if the schedule is clear, understandable and capable of answering the research questions, and if, therefore, any changes to the interview schedule are required.
The length of interviews varies depending on the topic, researcher and participant. However, on average, healthcare interviews last 20-60 minutes. Interviews can be performed on a one-off or, if change over time is of interest, repeated basis, 4 for example exploring the psychosocial impact of oral trauma on participants and their subsequent experiences of cosmetic dental surgery.
Developing the interview
Before an interview takes place, respondents should be informed about the study details and given assurance about ethical principles, such as anonymity and confidentiality. 2 This gives respondents some idea of what to expect from the interview, increases the likelihood of honesty and is also a fundamental aspect of the informed consent process.
Wherever possible, interviews should be conducted in areas free from distractions and at times and locations that are most suitable for participants. For many this may be at their own home in the evenings. Whilst researchers may have less control over the home environment, familiarity may help the respondent to relax and result in a more productive interview. 9 Establishing rapport with participants prior to the interview is also important as this can also have a positive effect on the subsequent development of the interview.
When conducting the actual interview it is prudent for the interviewer to familiarise themselves with the interview schedule, so that the process appears more natural and less rehearsed. However, to ensure that the interview is as productive as possible, researchers must possess a repertoire of skills and techniques to ensure that comprehensive and representative data are collected during the interview. 10 One of the most important skills is the ability to listen attentively to what is being said, so that participants are able to recount their experiences as fully as possible, without unnecessary interruptions.
Other important skills include adopting open and emotionally neutral body language, nodding, smiling, looking interested and making encouraging noises (eg, 'Mmmm') during the interview. 2 The strategic use of silence, if used appropriately, can also be highly effective at getting respondents to contemplate their responses, talk more, elaborate or clarify particular issues. Other techniques that can be used to develop the interview further include reflecting on remarks made by participants (eg, 'Pain?') and probing remarks ('When you said you were afraid of going to the dentist what did you mean?'). 9 Where appropriate, it is also wise to seek clarification from respondents if it is unclear what they mean. The use of 'leading' or 'loaded' questions that may unduly influence responses should always be avoided (eg, 'So you think dental surgery waiting rooms are frightening?' rather than 'How do you find the waiting room at the dentists?').
At the end of the interview it is important to thank participants for their time and ask them if there is anything they would like to add. This gives respondents an opportunity to deal with issues that they have thought about, or think are important but have not been dealt with by the interviewer. 9 This can often lead to the discovery of new, unanticipated information. Respondents should also be debriefed about the study after the interview has finished.
All interviews should be tape recorded and transcribed verbatim afterwards, as this protects against bias and provides a permanent record of what was and was not said. 8 It is often also helpful to make 'field notes' during and immediately after each interview about observations, thoughts and ideas about the interview, as this can help in data analysis process. 4 , 8
Focus groups share many common features with less structured interviews, but there is more to them than merely collecting similar data from many participants at once. A focus group is a group discussion on a particular topic organised for research purposes. This discussion is guided, monitored and recorded by a researcher (sometimes called a moderator or facilitator). 11 , 12
Focus groups were first used as a research method in market research, originating in the 1940s in the work of the Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia University. Eventually the success of focus groups as a marketing tool in the private sector resulted in its use in public sector marketing, such as the assessment of the impact of health education campaigns. 13 However, focus group techniques, as used in public and private sectors, have diverged over time. Therefore, in this paper, we seek to describe focus groups as they are used in academic research.
When focus groups are used
Focus groups are used for generating information on collective views, and the meanings that lie behind those views. They are also useful in generating a rich understanding of participants' experiences and beliefs. 12 Suggested criteria for using focus groups include: 13
As a standalone method, for research relating to group norms, meanings and processes
In a multi-method design, to explore a topic or collect group language or narratives to be used in later stages
To clarify, extend, qualify or challenge data collected through other methods
To feedback results to research participants.
Morgan 12 suggests that focus groups should be avoided according to the following criteria:
If listening to participants' views generates expectations for the outcome of the research that can not be fulfilled
If participants are uneasy with each other, and will therefore not discuss their feelings and opinions openly
If the topic of interest to the researcher is not a topic the participants can or wish to discuss
If statistical data is required. Focus groups give depth and insight, but cannot produce useful numerical results.
Conducting focus groups: group composition and size
The composition of a focus group needs great care to get the best quality of discussion. There is no 'best' solution to group composition, and group mix will always impact on the data, according to things such as the mix of ages, sexes and social professional statuses of the participants. What is important is that the researcher gives due consideration to the impact of group mix (eg, how the group may interact with each other) before the focus group proceeds. 14
Interaction is key to a successful focus group. Sometimes this means a pre-existing group interacts best for research purposes, and sometimes stranger groups. Pre-existing groups may be easier to recruit, have shared experiences and enjoy a comfort and familiarity which facilitates discussion or the ability to challenge each other comfortably. In health settings, pre-existing groups can overcome issues relating to disclosure of potentially stigmatising status which people may find uncomfortable in stranger groups (conversely there may be situations where disclosure is more comfortable in stranger groups). In other research projects it may be decided that stranger groups will be able to speak more freely without fear of repercussion, and challenges to other participants may be more challenging and probing, leading to richer data. 13
Group size is an important consideration in focus group research. Stewart and Shamdasani 14 suggest that it is better to slightly over-recruit for a focus group and potentially manage a slightly larger group, than under-recruit and risk having to cancel the session or having an unsatisfactory discussion. They advise that each group will probably have two non-attenders. The optimum size for a focus group is six to eight participants (excluding researchers), but focus groups can work successfully with as few as three and as many as 14 participants. Small groups risk limited discussion occurring, while large groups can be chaotic, hard to manage for the moderator and frustrating for participants who feel they get insufficient opportunities to speak. 13
Preparing an interview schedule
Like research interviews, the interview schedule for focus groups is often no more structured than a loose schedule of topics to be discussed. However, in preparing an interview schedule for focus groups, Stewart and Shamdasani 14 suggest two general principles:
Questions should move from general to more specific questions
Question order should be relative to importance of issues in the research agenda.
There can, however, be some conflict between these two principles, and trade offs are often needed, although often discussions will take on a life of their own, which will influence or determine the order in which issues are covered. Usually, less than a dozen predetermined questions are needed and, as with research interviews, the researcher will also probe and expand on issues according to the discussion.
Moderating a focus group looks easy when done well, but requires a complex set of skills, which are related to the following principles: 15
Participants have valuable views and the ability to respond actively, positively and respectfully. Such an approach is not simply a courtesy, but will encourage fruitful discussions
Moderating without participating: a moderator must guide a discussion rather than join in with it. Expressing one's own views tends to give participants cues as to what to say (introducing bias), rather than the confidence to be open and honest about their own views
Be prepared for views that may be unpalatably critical of a topic which may be important to you
It is important to recognise that researchers' individual characteristics mean that no one person will always be suitable to moderate any kind of group. Sometimes the characteristics that suit a moderator for one group will inhibit discussion in another
Be yourself. If the moderator is comfortable and natural, participants will feel relaxed.
The moderator should facilitate group discussion, keeping it focussed without leading it. They should also be able to prevent the discussion being dominated by one member (for example, by emphasising at the outset the importance of hearing a range of views), ensure that all participants have ample opportunity to contribute, allow differences of opinions to be discussed fairly and, if required, encourage reticent participants. 13
Other relevant factors
The venue for a focus group is important and should, ideally, be accessible, comfortable, private, quiet and free from distractions. 13 However, while a central location, such as the participants' workplace or school, may encourage attendance, the venue may affect participants' behaviour. For example, in a school setting, pupils may behave like pupils, and in clinical settings, participants may be affected by any anxieties that affect them when they attend in a patient role.
Focus groups are usually recorded, often observed (by a researcher other than the moderator, whose role is to observe the interaction of the group to enhance analysis) and sometimes videotaped. At the start of a focus group, a moderator should acknowledge the presence of the audio recording equipment, assure participants of confidentiality and give people the opportunity to withdraw if they are uncomfortable with being taped. 14
A good quality multi-directional external microphone is recommended for the recording of focus groups, as internal microphones are rarely good enough to cope with the variation in volume of different speakers. 13 If observers are present, they should be introduced to participants as someone who is just there to observe, and sit away from the discussion. 14 Videotaping will require more than one camera to capture the whole group, as well as additional operational personnel in the room. This is, therefore, very obtrusive, which can affect the spontaneity of the group and in a focus group does not usually yield enough additional information that could not be captured by an observer to make videotaping worthwhile. 15
The systematic analysis of focus group transcripts is crucial. However, the transcription of focus groups is more complex and time consuming than in one-to-one interviews, and each hour of audio can take up to eight hours to transcribe and generate approximately 100 pages of text. Recordings should be transcribed verbatim and also speakers should be identified in a way that makes it possible to follow the contributions of each individual. Sometimes observational notes also need to be described in the transcripts in order for them to make sense.
The analysis of qualitative data is explored in the final paper of this series. However, it is important to note that the analysis of focus group data is different from other qualitative data because of their interactive nature, and this needs to be taken into consideration during analysis. The importance of the context of other speakers is essential to the understanding of individual contributions. 13 For example, in a group situation, participants will often challenge each other and justify their remarks because of the group setting, in a way that perhaps they would not in a one-to-one interview. The analysis of focus group data must therefore take account of the group dynamics that have generated remarks.
Focus groups in dental research
Focus groups are used increasingly in dental research, on a diverse range of topics, 16 illuminating a number of areas relating to patients, dental services and the dental profession. Addressing a special needs population difficult to access and sample through quantitative measures, Robinson et al . 17 used focus groups to investigate the oral health-related attitudes of drug users, exploring the priorities, understandings and barriers to care they encounter. Newton et al . 18 used focus groups to explore barriers to services among minority ethnic groups, highlighting for the first time differences between minority ethnic groups. Demonstrating the use of the method with professional groups as subjects in dental research, Gussy et al . 19 explored the barriers to and possible strategies for developing a shared approach in prevention of caries among pre-schoolers. This mixed method study was very important as the qualitative element was able to explain why the clinical trial failed, and this understanding may help researchers improve on the quantitative aspect of future studies, as well as making a valuable academic contribution in its own right.
Interviews and focus groups remain the most common methods of data collection in qualitative research, and are now being used with increasing frequency in dental research, particularly to access areas not amendable to quantitative methods and/or where depth, insight and understanding of particular phenomena are required. The examples of dental studies that have employed these methods also help to demonstrate the range of research contexts to which interview and focus group research can make a useful contribution. The continued employment of these methods can further strengthen many areas of dentally related work.
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Authors and affiliations.
Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Health, Sport and Science, University of Glamorgan, Pontypridd, CF37 1DL,
Research Fellow, Academic Unit of Primary Care, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 2AA,
Dean and Professor of Dental Public Health, School of Dentistry, Dental Health and Biological Sciences, School of Dentistry, Cardiff University, Heath Park, Cardiff, CF14 4XY,
Professor of Paediatric Dentistry, School of Dentistry, Dental Health and Biological Sciences, School of Dentistry, Cardiff University, Heath Park, Cardiff, CF14 4XY,
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Correspondence to P. Gill .
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Gill, P., Stewart, K., Treasure, E. et al. Methods of data collection in qualitative research: interviews and focus groups. Br Dent J 204 , 291–295 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/bdj.2008.192
Published : 22 March 2008
Issue Date : 22 March 2008
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1038/bdj.2008.192
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Qualitative Research Methods: Types, Examples, and Analysis
In a universe swarming with data, numbers, and algorithms, lies a lesser-known realm where emotions, stories, and intimate revelations take center stage. When you want to get inside your customers’ heads to understand their thoughts, feelings, perceptions, beliefs, and emotions, numbers are unlikely to provide a complete picture.
Let’s set the scene: picture a cozy bakery buzzing with conversations. People from different walks of life gather, each carrying a unique story to tell. You observe that your sale of pancakes is more than that of pastries, numerical data will tell you that much. But numbers won’t tell you why.
This is exactly where qualitative surveys come into play; they take you right to the heart of people’s minds and experiences – the “why” behind the statistics.
Quantitative data may offer a bird’s-eye view of the crowd, but qualitative surveys open the doorways to your audience’s individual tales. In this blog, we are going to explore qualitative research, its types, analytical procedures, positive and negative aspects, and examples.
Here we go!
What Is Qualitative Research?
Qualitative research is a branch of market research that involves collecting and analyzing qualitative data through open-ended communication. The primary purpose of conducting qualitative research is to understand the individual’s thoughts, feelings, opinions, and reasons behind these emotions.
It is used to gather in-depth and rich insights into a particular topic. Understanding how your audience feels about a specific subject helps make informed decisions in research.
As opposed to quantitative research, qualitative research does not deal with the collection of numerical data for statistical analysis. The application of this research method is usually found in humanities and social science subjects like sociology, history, anthropology, health science, education, etc.
Types of Qualitative Research Methods
Qualitative research methods are designed to understand the behavior and perception of the target audience about a particular subject.
Qualitative research methods include observations, one-on-one interviews, case study research, focus groups, ethnographic research, phenomenology, and grounded theory.
Let’s discuss them one by one.
Observation is one of the oldest qualitative methods of research used to collect systematic data using subjective methodologies. It is based on five primary sense organs – smell, sight, taste, touch, and hearing, and their functioning. This method focuses on characteristics and qualities rather than numbers.
The qualitative observation technique involves observing the interaction patterns in a particular situation. Researchers collect data by closely watching the behaviors of others. They rely on their ability to observe the target audience rather than communicating with people about their thoughts on a particular subject.
2. One-on-One Interviews
Conducting one-on-one interviews is one of the most common types of qualitative research methods. Although both open-ended and closed-ended questions can be a part of these interviews, open-ended conservation between researchers and participants related to a particular subject is still the preferred mode of communication. This is to gather in-depth qualitative data for the research purpose.
Here, the researcher asks pre-determined questions to the participants to collect specific information about their research topic. Interviews can be conducted face-to-face, by email, or by phone. The drawback of this method is that sometimes the participants feel uncomfortable sharing honest answers with the researcher.
3. Focus Groups
A Focus group involves collecting qualitative data by conducting a group discussion of 6-12 members along with a moderator related to a particular subject. Here the moderator asks respondents a set of predetermined questions so that they can interact with each other and form a group discussion. It helps researchers to collect rich qualitative data about their market research.
However, it is essential to ensure that the moderator asks open-ended questions like “how,” “what,” and “why” that will enable participants to share their thoughts and feelings.
Close-ended questions like “yes” and “no” should be avoided as they do not lead to engagement among participants.
4. Case Study Research
A case study is another example of qualitative research that involves a comprehensive examination of a particular subject, person, or event.
This method is used to obtain in-depth data and complete knowledge of the subject. The data is collected from various sources like interviews and observation to supplement the conclusion.
This qualitative approach is extensively used in the field of social sciences, law, business, and health. Many companies use this technique when marketing their products/services to new customers. It tells them how their business offerings can solve a particular problem. Let’s discuss an example of this method of qualitative research.
5. Digital Ethnography
This is an innovative form of qualitative research that focuses on understanding people and their cultures in the context of the digital realm. Digital ethnography aims to study individuals’ behavior, interactions, and social dynamics within online environments and digital communities.
In digital ethnography, the researcher acts as both an observer and a participant in these said online communities to gain firsthand insight into the lifestyles, cultures, and traditions of people navigating these digital landscapes.
Unlike traditional ethnography, digital ethnography is more efficient and accessible. The studies are conducted remotely, reducing the need for extended physical presence in a specific location, and the data collection process is often more streamlined.
6. Grounded Theory
This is another data collection method of qualitative research used across various disciplines. The Grounded Theory aims to provide the reasons, theories, and explanations behind an event. It focuses on why a course of action has happened the way it did.
The grounded theory model collects and analyzes the data to develop new theories about the subject. The data is collected using different techniques like observation, literature review, and document analysis.
This qualitative method is majorly used in business for conducting user satisfaction surveys to explain why a customer purchases a particular product or service. It helps companies in managing customer loyalty.
Phenomenology is another qualitative research example that describes how an individual experiences or feels about a particular event. It also explores the experience of a specific event in a community.
Here, the researcher interviews people who have experienced a particular event to find similarities between their experiences. The researcher can also record what they learn from the target audience to maintain the credibility of the data.
Although this qualitative technique depends majorly on interviews, other data collection methods like observation, interviews, and survey questionnaires are also used to supplement the findings. The application of this method is found in psychology, philosophy, and education.
For example, to prompt a participant to share their experience around an event they encountered, you can ask:
“What was your experience like when you first encountered [a specific phenomenon or event]?”
8. Record Keeping
This approach involves using existing trustworthy documents and other reliable sources as the basis of data for new research. It’s comparable to visiting a library, where you can explore books and reference materials to gather relevant data that might be helpful for your research.
How Do You Analyze Qualitative Data?
1. Arranging the Data
Qualitative data is collected in different forms like audio recordings, interviews, video transcriptions, etc. This step involves arranging all the collected data in the text format in the spreadsheet. This can be done either manually or with the help of data analysis tools.
2. Organizing the Data
Even after putting the data into a spreadsheet, the data is still messy and hard to read. Due to this, the data needs to be organized in a readable and understandable pattern.
For example, you can organize data based on questions asked. Organize your data in such a way that it appears visually clear. Data organization can be tedious, but it is essential for the next step.
3. Assigning Codes
Developing codes for the data helps simplify the data analysis methods in qualitative research. Assigning code implies categorizing and setting patterns and properties to the collected data. It helps in compressing the vast amount of information collected. By developing codes for your data, you can gather deep insight into the data to make informed business decisions.
4. Analyzing the Data
Qualitative data cannot be analyzed based on any universally accepted equation like quantitative data. Qualitative data analysis depends on the thinking and logical skill of the researcher.
However, there are a few techniques by which you can easily interpret data by identifying themes and patterns between sample responses:
- Checking the data for repetitive words and phrases commonly used by the audience in their answers.
- Comparing the primary and secondary data collection to find the difference between them.
- Scanning the data for expected information that has not been included in answers provided by respondents.
5. Summarizing the Data
The final stage is to link the qualitative data to the hypothesis. Highlight significant themes, patterns, and trends by using essential quotes from the data, as well as any possible contradictions.
One of the main things about qualitative data is that there isn’t a single, formal way to collect and analyze data. Each research project will have its own set of methods and techniques that it needs to use.
The key is to look at the specific needs of each project and change the research method accordingly.
Also Read: How to Analyze Survey Data Like a Pro
Advantages and Limitations of Qualitative Research
Qualitative market research techniques offer a more comprehensive and complete picture of the subject than quantitative research, which focuses on specific and narrow areas. Other advantages of using qualitative research methods are:
- Explore the subject in-depth: Qualitative research is personal and offers a deep understanding of the respondent’s feelings, thoughts, and actions so that the researcher can perform an in-depth analysis of the subject.
- Promotes discussion: Qualitative research methods are open-ended in approach rather than rigorously following a predetermined set of questions. It adds context to the research rather than just numbers.
- More flexibility: The interviewer can study and ask questions on the subject they feel is pertinent or had not previously thought about during the discussions. Moreover, open-ended questions enable respondents to be free to share their thoughts, leading to more information.
- Capture trends as they change: Qualitative research can track how people’s feelings and attitudes change over time. Respondents’ opinions can change during the conversation, and qualitative research can show this.
With that being said, however, we do not mean that qualitative data is entirely devoid of flaws. Like most things, it, too, has its fair share of limitations, the prime among them being:
- Subjectivity: Qualitative data can be influenced by the researcher’s bias or interpretation, potentially affecting the objectivity of the findings. The absence of strict guidelines in qualitative research can lead to variations in data collection and analysis too.
- Time-Consuming & Resource-Intensive: Conducting qualitative research can be a lengthy process, from data collection through transcription and analysis. It also often requires skilled researchers, making it more resource-intensive compared to some quantitative methods.
- Difficulty in Analysis: Analyzing qualitative data can be complex, as it involves coding, categorizing, and interpreting open-ended responses. This data category often does not lend itself well to traditional statistical tests, limiting the depth of statistical analysis as well.
- Challenges in Replication: Replicating qualitative studies can be challenging due to the unique context and interactions involved.
Advantages of Using Website Surveys for Qualitative Research
The role of surveys and questionnaires in collecting quantitative data is pretty obvious, but how exactly would you use them to capture qualitative data, and why? Well, for starters, website surveys offer numerous advantages here, such as letting researchers explore diverse perspectives, collect rich and detailed data, conduct cost-effective and time-efficient studies, etc.
Let’s have a brief rundown of the significant benefits below:
Reach and Diversity: Website surveys enable researchers to engage with a diverse and global audience. They break geographical barriers, allowing participation from individuals residing in different regions, cultures, and backgrounds, leading to a richer pool of perspectives.
- Cost-Effectiveness: Conducting traditional face-to-face qualitative research can be expensive and time-consuming. In contrast, website surveys are cost-effective, as they eliminate the need for travel, venue rentals, and other logistical expenses.
- Convenience and Flexibility: Website surveys offer unparalleled convenience to both researchers and participants. Respondents can take part in the study at their own pace and preferred time, promoting higher response rates and reducing non-response bias.
- Anonymity and Honesty: Participants often feel more comfortable expressing themselves honestly in online surveys. Anonymity ensures confidentiality, encouraging candid responses, and allowing researchers to gain deeper insights into personal experiences and opinions.
- Rich Data Collection: Website surveys can accommodate various question types, including open-ended questions, allowing respondents to elaborate on their thoughts. This results in the collection of rich, detailed, and nuanced data, enriching the qualitative analysis.
- Time-Efficient Data Collection: Website surveys facilitate efficient data collection, reaching a large number of participants in a short span. Researchers can access real-time data, enabling quick analysis and timely decision-making.
- Ease of Analysis: Online survey platforms often provide tools for automated data analysis, simplifying the coding and categorization process. Researchers can swiftly identify themes and patterns, expediting the interpretation of qualitative findings.
- Longitudinal Studies: Website surveys are well-suited for longitudinal studies, as they allow researchers to follow up with the same participants over an extended period. This longitudinal approach enables the exploration of changes in attitudes or behaviors over time.
- Integration with Multimedia: Website surveys can seamlessly incorporate multimedia elements, such as images, videos, or audio clips, enabling respondents to provide more context and depth to their responses.
- Eco-Friendly Approach: By reducing the need for paper and physical materials, website surveys promote a sustainable and eco-friendly approach to data collection, aligning with responsible research practices.
Most website survey tools are equipped with features that efficiently collect and analyze diverse perspectives, ultimately furthering your data collection process. For example:
- Question Customization: These tools allow users to create and customize a wide range of questions, including open-ended, closed-ended, rating scale, and more. This flexibility allows participants to express their thoughts and feelings in their own words, paving the way for gathering diverse qualitative data.
- Anonymity and Confidentiality: Ensuring confidentiality in qualitative research is crucial for building trust and obtaining more accurate and sensitive data. Participants can often remain anonymous when using website survey tools, which can encourage them to provide honest and candid responses.
- Data Analysis Support: Many website survey tools offer built-in data analysis features, such as basic statistical summaries and visualizations. While these features are more suited for quantitative data, they can still aid in organizing and understanding qualitative responses, making the analysis process more manageable.
- Flexibility in Survey Design: Researchers can use skip logic and branching features in these tools to create dynamic surveys that adapt based on participants’ responses. This can be greatly valuable in qualitative research, where participants’ experiences might vary widely.
- Ease of Participation: Participants can access website surveys using various devices like computers, tablets, or smartphones, making it convenient and accessible for them to take part in the research. This ease of participation can contribute to a higher response rate and a more diverse participant pool.
- Data Storage and Security: Many website survey tools offer secure data storage and backup, ensuring the safety of the collected qualitative data. This feature is essential for maintaining the confidentiality and integrity of participants’ responses.
Examples of Website Survey Questions for Qualitative Research
Crafting effective survey questions is crucial for qualitative research. Ensuring clarity, avoiding leading questions, and maintaining a balanced mix of question types is paramount if you are looking to gather comprehensive and valuable qualitative data.
With well-designed website survey questions, you can delve deep into participants’ thoughts, emotions, and experiences, providing a solid foundation for insightful qualitative analysis.
Let’s explore some of the prime examples:
1. Open-Ended Questions (Exploratory):
- “Please describe your experience with our product/service in your own words.”
- “What are the main challenges you face in your daily work?”
2.Multiple-Choice Questions (Categorization):
“Which age group do you belong to?”
- 18-25 years
- 26-35 years
- 36-45 years
- 46-55 years
3. Likert Scale Questions (Rating/Opinion): “On a scale of 1 to 5, how satisfied are you with our customer support?” 1 (Not satisfied at all) 2 (Slightly satisfied) 3 (Moderately satisfied) 4 (Very satisfied) 5 (Extremely satisfied)
4. Ranking Questions (Preference):
“Please rank the following factors in order of importance for choosing a smartphone:”
- Battery life
- Camera quality
- Processor speed
- Display resolution
5. Semantic Differential Questions (Contrast): “How would you describe our website’s user interface?”
- Difficult _ Easy Unattractive Attractive
- Confusing ___ Clear
6. Picture Choice Questions (Visual Feedback):
“Which logo do you find more appealing for our brand?”
- Option A (Image)
- Option B (Image)
7. Demographic Questions (Participant Profiling):
“Which of the following best describes your occupation?”
8. Dichotomous Questions (Yes/No):
- “Have you ever purchased products from our online store?”
9. Follow-Up Probing Questions (In-depth Insight):
- “You mentioned facing challenges at work. Could you please elaborate on the specific challenges you encounter?”
10. Experience-Based Questions (Narrative):
- “Tell us about a memorable customer service experience you’ve had, whether positive or negative.”
View All Templates Here
Ready to Obtain Quality Data Using Qualitative Research?
So, there you have it all about qualitative research methods: their types, examples, use, and importance. Quantitative research is one of the most effective instruments to understand individuals’ thoughts and feelings or identify their needs and problems.
After figuring out the problem, quantitative research is used to make the conclusion and offer a reliable solution for business.
You can also supplement your qualitative market research with ProProfs Survey Maker to reach your target audience more effectively and in a shorter duration. Use the 15-day free trial to enhance your qualitative research – no commitment, no credit card details!
About the author
Jared is a customer support expert. He has been published in CrazyEgg , Foundr , and CXL . As a customer support executive at ProProfs, he has been instrumental in developing a complete customer support system that more than doubled customer satisfaction. You can connect and engage with Jared on Twitter , Facebook , and LinkedIn .
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Qualitative Research Methods – Objectives, Characteristics and Strategies
- Posted by adminlp2m
- Categories Artikel
- Date November 21, 2020
Qualitative Research Methods – Qualitative research is a research method to explore and understand the meaning that some individuals or groups of people think come from social or human problems (Creswell, 2013). The final report of a qualitative study has a flexible structure or framework. The perspective used in this study is inductive style, focuses on individual meanings, and translates the complexity of a problem.
Qualitative research begins in the field which is based on natural environments , not theory. The data and information that have been obtained from the field are taken for the meaning and concept, presented in descriptive analytic and generally without using numbers, because they prioritize the processes that occur in the field.
Qualitative research objectives
In general, this type of research includes information about the main phenomenon that is being explored in a study, research participants, and the location of a study. Qualitative research can also state the research design chosen.
In the world of education, qualitative research has the objective of describing the process of educational activities based on what is in the field as study material to find shortcomings and weaknesses so that efforts can be determined to improve them; analyzing a symptom, facts, and educational events in the field; compile a hypothesis related to the concepts and principles of education based on information and data that occur in the field.
Qualitative Research Characteristics
The following are some of the characteristics of qualitative research:
1. Natural environment (natural setting). Qualitative researchers collect field data at the locations where participants experience the problem or issue to be studied. Qualitative researchers do not change the environmental settings and activities of the participants. Information is gathered by talking directly to people and seeing them act directly in a natural context.
2. Researcher as a key instrument (researcher as key instrument). Qualitative researchers generally collect their own research data through participant observation, documentation, or direct interviews with participants. These researchers generally do not use instruments or questionnaires made by other researchers, because they are the only key to the study.
3. Multiple sources of data. Qualitative researchers generally choose to collect the required data from various sources such as interviews, documentation, and observations, rather than relying only on one source data.
4. Inductive data analysis. Qualitative researchers build categories, patterns and themes from the ground up (inductive) or from separate data into a complete conclusion.
5. The meaning of the participants (participant’s meaning). In the entire research process, the researcher must focus on studying the meaning obtained from the participants about the issue or research problem, not the meaning conveyed by other authors or researchers in certain literatures.
6. Design that develops (emergent design). Qualitative researchers argue that qualitative research is always evolving and dynamic. This can mean that the initial plan is not a standard that must be adhered to, all stages of research may change after the researcher goes into the field and collects data. Provided that these changes are still in line in achieving the research objectives, namely obtaining information about the problem or research issue.
7. Theoretical perspective (theoritical lens) . Qualitative researchers often use certain perspectives in conducting research such as ethnography, cultural concepts, gender differences, race and others.
8. Interpretive. Qualitative researchers make an interpretation of what they see, hear and what they understand. Usually there are differences in interpretation between researchers and readers and participants, so it appears that qualitative research offers different views on a content or problem.
9. A holistic account. Qualitative researchers usually try to make a complex picture of a research issue or problem. Researchers describe the perspectives and factors associated with the problem as a whole.
Qualitative research strategies
The following are the strategies in qualitative research:
1. Ethnography • Ethnography is a branch of anthropology to analyze the culture of a nation or society in its natural environment over a long period of time in collecting main data, observational data and interviews. • The purpose of the analysis is to understand a view of life from the perspective of the indigenous people. • This research was conducted with observation, long enough observations of a group, tribe / community, to find the meaning of each behavior, the language of interaction / something related to the community itself.
2. Case studies • Researchers carefully investigate a program, event, activity, process, or group of individuals. • Cases are limited by time and activity, and researchers collect complete information using time-based procedures.
3. Phenomenology • Researchers identify the nature of human experience about a particular phenomenon. • Understanding the experience of human life makes phenomenological philosophy a research method whose procedures require the researcher to study a number of subjects with a relatively long and direct involvement in it to develop patterns and meaning relations.
4. Grounded Theory • Researchers produce a general and abstract theory of a particular action, process, or interaction that comes from the views of participants. • Researchers must go through a number of stages of data collection and filtering categories for the information that has been obtained. • It has main characteristics, namely: (1) constant comparison between data and emerging categories and (2) theoretical sampling of different groups to maximize information similarity and difference.
5. Narrative • Researchers investigate the lives of individuals and ask a person or group of individuals to tell their life. • This information is retold by the researcher in a narrative chronology. • In the final stage of the research, the researcher must combine with a narrative style his views on the participant’s life with the views held by the researcher himself.
Data collection strategy
The following are strategies that need to be carried out in qualitative research:
1. Qualitative observation Qualitative observation is an observation in which the researcher goes directly to the field to observe participant behavior and activities at the research location. In this observation, the researcher can record and record both structured and unstructured notes. Usually researchers are involved in a variety of roles, it can be as a complete participant or non-participant.
2. Qualitative interview In qualitative interviews, qualitative researchers can interview face-to-face or face to face with participants, by telephone, or can also be involved in focus group interviews or group interviews. The questions are unstructured and open questions for the purpose of capturing the opinions and views of participants on a particular issue.
3. Quality documents Qualitative documents can be public documents such as newspapers, magazines or papers or in the form of personal documents such as diaries, diaries and e-mails.
4. Audio and visual material This data can be in the form of recordings of both sound and images and printed results such as pictures, photographs and paintings.
That was a little explanation about qualitative research methods, hopefully they can provide benefits.
Source: Creswell, J.W, (2013). Research Design.Thousand Oaks California: SAGE publications.
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Qualitative research methodology: Definition, Types and examples
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What is qualitative research?
Qualitative research is a research methodology which deals with understanding human beliefs, behaviour, values and perceptions of certain social or non-social issues within their own environmental contexts. Qualitative research methodology makes use of open-ended questions and motivates participants to express their thoughts and views openly with no limitations.
Qualitative research works towards understanding not only “what” people think, but also “why” do they think in a particular way. The participants themselves explain their thought process behind a particular choice or opinions in their answers and qualitative research methodology analyses the data gathered to result in conclusions that can be generalised for a larger population of similar kind.
Example: The participants from a seminar were surveyed to know their views about the seminar conduction and topic discussed. It was observed that most of them thought the topic was not covered very well and would like to have another seminar covering rest of the aspects of the topic.
Qualitative research is highly driven by social sciences like sociology, anthropology and psychology. Hence, it allows the researcher to dive deep into the data collection process and search for as much qualitative data as possible with no limitations on the questions asked and answers given by the participants.
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Qualitative research types with examples
With so many things going around in the world, it is even difficult to figure out what people think of a particular topic or a social issue. A lot of them are even careful about what to share with other people. In such scenarios, qualitative research helps a lot when it focuses on understanding public needs and expectations and perception of the world. Qualitative research methodology with its various type of data collection techniques, helps the researcher get in touch with people according to their convenience.
In this section, let’s get familiar with different qualitative research types and understand them thoroughly with examples for each:
One-on-one interviews have been a common practice when it comes to qualitative research. It allows the interviewer to connect to the participant more and is open to ask them in-depth question about a certain topic.
Interviews provide a precise amount of data with higher reliability as the interviewer gathers it first-hand. The key to having precise data is to frame the questionnaire well. Interviewer can also attempt to ask follow up questions based on the main questions in case he needs more detailed answer.
The ideal time of the interviews can be from 10 minutes to 2 hours or even more than that. It can be conducted on phone calls or face-to-face though the previous one is highly preferred among the participants.
Example: A researcher conducts a one-on-one interview with residents of a city regarding its infrastructure.
A focus group is a very effective qualitative research type. It starts with 6-10 respondents where all of them are given a topic and they begin to discuss. The researcher does not necessarily have to involve in the discussion. He can just sit back and observe what the individuals think of the given issue.
Focus group methodology aims to answer the “what, why and how” questions and it can also be conducted online by giving a topic and collecting the responses through various devices.
Many businesses use this technique to know new market trends, product enhancements and other service-related trends.
Example: A company decides to conduct focus group research to know their production efficiency and performance. 10 customers are selected at random and asked to discuss the same whereas an observer notices the conversation and notes down how the topics are discussed.
Ethnographic research is observational research that examines the respondents in their natural environments. The researcher adopts the respondents’ environment and observes their behaviour without personal intervention. Due to this, the geographical constraints of the respondent can a factor for biases in the results.
Ethnographic research aims to understand how cultural, environmental and challenges affect the individual’s opinions and preferences.
The time needed for ethnographic research can range from several months to years as it allows an in-depth understanding of a particular group or an individual. Its success depends on the extent to which the researcher can adapt and analyse the participant’s environment.
Example: A researcher decides to get into the fashion industry as a model to understand whether men and women are treated equally.
Case study research
The case study has evolved over the last few years to be the easiest and common way to understand serious social, educational or similar issues. It works by understanding deeply what the issue is and the factors that stand as a reason behind it.
A researcher takes a topic at hand which can be an event or an organization and moves ahead to systematically understand its characteristics.
Example: A researcher does a case study on the online shopping experiences of people and what their needs and expectations are.
It is a secondary data collection form of research where a researcher uses already existing information about a topic. It is a qualitative research method used when one is starting new research. The researcher can go through already existing research materials, documentaries or interviews related to his topic.
Example: A researcher refers previously researched diabetic patients to understand the effects of new drugs on them.
Qualitative observation focuses on deriving the data or information through observation. It makes use of prime 5 sensory responses – hearing, smell, touch, taste and sight.
The result of observational research is differences in quality and characteristics.
Example: A researcher observes a patient for its recovery under a new treatment given for some time.
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Qualitative research analysis
As we know the gathered data in a qualitative research methodology is mostly videos, notes, audio recording or images or any other kind of potential information. Qualitative research methodology makes use of text analysis to deal with such kinds of data.
In-text analysis, the researcher decodes the notes and actions of the respondents to make sense of their behaviour and opinions from their answers. The images are used to infer what the participants want to tell and analyse it accordingly. The result from the qualitative research analysis is used to generalize the solution over the larger population.
Textual analysis has gained popularity over the past few years due to its use in social media platform content analysing for the hidden answers from people.
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Qualitative research characteristics
- Qualitative research methodology provides real-time data as it is carried out at the exact time of the issues that participants are facing.
- Qualitative research provides first-hand reliable data as it is conducted in the participants’ environment.
- It can make use of various available data gathering sources such as interviews, focus groups, case study and so on to provide all kinds of information.
- Qualitative research makes the understanding of the research topic easy by breaking it down into small detailed inferences and studying it individually.
- Participants tend to build trust with the researcher and provide real and unaltered information without any hesitation.
- Qualitative researchers require to describe the cause and factors behind a phenomenon understanding the reasons behind it.
- Qualitative research allows minimum involvement of the researcher, hence eliminating the researcher biases from the results.
- It is participant-oriented where the researcher should work to bring out what people think and not what other researchers and observers think.
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