Qualitative Research: Definition and Principles

What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research? This article defines qualitative research, its focus of inquiry,  principles, and seven qualitative research approaches.

Research is a process of inquiry. It starts with a question whose answer could be acquired through a chosen approach and designed methods perceived as suitable. There are two approaches for inquiry, i. e., quantitative and qualitative which could also be mixed together if deemed appropriate.

What is qualitative
research?

Quantitative research uses numerical data for analysis while qualitative research uses non-numerical data and those other information which are not amenable to quantitative measurement, for description and interpretation (Jupp, 2006). In simple terms, when numbers are used to answer the question, then it’s quantitative otherwise it is qualitative; e. g., images, statements, and stories.

What is its focus of inquiry?

Qualitative approach is often small-scale and/or micro-level (Jupp, 2006) as it focuses on the ‘thick’ description of a particular phenomenon, culture, social reality, discourse, theory, and experience (Flick et al., 2000). These things could not be substantially inquired about with just the use of numbers. If a researcher wants to describe the life ways of a particular group for example, the data that will be needed involve images, narratives, conversations, text and other documents.

The three world views

The principles of qualitative approach could be summarized into three views, i. e., interpretivism, constructivism, and inductivism (Jupp, 2006).

1. Constructivism recognizes that meanings of things are not objectively discovered; rather they are subjectively created and imposed by people in given contexts. If the context changes so is the construct. For example, meanings created by a Filipino mother for motherhood will be different from the definitions provided by an American mother.

playing at the beach
Mother and child playing at the beach (Photo by: Sagie@Flicker.com)

2. Interpretivism emphasizes that the definitions of both are equally important for analysis and that there is no exact standard definition that requires one universal objective interpretation that is apparent in the tradition of positivism (a view of quantitative approach).

3. In inductivism, the new set of knowledge, meanings or theories are emergent through the process of induction. The approach does not require the testing of a particular extant theory or set of knowledge; rather it aims to produce new ones.

The seven approaches

There are about seven qualitative approaches being utilized across the different areas of Sciences, Humanities and Education.

1. Ethnography is usually useful in cultural studies as it aims to explore, describe and understand an intact cultural group.

2. Case study is particularly being utilized in clinical and health settings. Its goal is to collate and analyze all relevant information about a particular case under investigation such as an HIV patient or an individual with schizophrenia.

3. Grounded Theory focuses on emerging a theory about a particular reality so it undergoes a rigorous process of reflexivity, cross-analysis and emergence.

4. Phenomenology puts into the surface the participants’ subjective meanings of a phenomenon as experienced by him/her.

5. Autoethnography is an approach wherein the researcher himself/herself is the researched. This is usual in queer theory, sexuality studies, research areas, and emotionally loaded experiences.

6. Meta-analysis and discourse analysis are common in philosophical researches. These involve putting together theories or discourses for cross-analysis, confirmation, debates, and/or theory generation.

7. Narrative research is for the exploration and description of events and personal accounts which are chronologically connected, thus historical. This is interconnected with larger events beyond the individual.

References

Flick, U., Kardoff, E.V., & Steinke, I. (Eds). (2000). A companion to qualitative research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

Jupp, V. (2006). The Sage dictionary of Social Science research
methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

©2014 November 16 Jemimah Pizarro

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