Types of qualitative research methods
Many a time, ‘why’ something happens the way it happens, ‘why’ people behave the way they do, or ‘why’ is a policy functioning the way it is, are questions that strike a researcher. Quantitative techniques are often not useful in addressing a range of these ‘why’ questions or ‘how’ questions, especially when one seeks to understand human behavior or intent. Qualitative research, on the other hand, can be quite useful, since it allows studying people in their natural settings. Qualitative research, therefore, requires time for immersion and to carry out exercises in understanding your research subjects. This article attempts to present qualitative research in a capsule.
The key operating principle to conducting qualitative research is understanding people as they are, in terms of how they operate, live, experience, and imagine. Qualitative research is a broad umbrella, with various kinds of techniques and ways of conducting such research. What follows is an explication of some of the most popular qualitative methods:
- Ethnography: This anthropological approach to conducting qualitative research is one that allows the researcher to embed himself or herself in the natural setting of the subject he or she tries to study. The researcher is immersed in the living the lives just like the subject being studied, experiencing and interfacing with them. Some classical anthropological studies have seen researchers embedding themselves in a village or tribal hamlet, living and researching the people inhabiting them, their customs and traditions, etc.
- Ground theory: This approach to qualitative research makes use of the research data to the tee. Instead of drawing on theory at the beginning of the research, this approach derives theory from the data collected through research. The theory is grounded in the data. For instance, your data would allow you to code and classify it, leading to the development of theory.
- Phenomenology: This approach to qualitative research studies phenomena, or manifestations of things. It studies a particular phenomenon, in its many angles and facets, adding to knowledge about the phenomenon. For example, if you are researching the phenomenon of lightning, you look at information that you could access on lightning as it is experienced.
- Case study: The case study approach tries to study unit of any subject. It tries to bring together all aspects and information about the unit under study, contributing to explaining or describing something. This could be a country or a company.
While these are some approaches to conduct qualitative research, the methodology for such research varies as well. Some of the more prominent methods are described here:
Interviews: Interviews are one of the most common qualitative methods used, to allow access to individual and personal narratives and responses. Interviews serve as the conduit to rich data, which is often then transcribed to capture in-depth personal reflections.
Focus group discussions: Focus group discussions are a great way to indulge a group of interviewees and respondents, by posing questions that are then subject to discussion by the group. The dynamics in the group, debates, opinions, and responses allow for “networked” answers to the questions posed, allowing the researcher to map them.
Participant observation: This method for qualitative research entails the researcher embedding himself or herself in a group setting and observing intently to note down nuanced descriptions of the setting under study. This could be inclusive of the larger contextual settings, descriptions of individuals, the dynamics in a group, individual opinions, and the like.
Content analysis: Content analysis of documents or videos provides for a close reading of such articles. It allows the examination of how words, figures, pictures, and texts deliver meaning, and offer explications of cultures. Content analysis yields codes and categories, upon being subject to rigorous analysis.
This list of qualitative research methods is not exhaustive, but is a compilation of the most popular ones used. In today’s world of technological advancement, technology aids such as cameras, audio recording devices, and other tools help the process of qualitative data collection, emerging as additional elements in each of the above methods. Further, digital spaces offer new avenues for analysis and curation of research.
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