Qualitative research is a broad term that incorporates a wide variety of methods which aim to gather an in-depth understanding of the thoughts, experiences and actions of individuals. It includes studies on social phenomena which tend to be not as exact or precise as quantitative research results. Experiments for instance tend to have more control over variables than qualitative research, as this method is not as concerned with how many participants are involved as long as at least one person from each group being studied is represented. Because it doesn’t require large numbers of people or lengthy observation periods it can provide opportunities for those who might be unable to take part in surveys due to time constraints or lack of access (such as if they were bedridden).
It’s subjective data, qualitative research is a subjective by nature.
Qualitative research is research that focuses on exploring and describing aspects of the world through an interpretive process to produce rich descriptions of social phenomena. It emphasizes words over numbers, “talk” over statistics, narrative stories rather than generalizability (researchers typically report how many people are in each interview or focus-group). The data gathered is open to interpretation by those involved because it’s qualitative — hence the qualitative research definition.
This sort of data has its place too though as there are subjects which can’t be easily counted processed mathematically which can only really be explored through personal experience by way of qualitative means. For example, human psychology may have many observable effects but also hard-to-replicate results which are difficult to put into numerical terms for analysis.
The important thing is it gives context though, information on the ‘why’ behind the numbers rather than ‘how many’. A survey question like “How happy are you?” can’t really be accurately answered by a number anyway but some qualitative responses would be “I’m very happy”, “I’m not very happy at all” or even something nonverbal that might indicate happiness in their reaction to the question — some kind of measurable reaction that indicates happiness.
Qualitative research can provide insight into this reaction, whereas quantitative research might not have room to explore these sorts of details because its focus is simply on gathering data through means such as surveys, interviews and experiments.
- Read more – QUALITATIVE RESEARCH DESIGNS – UMSL
The process of developing qualitative research questions
To develop good qualitative research questions, the first thing to establish is what exactly it is you are trying to find out about. What are the key issues you would like to explore?
Then, whether or not your idea for a project is feasible in terms of time, resources and access.
You don’t want your study failing before it even begins because you haven’t thought things through enough beforehand.
For example, if you’re studying teenagers behaviour online then you need to think about how many teens there are in your area / country / world that can be involved before setting up an interview or focus-group.
Stating ‘I’m going to talk to everyone’ isn’t really sensible unless this sort of group represents all types of individuals equally well (which probably won’t be the case).
Qualitative Research Questions: the argument for a hybrid approach
There is a trend in conducting both quantitative and qualitative research to form a ‘hybrid’ project that will hopefully gain an understanding of the topic from all angles. This might involve gathering information through one or more methods, such as doing quantitative market research alongside talking to individuals — or vice versa. However there are merits in either case such as the following:
Quantitative research has objective data which can be measured by machines and analysed mathematically – so issues with sampling bias for example cannot impact your results. The numerical information you receive will still produce findings which can be interpreted into summaries and presented to stakeholders. You may even be able to draw correlations between two seemingly unrelated variables if this is your area of interest.
Qualitative research can give context to the overall picture which is important to understanding what’s really going on behind the numbers. It might reveal interesting insights you wouldn’t have thought about before, giving creative insight into how people are reacting to something.
You can take any two (or more) sets of data and combine them in different ways depending on your focus — for example, comparing quantitative findings with individual interview transcripts. This will help clarify areas that need further testing whether it concerns market research or sociological studies alike.
Doing both has its advantages but there are good times to use one or the other type of information gathering instead:
If you want an accurate idea about how many people feel about something then this is quantitative research territory. Think about it like this: if you’re trying to understand the viewership of a TV show then watching one episode or talking to its cast won’t give you an accurate picture of how many people are tuning in, so survey results would be more representative.
On the other hand…
If your aim is to see what these individuals think about it rather than how many, then qualitative research methods might be better for this sort of work. However, bear in mind that only talking to individuals can be time-consuming and costly depending on your location – but if their feedback is really important to you then it’s definitely worth doing!
When developing questions remember that both types should inform each other – but they aren’t mutually exclusive either. For example, if you’re interested to see how many people use a new form of technology then this is quantitative research (and would be better suited for survey findings).
However, if you want to know specifically why they use it and the emotional impact of technology on their lives then this might be about individual interviews instead since there’s no way to measure emotions… Quantitative data may help here though: perhaps through facial recognition software and other sensors. This could lead onto deeper conversations about what ICT means in certain contexts — e.g., social media usage – which would involve analysing qualitative texts.
Finally, when deciding whether to go down the quantitative or qualitative route in your findings, ask yourself who needs to know the results in the end… Will it be a government department, a charity or a multinational corporation?
Why not come up with some initial research questions that will help you narrow down what kind of outcome you’re looking to achieve from your project? Once this is established, choose the right data gathering techniques depending on their appropriateness for answering these questions. Remember too that working in groups might help make the decision easier since different people bring different experiences and at least one person may persuade everyone how helpful either type of research would be!
Qualitative research question examples
In a case of interest to counselors, researchers studied women who have been battered by their intimate partners and found that many of the women had never revealed the abuse they experienced to anyone. In this study, is a sample of 50 low income African American women from an urban setting in the Midwestern part of the United States with no children under three years old.
The first author conducted 24 semi-structured interviews for this research.
Use additional paper as necessary.
- Discuss two (2) challenges you may face as a novice qualitative researcher assessing whether or not your participants met inclusion criteria.
- Discuss one (1) ethical decision you made as a novice researcher during data collection and what you used to support your decision.
- Discuss two (2) specific actions novice researchers may take to ensure they do not harm study participants.
- Discuss one (1) strength of the sampling method used by Novak, et al.
- How would this research have been different if a survey had been used instead of an interview? Provide at least three (3) examples to support your response.
- If you were a novice researcher completing a qualitative study how would your previous experiences help you as a researcher? Be specific and provide at least two (2) examples.
- If you were conducting the same study as Novak, et al., what ethical dilemmas, if any, might you face as novice researchers? Provide at least two (2) examples.
- If you were a novice researcher conducting the same study as Novak, et al., what would you need to consider as you completed each research step? Provide at least three (3) examples to support your response.
- Identify and define one (1) key term from the reading that is important for novice researchers to understand when completing a qualitative study.
- Discuss three (3) themes and/or concepts presented by Novak, et al. that appear related but may not be directly linked.
- Given your own experience or knowledge of counseling, discuss how this article may affect counselors who provide services to battered women over time and across various settings such as in shelters, survivor’s programs or private practice.
What is a research question?
A research question is the starting point of any research projects. A researcher needs to be specific and direct when formulating his/her research questions because the question will guide the construction of his/her hypothesis (which should not be confused with a theory).
What is a qualitative research question?
A qualitative research question is an open-ended, in-depth answer to one or more of the following issues:
- What is the experience of these people like?
- What do they think about this issue?
- Why do they act in certain ways?
- Why are their thoughts and actions different than my own?
- What effect does this context have on people’s lives and has it changed any in recent times?
How to write a qualitative research question?
Qualitative research is used in the social sciences and humanities to explore people’s feelings, attitudes, behavior, practices and experiences of phenomena as they live or make meaning of them. Participants’ views are collected through semi-structured interviews , focus groups , oral histories , online forums , textual analysis etc., rather than through surveys .
While quantitative data is objective (i.e., not influenced by the researcher), qualitative data looks for meaning from subjective perspectives. In order to conduct a project that explores these different types of data collection procedures, you need to develop a good research question.
In general, there are two main types of questions: exploratory and explanatory . This distinction can be made at both the research approach level (e.g., case study vs. experimental research) and within specific types of investigations (e.g., grounded theory vs. ethnography ).
Exploratory questions aim to understand the problem or phenomena in more depth, while explanatory questions aim to find answers that will help you explain your results . This is an important difference because once you have collected data for your project, you will need to select a different type of statistical analysis for each question type: exploratory or explanatory.
Some examples of qualitative research questions are:
- How do people make sense of their experiences?
- What influences people’s actions online?
- How does gender shape young individuals’ experiences?
- Why some children prefer mathematics while others literature?
Examples of phenomenological research questions
Phenomenological research questions are used to explore the subjective perception of individuals, groups or events. It is an inquiry into how things are experienced and conceptualized by people themselves.
Examples of phenomenological research questions include:
- What is the lived experience of being a successful single parent?
- How does it feel to have your baby die during labor?
- What is it like to be incarcerated in jail/prison?
- What does becoming unemployed mean for you as an individual?
Phenomenological research questions are often identified with qualitative research but may also form part of interviews, self-assessment tools etc. Examples include:
- Are you satisfied with your life nowadays? Why/Why not?
- How happy where you last week on a scale from 1 to 10?
- How does it feel to be arrested and be locked up in prison?
- What was your first thought when you received the news of being fired?
- When I ask about your experience, what comes to mind?
In a phenomenological study, participants’ experiences are investigated through qualitative interviews or observations.
Participants may also complete self-rating questionnaires/scales which assess their level of certain psychological states (e.g., depression). In a phenomenological research project, there is no right or wrong answer to your questions.
You simply try to capture how things appear from the perspective of those who experienced them.
Phenomena can only be meaningfully investigated by investigating those phenomena as they appeared within a particular context and perspective.
Phenomenology is an approach to psychological study which focuses on examining how people experience phenomena rather than the internal processes that occur during the experience.
How does phenomenology differ from other philosophical approaches?
The main difference between phenomenology and other philosophies is that phenomenologists try to describe people’s lived experiences as they are experienced by individuals, instead of trying to interpret these experiences or infer what has caused them. Phenomenological analysis includes making sense of your lived experience through themes, concepts and patterns. This type of analysis helps reveal how subjective meaning can be framed within one context (e.g., a particular setting) but not another (a different setting).
Researcher role in qualitative studies
While quantitative research involves creating objective measures that can be replicated and verified by others, qualitative research relies on subjective measures that cannot be reproduced the same way. This is because its main focus is exploring phenomena as they appear to certain individuals depending on cultural, personal and societal factors.
So, although researchers may have a very active role in collecting and analyzing information through interviews or observations (e.g., asking open-ended questions and taking many notes), this does not mean that their role is more important than participants’ views. On the contrary, their goal should be to create an environment of mutual interaction where each participant feels comfortable sharing his/her experiences without any influence from the researcher himself/herself.
In order for you to critically analyze your data, you may choose to use a qualitative approach known as thematic analysis. This approach is used when you want to systematically and objectively identify patterns in participants’ responses, usually by using computer programs. Your data can be textual (e.g., interview transcripts) or visual (e.g., photo essays).
There are several steps involved in conducting a thematic analysis:
- Identify recurring concepts/themes in your transcript data
- Mark each theme with a code
- Assign labels to each code
- Find themes within codes
- Create a thematic map
Qualitative research question help
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We hope this article has helped clarify some of your questions about qualitative vs quantitative methods in psychology research!