Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative Research Methods

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Qualitative research methods refer to a set of techniques that enables the researcher to collect data from a certain research topic or problem on such culturally definite information as the opinions, values, social contexts, and behaviours of specific populations (Anderson, 2010). Using qualitative research, the researcher is in a position to give intricate textual descriptions of the manner in which particular populations experience a certain research issue. In other words, qualitative research enables the researcher to obtain information regarding the human context of a given issue namely, the usually contradictory opinions, behaviours, relationships, beliefs, and emotions of people.

Qualitative research methods have also proven very effective in enabling the researcher to identify such intangible factors of a research problem as socioeconomic status, ethnicity, social norms, religion, and gender roles, among others (Merriam, 2009). There are various tools for collecting qualitative data, including interviews, questionnaires. In-depth interviews enable the researcher to collect data on participants’ perspectives, personal histories, and experiences, especially when examining sensitive topics.

Research interviews can either be semi-structured, unstructured, or structured. Structured interviews involve a list of predetermined, verbally administered questions that do not require further elaboration. As such, structured interviews can be administered easily and quickly. In contrast, unstructured interviews are administered with no or with limited organisation, and are not indicative of any preconceived ideas or theories (Legard, Keegan and Ward, 2003).  They are difficult to administer and can be time-consuming too. Elsewhere, semi-structured interviews involve a number of key questions that assist the researcher in establishing the areas that need further exploration, while also permitting the interviewee or interviewer to be diverse in an attempt to pursue a response or ideas more in-depth (Anderson, 2010).  Such flexibility aids in the elaboration or discovery of information that the research team might have ignored, but which is important to participants.

Qualitative research also relies on questionnaires as tools for data collection. Questionnaires can be open-ended or closed. Closed-ended questions involve a definite answer, usually a yes or no, while open-ended questionnaires do not have a definite answer. As such, the respondents can give their own opinions or views regarding the issue at hand, and this also enables the researcher to delve dipper into the issue under study (Merriam, 2009).

Qualitative research can also make use of focus groups to collect research data. Focus groups refer to a group of selected individuals who are involved in a group discussion of a specific problem or issue that has been arranged for research purposes (Bloor et al., 2001). The researcher acts as the facilitator or moderator of such a discussion and hence seeks to guide, record, and monitor it.

Qualitative research methods usually involve human subjects and as such, it is important that the researcher takes into account several ethical issues. These ethical issues emanate from the intimacy and relationship that is usually formed between participants and the researcher in the course of conducting research, thereby exposing the researcher to such dilemmas as the establishment of open and honest interactions, avoiding misrepresentation, and need to respect participants’ privacy (Warusznski, 2012). Contradicting issues could thus raise ethical challenges in qualitative research, and this could result in disagreements with the researcher, the issue under study, and the participants. Informed consent, therefore, acts as a basic component of qualitative research as it helps to overcome ethical issues.

One of the key benefits of using qualitative research methods is that they generate detailed and rich data that, while leaving the study participants’ viewpoints intact, also provide the researcher with various perspectives for comprehending the phenomenon being studied. Accordingly, qualitative research proves valuable for use in making cross-case comparisons of groups of individuals or individuals, and can also be used by the researcher to eloquently describe a phenomenon (Denzin and Lincoln, 2000). Qualitative research also allows the researcher to immerse him/herself into a situation or culture and hence describe the current situation or phenomenon. This enables the researcher to respond acutely to the local conditions, needs, and situations of participants.

On the other hand, qualitative research methods are expensive and time-consuming in terms of gathering and analysing data. Besides, their flexible nature in enabling the researcher to use various probing techniques could lead to a lack of reliability and consistency, thereby affecting the findings (Denzin and Lincoln, 2000).  Moreover, it becomes hard to replicate qualitative studies. Qualitative research also demands that the researcher possess a high level of experience in order to obtain the information needed from study participants.


Anderson, C., 2010. Presenting and Evaluating Qualitative Research. American Journal of

Pharmaceutical Education, 74, 1-7.

Bloor, M., Frankland, J., Thomas, M., and Robson, K., 2001. Focus groups in social research. London: Sage Publications.

Denzin, N.K., Lincoln, Y.S., 2000. Handbook of Qualitative Research, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Legard, R., Keegan, J., and Ward, K., 2003. In-depth interviews. In Ritchie J, Lewis J (eds) Qualitative research practice: a guide for social science students and researchers. pp 139–169. London: Sage Publications.

Merriam, S. B., 2009. Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Warusznski, B.T., 2002. Ethical issues in qualitative research. In: Van den Hoonaard WC, editor. Walking the Tightrope: Ethical Issues for Qualitative Researchers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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