Introduction to Qualitative Research

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This chapter introduces the fundamental elements of qualitative research methods, beginning with a definition of qualitative of research, followed by discussion on the evolution of qualitative research methods and how it is different from quantitative research methods. Also discussed is the importance of ethical considerations when doing qualitative research.

Just like all research, qualitative research is a type of research that seeks answers to a question; is systematically conducted and involves the collection of evidence. However, the uniqueness of qualitative research is that you may produce findings that were not determined in advance and also the findings may be applicable beyond the immediate boundaries of the study. It is especially effective if you want to obtain culturally specific information about the subjects involved; i.e. the values, behaviours, and opinions of a particular population. However, the term qualitative research is a general definition that includes many different methods used in understanding and explaining social phenomena. The following are some definitions by prominent scholars in the field:

• According to Denzin and Lincoln (1994), qualitative research focuses on interpretation of phenomena in their natural settings to make sense in terms of the meanings people bring to these settings. Qualitative research involves collecting information about personal experiences, introspection, life story, interviews, observations, historical, interactions and visual text which are significant moments and meaningful in peoples' lives.

• Patton (2002) defined qualitative research as attempting to understand the unique interactions in a particular situation. The purpose of understanding is not necessarily to predict what might occur, but rather to understand in depth the characteristics of the situation and the meaning brought by participants and what is happening to them at the moment. The aim of qualitative research is to truthfully present findings to others who are interested in what you are doing.

• According to Pope and Mays (1995), qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings in an effort to discover the meanings seen by those who are being researched (or subjects) rather than that of the researcher.

• Qualitative research seeks to provide understanding of human experience, perceptions, motivations, intentions, and behaviours based on description and observation and utilizing a naturalistic interpretative approach to a subject and its contextual setting ( 2009).

• Qualitative research is a process of naturalistic inquiry that seeks in-depth understanding of social phenomena within their natural setting. It focuses on the "why" rather than the "what" of social phenomena and relies on the direct experiences of human beings as meaning-making agents in their every day lives (University of Utah, College of Health, 2009).

• Merriam (1999) characterises qualitative research as understanding the meaning people have constructed in which the researcher is the primary instrument for data collection and analysis. It usually involves fieldwork as primarily employing an inductive research strategy focussing on process, meaning and understanding resulting in a richly descriptive product.

Qualitative research begins by accepting that there are many different ways of understanding and of making sense of the world. You are not attempting to predict what may happen in the future. You want to understand the people in that setting. ‘What are their lives like? What beliefs do they hold about the world? In short, qualitative research is concerned with the social aspects of our world and seeks to find answers to the following questions (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992)

Besides the social sciences, qualitative research methods are gaining in public...
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