In this essay I am going to express my understanding of the key principles of qualitative research. In order to understand the nature of qualitative research, we must primarily look at the constructivist ontology and the interpretivist epistemology, which will allow us to develop an understanding of the context in which the qualitative methodology is conceptualised. Furthermore, I will look at the research design process and the inductive nature of this subjective, value laden procedure. I will then go on to look at the principles of qualitative research, with focus on the concepts of trustworthiness and authenticity from a qualitative perspective, which can help sociologists gain Verstehen with individuals. To conclude my essay, I will look at the strengths and weaknesses of qualitative research, making reference to specific methods. Ontology and Epistemology
Researchers using qualitative methods of inquiry believe that social phenomena are constructed through human interactions and not determined by governing laws. This is known as the constructivist ontology and aims to understand how a social phenomenon is created through interaction and intersubjective meaning. From their perspective, they believe that social actors create the social world through interactions as opposed to objectivists who believe that social structures determine individual actions and behaviour (Bryman, 2004, p. 3-25). This constructivist ontology needs to be investigated using an interpretivist epistemology, and by understanding this epistemology we can therefore appreciate the key principles of qualitative research. By using interpretivism and an inductive form of inquiry, sociologists aim to understand how individuals construct meaning. For interpretivists, subjectivity is incredibly important due to the subjective nature of individuals, and they try to gain Verstehen. They would see value neutrality as unnecessary because it is impossible to gain Verstehen without using qualitative methodologies (Berg, 2007, p. 19-52). The Inductive Research Process
To conduct qualitative research, you would primarily need to select an area of research and research questions, and in this sense the type of question you select will guide your research process. Qualitative research is inductive, so it does not require an initial hypothesis, unlike quantitative research. This is because behavioural and socio-cultural patterns emerge over time and in some cases are not noticed until after the research has been conducted. After selecting an area of interest, the researchers would need to decide on the research setting and establish what method/s they will use to conduct their research (Bryman, 2004, p. 265-290). There are many methods that can be used in qualitative research, which, according to Strauss and Corbin is used to describe "any kind of research that produces findings not arrived at by means of statistical procedures or other means of quantification" (1990, p.17). The researchers themselves play an important part in the research process as they bring their values to the research, which complements the interpretivist epistemology. Researchers have to be aware of the ethical guidelines set out by the British Sociological Association (BSA). Researchers have to take into consideration professional integrity, anonymity, privacy, confidentiality and informed consent (unless research is conducted covertly). Covert research has ethical implications if the research is not important and in the public’s interest. The researchers are in a sense a tool used to collect primary data, and the flexible nature of qualitative research means they are not bound by a rigid process and can adapt their research when needed. The final stage of qualitative research is writing up findings. Research results can be compiled to form a book, journal, article or report (Bryman, 2004, p. 61-82). The Principles of Qualitative Research...