Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector’s Field Guide
Qualitative Research Methods Overview
F A M I L Y
H E A L T H
I N T E R N A T I O N A L
Qualitative Research Methods Overview
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his module introduces the fundamental elements of a qualitative approach to research, to help you understand and become proficient in the qualitative methods discussed in subsequent modules. We recommend that you consult the suggested readings at the end of the module for more in-depth treatment of the foundations of qualitative research. This module covers the following topics: Introduction to Qualitative Research Comparing Qualitative and Quantitative Research Sampling in Qualitative Research Recruitment in Qualitative Research Ethical Guidelines in Qualitative Research Suggested Readings
Introduction to Qualitative Research
What is qualitative research?
Qualitative research is a type of scientific research. In general terms, scientific research consists of an investigation that: • • • • • seeks answers to a question systematically uses a predefined set of procedures to answer the question collects evidence produces findings that were not determined in advance produces findings that are applicable beyond the immediate boundaries of the study
Qualitative research shares these characteristics. Additionally, it seeks to understand a given research problem or topic from the perspectives of the local population it involves. Qualitative research is especially effective in obtaining culturally specific information about the values, opinions, behaviors, and social contexts of particular populations.
What can we learn from qualitative research?
The strength of qualitative research is its ability to provide complex textual descriptions of how people experience a given research issue. It provides information about the “human” side of an issue – that is, the often contradictory behaviors, beliefs, opinions, emotions, and relationships of individuals. Qualitative methods are also effective in identifying intangible factors, such as social norms, socioeconomic status, gender roles, ethnicity, and religion, whose role in the research
issue may not be readily apparent. When used along with quantitative methods, qualitative research can help us to interpret and better understand the complex reality of a given situation and the implications of quantitative data. Although findings from qualitative data can often be extended to people with characteristics similar to those in the study population, gaining a rich and complex understanding of a specific social context or phenomenon typically takes precedence over eliciting data that can be generalized to other geographical areas or populations. In this sense, qualitative research differs slightly from scientific research in general.
What are some qualitative research methods?
The three most common qualitative methods, explained in detail in their respective modules, are participant observation, in-depth interviews, and focus groups. Each method is particularly suited for obtaining a specific type of data. • • • Participant observation is appropriate for collecting data on naturally occurring behaviors in their usual contexts. In-depth interviews are optimal for collecting data on individuals’ personal histories, perspectives, and experiences, particularly when sensitive topics are being explored. Focus groups are effective in eliciting data on the cultural norms of a group and in generating broad overviews of issues of concern to the cultural groups or subgroups represented.
What forms do qualitative data take?
The types of data these three methods generate are field notes, audio (and sometimes video) recordings, and transcripts.
Comparing Quantitative and Qualitative Research
What are the basic differences between quantitative and qualitative research methods? Quantitative and qualitative...