Qualitative research

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Template:Nofootnotes Template:Limited Qualitative research is a field of inquiry that crosscuts disciplines and subject matters.[1] Qualitative researchers aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons that govern human behavior. Qualitative research relies on reasons behind various aspects of behavior. Simply put, it investigates the why and how of decision making, not just what, where, and when. Hence, the need is for smaller but focused samples rather than large random samples, which qualitative research categorizes data into patterns as the primary basis for organizing and reporting results.[citation needed] Qualitative researchers typically rely on four methods for gathering information: (1) participation in the setting, (2) direct observation, (3) in depth interviews, and (4) analysis of documents and materials [2].

The term qualitative research is most often used in the social sciences in contrast to quantitative research.


Qualitative research was one of the first forms of social studies (conducted e.g. by Bronisław Malinowski or Elton Mayo), but in the 1950s and 1960s when quantitative science reached its peak of popularity, it was diminished in importance and began to regain recognition as late as in the 1970s. The phrase 'qualitative research' was until then restricted as a discipline of anthropology or sociology, and terms like ethnography, fieldwork, participant observation and Chicago school (sociology) were used instead. During the 1970s and 1980s qualitative research began to be used in other disciplines, and became a significant type of research in the fields of education studies, social work studies, women's studies, disability studies, information studies, management studies, nursing service studies, human service studies, psychology, communication studies, and other. Some qualitative research occurred in the consumer products industry during this period: researchers most interested in investigating consumer new product and product positioning opportunities worked with a handful of the earliest consumer research pioneers including Gene Reilly of The Gene Reilly Group in Darien, CT, Jerry Schoenfeld of Gerald Schoenfeld & Partners in Tarrytown, NY and Martin Calle of Calle & Company, Greenwich, CT. In the late 1980s and 1990s after a spate of criticisms from the quantitative side, paralleling a slowdown in traditional media spending for the decade, new methods of qualitative research evolved, to address the perceived problems with reliability and imprecise modes of data analysis.[3]

One way of differentiating Qualitative research from Quantitative research is that largely Qualitative research is exploratory, while Quantitative research hopes to be conclusive. However it may be argued that each reflects a particular discourse; neither being definitively more conclusive or 'true' than the other. Quantitative data are of the kind that may lead to measurement or other kinds of analysis involving applied mathematics, while Qualitative data cannot necessarily be put into a context that can be graphed or displayed as a mathematical term.

Qualitative researchers may use different approaches, such as the grounded theory practice, narratology, storytelling, classical ethnography, or shadowing. Qualitative methods are also loosely present in other methodological approaches, such as action research or actor-network theory.

Contemporary qualitative studies are sometimes supported by computer programs, such as MAXQDA and NVivo, although the benefits of software use are mainly in storing and segregating data, rather than in processing or analyzing them.

Although it is common in the social sciences to draw a distinction between qualitative and quantitative aspects of scientific investigation, it has been argued that the two may go hand in hand. For example, based on analysis of the history of science, Kuhn (1961, p. 162) concluded “large amounts of qualitative work have usually been prerequisite to fruitful quantification in the physical sciences”. Qualitative research is, in some cases, instrumental to developing an understanding of phenomena as a basis for quantitative research. Similarly, quantitative research may inform, or be drawn upon in the process of qualitative research.

See also


  1. Denzin, Norman K.; Lincoln, Yvonna S. (2005), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, Sage Publications, ISBN 0761927573
  2. Marshall, Catherine; Rossman, Gretchen B. (1998), Designing Qualitative Research, Sage Publications, ISBN 0761913408
  3. Taylor, 1998


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  • Malinowski, B. (1922/1961). Argonauts of the Western Pacific. New York: E. P. Dutton.
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  • Charles C. Ragin, Constructing Social Research: The Unity and Diversity of Method, Pine Forge Press, 1994, ISBN 0-8039-9021-9
  • Steven J. Taylor, Robert Bogdan, Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods, Wiley, 1998, ISBN 0-471-16868-8
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  • Wolcott, H. F. (1995). The art of fieldwork. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
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  • Ziman, John (2000). Real Science: what it is, and what it means. Cambridge, Uk: Cambridge University Press.

External links

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