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Characteristics of Qualitative Research

written by: A. Melendez • edited by: Linda Richter • updated: 5/20/2011

This article explains in simple terms some of the most common characteristics of qualitative research. Characteristics of qualitative research enhance analysis of the how and why in a given project rather than the where and when of the project metrics.

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    What is Qualitative Research?

    Complexity 

    Qualitative research is an analytical methodology used in many academic disciplines, typically in the social sciences. Also, it is used in fields such as market research. Qualitative researchers seek to gather a more comprehensive understanding of activities related to human behavior and the attributes that rule such behavior.

     

    The qualitative approach is intuitive in nature and expands the scope of research to finding out the why and how of things that happen in addition to the what, where and when things happen. This characteristic of qualitative research causes the variable sampling for this type of study to be much smaller to work with than the larger and more complex samples used in quantitative researches.

     

    The term qualitative research usually reminds us of a data collection processed without the use of any statistical or mathematical operation. One example of the use of qualitative research can be the evaluation of how good or how bad is the taste of grilled steaks cooked at different temperatures rather than evaluating the temperature numerical value itself. One characteristic of qualitative research is that researchers become convinced to a great extent of what it is that they are investigating, almost to the point of being biased to the expected results of the research. This is not meant to create prejudice for the work that qualitative researchers conduct, but it is a hard fact known in the academic world and it needs to be dealt with by most scholar researchers that take a qualitative approach for their investigations.

     

    Because of this more stringent scrutiny, researchers are therefore almost forced to explain in clear terms the purpose of their investigation throughout the entire study while attempting to eliminate any prejudice. This is because qualitative research conceptualizes all analysis in a specific style, rather than being too simplistic. Qualitative research should never be used just to count, measure or provide statistical validation on a study. It also should never be used to replace quantitative methodology just because it may be too expensive to use qualitative research. A vital role and a characteristic of the qualitative approach is to assess social programs research because the methodology satisfies many of the requirements with better chances for success than quantitative approaches. Because of the subjectivity exhibited in the qualitative research methodology, it becomes more important to seek the answers for the why rather than the what on the research.

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    Subjectivity 

    According to Rolfe, “judging quality in qualitative research is symptomatic of an inability to identify a coherent ‘qualitative’ research paradigm and that, in effect, such a unified paradigm does not exist outside of research textbooks”. This makes it more challenging for the researcher or scholar learner to adopt this methodology as a standard for investigation since the paradigm that Rolfe refers to has to expand through thorough reading or via the experiences of more educated researchers.

    Another characteristic of qualitative research is its promotion of a more diverse reaction from those who have been asked or surveyed. This is because the human behavior is taken more into consideration than metrics or numbers--therefore making the results more difficult to analyze, due to the variety of rules for interpretation of the responses. It is challenging but at the same time it can be fun.

    Yet another characteristic of qualitative research relates to time and cost. This type of research can be pricey and time-consuming because of the time that the analysis of the responses may tak--and you've heard it before, “Time means money”. There are many voice questions about the value of qualitative research, especially in recent years. Most of the criticism comes from those who believe that the evidence is strictly circumstantial and lacks of hard metrics to be proven.

    In conclusion, although the discussion here has been around the characteristics of qualitative research, it is important to emphasize that both qualitative and quantitative research methods form two different schools of research. On the surface it seems that qualitative research concerns the quality of research while quantitative research deals with simply numerical research. Qualitative researchers seek to appraise things as they are seen by humans, while making an effort to look at a realistic representation of life and providing an interpretative understanding of such mental drawing. Face it, qualitative research is not a hard science that will continue to draw criticism from quantitative researchers. Neither of these schools of thought is superior to the other, and when carried out correctly both provide what is needed for good research.

    References

    Hammersley, M. (2007). The issue of quality in qualitative research. International Journal of Research & Method in Education, 30(3), 287-305. doi:10.1080/17437270701614782, at http://www.marjee.org/pdfs/Hammersley_issue.pdf

    Rolfe, G. (2006). Validity, trustworthiness and rigour: quality and the idea of qualitative research. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 53(3), 304-310. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2006.03727.x, http://www.journalofadvancednursing.com/docs/1365-2648.2006.03727.x.pdf

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