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SHORT NOTE ON QUALITATIVE RESEARCH
The purpose of this note is to explain what is meant by "Qualitative
Research" and in the process, compare qualitative research
methods with the better known "quantitative research"
methods, which employ questionnaire surveys.
Qualitative or "Phenomenological" approaches to data
gathering are based on a completely different paradigm from that
used in the Quantitative or Positivist approach.
The Positivist approach assumes that there is an objective truth
existing "out there", which can be uncovered through
the scientific method which measures relationships between variables
using logic and statistics.
Quantification is the tenuous route through which social sciences
claim to be scientific (HOLLOWAY 1991), emphasising reliability
of measurement, validity of conclusions, and replication of experiment.
The Qualitative approach on the other hand searches for respondents´
perceptions and interpretations of social phenomena within the
context of social life.
Deciding which approach should be used in a given research situation
really depends on the research problem. In that sense there is
little meaning in evaluating one approach against the other.
Indeed the best results might come from dividing a research objective
into several research questions and using the most appropriate
tools available within each approach.
2. The Qualitative Approach
There appears to be no generally agreed definition of what the
Qualitative Approach is. It is rather a blanket term for a wide
range of techniques concerned more with interpretation and meaning
of responses rather than their frequency or correlation
Qualitative research is not based on the testing of hypotheses
or analysis of categoric frameworks. On the other hand, it is
driven by emergent themes and idiographic descriptions.
The underlying ideology of the Qualitative approach is that behaviour
can be explained only by the perspectives and highly subjective
constructions of a respondent or participant, and not by any "objective
Qualitative researchers respect the autonomy of participants
and use their language and symbols, on their own terms, which
is the socially accepted norm when we enter the territory of other
3. Qualitative Research Methods
The methods of Qualitative research address the important issue
of access to personal views (perceptions), attitudes and information.
For most individuals, personal views, attitudes and information
are restricted by psycho-social and cultural filters which determine
what information can be exposed to public gaze, what information
is communicable, and indeed by the very awareness of such information.
The model proposed by Cooper and Branthwaite (1977) is useful
for understanding these filters.
This chart clearly shows the limitations of the structured questionnaire
which is amenable to quantification and statistical analysis.
However, although Qualitative Research is impressionistic as opposed
to conclusive, it can provide unique insights from its preoccupation
with probing and understanding rather than counting and collating.
3.1 Applications of Qualitative Research
The term Qualitative Research is used to describe various kinds
of social, psychological and marketing research. Some of these
are, exploratory research, unstructured research, motivation research,
depth interviewing, attitude and opinion research.
Some of the important techniques subsumed by the term Qualitative
- Depth Interviews
- Focus Group Discussions
- Case Studies
In all these techniques, the emphasis is on probing, to understand
cause-effect relationships. Depth interviewing is normally with
individuals, while both Focus Group Discussions and Case Studies
may look at group perceptions and be guided by group dynamics.
3.2 Attitude Research
An area of considerable interest to researchers on account of
behaviour motivation is Attitude Research. The underlying hypothesis
is that life´s experiences lead to beliefs and convictions,
which form attitudes, which in turn shape and direct behaviour.
Researchers use attitude scales such as the Likert Scale, Thurstone´s
Scale and Guttman Scale to measure attitudes.
Disguised methods are useful to encourage respondents or participants
to talk with less inhibition. Some of these techniques have been
found useful in psychological and marketing research applications:
- Projective Techniques
- Third Person Test
- Word Association Test
- Sentence Completion Tests
- Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)
- Story Completion Test
- Rorschach ink blot test
- Cartoons (Blank Balloons)
It can be seen that all these are indirect methods of gathering
often sensitive information from respondents or participants.
For this reason, these techniques require considerably greater
skill and experience for application and interpretation.
In many cases where direct data collection using traditional
methods like questionnaire survey, which claim to be scientific,
indirect methods are more appropriate.