A deeper look at qualitative research

I have to admit I am still processing a lot of information, coupled with internet research. I am not prepared to apply but am starting to organize and make sense of some concepts.

Qualitative research pursues a deeper understanding of individual and group experiences.  The detailed descriptive nature goes beyond statistics to draw meaning from the natural context.  This approach adds value to knowledge construction since it can address the how and why.  Since research cannot be generalized with just data the researcher must be in the contextual setting to perform the study. The researcher does not sit in a hierarchical power, instead they sit more level with participants.

Since the information collected is related to a participant’s experience, and the researcher is so interactive with the study setting, it is easy for a researcher to insert their own opinion or experiences into the information collected.  Frequent self-assessments should be part of the study design.  This allows the researcher to determine if they are inserting personal experience or remaining neutral. A researcher should take more of an inquiry stance, and positionality should be taken into consideration in the methodology.  A vital element to a qualitative study is collaboration.  A researcher must engage in dialog with participants, associates, and advisors. Rigorous study design should include complex and contextual research questions, a responsive design with systematic data collection, an understanding of the context and individuals in that context, and always address study limitations. The level of detail is determined on a case-by-case basis, as well as by the approach.

Research Approach

This is not an exhaustive of qualitative approaches, but merely examples.

Phenomenological research looks at a real-life experience of groups and individuals in a community. A goal is to describe or give meaning to the phenomenon that was experienced.  Participants are observed and interviewed to determine what was actually experienced and the context in which it was experienced. For example, a study of individual activities in a specific scenario, then taking that further with how those activities affected the relationship between individuals. How did each individual’s perspective shape their reaction and dictate how they worked together.  Beyond the human element uncontrollable elements that occur in the environment can add perspective.

Ethnographic research puts the researcher in the setting that they are studying.  They are immersed into the environment as a participant might be, allowing them to observe and interact with participants from the vantage point of a participant. Initial methodology stages require identifying the problem, theoretical research, developing the questions that need to be answered and designing the study. The ethnographic approach can be applied in these earlier stages to identify possible phenomena, and aid in the design of the study. 

Historical qualitative research studies previous events to interpret and give meaning.  This meaning can be applied to current practices and events.  For example, identifying developmental stages of age group, educational levels, and personal characteristics.  This is applied to individuals or events that are being studied to add context to the information. 

Qualitative vs Quantitative

At this early stage of learning about qualitative research it appears to be a compliment to quantitative.  The statistical outcomes that can be determined in quantitative can be verified by qualitative methodologies.   That extra contextual detail would make quantitative data appear more trustworthy.  Of course, the decision to apply a mixed-method would depend on the study.

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