Qualitative research uses methods that seek to discern the quality – as opposed to the quantity – of its subject matter. It is therefore more often concerned with explaining the why and how of a phenomenon rather than the what, when and where.
Qualitative research can help verify the effectiveness of methods.
Qualitative research methods are most often used in fields such as anthropology, humanities, and sociology, although each of these fields can also be studied using quantitative methods. Because this type of research is exploratory and focuses on discerning the why of things, such as human behavior rather than the natural world, it is often criticized for being too subjective. Many argue, however, that since qualitative methods are hypothesis generators, they are not only as valuable as quantitative methods, but necessary for the production of theoretical models that inform the direction of quantitative research methods.
Qualitative research is a subjective form of research in which an individual tends to become more emotionally attached to the subject and, as a result, their own bias can strongly influence the results.
Data collection and analysis is another way in which quantitative and qualitative research differ. In qualitative research, data samples are usually not collected through random selection, but through purposeful reasoning, which means that they are chosen because they typify well the characteristics of a given class. For example, a qualitative study of racial inequality is unlikely to be concerned with affluent minorities or the entire population of a minority, but may instead focus on depressed areas where minorities are more prevalent. This approach is chosen because qualitative researchers are not concerned with discerning the number of people in a minority class, but rather with the quality of life of minorities who are affected by inequality.
Qualitative research uses methods that seek to discern the quality – as opposed to the quantity – of its subject matter.
The researcher’s role in interpreting the meaning of the data is more centered on the qualitative approach than on quantitative methods, which ideally seek to make purely empirical observations devoid of perspective. In sharp contrast, qualitative researchers must reflect on their research and make explicit the reasoning behind the interpretations of their data in their analysis.
Qualitative research is considered especially valuable in circumstances where quantitative data do not account for a particular phenomenon. For example, although the economy is often concerned with collecting concrete information such as statistics and financial data, it can be said that it is flawed because it ignores the humanistic and psychological aspects of people that are a key component. This human component requires a qualitative understanding, which leads to the development of concepts such as “consumer trust”.
An important variable to consider when analyzing the reliability of qualitative research is validity. It is important to consider how a conclusion was reached and whether it truly represents a credible and realistic interpretation of its subject matter. It may or may not be pertinent to ask whether a conclusion is reproducible or not, or has been affected by bias. Consideration should also be given to whether data from qualitative studies are well-founded and to what extent they account for the substantial majority of available data.