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Introduction to Qualitative Research in Social Sciences

Akhil S Kumar25-03-2014

This post aims to give an understanding about the key characteristics of Qualitative research an to discuss the strengths and limitations of a qualitative study. This post will explain some factors about how to design a qualitative research study, how to conduct a qualitative research study and to discuss issues and challenges of qualitative research.


What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research talks about multiple realities in terms of subjective meanings and has mainly three components, interpretive, naturalistic and inductive or deductive. Interpretive means the researcher interpret the data. Naturalistic means that the context where the data is collected is really important. Researchers use multiple methods like interviews, observation, documents and other secondary data to collect enough data for research.

The sample size for a qualitative research need not be 100 or more than that. It can be a small number like 7 or 10. Data collection is classified in to data reduction, data display, and conclusions and verification. When doing research, the researchers often take the “emic perspective” into consideration. So what is emic perspective. Emic perspective deals with interpretation of meanings given the participant as what their perspectives are or what they are thinking about it or their frame of reference rather than the views of researcher. In some researches, the researcher, often explain about his/her background and how may they influence the research. This process is termed as “reflexivity” or “Bracketing”.

Key characteristics of a Qualitative Research study

It produces descriptive data which includes experiences, meanings, backgrounds, interpretations of the participants as well as the researcher.

Strengths of Qualitative Research

  • It can be said that it is more humanistic, considering people and their emotions rather than numbers or statistics.
  • An in detail and depth study is possible in this research type.

Limitations of Qualitative Research

  • One of the main criticism about qualitative research is that the presence of bias or prejudice and individual skills may affect the research.
  • Because of the small sample size, the results could not be generalized to entire population.
  • Even though data size is small, the data collection and analysis will take days to weeks. So that this type of research is very time consuming.

Designing a Qualitative Study

Start with an idea. Idea lead to a concept. Concept need to thoroughly examined using Literature Review which rejuvenates theory. To frame Theory, the researcher should have good Framework of Research Problems including a Problem Statement and Research Questions. Then comes Design. After that Data Collection that follows with Analysis and finally Findings.

Data collection methods

  • Focus Group Discussions
  • Semi structured interviews

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