Qualitative research is the practice of exploring certain issues with the aim of understanding phenomena and finding answers to particular fundamental questions through analysis and validation of unstructured data. This kind of research is carried out nearly in every work place as long as there are people who consistently interact with other physical phenomena. Approaches used in the activity of qualitative research are in-depth interviews, focus groups, ethnography, content analysis, evaluation and semiotics among others. Through these approaches, the researchers can have access to various kinds of data, including literature reviews, open-ended survey responses, audio recordings, pictures, social media and web pages. This data forms the basis of qualitative analysis with the aim of drawing meaningful and logical conclusions about the population being researched. More often than not qualitative researches have been subjected to ridicule by cynics who hold a view that the exploration of social phenomena reduces qualitative research to little more than story telling. According to critics, qualitative research cannot be relied on to make coherent deductions about a peculiar subject. The main cause of such an opinion is that researchers usually base on scanty data to make conclusions about an expansive field of study, unlike in the quantitative research.
Strengths of Qualitative Research
Qualitative research has been the subject of criticism for a long time due to its unstructured means of data collection and non-statistical system of data analysis as compared to quantitative research (Punch 2005). Qualitative researchers have from time to time overused interviews as well as focus groups at the expense of other statistical methods, such as observation, documentary analysis, case studies and conservational analysis. Hence, they made it more explanatory or investigative than conclusive. It has been found inappropriate to be used in making generalizations about the population of interest. However, qualitative research similar to quantitative research has a number of strengths sceptics ought to consider other than rubbish it in totality.
The qualitative research focuses on a smaller population where the data collected are thoroughly examined. This means that the findings of the research can easily be believed in because of the depth that the researchers would have delved into the matter (Creswell 2014). This is done in a way through which researchers can clearly understand underlying reasons and motivations about the existence of a certain phenomenon. It further provides insights into the setting in which a problem would have occurred, thus generating ideas and hypotheses quantitative research can be based on at a later date.
In qualitative research, there are no restrictions on specific questions during interviews. The researcher has the freedom to guide or redirect the interviewee in real time (Creswell 2014). Those findings are crucial in fostering understanding of the social world in which people live and elucidating why things are or happen the way they do. Through this freedom, the researchers can collect vital data concerning the social aspects and seek to answer fundamental questions about reasons of certain behaviours of people during particular situations or occasions. They become able to determine how important opinions and varied mental attitudes are formed among individuals in society, how people are influenced by certain events that happen around in their vicinity, and how and why cultures and customs have been developed in a specific manner among different communities.
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Moreover, qualitative research is very flexible where necessary. The research framework and direction can quickly be revised every time new information arrives. This flexibility is very vital as the researchers consider the dynamic nature of phenomenal data over time. As time changes, so do beliefs, cultures, climate, and other crucial populations of study alter (Broom, Cheshire & Emmison 2009). Therefore, it is not probable that the findings from this study can be deceitful like in quantitative research that is somehow rigid and bases its discoveries on an enormous population. Sceptics need to know the level of efficiency in qualitative research is greater as compared to quantitative research (Josselson 2013).
Similarly, the kind of data collected on human experience is superior and in most cases more compelling in qualitative research than in quantitative one. This is because researchers rely heavily on interviews, thoroughly engaging respondents in all aspects of human life. Though the population engaged in qualitative research would be smaller by contrast to that selected in quantitative research, the information obtained is likely to provide a sufficient ground for a logical inference (Petticrew et al. 2008). Interviews provide the research with the advantage of information verification by administering same queries to other respondents in order to compare them. Inexplicit responses can also be clarified since the researcher and the interviewee are involved in one-on-one contact. Therefore, it is almost impossible to doubt the authenticity of the information that the researcher finally compiles through a single interview.
In the same breath, qualitative research has the advantage in that subtleties and complexities about the research subjects or topics are discovered through positivistic enquiries. This provides researchers with an earlier opportunity to make necessary adjustments on the data collected so as to avoid tendencies of creating discrepancies and ambiguities during the process of analysis.
Finally, the data collected during qualitative research can be trusted and easily validated since it does not generalise the entire population but rather a small section selected by the researchers (Miles & Huberman 2013). It also makes findings easily transferred to another setting because comparisons may not be cumbersome to make. For instance, in health or social care setting, the qualitative research is predominantly beneficial since the investigators may administer vital questions to patients and physicians. Those inquiries usually regard exploration and identification of concepts or views from the sick and medics, assessment of the process of implementation of strategic plans of certain institutions, the real-life context prevalent in the institutions, as well as sensitive topics that demand flexibility to avoid causing anguish among the population.
The distinguishing features between qualitative and quantitative researches were used as criticisms by the proponents of the alternative methodologies in the past. For instance, the most common criticism that was levelled at qualitative research was regarding the results of a study that may not be possibly generalizable to a larger population due to small group meagre sample. Moreover, the participants in the research exercise would not have been chosen randomly. However, if exclusiveness is the focus of the research and the original questions used to guide researchers in seeking insight regarding a particular subgroup rather than the general population, since the subgroup would be special or dissimilar to the general population, then insignificant sample may have been appropriate.
This would also be the case with certain ethnic groups or some groups of patients who would be suffering from sporadic conditions in particular circumstances. In studies of this kind, generalizability of the research findings to a wider and more assorted population is not an objective of the researcher (Miles & Huberman 2013). A similar example is the brand of reductionism, which would be based on the pragmatic requirements to eliminate all other measurable variables used to imply criticism of the quantitative research methodology. The factor of inflexibility that is involved in a well-designed and executed experiment amounts to strength of quantitative research, which is regarded as an alternative approach that would also reflect strength of qualitative methodology.
Analysis of data in this respect involves summarising collected information and presenting the generated results in a manner that communicates imperative features. In quantitative research, analysis entails summarising the variable frequencies, differences that exist between variables, and statistical tests, which are designed to estimate the statistical significance of the given results, depicting the probability that none of them occurred coincidentally.
Therefore, all this is basically done by counting how frequently a variable appears in the data and its measurement, being compared with others. At the end of the analysis, not only will people have access to a variety of results, but will also obtain the foremost findings. Qualitative research is also aimed at making noteworthy discoveries, but researchers are usually committed to different techniques. The significant part that researchers are interested in by using the data is to make a vivid description of a phenomenon, to articulate its meaning, and to fully understand it.
Limitations of Qualitative Research
Qualitative research has a number of limitations on which sceptics would have been putting forward their reservations. First of all, due to its lack of pragmatic approach, the quality of research in this field is heavily dependent on the skills of an individual researcher (Josselson 2013). This may create a situation where the findings being presented after the research are heavily influenced by the researcher’s predispositions and idiosyncrasies. It will make the findings difficult to believe in since the credibility would have been compromised.
In addition, it is complicated to maintain, assess and even demonstrate the meticulousness of qualitative research findings due to scanty coverage and deficient practicability of the investigation. It is easy to believe the criticism that this research is merely story telling due to this fact. When research does not have a practical backing, it will automatically fall short of convincing properties, being hardly considered credible. The scanty samples chosen discriminately also raise more agitation from the question why the findings should apply to the whole population despite shoddy data collection exercise. This puts the competence of the researchers in a critical situation since they cannot explain the logic behind their shoddy approach to pertinent issues of society. Yet they want the community to believe that the findings from the particular perfunctory piece of work can perfectly represent the entire population. It is tantamount to forcing an elephant into the house through the window, which, according to many, is utter nonsense.
Furthermore, the volume of data extracted from the usually small area makes the process of analysis and interpretation very complex and time-consuming (Merriam 2009). This is because these data is always intensive even if it is never inclusive. Researchers will be obliged to make thorough analysis of even very inconsequential elements related to the population. Many details also make this particular research work appear localised such that it cannot be applied on a wider scale. Planning based on findings of qualitative analysis can only be relevant to a small unit of the population.
Moreover, due to the intensive nature of research, the findings become quite cumbersome to be understood by those who attempt to analyse it. Therefore, they cannot be suitable to be adopted within the scientific community where facts should be convincing and pragmatic enough before they are considered for drawing logical inferences. This shortcoming gives quantitative research superiority over qualitative research because the findings of the former one are usually very elaborate and can relate to a broader region in the selected population. Hence, it is easy for the analysers to gauge the credibility of the findings as chances of a particular data authenticity validation are substantial.
Despite that, since the qualitative researchers are usually physically available during the process of data collection, it is feared that their presence can adversely affect the subjects’ responses, leading to fallacious information being collected. There is also a likelihood of collision between the researcher and the respondent, which can result in data manipulation to their own convenience. This situation often occurs when the researcher and the respondent may be related in some way. Thus, the investigator may want to use it as an advantage to circumvent the conventional rules and procedures of conducting research. Since varied personalities are portrayed by researchers, some respondents may feel intimidated and end up providing information that is contrary to the real situation. This situation can also be evident when researchers may offer some enticement to respondents with the hope of motivating them to generously unveil the data they are be looking for. Data that is solicited through such circumstances is usually manipulative and cannot be authentic.
The issues regarding anonymity and confidentiality of the researchers and respondents usually encompass numerous problems during presentation of findings because it becomes quite perplexing to relate certain data to specific population. In the process, misplacement and mix-up of data can be prevalent, rendering essential elements of investigation unproductive. Such findings will eventually mislead in case the relevant departments base on them to plan or take remedial actions to overcome the purported challenges found in any given population. In the event that mistakes are done, it is very difficult to uncover the background information about the data in question regarding the researcher, the source and the process during which errors might have been committed.
Finally, the findings generated during the qualitative research are usually more cumbersome and time-consuming to be characterised in a visual way. This is because of the non-statistical nature in which data is usually presented. Therefore, it is confounding to make inferences that are geared towards developing explanations of social phenomena basing on such findings.
Many critics take the unwavering stance, accepting the trustworthiness of qualitative research frameworks. Thus, the following recommendations are made in order to revamp the practice so that it can capture people’s attention by meeting their expectations. If well implemented, it will disapprove the faultfinders’ cynicism about qualitative analysis as they will prefer it to quantitative analysis.
As a measure to promote confidence that the researchers would have accurately recorded the phenomena under scrutiny and to ensure that data collected portrays the credibility required, the researchers would be obliged to properly adopt research methods which are established in qualitative investigation, as well as as in the field of information science (Silverman 2009). For instance, the specific research procedures that are employed, such as the lineage of questionnaire that researchers pursue gathering, as well as the methods of data analysis should be possibly derived from those which have successfully been utilised in previous comparable projects.
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As pertaining to investigation of the behaviour of information seeking, the researchers should invite participants to help in reflecting on situations where they may need to make certain clarification about the source of data in question. This will also enable researchers to replenish their thoughts about certain issues that were not well understood, needed a certain decision, or were worried about.
Moreover, qualitative researchers should preliminarily familiarise with the culture and routine of participating organisations before they commence the dialogues for the first data collection. They may achieve this by consulting appropriate documents and conducting reconnaissance visits to the organisations that are targeted in the research program. This is quite significant in that it helps the researchers to ascertain the suitability of the place for conducting research and reveal whether available data would be sufficient to provide the anticipated outcomes (Alasuutari 2007). The researchers will also have ample time to familiarise with the potential respondents and establish appropriate methods of data collection. However, caution must be taken to curb the possible danger which may emerge as a result of too many demands of researchers. If investigators put pressure on staff or gatekeepers who are responsible for granting them access to the organisation’s premises, they may be deterred from cooperation. Undue treatment by a section or whole staff of the organisation can have great influence on the outcome of the research.
Furthermore, in order to increase trustworthiness of respondents, researcher should give them a chance to decide whether or not they wish to participate in research process (Josselson 2013). They should restrain from enticing or intimidating as it may make respondents report false information either to impress the researchers or simply because of contempt. For this reason, researchers should avoid posing irritative questions to respondents, which would as well provoke them to answer untruthfully, hence harming the objective of the research. Delving into personal issues should also be avoided unless it is part of the research objectives.
Similarly, qualitative researchers can benefit from the application of negative case analysis during their investigation activities (Merriam 2009). In this case, the researcher sees the necessity of refining the formulated hypotheses until they address all the relevant cases within the data on the selected population. When the study includes the production of typologies, the investigator may be obliged to revisit data to complete the initial categories. It is done in order to confirm that the highlighted constructs may indeed account for all kinds of instances of the phenomenon involved, even though some of the types may embrace just one instance.
Lastly, researcher should meticulously describe the phenomenon under scrutiny. This detailed description in a given area can be a pertinent provision for promoting credibility because it will help to convey the real circumstances under investigation and, to some extent, the contexts that would surround them. In the absence of this insight, it may be quite difficult for readers of the final account to determine the extent to which the truth of the overall findings would lie (Flick 2010). Moreover, the researcher employs a system of reporting in which he or she defines a succession of different types within a given typology and illustrates them. The actual qualitative episodes and the inclusion of the latter would enable the reader to esteem how far the defined types can truly embrace the actual situations.
Generally, trustworthiness of qualitative research is often questioned by positivists simply because the concepts of validity and reliability that they are usually knowledgeable about cannot be possibly addressed in the similar manner in a certain naturalistic work. Nonetheless, a number of writers on research methods have demonstrated the possible ways in which qualitative researchers can incorporate right measures to deal with these usually negative issues. They have also attempted to make direct and explicit responses to the issues of validity and reliability that are enshrined in their own qualitative studies. However, various naturalistic investigators have preferred the use of different terminology as a polite way of distancing themselves from the paradigm of positivists. Absolute implementation of the highlighted recommendations is the only proper way that would reclaim people’s confidence in the qualitative research. They will address the aforementioned anomalies as well as improve the strengths that have already been exhibited by researchers before. Otherwise, the main potential challenge of people who are involved in handling courses on methods of research is to ascertain that those who contemplate undertaking qualitative research are not just aware of the disapprovals that are typically made by cynics. They have to be cognisant of the stipulated provisions, which are necessary in addressing matters such as credibility, confirmability, transferability as well as dependability. Prospective researchers can assess the extent to which they would be able to apply these generic strategies to their investigation in particular.