Characteristics of Qualitative Research Studies and When it is Appropriate or Not


Qualitative research is a kind of inquiry which information communicated via behavior and language in a natural environment. It is used to explore human behaviors. This form of research is referred so by different terms reflecting different research approaches. Qualitative research is structured to investigate the human elements of a provided topic, where unique methods are utilized to evaluate how individuals experience and see the world. Qualitative researchers are concerned about understanding the meaning constructed by people; people’s experiences of the world and how individuals make sense of their world.

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Qualitative research thus seeks to offer understanding of human behaviors, experiences, intentions, perceptions, and motivations based on observation and description and using a naturalistic explanatory approach to a subject and its circumstantial setting. Qualitative research is refers to a positioned activity which traces the observer in the world. It comprises of a set of explanatory, material practices which enhance the visibility of the world. These practices change the world into a sequence of representations that include memo, field notes, recordings, interviews, photographs, and conversations to the self. At this degree, qualitative research entails naturalistic, interpretive approach to the world (Islam & Faruque, 2016).

Characteristics of Qualitative Research

Qualitative Research Sample

Qualitative research characteristically a smaller sample size compared to the sample size required in quantitative research. However, the qualitative research sample size needs to be large enough to acquire enough data to effectively describe the interested phenomenon and handle the research question. The qualitative researchers’ goal should be to attain saturation, which happens when adding extra participants in a research does not yield to extra information or perspectives. This saturation point can vary from one form of qualitative research to another. For instance, the ethnography participants should range from 30 to 50, grounded theory should use 30 to 50 interviews, while phenomenological studies need to have 6 to 25 participants (Sandelowski, 1995). 

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In addition, there is no any specific formula used to determine the right sample size in qualitative research. However, there are factors that can be considered while determining the sample size. Some of these factors include the nature of the study topic, then quality of information required by the researcher, and the design of the study (Morse, 2000). An adequate sample size in qualitative research is proposed to be the one which allows deep, case-based evaluation which is seal of qualitative inquiry, and that the outcome is a richly and new coarse understanding of experience.

Type of Data Collected

Qualitative research normally involves the collection of descriptive data from interviews, and observations. The data can be collected verbally or in a written form, especially when unstructured or semi-structured questionnaires are used to collect data. The collected data in qualitative research can range from personal experience in form of a narrative, individual opinion, feelings, or thoughts regarding a certain event or situation, and artifacts. Artifacts in this case include past events material evidence which include personal information demographics or historical information about people, society or culture. 

Data Collection

There are various ways of collecting the required data in qualitative research. Some of these methods include focus groups, observation, interviews, field notes, analysis of materials and documents, and reflective journals. Qualitative research involves the use of semi-structured or unstructured interviews rather than structured interviews. These interviewed can either happen face-to-face or through phone. The interviews are mostly tape recorded to be analyzed later. The researcher may also consider using focus groups interview where six to ten people in a group are interviewed. This form of data collection can either be semi-structured, structured or unstructured. Written narratives mostly offer reflections with regard to a prompt or question.

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They have different structures. Questionnaires mostly involve written replies to open-ended questions either in computer or written surveys. General topics are highly controlled, and responses are in brief comments which might lack the required depth for analysis. Observations are normally done by the researcher and they are specifically helpful in understanding the participants’ behavior in a natural environment. Notes are documented immediately after or during observations. Observations are normally done secretly without participant consent to ensure that they behave in the most natural way. Document review may involve assessment of official and unofficial materials related to the topic of study. This may include minutes, letters, memos, websites, or program description among others (Sullivan & Sargeant, 2011).    

Data Analysis

The qualitative data analysis methods are founded on three strategies of qualitative data analysis which include organizing and preparing data, coding and data presentation in the figure, tables or text form. There are different forms of qualitative data analysis and their use relies on the framework within which qualitative research was adopted. .The research questions are utilized as a guide for carrying out the analysis. Qualitative data analysis has common characteristic of inductive analytical process which involves reduction of data, display of the data and drawing conclusion verification. The main process of data analysis in qualitative research involves the identification of common patterns and themes emerging with relation to the research objective. The researcher then determines how the patterns and themes associate to the research focus. Codes are then developed based on the identified themes.  Codes are labels or tags for helping analysis units to the inferential or descriptive information compiled in a study. Codes are used to move data to a higher abstraction level.

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The computer programs are then used process the qualitative data further based on how data is codified into paragraphs, words, sentences or phrases (Ngulube, 2015). For instance in an actual qualitative research involving interview, observation or questionnaire survey, the researcher assesses the observation and report the created impressions using a structured format. The recorded interviews are transcribed and also reported in a structured format. Questionnaires are also reviewed and the result recorded in a structured format.  The data is interpreted after recording mostly by developing themes identified based on the research and from all data sources. Computer software such as STATA or SPSS is then used to process the data further for easy interpretation.  

Results Presentation

Qualitative data presentation depends on the method used to collect the data.  For instance interview data result can be presented by selecting quotes which are most representative or/and poignant of the research findings. Qualitative data can also be presented in percentage form, especially is situation where coding, and theming was easy and hence finer data processing was achieved through computer programs processing. In this case, data can be further presented in graphical forms including charts, tables, and graphs (Verdinelli & Scagnoli, 2013).

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