The need to understand how and why of any occurrence, has always intrigued the human mind. This curiosity gave birth to qualitative research in the 1950s. It is widely applied in many researches and studies in various disciplines such as education, social work, information, management, psychology, communication, etc.
Methods Used for Conducting Qualitative Research
Qualitative research helps to gain insight into people's behavior, value systems, motivations, culture, or lifestyles, and how these attributes have a role to play in decision and policy making, communicating, and conducting research. Following are some of the many approaches that are used for conducting qualitative research.
Case Studies: A case study is an intensive and in-depth study of a specific individual, an event, a group, or an institution in a specific context. There is no fixed criteria and way of conducting case studies, and it is done with a combination of other methods. This method studies in a systematic way the events, collection of data, analyzing information, and reporting the results. The end result is generally a clear perception and understanding of why and how things happen in the manner they do. Some social researchers like Sigmund Freud and Piaget have used case studies to study several individuals and child development respectively.
Participant Observation: This method is highly dependent on the researcher's ability to blend and extract information by being part of an event or group. This method requires the researcher to become an active participant, while observing events around him. It aims to gain a close insight of individuals or social groups and their practices through active participation in their natural environment, and often requires months or years to collect the required data for analysis. The researchers record their own experiences (subjective experiences), and make them available to a wide audience, for future studies and references.
Direct Observation: In the direct observation method, there is no participatory involvement on the observer's part. The observer is more a part of the background and is as unobtrusive as possible. As there is no direct participation, the observations are more detached. The researcher is watching, and making notes for future use. Direct participation also makes use of technology in observing individuals or events. One can record the happenings or observe from behind one-way mirrors. Unlike participant observation, direct observation tends to be more focused, as the observer is only observing specific occurrences, rather than the whole behavior.
Interviews: Interviewing involves direct interaction between the researcher and a respondent or group. There are two types of interviews; structured and unstructured. Structured interviews are carefully worded questionnaires and don't allow much scope to deviate from it. Unstructured interviewing is more informal, as compared to the former. It allows more exploration and deviation in its approach, which is useful for exploring a subject more broadly. It encourages responses from the respondents' point of view, a very meaningful strategy in qualitative data collection.
Public Records: Public records can be collected from an external or internal source. They are all part of public domain information and created with the purpose of helping and furthering research. External records are census and vital statistics reports, government office records, newspaper archives, etc, whereas internal records are specific to particular companies or organizations.
Personal Records: Personal Records are first-person accounts of events and experiences, and can include diaries, portfolios, photographs, artwork, scrapbooks, poetry, etc. Personal documents can help the observer to gain insight of the participant's world.
Methods mentioned above investigate the reasons behind decisions. In most scenarios, more than one method is used to collect and comprehend data. It reflects a comprehensive mode of analysis, that helps to move a process from specific observations to a general theory.