What is Qualitative Research? | Definition, Methods, Examples, Pros and Cons

Qualitative research is one of the research analysis methods that fall within the ambit of the broader empirical research method.


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It differs from quantitative research because the latter primarily deals with numeric data. Qualitative research, however, deals with data, not numerical, such as videos, texts, audio, etc.

It is based on concepts, observations and experiences, and its primary aim is not merely to discover a phenomenon. Instead, it focuses on the ‘why’ part as well.

Key Takeaways

  1. Qualitative research emphasizes exploring and understanding social phenomena through in-depth interviews, observations, and analysis of non-numerical data.
  2. Qualitative research focuses on subjective experiences, meanings, and perspectives of individuals or groups and aims to generate rich and detailed insights.
  3. Qualitative research can be used in various disciplines, such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and education, to address complex and contextualized research questions.
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Disciplines Employing Qualitative Research Method

The qualitative research analysis mode is mostly used in courses within the social sciences and humanities. Some of the significant disciplines that employ the qualitative method of data collection and interpretation include:

  1. Sociology
  2. Anthropology
  3. Political Science
  4. History
  5. Education
  6. Health Sciences, and many more.

Approaches to Qualitative Research Method 

The primary objective of the qualitative research method is to understand the social phenomena in their natural settings. For that, it heavily relies on observations, experiences and opinions.

There are several approaches to the qualitative mode of analysis. Even though they appear to be more or less similar, there are significant differences in their goals and perspectives.

  1. Ethnography entails observing, understanding and analysing the structures and functions of various social organisations and groups.
  2. The grounded theory involves collecting valuable data about a field of interest and generating theories inductively.
  3. Phenomenological research entails studying a particular event or phenomenon by discerning, interpreting and describing participants’ lived experiences.
  4. Action Research: Here, the researchers and the participants collude to apply a theory into practice to bring about social change.
  5. Narrative Research: It entails studying and understanding the origin and spread of narratives to understand participants’ perceptions and experiences.

Methods of Qualitative Research

Any approach to qualitative research employs one or a combination of the following methods.

  1. Interviews entail personally approaching participants, asking them questions and having one-on-one conversations.
  2. Focus groups: It involves asking questions like ‘what’, ‘how, and ‘why’ regarding a social phenomenon and generating a discussion among the target groups.
  3. Ethnographic research entails studying and describing a social phenomenon by experiencing, understanding and adapting to them within their natural settings.
  4. Surveys involve collecting and analysing data by dispensing questionnaires with closed and open-ended questions.
  5. Secondary research involves collecting and studying data like videos, audio recordings, images or texts.
  6. Observations: Gathering information by utilising all the five primary senses, i.e., sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste and recording them in the form of field notes.

Advantages of Qualitative Research

The following are some significant advantages of qualitative research:

  1. Flexible: It does not follow any rigid data collection and analysis method. The techniques can be adjusted per the needs of the research topic.
  2. Context-based: Unlike quantitative research, qualitative research tends to provide a context to the data collected, focusing on natural or real-life settings.
  3. Enriches the research: As qualitative study offers a detailed description of the perceptions, experiences and observations of the participants, the concerned topic of research gets enriched with meaningful insights.
  4. Generates new ideas and questions: Qualitative research uses open-ended questions, often leading to further questions and theories.

Disadvantages of Qualitative Research

Despite its various advantages, qualitative research does suffer from some significant limitations.

  1. Inconsistency: The site-based focus of qualitative research often makes it inconsistent as various unpredictable environmental factors affect the outcome of the collected data.
  2. Biased: The researcher is the primary instrument of qualitative research. Consequently, the outcomes of qualitative research are often coloured by the personal biases and notions of the researcher.
  3. Limited sample size: The sample size used in qualitative research often proves insufficient to reflect and generalise real-life conditions.
  4. Requires a lot of labour: Despite a variety of data and text analysis software, manual work is needed to generate theories and concepts from the collected data.
  1. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=7RwJEAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=what+is+qualitative+research&ots=LXg1MV_3-m&sig=B-KhpYrxfzjM9aFNJWA-IGqrgA0
  2. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1992-97742-000
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