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

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


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It differs from quantitative research insofar as the latter primarily deals with numeric data. Qualitative research, on the other hand, deals with data that is not in numerical forms such as videos, texts, audio and the like.

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

Disciplines Employing Qualitative Research Method

Qualitative mode of research analysis is mostly used in courses falling within the ambit of 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: It entails observing, understanding and analysing the structures and functions of various organisations and groups in the society.
  2. Grounded theory: It involves the collection of valuable data related to a field of interest and generating theories inductively.
  3. Phenomenological research: It 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’ sense of perceptions and experiences.

Methods of Qualitative Research

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

  1. Interviews: It entails 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: It entails studying and describing a social phenomenon by experiencing, understanding and adapting to them within their natural settings.
  4. Surveys: It involves collecting and analysing data by dispensing questionnaires with both close and open-ended questions.
  5. Secondary research: It consists of collecting and studying already existing 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 method for data collection and analysis. The techniques can be adjusted as per the needs of the topic of research.
  2. Context-based: Unlike quantitative research, qualitative research tends to provide a context to the data collected as it focuses on the natural or real-life settings as well.
  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: Researchers doing qualitative research use open-ended questions which often leads to the generation of 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 a variety of unpredictable environmental factors tend to 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 to be insufficient to reflect and generalise the real-life conditions.
  4. Requires a lot of labour: Despite the existence of a variety of software for data and text analysis, 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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