Research is, fundamentally, a refinement of the most basic human trait and social skill: observation. Seeing what is around us, noting it, and making sense of it.  The basic purpose of social research is to observe, and to make sense of those observations. Research is observation that is

i)             systematic,

ii)            demands empirical evidence for verification, and

iii)           employs the scientific method (and hence is transparent and replicable).  The scientific method provides a set of standards and procedures that show not only how findings have been arrived at but that these procedures are sufficiently clear for other researchers to follow them with the same or other materials (Cohen, Manion, Morrison, p. 15).

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research seeks out the ‘why’, not the ‘how’ of its topic through the analysis of unstructured information – things like interview transcripts, open ended survey responses, emails, notes, feedback forms, photos and videos. It doesn’t just rely on statistics or numbers, which are the domain of quantitative researchers.

Qualitative research means that your field research must be formulated in such a way that the evidence or data that you seek is based primarily on WORDS that describe qualities. Qualitative research refers to observation and collection of data based on words. Some of the most common qualitative research methods are:

  • Literature searches
  • Interviews:
    • Individual or group
    • f2f, telephone, online
    • Synchronous or Asynchronous
  • Surveys/questionnaires (f2f, online)
  • Document research (study of relevant newspapers, archives, reports)
  • Observation of an online activity, network, community, event:
    • discourse analysis,
    • content analysis and/or
    • usage statistics
  • Discourse analysis of an online discussion.

Whereas qualitative research seeks data that are based on WORDS, quantitative research seeks data that are based on numbers, or quantities and the most common methods use instruments such as surveys and clinical experiments.Some quantitative data will also be collected but will be used in a descriptive way to complement the qualitative analysis and conclusions.

Figure 1: Overview of Qualitative Research Issues

Figure 2: Overview of Quantitative Research Issues

Figure 3: Qualitative Research Process

Figure 4: Group Process on Identifying Research Focus, RQs, and Methods

Figure 5: Research Process and Sections of Final Paper