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What Is Qualitative Research?

9/11/2012

What is qualitative research?

The fundamental purpose of qualitative research is to better understand why a particular group of people behaves or believes as it does. The numbers produced by quantitative research only scratch the surface of these types of questions, being more about learning which sub-groups are important and how much they may vary in behaviors and beliefs. In comparison, qualitative research is much better at getting at the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ that are so important to in-depth knowledge.

Who can use qualitative research?

Anyone who wants to figure out what they know or don’t know about a set of human behaviors can benefit from a qualitative research program. Qualitative researchers work in just about every people-oriented profession imaginable, ranging from anthropology, linguistics, psychology and sociology to business operations, human resources, and marketing to criminal justice, education, and health care. In short, if you want to know how people truly tick, qualitative research is the best tool for the job.

How do you actually do qualitative research?

First, you select a particular population to study. It can be any group of people with some level of shared experience.

Second, you need to collect some free-form data from (or about) a representative sample of that population, including interview or social media transcripts, observational field notes, audio or video recordings, academic or news articles, etc.

Third, you want to record any potentially relevant information about the individual sources of that data: age, ethnicity, education level, geographic location – you name it.

Fourth, it’s time to highlight the most relevant sections of that data, perhaps coding each excerpt for the degree to which it supports or refutes a particular theme. These themes can be questions you know want to investigate upfront and/or questions that the excerpts themselves suggest during the course of your study.

Fifth (and this is where the rubber meets the road), you can now analyze the patterns, expected and unexpected, revealed by this distillation process. The beauty of qualitative research is the unexpected result and hidden current.

Last but not least, you’re now ready to present your findings to appreciative audiences, expanding their understanding of the people in question.

How can Dedoose help you with your qualitative research project?

Dedoose is the only qualitative research software platform designed from the ground up to take full advantage of the power of the Internet. It’s state-of-the art features include the ability to do your work efficiently and securely on any modern hardware platform and operating system, to collaborate readily and seamlessly with any other member of your research team anywhere in the world, and to explore and analyze your data intuitively and thoroughly.

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