As discussed earlier, quantitative research is important for generating scientific knowledge. But what about that other major type of research — qualitative?
That’s an increasingly common question these days. With the explosion of social media and online platforms, people are asking how best to use this new tool for their business or career.
And as more companies move towards offering employees at least some form of paid leave, there are those who wonder if they should do it fully-paid or part-time only.
Both types of questions require using sources that tell you “this is true” or “these are the best options.” They can’t be answered by just counting up how many times a company says its policy is best.
Qualitative research adds another layer to your studies. It asks deeper questions about things, which help you draw conclusions more effectively. By looking into why something is the way it is, you learn more about it.
This article will talk mostly about focus groups, but the same principles apply to interviews and conversations conducted separately. Just make sure to ask enough open-ended questions so that you get the same level of detail from each participant!
I hope you enjoyed reading my latest contribution to the field of health and wellness! May these tips prove helpful to you in your quest to achieve personal fitness goals, improve workplace productivity, and inform your own professional development.
History of qualitative research
Before there were questionnaires, interviews, or focus groups, researchers had to directly ask individuals about their experiences with things to determine how they functioned for them and what influenced their behavior. This process is called participant observation.
Participant observations are considered one of the most important tools in social sciences because they allow you to get a firsthand look at the studies’ participants and how they interact with each other. By observing these interactions, you can determine if something works for or against the study’s goal and whether it changes how people feel about the item being studied.
This was true even back during ancient times. For instance, when the Ancient Greeks wanted to know more about themselves, their society, and the world around them, they conducted participant observation by talking to strangers in public squares.
Key differences between qualitative and quantitative research
Another important distinction is that while both types of studies aim to learn about human behavior, qualititive research focuses more on understanding these behaviors- what people do, why they behave this way, and how different individuals perceive the same thing.
This is known as descriptive or interpretive research because it involves studying how people think and talk about things.
Interpretive researchers also look for patterns in relationships between variables (e.g., gender and social issues). These investigations often use interviews or focus groups to gather data.
In comparison, surveys typically ask questions with yes/no answers or numerical scales and are used to assess knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs.
Surveys can be useful but they usually lack the depth that you get from an interview or group discussion, making them less powerful than the other type of study.
Benefits of qualitative research
One important use of qualitative research is to understand how individuals experience an aspect of life, or what they feel about something. This insight comes from asking questions and listening to people’s answers.
When doing quantitative research (studies that ask lots of questions and rely more heavily on statistics), you can be very careful to control for confounding factors and mitigate bias, but there’s still one major drawback: it’s hard to generalize what you learn.
You may find that some 1% of participants think activity A is great, while 19% thought activity B was the most effective, and 81% felt that activity C was best.
By contrast, when using qualitative methods, there are no fixed categories like “effective” and “not effective”; instead, you get a rich understanding of what makes sense to someone, which is much less likely to be influenced by biases or stereotypes.
Challenges of qualitative research
Although there has been an increase in interest in using qualitative methods to gain scientific knowledge, many researchers still feel that this approach is not as rigorous or trustworthy as quantitative studies.
Qualitative research can be tricky to conduct, however. This is due to two main reasons. The first is that you will need to spend time engaging with participants- studying them, getting their stories, and asking questions that are relevant to your topic.
This can take a lot of effort and time, which may be difficult given that most studies have deadlines for when they want data collected. Plus, it is very hard to find qualified participants unless you are already working in the field!
The second reason why conducting qualitative research is so challenging is because results cannot always be counted towards statistical significance. This means that even if most people agree on something, no one can say for sure whether it is correct until we do another study with a larger sample size.
Overall, although using only one type of method is better than none at all, doing both types of studies makes for the best way to generate solid scientific information.
A key component of qualitative research is having enough participants to adequately represent your topic. This is particularly important for studies that ask about experiences, such as talking about what it was like giving birth with no access to medical help or asking how people feel about something related to health and wellness.
If you have too few respondents, then you will not get very much information because there will be not enough data! Also, if there are only one or two per group, then you may receive biased results due to lack of diversity in opinions.
There are several ways to address this issue including using convenience sampling (where you do not require informed consent) or snowball sampling where respondents recruit additional participants to contribute to the study. Both of these types of surveys can easily overwhelm qualified researchers looking to use the findings from the survey!
As mentioned before, when doing quantitative research, if you need an adequate sample size, you just have to keep conducting surveys until you reach that limit!
For more in-depth questions, clinical trials often have large participant numbers! However, this type of research takes time to complete which may make it difficult to launch new products or services.
Data collection methods
Another important component of qualitative research is choosing your data collection method. This should be done with consideration as to which questions you want to ask and what type of information you want to gather!
There are two main types of qualitative research: focused group interviews and individual interviews. A focused group interview will have one or more groups of people that participate, while an individual interview will only involve one person. Both are very good ways to collect rich data, but there are differences between them.
With a focus group interview, participants come together for either a defined amount of time or until enough content has been gathered. Participants are typically selected using a purposive sampling technique where individuals who belong to a similar demographic or work area are chosen so that their perspectives can be obtained.
As members of the same group, they may share common experiences and talk about things naturally, thus giving additional insights into how they perceive related concepts. However, this also means that some people may feel overwhelmed by the size of the group, making it difficult to elicit much personal information.
For individual interviews, we use purposeful sampling to choose our participant(s). Like with a focus group interview, each individual brings something unique to the conversation, however, they are not part of the same overarching theme, instead exploring separate topics independently.
This allows for longer conversations, better understanding of specific issues, and richer descriptions of events.
Data analysis methods
Quantitative research is important, but not as important as qualitative research. This type of research looks into how individuals and/or groups perceive things (qualitatively) and why they think what they do (quantitatively).
A lot of scientific studies are quantitative. That means they ask people about their perception or opinion of something and then analyze that data to determine if there are significant trends. For example, someone might be asked whether they believe X product can help you lose weight or not, and the researchers will analyze the answers to see which brands seem most popular.
But this kind of study only examines perceptual information — it doesn’t ask about underlying reasons for those perceptions. It may also not ask enough questions to get solid answers because surveys often ask too few questions!
By contrast, when we talk about why people feel a certain way about something, we call that qualitative research. These types of questions can be very revealing, giving us insight into why things got so heated during last week’s presidential debate.
Importance of both types of research
Having conducted both sorts of research, I can tell you that either one is crucial to generating new knowledge.