Updated September 26, 2023
What is Qualitative Research?
Qualitative research is a methodology that researchers use to study and understand human behavior, experiences, and perspectives. It uses non-numerical data collected through various types of qualitative research:
- Grounded Theory
- Ethnographic Research
- Narrative Research
- Historical Research
- Case Studies Research
- One-on-One Interviews
- Focus Groups
- Action Research
- Record Keeping
The main purpose of using different types of qualitative research is to find insights and context rather than statistical measurements.
Types of Qualitative Research
Given are the 11 types of qualitative research explained with real examples.
1. Grounded Theory
In grounded theory research, researchers first collect real-life data, like individuals’ experiences, thoughts, and ideas. After that, they study the collected data to create a theory that explains a particular behavior pattern or situation.
In China, a few researchers conducted a study on 19 patients who recovered from Crohn’s disease to study how they felt more positive about life after recovery. The researchers took detailed interviews with questions like “What positive changes have you made during your interaction with the disease?” etc.
They then formulated a ground theory that to “reconstruct self from the illness,” there were four stages: “suffering from the illness,” “accepting the illness,” “dancing with the illness,” and “enriching life beyond the illness.” This is an example of how researchers generated a theory based on real data.
(Source: Research Study by Wang, Y., Zhang, C. & Zhou, Y. – BioMed Central)
2. Ethnographic Research
Ethnographic research is when the researcher becomes a part of the cultural or social setting that they want to study. This way, they can understand the people’s perspectives, behaviors, and interactions by living with the people.
A group of researchers performed an ethnographic study in Sikasso, southern Mali. There were two phases, one in 2011 and another in 2016, involving 70 interviews. Apart from observing the locals and having informal conversations, the researcher interviewed the set-up actors, who were living with the locals for a substantial period.
As a result, the researchers found that as the town was a highly malaria-affected area, locals had substantial knowledge about the disease. However, even though they have almost accurate knowledge, their way of perceiving it is different from that of medical professionals. Thus, to effectively control malaria in Sikasso, medical teams should involve local and traditional healers from the town.
(Source: Research Study by Sissoko, B., Rafiq, M.Y., Wang, J.R. – BioMed Central)
3. Narrative Research
Narrative research is a method where researchers focus on personal experiences, finding individuals with relevant stories. They collect these stories through interviews or written sources like libraries and databases. After gathering these narratives, researchers identify common themes and patterns to enhance our understanding of a specific topic.
In 2023, researchers in the US studied how not having a stable place to live can affect people’s health. They talked with people living in bad conditions or who had trouble paying rent. After collecting the interview data, researchers studied each individual’s narrative to reach a conclusion.
The study found that when housing isn’t stable, it can lead to health problems like being overweight, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart issues, etc. This shows that not having a stable home can really hurt a person’s health.
(Source: Research Study by Gu, K.D., Faulkner, K.C. & Thorndike, A.N. – BioMed Central)
Phenomenology is a branch of philosophy that studies individuals’ unique experiences and perspectives. It explores how people understand their surroundings by analyzing people’s firsthand encounters, feelings and how they interpret the world.
Between 2020 and 2021, researchers studied 13 people who survived COVID-19 after intensive care. They found five important things about how these people got better. For this, researchers used phenomenology research to understand the patients’ firsthand experiences.
The study showed that these patients needed familiar things or people in their surroundings for a faster recovery. Now, this information can help doctors and nurses understand what patients need and how to treat them better.
(Source: Research Study by Van Oorsouw R, Klooster E, Koenders N, Van Der Wees PJ, Van Den Boogaard M, Oerlemans AJM. – NCBI)
5. Historical Research
Historical research is the process of investigating and understanding past events, documents, and records to find valuable insights about historical occurrences. It involves digging into the past to create a clearer picture of what happened, why it happened, and its impact on societies or individuals.
In Europe, researchers conducted a historical research study where they analyzed skeletal data from more than 1,000 dental records dating back to 1200 AD. The study focused on the presence or absence of Linear Enamel Hypoplasia (LEH), a significant stress indicator. They compared the occurrence of LEH in male and female teeth from different locations. This data gave the scientist information on the living conditions and gender-related experiences of both men and women during the historical period.
Researchers found that regions with a history of gender equality are now 20% more likely to hold pro-female views (supporting men and women equally). On the other hand, regions where more men were favored over women still have pro-male ideas (supporting men over women) even after 150 years of women’s rights movements. The study sheds light on the fact that past gender biases still influence modern attitudes.
(Source: Research Study by Taylor J. Damann, Jeremy Siow, and Margit Tavits – PNAS)
6. Case Studies
Case studies are a way to deeply investigate and understand a particular person, group, company, or event. They are in-depth stories that help us learn more about specific situations or issues. Researchers or analysts use case studies to gain valuable insights into what’s happening in a focused area, making complex topics easier to grasp by looking closely at real-life examples.
Health professionals, like dental students, use a mix of skills like critical thinking and problem-solving to cure patients. Thus, the student or professional needs excellent critical thinking skills to give the best advice to their patients. To study how students can improve these skills, a few researchers looked at how dental students apply clinical reasoning when dealing with oral health problems.
They selected five final-year dental students, gave them a hypothetical clinical scenario, and asked them to think out loud. The findings showed that students with more knowledge used advanced reasoning, while those with less knowledge were simply guessing. This suggests that clinical reasoning gets better with knowledge and experience. Therefore, dental schools should focus on both knowledge and clinical reasoning skills in their education.
(Source: Research Study by Chrismawaty, B.E., Emilia, O., Rahayu, G.R., Ana I.D. – BioMed Central)
7. One-on-One Interviews
One-on-one interviews focus on discussions between a researcher and an individual aimed at gathering detailed insights, viewpoints, and personal experiences from the participant.
Researchers conducted a study to understand how well police officers do their interviews (interrogations). The experts found that when officers didn’t sleep well, they had a harder time staying focused and calm during interviews, especially when people they were talking to didn’t cooperate. On the flip side, when officers slept better, they did better interviews. So, getting enough sleep is really important for making police interviews work well.
(Source: Research Study by Zlatan Krizan, Anthony J. Miller, Christian A. Meissner, and Matthew Jones – ResearchGate)
8. Focus Group
A focus group is a small, interactive discussion led by a moderator, usually with 6-10 participants. It’s a qualitative research method that delves into people’s perceptions, opinions, and experiences regarding a particular topic, product, or service. These sessions help gather diverse insights in a conversational and group setting.
In British Columbia, a study examined how people with COVID-19 feel about joining research projects. The experts talked to 22 adults who recovered from COVID-19 through personal contacts, social media, etc. They found that if people were more enthusiastic about a study if the participants had the freedom to choose. For instance, they have the right to release their personal information to the public or keep it private.
People also preferred remote or virtual methods to join a research study rather than in-person. Thus, scientists should consider these preferences to get more people to participate in research. Also, talking to people in groups instead of one-on-one can be really helpful.
(Source: Research Study by Serena S Small, Erica Lau, Kassandra McFarlane, Patrick M Archambault, Holly Longstaff, and Corinne M Hohl – BioMed Central)
Observations are a way of carefully watching and noting down what people do or how things happen in a specific place or situation. Researchers use this method to understand behavior and interactions without talking to people directly. It’s like quietly watching to learn more about how things work or how people behave.
Between March and May 2019, a group of researchers observed 6 medical students who were interning at a municipal emergency care unit. The researchers first created a day plan for the students to follow in the two weeks they worked at the care unit. Then, there were 102 systematic observations, which included watching and noticing how the students followed through with the day plan.
The goal was to determine if medical students have an interest in working at clinics like this. The study found that students who got the chance for a clerkship at a care unit were more likely to work at a care unit. They learned in-depth about the ethics, physician’s role, nurse’s duties, etc.
(Source: Research Study by Solveig Giske, Marit Kvangarsnes, Bodil J. Landstad, Torstein Hole, and Berit Misund Dahl – BioMed Central)
10. Action Research
Action research is a method researchers use, typically within organizations, to tackle problems in a practical and hands-on way. It involves a cycle of identifying issues, taking action to solve them, and then studying the results to guide future actions.
In Canada, 19 doctors who care about the environment were asked why they work on making healthcare more eco-friendly. They said they do it because they worry about how climate change affects people’s health and don’t like how much healthcare waste there is.
These doctors, involved in green healthcare projects, think it’s important for the government, hospitals, and other doctors to help them do this work better. This action research gives us good ideas on how to encourage and help healthcare professionals make healthcare more eco-friendly.
(Source: Research Study by Owen Dan Luo, Yasmeen Razvi, Gurleen Kaur, Michelle Lim, Kelti Smith, Jacob Joel Kirsh Carson, Claudel Petrin-Desrosiers, Victoria Haldane, Nicole Simms, Prof Fiona A Miller – ResearchGate)
11. Record Keeping Research
Record-keeping research is when researchers use existing records available on the research topic. The records can be of documents, interviews, observations, etc. The researchers then study these records to form conclusions.
Since the emergence of COVID-19, scientists started using secondary sources of information for various purposes. In such a case, it is important to find out if secondary research is accurate.
To find this, a group of researchers used record-keeping research to study the causes of conflicts in a specific area called Lesser Poland. They collected data from research articles, government records, and the internet to compare it with actual conflict causes. As they found no differences in the comparison, the study found that secondary research can provide accurate results when done correctly.
(Source: Research Study by Marcin Rechciński, Joanna Tusznio, Arash Akhshik, and Małgorzata Grodzińska-Jurczak – ResearchGate)
Here are the 10 steps included in the qualitative research process.
Step 1: Find Your Research Question
Identify the question you want to investigate. It should be an open-ended and exploratory research problem.
Step 2: Review Existing Research
Conduct a detailed review of existing research to understand what is already known about your topic.
Step 3: Prepare for Your Research
- Choose the qualitative research approach that best fits your research question and objectives.
- Select your research participants using purposive or theoretical sampling. Include individuals who provide rich insights into your research question.
Step 6: Data Collection
Decide on the data collection methods you will use. Common qualitative data collection methods include:
- Interviews: Conduct one-on-one or group interviews with participants.
- Observations: Systematically observe and record phenomena in the natural setting.
- Focus Groups: Facilitate group discussions among participants.
- Documents and Texts: Analyze written or textual materials relevant to your research.
- Surveys or Questionnaires: Use open-ended questions to collect qualitative data.
Step 7: Data Management
Organize and manage your data, which may involve transcribing interviews, labeling observations, and storing data securely.
Step 8: Data Analysis
Begin the process of analyzing your qualitative data. This is often an iterative and non-linear process involving several steps:
- Data Coding: Assign codes to data segments to identify themes, patterns, and categories.
- Data Categorization: Group codes into broader categories to form a coherent framework.
- Constant Comparison: Continuously compare new data with existing codes and categories to refine your analysis.
- Theoretical Framework: Use a theoretical framework (if applicable) to interpret the data.
- Memo Writing: Document your thoughts, insights, and reflections throughout the analysis process.
Step 9: Reporting
Choose the right type of research report to present your findings. Make sure it includes:
- An introduction to the study.
- Methodology description.
- Presentation of findings with relevant quotations.
- Discussion of the results in the context of the research question.
- Conclusion, implications, and recommendations.
Step 10: Peer Review and Feedback
Address issues of validity (the accuracy of your findings) and reliability (the consistency of your findings). This may involve seeking peer feedback and review.
Finally, your research is done. You can share your research findings through academic journals, conferences, or other appropriate channels.
Importance of Qualitative Research
Following are some of the reasons why the different types of qualitative research methods are important.
- Depth and Understanding: Qualitative research provides deep insights and a comprehensive understanding of complex phenomena.
- Theory & Hypothesis Generation: It contributes to theory development and generates hypotheses for further research.
- Diverse Perspectives: Qualitative research highlights diverse voices and experiences.
- Flexibility: Researchers can adapt a number of approaches during data collection.
- Complements Quantitative Research: Enhances the understanding of complex issues that are not resolvable using quantitative research methods.
- Sensitive Issues: It can help researchers study sensitive issues that require data on experience and perspective rather than statistics.
Qualitative research is a useful tool for studying human experiences and behaviors in detail. Despite its challenges and limitations, it offers deep insights, making it essential in many fields. These types of qualitative research methods can provide a better understanding of several concepts than types of quantitative research methods.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1. What are the characteristics of qualitative research?
Answer: Here are some of the common characteristics of different types of qualitative research.
- Typically, it involves small sample sizes.
- Represents participants’ experiences, voices, and perspectives authentically.
- It gives a detailed description of an event or situation, improving the transparency and credibility of the study.
- Researchers can use triangulation (multiple data sources or methods) to validate findings.
- Researchers must take ethical considerations into account. They must get informed consent from participants.
- The research approach usually includes storytelling and narratives to convey participants’ experiences and perspectives.
Q2. When should I choose a particular type of qualitative research method?
Answer: The choice of qualitative research method depends on your research questions, objectives, and the nature of the phenomenon you are studying. Consider factors like your access to participants, the depth of understanding required, and the research context before selecting a research method.
Q3. How can I ensure the validity and reliability of qualitative data?
Answer: You can use several methods to make the qualitative data rigorous and trustworthy. These methods include using a correct research design, letting participants and peers check the research for any inaccuracy, maintaining clear documents of data collection for cross-checking, etc.
Q4. Can we generalize qualitative research findings for larger populations?
Answer: Generally, qualitative research aims for in-depth understanding rather than generalizability. However, researchers can sometimes use qualitative findings to develop hypotheses that we can test in larger studies.
This is a detailed, all-inclusive article on types of qualitative research. Along with types and real-world examples, we have also explained its process, importance, etc. For more similar articles, check the following: