Qualitative Research: Characteristics, Uses, Strengths & Weaknesses, and Importance

Qualitative research deals with the characteristics observed from the respondents. Generally, this kind of inquiry is associated with the assessment of the social dimension. It provides outcomes that are meaningful and particular, which in turn gives directions to guide the research.

In qualitative research, data collection is usually unstructured or semi-structured. An unstructured data collection method does not have definite procedures. In a semi-structured method, some parts of the procedure are well-defined while others are not. Researchers may interview individuals, a group of students in a classroom, or people in a community. With the use of appropriate methods and instruments, qualitative researchers can tell what these people think and how they feel.

The Nature of Qualitative Research

What is qualitative research? There is no universally accepted definition of qualitative research, although it is known that data collected in qualitative research activities are usually not numerical. Fraenkel (2007) defined qualitative research as research studies that investigate the quality of relationships, activities, situations, or materials. Qualitative research is described by its aims, methodology, and the kind of data collected to understand the different facets of social life. Studying things in their natural setting, qualitative researchers attempt “to make sense of and interpret phenomena in terms of the meaning people bring to them” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011, p. 3 cited in Creswell, 2013, p. 44). The intent of qualitative research is not to generalize the conclusion about an entire group of people (e. g., Filipinos or Asians), but to develop an in-depth explanation of a phenomenon.

Qualitative approaches to research are universal and holistic. They follow these beliefs:

  • A single reality is not observed.
  • Reality is based upon concepts that are distinct for each person and change over time.
  • What we perceive has meaning only within a given situation.

Characteristics of Qualitative Research

According to Bogdan and Biklen, as cited in Fraenkel and Wallen (2006), the characteristics of qualitative research are as follows:

  1. The direct source of data is the natural setting and the researcher is the key instrument in qualitative research. Researchers go directly to the particular setting of interest to observe and collect the needed data.
  2. Data collected are in the form of words or illustrations rather than numbers. The kinds of data collected may include, but not limited to, audio recordings, diaries, field notes, memorandums, official records, personal comments, photographs, textbook passages, transcripts of interview, videotapes, and anything else that convey actual words or actions of people.
  3. Qualitative research is concerned with process as well as product. The primary interest of a qualitative researcher is on how things happen and on people’s interaction with one another.
  4. Analysis of data is taken inductively. It starts with the specific concepts of the respondents to draw out general idea or theory. To do this, a considerable amount of time is spent in collecting data before the important questions are considered.
  5. Qualitative research deals with how people make sense out of their lives. The perspective of the subjects of a study is a major concern.

Uses of Qualitative Research

Generally, qualitative research aims to understand the experiences and attitudes of people and the community. The methods employed in this type of research seeks to answer the ‘what, ‘how, or `why’ questions of a phenomenon rather than ‘how many’ or ‘how much, which are addressed in quantitative research. Qualitative research is often used to:

  • draw meaningful information (not conveyed in quantitative data) about beliefs, feelings, values, and motivations that support behavior;
  • learn directly from people and what is important to them;
  • provide the context required to elicit quantitative results;
  • identify variables important for further studies;
  • determine one’s genre as a primary step to develop a quantitative survey; and
  • assess the usability of websites, databases, or other interactive media/services.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Qualitative Research

What are the strengths and weaknesses of qualitative research?

Many researchers become more interested in qualitative research because of its nature and perceived strengths. Basically, the strength of qualitative research is its capacity to give rich information about the respondents, may it be humans or animals. In addition, the following are the strengths of qualitative research:

  • provides in-depth information on individual cases;
  • unravels complex phenomena embedded in local context;
  • describes rich phenomena situated in some exceptional environments;
  • relays subjects’ experiences and perspectives in unusual details;
  • conveys setting factors related to the situation of interest;
  • allows flexibility in research-related processes;
  • enables data to be collected in natural setting;
  • determines possible causes of a particular event in another perspective as that given by quantitative research;
  • permits approaches that are responsive to local conditions and stakeholders’ needs;
  • presents several options in the conduct of the research;
  • tolerates shifts in focus based on research results; and
  • accepts unstructured interpretation of the participants, respecting anything that is in the participants’ context.

Despite its strengths, qualitative research has a number of perceived weaknesses. These weaknesses, however, are just the inapplicability of the qualitative approach to some research objectives. The following are weaknesses of qualitative research:

  • Data gathering is often time-consuming.
  • Analysis of data takes longer time than that in quantitative analysis.
  • Interpretation of results is usually biased because it is influenced by the researcher’s perspective.
  • Conclusions are not generalizable because the subjects are few and sometimes possess unique characteristics compared to typical respondents.

Importance of Qualitative Research across Fields of Inquiry

What is the importance of qualitative research across fields of inquiry?

Qualitative research is oriented toward analyzing concrete cases in temporal and local particularity. It starts from the respondents’ perspectives, expressions, and activities in their local context. In this case, qualitative research is important across many fields of inquiry because it is designed for social sciences, psychology, and other fields. With this, qualitative research would verify or validate the tendencies, transform it into research programs, and maintain the necessary changes toward its objectives and tasks.

For example, qualitative research can be employed in health care research. One may study people’s experiences of and access to health care. Various perspectives of patients and professionals can be understood using qualitative research. An individual’s experiences, attitudes, and circumstances in life that affect his/her health needs and behavior can likewise be studied.

  1. Qualitative research is described by its aims, methodology, and the kind of data collected to understand the different facts of social life.
  2. The direct source of data is the natural setting, and the researcher is a key instrument in qualitative research.
  3. Qualitative data are collected in the form of pictures or words rather than numbers.
  4. Qualitative researchers are interested on how things happen and the people’s interaction with one another.
  5. Qualitative research aims to understand the experiences and attitudes of people and the community.
  6. Qualitative research is common in social sciences, psychology, and other related fields.