Qualitative Research Studies: An Introduction
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Qualitative Research Studies: An Introduction

Much of market research transcription and academic transcription deals with qualitative research. Research transcription is common with qualitative research because many studies involve recorded field notes or interviews. We’ll review the qualitative research process through designing studies, methodology, and relationship to quantitative research.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research

Qualitative research is a method of inquiry used in the social sciences that is concerned with the processes of human behavior. Specifically, qualitative research focuses on the why and how of our motivations, decisions, reactions, meaning-making and the like. Unlike quantitative research, which produces empirically measurable data, qualitative research methods are designed to yield primarily non-numerical data. Social phenomena can be explored through both lenses.

Let’s take the example of intelligence. When we say somebody is intelligent, how did we arrive at that conclusion? A quantitative way of measuring intelligence could be an IQ test that is ordinally scaled and results in a certain score. If the score is high, we can assume the person is intelligent. However, a qualitative researcher might want to look at aspects of intelligence that are not assessed by an IQ test, such as creativity or emotional intelligence. He or she might want to conduct in-depth interviews to find out what intelligent means and assess a person’s intelligence in that way.

Another example is racism. Let’s say you want to investigate racism in the workplace. As a quantitative researcher, you could look at the number of complaints submitted that addressed racial discrimination or you could have the employees fill out questionnaires with scaled items that measure notions of racism. In this case, your research questions could be “How racist is company X?” or “Is branch A more or less racist than branch B?”

As a qualitative researcher, you could investigate employees’ email correspondence to look for issues involving racism or you could conduct interviews with employees to see if they bring such issues up. In this scenario, you might want to ask a research questions like “How is racism expressed in company X?” or “How do the employees of branch A experience racism in contrast to the employees of branch B?”

Quantitative and qualitative research are equally legitimate and, in an ideal situation, can be used to complement each other. Quantitative data makes our observations very explicit and concrete; however, it can neglect a phenomenon’s complexity and lose richness of meaning. Qualitative data acknowledges complexity and is often very rich in meaning, but can be subjective, ambiguous or too specific.

Qualitative Research Design

Now that we have established the major distinctions between quantitative and qualitative research, let’s take a close look at the design of a qualitative study. Qualitative research design is less rigid than quantitative research design and is structured instead by the process of the research itself. Hammersly and Atkinson state that in a qualitative study, “research design should be a reflexive process operating through every stage of a project.” This includes the collection and analysis of data, the development and advancement of the theory, the elaboration or modification of the research questions as well as the consideration of possible problems with validity and reliability. These activities occur simultaneously and also influence each other. Frequently, the researcher has to adjust the design of his or her qualitative study in response to new developments in the research process.

Elements of Design

Even though qualitative research design is quite flexible, this doesn’t mean that it is devoid of design. A good qualitative study should have a clearly laid out design whose elements work together harmoniously and reasonably. You can imagine a qualitative study as a dialogue between established and newly-found knowledge – or, as anthropologists say, etic (what the researcher already has) and emic (what the researcher will gain). For example, let’s say your qualitative study on racism in the workplace is guided by critical race theory (CRT). CRT assumes that power structures are based on white privilege, which marginalizes people of color. However, in your study, you found that the employees of color in company X use humor to subvert the power structures rooted in white privilege. This newly-gained knowledge might then inspire you modify your application of CRT and perhaps also change the phrasing of your research questions. You might also use Verbal Ink’s academic research transcription services as a second-check of your own observational biases.

Questions to Ask When Designing a Study

So, how should you plan your qualitative research project? In order to conduct a rich, meaningful qualitative study, you want to consider the following six components and ask yourself some of these questions:

  1. Significance and goals: Why is your research project significant? Do you address a social problem? Do you apply a novel theory or modify an established theory? Do you use unconventional and/or provocative methods? Why should we care about this study? What do you want to accomplish? Can your study help social change? Can it contribute to academic discourse?
  2. Conceptual framework: What do you think is happening with the issues, settings, or people you plan to study? Which theories will guide or inform your research? What scholarly literature and preliminary studies will you draw on regarding your subject of study? How might prior research findings interact with your findings?
  3. Research questions: What is your overarching research question? What is it that you want to find out? More specifically, what do you wish to learn or understand from this study? What do you already know about your subject of study? What are your secondary research questions and how are they related to your overarching research questions? What questions will your research attempt to answer?
  4. Methodology: What exactly are you going to do in your study? How are you going to collect data? How are you going to analyze and evaluate your data? How and why do you select your methods? Why are they appropriate for your research purposes? What is your role as a researcher? What ethical concerns do you have to consider?
  5. Analysis: What are your major findings? Do they answer your research questions? How do they support your theory? Do they support or contradict previous findings? Did you learn something that you hadn’t expected at all?
  6. Implications: How might your findings affect a social issue? How do they inform or modify your theory? How do they contribute to the scholarly discourse or previous studies? If your finding didn’t answer your research questions, how might your results and conclusions be wrong? What might be suggestions for future research projects?

The Methodological Approach of a Qualitative Study

After reading the above paragraphs, you might have already guessed that a qualitative study primarily distinguishes itself from other forms of research through its methodological approach. Qualitative methods of data collection and analysis are tailored to investigate the intricate, complex processes of human behavior. Let’s explore the methods of a qualitative inquiry a little bit more.

Inductive Reasoning

Qualitative research methods are usually inductive and ideographic. Inductive reasoning means that the researcher moves from specific observations to broader generalizations and theories. In contrast, quantitative research applies deductive reasoning, which works from the general to the specific. For instance, if the researcher who investigates intelligence notes that the interviewee makes a very witty, self-deprecating joke, he or she might conclude that the interviewee is intelligent.

Ideographic Approach

Unlike quantitative research, which seeks to find more general, law-like explanations for a social phenomenon, the ideographic approach focuses on a variety of specific elements of a certain social phenomenon. In the example of racism in the workplace, that could mean that the researcher looks at how racism is expressed through humor, email correspondence, body language, and hiring policies.

What kind of specific methods of data collection and data analysis can you use for a qualitative study? Here are some of the most common methods:

Approaches Methods Data Analysis
Grounded Theory Participant Observation Finding Focus
Narratology Field Notes Reading, Annotating
Storytelling Research Journals Data Entry and Storage
Ethnography Interviews Coding, Categorizing
Action Research Focus Groups Matrices

In a qualitative study, data collection and analysis often occur simultaneously. For instance, when you attend a meeting at company X as a participant-observer to see how racism might play out in such meetings, you are taking field notes. However, while doing that you might already include some of your thoughts and interpretations. Or, while you’re reviewing your field notes, you might annotate your first key terms or concepts. Many researchers use focus group transcription to ensure impartiality.

Keep your research questions in mind. You should stop gathering data when you see the same concepts reoccurring and new findings are not being gained. Once your data analysis is complete, look at how your findings relate to your research goals. Are they significant? How do they link up with the theory? Were your methods adequate? And finally, do your findings answer your research questions?