A qualitative method is a method used to measure data collected during the research and/or experimentation of specific theories and hypotheses. There are several types of qualitative methods and each serve a specific purpose. Depending upon the researcher’s field of study and theory, the researcher may need to use more than one qualitative method to successfully measure collected data.

Definition

The definition of the term “qualitative,” according to Dictionary.com, is “relating to, measuring, or measured by the quality of something rather than its quantity.” Qualitative methods typically refer to various ways or methods by which to collect and measure data collected during research. Qualitative method suggests the absence of numerical data, but may used in conjunction with numerical, or quantitative, data.

Purpose

Researchers pay close attention to all information collected by participants in the study.
Researchers pay close attention to all information collected by participants in the study.

Qualitative methods are often used to evaluate within the context of social developments. A qualitative method gives the researcher the opportunity to become more familiar with a certain area of study while also proving or disproving theories regarding the areas of interest. Moreover, qualitative methods of research produce significant amounts of highly detailed information. This information is often not precategorized, requiring the researcher to pay close attention to each detail in order to create appropriate and relevant categories for the data. The large amount of detailed information allows the researcher to form more affective conclusions on how improvements can be made and policies changed regarding the social issues researched.

Common Methods

Interviews allow participants to give detailed answers.
Interviews allow participants to give detailed answers.

There are four common qualitative methods. The first is the participant observer method, which is not only the most common of all four, but also the most demanding. This method requires the researcher to be a full participant in the study being conducted. The second qualitative method used is direct observation. In direct observation the researcher serves as an observer only. The goal in this method is to be as unobtrusive and detached as possible throughout the course of the study. The third method is unstructured interviewing. Unstructured interviewing doesn’t follow a set of predetermined questions and allows the researcher to broaden the topic at will. This method is often used when the topics are considered sensitive in nature. However, data analysis may prove more challenging when using this method. The fourth common qualitative method is the use of case studies or focus groups. This method may involve a combination of the previous methods to study content specific to the research or individuals.

Advantages

Qualitative methods are more flexible, informal and allow participants to give in-depth, detailed answers. The researcher also has the opportunity to explore a participant’s answers and clear up any ambiguity before analyzing and publishing the collected data.