Qualitative measurements are ways of gaining a deeper understanding of a topic. Researchers who are looking to find the meanings behind certain phenomenon or are investigating a new topic about which little is known, use qualitative measures. Qualitative measures are often contrasted with quantitative measures. Both are complex methods of research, however, qualitative measures typically deal with textual data or words while quantitative measures analyze numerical data or statistics.
Qualitative measurements are often used in fields that are concerned with human behavior such as the social sciences. Although quantitative measures are also used in the social sciences, qualitative measures help investigators to understand human experiences on a deeper level. Qualitative measures are particularly helpful in understanding the context of phenomena and how they affect individuals and groups. They are also useful for investigating topics about which little is known. In this way, qualitative measurements can be used to develop hypotheses or specific questions about a topic, and may lead to quantitative investigations.
There are a variety of ways to collect data for qualitative studies. These depend upon the types of questions that the researcher is trying to answer as well as the feasibility of the study in terms of time and financial resources. One method of qualitative measurement involves using in-depth interviews, where a researcher asks questions of an individual or group affected by that topic. Interviews may be recorded on audio or video equipment or via notes written by the interviewer. Qualitative researchers also use direct observation to collect data. This method helps investigators to study phenomena in specific situations as they naturally occur. Qualitative measurements can also be done using written documents such as books, magazines, newspapers and transcripts. In this case, the documents are simply collected and analyzed.
A variety of methods exist for analyzing qualitative data, however, most of these involve a similar process of analysis. Since qualitative data are generally written, a large amount of data is frequently amassed. Researchers therefore must go through the process of data reduction or data cleaning in order to organize it into a manageable form. Charts and graphs can be helpful ways to organize data and have it available for easy referral.
Researchers look for patterns found in the data and compare these to the research questions that were asked at the beginning of the investigation. This process is rigorous and the use of multiple researchers is helpful to increase the validity of qualitative analysis. In qualitative analysis researchers must be open to findings that veer from their initial questions or predictions.