Qualitative research is more concerned with description and the subjective nature of lived experiences than with the quantification of experience for the purpose of applying statistical procedures. Their methods differ, but both qualitative and quantitative approaches attempt to understand social and behavioral phenomena by systematically collecting, organizing, analyzing, and interpreting data. As forms of disciplined inquiry, adherence to standards of rigor in the use of both qualitative and quantitative research methods reduces the likelihood of unwanted bias, thereby increasing the overall validity or credibility of findings from any given study. Sampling procedures in qualitative studies are designed to bring the researcher in contact with the participants who are most likely to provide rich data. Qualitative studies do not sample in order to provide generalizations to a larger population, so securing a sample that is representative of the larger population is not a relevant concern.
Qualitative research, in contrast to quantitative, is more emergent in that research questions are likely to evolve over the course of the study as the researcher gains insight into the nature of the phenomena being observed through several phases of data collection (Creswell, 2014, p. 4). The investigator may begin by formulating a general research question from professional experiences or observations, and as the study progresses, refine these questions. In contrast to most quantitative studies, where the bulk of the relevant literature is reviewed prior to conducting the study, a qualitative researcher may not begin reading the literature until after the first round of data collection. Qualitative research aims for a holistic view of the participant’s experiences by using observation and open-ended questions in in-depth interviews.
Qualitative research methodology uses an inductive reasoning process. It is based on philosophical assumptions that are very different from those that support quantitative research. Epistemologically, knowledge comes from understanding what meanings have been given to experiences and processes from first-hand accounts of people. The nature of reality, which falls under the branch of philosophy called ontology, is socially constructed by individuals and groups of people, and thus multiple realities exist due to the different interpretative lenses people bring to their experiences. Unlike quantitative research, which some view as being value-free, the role of values (the axiological assumptions), intuition, bias, and subjective experience are an important component of what the researcher consciously and purposefully examines.
More recent philosophic traditions that have informed qualitative approaches to research include those that address the perspective of people from socially or politically marginalized populations, such as feminist, critical theory, hermeneutic, and multicultural perspectives. From these perspectives, one embraces the role of disciplined inquiry as a means of advocacy for people whose voice and worldviews tend to be less prominent. An approach to research from these perspectives, called action research, was first developed by the social psychologist Kurt Lewin in examining the perspective of minority status individuals in resolving community conflict. Action research is a macro-level framework for conducting applied research focused on solving problems in a local setting, that can utilize either qualitative or quantitative methods.
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