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Qualitative Research: Main Issues


With the increasing need for research, qualitative research has been widely used to collect information and determine the relationship and phenomena which are unknown to man. Due to this fact, it is of great importance for researchers to be familiar with the concepts of qualitative research and develop the knowledge and skills that are required to conduct a research using this method. This paper thus highlights the nature of qualitative research and all elements that are required for the research to be successful.


Qualitative research is a method which has been used by scientists to collect information of a phenomenon that is not known to man. It has been used to gather information for many studies that have been conducted in the healthcare industry. Due to its involvement and the practical aspect that is involved, scientists view it as a form of adventure. This is because it explores a lot of elements which surround the phenomenon in question. While conducting qualitative research, one embarks on a quest which involves a lot of adventure in exploring and discovering new ideas and information that is important in formulation policies and coming up with solutions to the problems that are being experienced in a various fields of expertise.

Qualitative research is mainly has been mainly used in social sciences although the method is being applied in other disciplines such as marketing (Finlay, 2002). This research method aims to study human behavior and to determine the reasons which trigger such behavior. It tries to answer how people behave and why they behave in that manner. This paper therefore explores the nature of qualitative research and how it can be applied to collect and interpret data in a given study. Challenges are always experiences in the course of the research. The manner in which an individual faces these challenges is crucial as it determines the success or failure of the project. From researchers point of view, challenges are very exciting. They tend to make an individual to be more experienced as they face new difficulties and find solutions in the process.

The Nature of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is distinct in the manner in which it collects and analyses data from study. It utilizes both the ontology and epistemology in its design. Ontology is used to refer to the concept of describing the reality or existence of a phenomenon while epistemology is the process through which one gains information about a phenomenon through inquiry and investigations. While conducting a survey and collecting data, the researcher is expected to interpret the information and write a report at the end of the exercise (Spenser, 2000). In the end, there has to be a distinction between explanation and understanding and a distinction between personal and impersonal roles of the researcher (Willig, 2001).

Experimental understanding is essential in quantitative research. According to Goerg, (1971), the explanation of any research is intended to increase the level of understanding. This understanding will in turn depend on the level of explanation. For clear understanding, qualitative research uses the cause and effect method to explain the factors or trends behind any phenomenon. It puts a lot of emphasis on formulation practical interpretations of phenomena in various situations. The researcher then transfers this information to colleagues, students and other interested parties who can modify it to reflect on their own issues at hand. Therefore the information from qualitative research can be modified to be applicable in a variety of situations.

Information from qualitative research can easily be generalized (Stommel and Willis, 2004). To make this possible, the researchers conduct their studies on a variety of situations that have the same effect. In doing so, the information that is collected contains elements from different situations which are factored in to give out a desired outcome. As a result, the information can be applied easily to reflect several situations. The method used in formal measurements and statistical analysis allows the researcher to put together several dissimilar cases which increase the level of generalization of the information (Robert and Deborah, 1982).

Unlike quantitative research, qualitative research lays a lot of emphasis on interpretation of data (Cresswell, 1998). In quantitative research, the data is interpreted only after the analysis has been completed. However, in qualitative research, interpretations can be made from the field. Therefore, for this research to be effective, it calls for the researcher to be present and to always be vigilant while in the field. He can therefore make observations and interpret the phenomenon at the same time. This is because the study relies mostly on information that has been interpreted directly rather than information which has been interpreted from measurements. Qualitative research is mainly conducted to get information about unknown relationships between variables. It therefore seeks to identify unexpected and expected patterns. As a result, constant observation and interpretation of the phenomenon is required for a clear explanation of these relationships to be established.

Qualitative research also lays a lot of emphasis on holistic treatment of phenomenon (Blank and McCartney, 1989). The study is therefore non-determinant and constructive. This is because the phenomenon that is under investigation has not been studied before. To avoid surprises and challenges, the study has to be conducted on all the dimensions that may have an effect on the phenomenon in question. This may therefore involve studying the temporal, spatial, historical, economic, political and social aspects that may have any direct or indirect effect on the phenomenon in question (Geertz, 1973).

Paradigmatic Assumptions

Research Paradigm is the conceptual foundation which qualitative research is based on (Mann, 2006). It is used to formulate the methods and assumptions that will be used in the study. In research there are three different paradigms that can be used. They are: positivism, interpretive approach and the critical approach (Cantrell, 2001). Positivism is mainly used in quantitative research. It is rarely used in the qualitative approach. The critical approach method is used in the exploration of the social world, critically analyzing it and draw conclusions from the collected information. This approach enables one to get a clear understanding of human behavior. With this information it is easy for an individual to come up with solutions to the problems that are being experienced in the social world.

The interpretive approach is the most widely used method in qualitative research. This approach aims at gaining information about a phenomenon whose information is not clearly known to man. To have a clear understanding, the whole phenomenon and the factors which may have an impact on it are studied. It therefore provides information which could not be arrived at while using statistical methods or other means of quantification (Mann, 2006).

In the course of the research, one has to state clearly the assumptions of his study. The assumptions have to be related to the study questions and the methods which will be used to collect and interpret the data. The main assumption in qualitative research is that there should be a holistic treatment of the phenomenon. This is to reduce the chances of missing out any information that may arise as a result of sampling. Holistic treatment of the phenomenon ensures that a complete comprehension of the relationships between various variables will be understood by the end of the study.

Other assumptions should also be stated clearly. They should be specific and clearly state what needs to be accomplished by the end of the study. They should explain the nature of knowledge that is available concerning the phenomenon and the reality that is to be identified. This will control the extent to which formal literature will be used. These assumptions are essential in qualitative research since they influence the method that will be used for data collection.

Methods which are used for collecting data in qualitative research are observations, interactive interviews and written descriptions by participants (Mann, 2006). The nature of the study together with the assumptions that are collected will determine which method(s) will be used for a particular study. Observations are used to describe the occurrence and behavior of the phenomenon in verbal or non-verbal form. They are conducted for a certain period of time to identify and determine the relationship between the variables of the study.

Interactive interviewing is also another method that is used to collect data for qualitative research. In this method, the researcher interacts with the target group so that they accept him as part of their group. This aims at increasing the reliability of the data that will be collected by increasing the chances of the respondents giving out true answers to the questions that they will be asked. Interviews are then conducted to the target group. In written descriptions by participant, the respondents write about their experiences regarding the phenomenon that is in question. This assists in getting first hand information especially information concerning their attitudes and perceptions.

Role of the Researcher

In qualitative research, a researcher is the instrument through which the research depends on for its effectiveness and efficiency. The researcher is therefore the heart of the study. He should therefore have the adequate knowledge and skills required to perform the research and ensure that the study is a success. To achieve this, he needs to adopt the stance required by qualitative researchers, develop the relevant skills required by the research and finally develop a research design which is as per the standards of qualitative research (Lincolin and Guba, 1985).

Use of Reflexivity and Reflexive Analysis

Reflexivity is a term that is used to describe the cause and effect relationship between the variables of a study. This cause-effect relationship occurs in both directions with each variable having some effect on the other. In research, reflexivity is exhibited when an action is reflected back to the variable which caused it in the first place. Reflexivity is therefore viewed as a methodological principle. This is because it can be used in the explanation the theory behind a given occurrence by using the same principles that were used in other fields or studies to explain the theories behind them. This principle is therefore useful in qualitative research especially in the generalization of information or data.

Ethics in Qualitative Research

Ethical issues in qualitative research are very sensitive as compared to those of other quantitative research. These issues affect the effectiveness and efficiency of the study and include personal involvement of the researcher with the target group. Qualitative research mainly involves human interactions while gathering data. For the results to be accurate, respondents need to be assured about several things for them to be responsive. Due to this fact therefore, a researcher should have the professional ethics which are required while conducting a qualitative study (Seale, 2004).

The researcher should therefore protect the respondents from any harm which may occur in the course of the research. This may either be physical or psychological. The researcher should also assure the respondents that the research is free from deception. They should maintain a good relationship with the respondents based on honesty and trust in the course of the study. Researchers should also ensure confidentiality of the information which they have gathered from the respondents. The information should not be provided to anyone else unless they have the authority to do so. It is therefore the duty of the researcher to stick to these ethics.


Qualitative research is a unique research method that has been used widely especially in the healthcare industry. It lays a lot of emphasis on explanation, observation and interpretation and utilizes the cause and effect relationship that is present between variables of a phenomena. These tools have made it effective and efficient in data collection and interpretation. According to its nature, a holistic study of the phenomenon in question should be conducted. Various assumptions should also be made. These assumptions are important, especially determining which methods will be used in the study. Due to these factors, qualitative research should therefore be used in studies that aim to establish the relationships or characteristics of a phenomenon that is not understood by man.


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