There are many instances when a qualitative research design is the only option. This is because qualitative research is uniquely suited to address research issues or questions that might be difficult, if not impossible, to investigate under more structured, less flexible quantitative research designs. Qualitative inquiry effectively tackles sensitive or personal issues such as domestic violence (e.g., Beaulaurier et al., 2005), racism (e.g., Harper et al., 2011), physical disabilities (e.g., Kroll et al., 2007), pregnancy among teenagers (e.g., Luttrell, 2003), drug addiction (e.g., Jodlowski et al., 2007), and infertility (e.g., Culley et al., 2007); multifaceted, intricate topics such as personal life histories (Elliott, 2005) and corporate leadership (e.g., Schilling, 2006); nebulous questions such as those pertaining to “quality of life” (e.g., Ferrell et al., 1997; Wainwright et al., 2018) and “Feelings & Sensations: Where Survey Designs Fair Badly.”; and contextual issues such as in-the-moment decision making, for example, in-store observations of shopping patterns (e.g., West, 2012).
By the same token, qualitative research is often the only option to gaining in-depth, meaningful information from hard-to-reach, underserved, or hidden populations, such as children (e.g., Christensen, et al., 2011), same-sex partners (e.g., Frost, 2013); subcultures such as motorcycle bikers (e.g., Schouten & McAlexander, 1995); psychiatric facilities (e.g., Lyall & Bartlett, 2010); deviant groups such as heavy drug users and convicted murderers (e.g., Small et al., 2006); individuals afflicted with an uncommon physical condition such as acromegaly (e.g., Sibeoni et al., 2019); and minority parents of school-age children (e.g., Auerbach, 2002). Although qualitative inquiry is just as appropriate in the investigation of the “average” consumer, teenager, senior citizen, educator, corporate employee, community volunteer, cancer patient, and the like, it is the ability to obtain insight from the less obvious, smaller niche segments of the population that gives special distinction to the qualitative approach.
All 10 unique attributes of qualitative research are discussed in this RDR article.
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