What is Your Meaning of “Qualitative Research”?

There is good reason to wonder what researchers mean when they talk about “qualitative research.” This is not a trite bemusement. Indeed, there is Qualitative Meaningoften an unspoken underlying premise in most discussions of “qualitative research” that researchers harbor a mutually agreed-to concept of what qualitative research is, when in fact this is not the case. Attend a qualitative research conference session and you will find that the presenter predictably delves into the particular subject matter without a hint of the researcher’s definition of “qualitative research,” leaving attendees with the arduous (and misguided) task of linking their own concept of qualitative research with the presenter’s discussion.

There are a number of ways that researchers may conceptualize or define qualitative research. For instance, some may define qualitative research simply by its unique set of methods, e.g., focus group discussions, in-depth interviews, ethnography; whereby, a focus group study is deemed qualitative research regardless of the skills of the moderator or how the data are treated or reported to end users. Similarly, qualitative research may be understood solely by the interview format, e.g., a semi-structured in-depth interview (IDI) constitutes qualitative research while a structured IDI not so much (and actually leans towards a more quantitative approach).

Another understanding of qualitative research may center on the intent or types of questions being asked. For example, I have heard quantitative researchers refer to their design decisions (such as weighing project costs with research quality) as qualitative research. And some researchers may think that any approach that is self-reflective in nature (such as autoethnography) is qualitative research. Some researchers also use labels Read Full Text

Words Versus Meanings

There is a significant hurdle that researchers face when considering the addition of qualitative methods to the-suntheir research designs.  This has to do with the analysis – making sense – of the qualitative data.  One could argue that there are certainly other hurdles that lie ahead, such as those related to a quality approach to data collection, but the greatest perceived obstacle seems to reside in how to efficiently analyze qualitative outcomes.  This means that researchers working in large organizations that hope to conduct many qualitative studies over the course of a year are looking for a relatively fast and inexpensive analysis solution compared to the traditionally more laborious thought-intensive efforts utilized by qualitative researchers.

Among these researchers, efficiency is defined in terms of speed and cost.  And for these reasons they gravitate to text analytic programs and models powered by underlying algorithms.  The core of modeling solutions – such as word2vec and topic modeling – rests on “training” text corpora to produce vectors or clusters of co-occurring words or topics.  There are any number of programs that support these types of analytics, including those that incorporate data visualization functions that enable the researcher to see how words or topics congregate (or not), producing images such as these Read Full Text

Contexts, Constructs, & the Human Condition: Grounding Quantitative with Qualitative Research

As discussed elsewhere in this blog, there is a “new day” dawning for qualitative research; one that not only brings new life into its use but, along with it, an evolving enthusiasm for the idea The human conditionthat researchers of any ilk cannot truly grapple with human behavior and attitudes without an understanding of contexts, constructs, and the human condition. It is truly gratifying, for instance, to watch this enthusiasm grow in organizations such as the American Psychological Association where just this month a featured article in the American Psychologist is titled, “The Promises of Qualitative Inquiry” (Gergen, Josselson, & Freeman, 2015).

In 2014, Research Design Review published four articles pertaining to the ways survey research can be “made whole” with a nod to the use and/or sensitivities of qualitative research. This is because it is the role of qualitative research to unlock the human condition in our research by providing the context and meaning to constructs that define what is being measured. Without a direct or underlying qualitative research component, how is the survey researcher to understand – be comfortable in the knowledge of – his or her analysis and interpretation of the data?

These articles emphasize the challenges survey researchers face when they ask about vague yet highly-personal constructs – such as “the good life,” “happiness,” “satisfaction,” “preference,” or (even) the idea of “actively” incorporating “fruits” and “vegetables” in the diet – without the benefit of context or meaning from the respondent, or at least a concise definition by the researcher.

These four articles have been compiled into one document which can be downloaded here.

Gergen, K. J., Josselson, R., & Freeman, M. (2015). The promises of qualitative inquiry. American Psychologist, 70(1), 1-9.

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