There is good reason to wonder what researchers mean when they talk about “qualitative research.” This is not a trite bemusement. Indeed, there is often 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