Qualitative research at a glance

qualitative research

Many scientists distinguish between quantitative research and qualitative research. Qualitative and quantitative differences are not distinct in the social sciences. Quantitative research is more reflective of the tendency of the general public to regard science as relating to the number and implying precision, whereas qualitative research is more concerned with abstract matters, requires longer work, and requires greater clarity of goal during the design stage. 

The most significant differences between the two approaches lie in: (1) qualitative research ‘indicates that the notion of quality is essential to the nature of things, while in (2) quantitative research ‘quantity is elementally an amount of something’. Quality in quantitative research refers to the ‘what, how, when and where of thing’. This is the subject or essence. While qualitative research refers more to the meanings, concepts, definitions, characteristics, metaphors, symbols, and descriptions of things.

Qualitative research is widely used by social scientists because many social phenomena and empirical facts cannot be quantified. The knowledge that is currently developing is not only obtained from the use of a quantitative approach, but also carried out with a specific and systematic effort in obtaining and understanding how social reality can emerge, operate or work, and has a major influence on individuals and organizations. Qualitative research is very concerned with what we often refer to as the ‘life world’. Seeing and exploring the ‘life world’ by researching or investigating phenomena that develop in people’s lives. Therefore, in qualitative research, the focus of research is on ‘naturally emerging language and the meaning of the individual’ such as emotions, motivations, symbols and their meanings, and empathy.

Qualitative research is a protector that oversees various styles, styles in social research such as those found in research in the disciplines of sociology, anthropology, or social psychology. Within this group of sciences, several elements in common can characterize a qualitative research approach. We can mention some of the same elements as follows: (1) Qualitative research is very concerned with ‘meanings’ and how people understand various things (processes) that are, have been, and will be happening around them. In this case, human activity is seen as a product of symbols and meanings used by members of society. Therefore, every symbol and meaning of all human activities need to be analyzed, interpreted. (2) Qualitative research is also very concerned with patterns of human behavior such as rituals, traditions, and relationships between humans in a society. This interaction between humans is expressed as patterns of behavior, cultural norms, and forms of language used by society.

If we look at some of the elements above, we can say that qualitative data is the product of an interpretation process by a researcher or a group of researchers. Qualitative data does not exist in an ‘out there’ condition waiting to be discovered as is done by researchers who use a quantitative, positivistic approach. However, qualitative data are produced by the way they are interpreted and used by researchers. Thus, researchers are very instrumental in producing generating, and interpreting qualitative data. Researchers must identify the values and beliefs that develop in society, without being influenced by the values and beliefs held by themselves. Researchers must break away from their own identities. That is why, in qualitative research, researchers must be able to describe the data obtained by interpreting the data by themselves to arrive at ‘generating theories’.

If we want to do research, we have to be involved in the process. Why is that? Because research is a process. A process is a series that connects one activity to another. Move from start to finish. The research process is not rigid or fixed, as if we were doing A, then we had to do A first and then move on to the type of work B. Qualitative research ‘could have been done without a rigid process (Gary D Baouma & GBJ Atkinson, 1999: 9-10).

There are several main phases that can be passed in doing research, namely: (1) The first phase is the most basic phase where a researcher in this phase must express the main issues, the main ideas of what he wants to research. Focusing on the main research issues, formulating the main problem, formulating research questions. Then the researcher clarifies these issues through exploring various theories and relevant research results, which have been carried out by other studies relating to the main issues or ideas that have been put forward. Then, in this phase, a researcher chooses and determines the research method he will use by determining the sample, determining the research design that can provide an overview of how the analysis will be carried out. (2) The second phase is collecting data. In this phase, a researcher prepares various instruments and tools that can be used to collect data that can answer research questions. Various data collection methods can be used according to the needs, types, and nature of the data to be collected. (3) The third phase is analysis and interpretation. In this third phase, a researcher must interpret the results of data collection. The results of data collection are tested with research questions that have been determined in the previous phase. Then the researcher concludes the results of the interpretation of the research results. In this phase, a researcher reassesses the limitations of the study, then ends with the preparation of suggestions and opinions. Suggestions and opinions are formulated from the results of the research to be donated to the community or to the need for further research on various main issues that are the main concern of the research results.

The three main phases of research are a process that must be passed and carried out by a researcher because research is a discipline or a way to answer various questions that exist and develop in society more accurately and precisely.

Some groups of social scientists often express criticism of qualitative research, because qualitative research is often considered not to have a clear frame of reference for research design like what happens in quantitative research. Differences in views like this have long been a ‘debate’, but there is no single method of seeking the truth of knowledge that can claim to be the best or correct. In qualitative research, the research design is still needed, although it is not as serious as in quantitative research. Qualitative research design is needed as a reference or ‘guideline’ for researchers when working in the field.

Qualitative research sees that social reality is very complex, too relative, even very rich in information that cannot be approached only with conventional conceptual maps or through standardized instruments (Matthew B. Miles & A. Michael Huberman, 1992: 28-29). Qualitative research is more encouraging to use a ‘grounded’ approach that is inductive, contains updates, and is more loosely structured to collect data. The conceptual framework must emerge empirically in the field as research progresses. The most important research questions will become clear later. The most significant setting or setting and actors cannot be predicted, or at least cannot be predicted, before field research is carried out. Instruments will change because they must derive from the nature of the social setting and from the way of interpretation of the performer.

Therefore, researchers have more free time to explore, understand phenomena, see empirical facts, see social realities that are very complex. For this reason, qualitative research designs are loosely crafted and highly inductive.

In qualitative research, it is often found that data is available in a non-standard format. Therefore, the interpretive ability of a researcher becomes very important to understand the data that is scattered in the field. Data in qualitative research is usually analyzed through a description or narrative of a situation being investigated. Narrative analysis usually requires a detailed, dense, ‘close’ description of the ‘setting’. We often refer to this kind of description as ‘a thick description’.

As described above, a reflection of qualitative research carried out by a researcher on the identification of ‘patterns and processes, commonalities and differences’ becomes very vital, if we don’t want to say very important. Therefore, the readiness and completeness of the researcher’s work in the field, such as field notes, transcription of interview results, or transcription of texts found in the field, becomes very important, because they must be maintained in a state of on the lookout for themes, watchful or alert, so as not to deviate from the main theme of the discussion. Or the field data must remain in repeated ‘interconnections’ between ‘units’ (units of analysis), emerging categories.


Miles,M.B; & Huberman,M.A. (1995). Qualitative Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks. California: Sage.

Bouma, D.G; & Atkinson, G.B.J. (1999). A handbook of Social Science Research. A Comprehensive and Practical Guide for Students. New York. Oxford University Press.

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