Qualitative Research Methods: A Guide for PhD Scholars

Qualitative Research Methods
Among the two types of research methods, Qualitative research is the one that is mostly used. Such research involves collecting qualitative data. Qualitative data is is non-numeric in nature and consists of words, expressions, and statements. To collect this data, a number of research methods are used. As you are here reading this article, it is not difficult to guess that you do not know about those methods.

Well, there is no need to worry at all. In today’s article, we will look at different qualitative research methods. We will name them, explain them, and discuss their advantages and disadvantages. Hence, without wasting any time further, let’s get to the main point.

What Is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research seeks to understand human behaviour, experiences, and perspectives by collecting and analysing non-numerical data. It includes interviews, observations, and written or visual materials.

Qualitative research is used in social sciences, humanities, and other fields where understanding human behaviour and experiences is critical. Unlike quantitative research, which relies on numerical data and statistical analysis, qualitative research focuses on gathering rich, detailed, context-specific information.

What Is The Goal Of Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research aims to uncover the meaning and interpretation of phenomena in their natural setting.

Types of Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative research methods are designed to understand the behaviour and perception of the target audience about an issue or research topic. There are six qualitative research methods with their strengths and limitations.

Surveys & Questionnaires

The next research method used commonly for qualitative research is the method of collecting data through surveys and questionnaires. This method is particularly useful when you need to collect data from a relatively large population. It involves a questionnaire that has some questions on it. As the researcher, you send those questions to the research participants via email or post. The respondents then answer the questions based on their knowledge and understanding of the field. The advantages of this method are:
  • The first advantage is that it lets the researcher study a large population.
  • This method of qualitative research is relatively easy to administer
  • It is also very cheap to conduct as you can send electronic copies for free

Observation Method

Observation is one of the oldest and most widely used qualitative research methods. This method is used to collect systematic data using subjective methodologies. All the data collected using this method is qualitative and subjective in nature. In this method of research, the researcher observes the target population closely. He collects information about the research participants by observing their behaviours and reactions to different situations.
Based on how the researchers observe the population, there are two kinds of observational studies. The description of both is as follows:
  • Covert observation. It is the type of observation where the researcher is “undercover.” The respondents do not know that they are being observed or watched.
  • Overt observation. In this type of observation, the researcher takes permission from respondents to observe them.

Content Analysis:

Content analysis analyses texts' content, such as news articles or social media posts. Its main purpose is to identify patterns and themes.

For example, A researcher analyses the content of tweets related to a particular political issue. He wants to understand public opinion about the issue.

One-On-One Interviews

The first and most commonly used method for the collection of qualitative data is known as an interview. It is a method of data collection conducted between the researcher and the respondent. This method is purely conversational, where the researcher asks a set of different questions from the respondent and notes down his behaviour and perception. This method gives an opportunity for the respondent to reflect on his beliefs more openly and freely. This method has many advantages. Some of its advantages are as follows:
  • This method provides a true reflection of what the respondents think about the issue or problem at hand.
  • This method of qualitative research provides the researcher with the opportunity to reflect on his beliefs and thoughts freely.
  • Most importantly, it gives a glimpse of the respondent’s behaviour and tone towards the issue. It captures the tone and gestures of the respondent well.

Narrative Analysis:

Narrative analysis involves studying stories, texts, or other forms of communication to understand the meaning of people's experiences.
For example, a researcher analyses the narratives of people who have recovered from a serious illness. He wants to understand the meaning of their recovery.

Case Study Research

Lastly, a case study is another research method used to collect qualitative data about a problem and then solve it. This method involves a comprehensive examination of a particular subject, event, or person. As it is a comprehensive examination, this method is mostly used to obtain in-depth data and complete knowledge of the subject. The data collection methods used in this qualitative research method are mostly interviews and observations. As the researcher, you interview the people involved and then devise the solutions. Some of the advantages of this method are as follows:
  • It enables the researcher to see the relationship between problem, context, and people.
  • This method is very flexible in terms of data collection methods
  • It can capture the context of the problem very well and the reality of the respondents

Data Analysis For Qualitative Research;

Data analysis is crucial in qualitative research as it involves data collection and identifying patterns, themes, and insights. Here are five steps involved in analysing qualitative research data:

1. Organising The Data:

The first step in data analysis is organising the data collected from the research. This involves transcribing interviews, organising field notes, and categorising documents.

2. Familiarisation With The Data:

The next step is to become familiar with the data by reading and re-reading the transcripts and notes. This helps identify patterns, themes, and insights from the data.

3. Coding:

Coding involves identifying units in the data and categorising them into codes. This can be done using software programs or by manual approach. Codes can be deductive, based on pre-existing theories, or inductive, based on emerging themes from the data.

4. Themes And Categories:

The next step is identifying themes and categories from the coded data. Themes are broader and with overarching concepts, while categories are more specific and relate to the codes.

5. Interpretation:

The final step is to interpret the data by connecting the themes and categories. Then draw some conclusions from the data. This involves considering the collected data and identifying the implications and limitations of the study.

Note: Qualitative research is an iterative process, and the researcher may need to go back and forth between different steps to refine and develop their analysis.

Characteristics of Qualitative Research Methods;

Qualitative research methods are characterised by their focus on understanding and interpreting social phenomena. The following are the key characteristics of Qualitative research methods:

1. Interpretive:

Qualitative research is interpretive. It seeks to understand and interpret the meaning of social phenomena from the participants' perspective.

2. In-Depth Knowledge:

Qualitative research methods are designed to gather rich and detailed information. These methods share the experiences, beliefs, and attitudes of participants.

3. Flexible:

Qualitative research methods are flexible and adaptable to the research question. Researchers may adjust their approach to data collection or new insights during the research.

4. Non-Standardised:

Qualitative research methods are non-standardised. There is no set protocol for conducting the research. Researchers may use various data collection methods and change their approach.

5. Emic:

Qualitative research methods are emic. The methods seek to understand social phenomena from other's perspectives. This involves the cultural, social, and historical context of the phenomena.

6. Contextual:

Qualitative research methods focus on the context in which social phenomena occur. Researchers seek to understand how social and cultural contexts influence social phenomena.

7. Iterative:

Qualitative research involves an ongoing process of data collection, analysis, and interpretation. The researcher may revisit earlier stages of the research process as new insights emerge from the data.

Qualitative Research Method - Case Study

Creswell (2007) conducted a study on 'The experiences of African American women in higher education'. The study used multiple data collection methods, including focus groups and individual interviews. The study explores the experiences of African American women in higher education.

The study was conducted in two phases.

1st Phase:

The first Phase involves focus group interviews with 13 African American women enrolled in a doctoral program. The focus groups conducted two sessions, and participants were asked open-ended questions about their experiences in the program.

2nd Phase:

The second Phase involves interviews with 6 African American women who had completed a doctoral program. The interviews focused on the experience and perceptions of the participants about the program.

Data Analysis:

The data collected from the focus groups and interviews were analysed by deductive and inductive coding. The researcher used pre-existing codes for African American women in higher education. The researchers also used codes that emerged from the data during the analysis.

The data analysis reveals several key themes related to the experiences of African American women in higher education. It includes the challenges of
  1. Balancing family responsibilities with academic demands
  2. The importance of mentorship and support
  3. The Impact of Racial and gender discrimination

When To Use Qualitative Research;

Qualitative research is useful for exploring complex social phenomena and gaining an in-depth understanding of experiences and beliefs. Here are some situations where qualitative research may be particularly useful:

1. Exploring New Or Emerging Topics:

Qualitative research can be helpful when exploring new or emerging topics for limited research.

2. Understanding Complex Social Phenomena:

Qualitative research can help understand complex social phenomena that cannot be easily quantified or measured, such as attitudes, beliefs, and cultural practices.

3. Investigating The Experiences Of Marginalised Groups:

Qualitative research can be useful in investigating the experiences of marginalised groups. For example, People with disabilities or ethnic and racial minorities.

4. Generating Hypotheses For Further Research:

Qualitative research can help to generate hypotheses or theories that can be further tested through quantitative research.

5. Investigating Sensitive Topics:

Qualitative research is useful for investigating sensitive topics that require an empathetic and nuanced approach, such as mental health or sexual orientation.

6. Understanding The Context Of A Phenomenon:

Qualitative research can help to understand the context in which a social phenomenon occurs. Such as the social and cultural factors influencing health behaviours or political attitudes.

A Comparison Table Between Qualitative Research Methods And Quantitative Research Methods;


Qualitative Research

Quantitative Research


Emphasises understanding and interpreting social phenomena from the perspective of the participants

Emphasises measuring and analysing numerical data


Focuses on exploring complex and nuanced social phenomena

Focuses on testing hypotheses and generalising results to a larger population


Data collection methods include interviews, focus groups, observations, and document analysis

Data collection methods include surveys, experiments, and statistical analysis

Sample Size

The sample size is typically small and non-representative

The sample size is typically large and representative

Data Analysis

Data analysis involves identifying themes, patterns, and relationships in the data

Data analysis involves statistical analysis to identify patterns and relationships in the data


The researcher is often a participant and uses an interpretive approach to data analysis

The researcher is often an observer and uses a positivist approach to data analysis


Results are often descriptive and context-specific

Results are often generalisable and based on statistical significance


Findings can inform theory development and generate new research questions

Findings can support or reject hypotheses and contribute to the body of knowledge in a particular field

Final Thoughts

Qualitative research is the type of research that enables you to collect behavioural data. The methods used in this research have the ability to capture the perception and behaviour of the respondents well. The major methods used to conduct this type of research are discussed above. Read all of them and decide on your research method keeping the research demands in mind.

Author Bio:
Jonathan Naylor is the author of this article. He holds PhD degree in finance. After completing his studies, he started working with a top dissertation writing service in London, The Academic Papers UK as research analyst.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form