Qualitative Research Designs
Qualitative research looks into human characteristics; focusing on the behaviors and the reasons behind these behavior trends. Unlike quantitative research, qualitative research requires a, small focused, group of people. Another significant variation is that qualitative research tries to establish the why and how of the decision making rather than the where, what and when of the decisions. It can be said that qualitative methods rely on opinion of the subjects being studied. While studying a subject’s behavior, one has to use the most appropriate methods to ensure the success of the study being connected. Choice of method of qualitative research is crucial to the research itself as it determines the quality of data that is collected in the field and subsequently the research findings themselves (Merriam, 2009).
The data collected in qualitative research is analyzed, and conclusions are made based on the trends observed in the research findings. For the data to be accurate, the person conducting the research should approach the right subjects. In approaching a subject, the researcher should try to understand the subject. Wrong judgment on the part of the researcher can compromise on the quality of data he or she collects from the subject.
As stated before, the choice of qualitative research design is critical to the outcome of the research itself. If the wrong design is used, the researcher might compromise on the research. Since qualitative research relies on opinion and not facts, it is easy for the respondent to give wrong information, especially if he or she does not feel comfortable with the researcher. There is no way of validating the data collected from the subjects, as they are personal opinions and feelings on the subject matter. There are various designs that a qualitative researcher can use. Discussed below are two of them.
Observation is a common qualitative research design. Observation in qualitative research is carried out in different ways. The main observation methods are participatory and non-participatory. For observation to work, a researcher is required to plan on how to carry out the research. Participatory observation requires the researcher to blend in with the subjects of his or her research. This way, the researcher acquires insight into the subjects’ context. Information collected this way can be valuable especially if the subjects are unaware of the researcher’s motive. However, this presents an ethical dilemma in many cases. Reason being that it constitutes an abuse of privacy of the subject. On the other hand, if the researcher introduces himself or herself, the subjects are likely to change their behavior on account of the researcher. Non-participatory observation poses even a greater ethical problem especially since it borders on surveillance or even stalking. The subject is observed from a distance by the researcher.
Observation is useful in situations where the research is not particularly specific on the subjects; that is, it does not concern the specifics of individuals. In the field of Higher Education, observation can be used in research that is general to the subjects (Merriam, 2009). For instance, it would be appropriate in a research concerning class attendance and general concentration of the students to the lectures. Observation puts the information collected into context and does not give the subject an option to change their behavior. Observation is also able to reveal habits of which the subject is unaware.
Perhaps the most used design in qualitative research is the interview. Interviews are common because they do not have as high an ethical problem as observation does. Interviews are often voluntary; therefore, the interviewee usually has consented to the interview. Interviews can be either structured, semi structured or unstructured (Maxwell, 2005). Structured interviews follow a set of preconceived questions. The interviewer does not ask any questions outside these questions. The advantage of structured interviews is that there is minimal risk of going off topic, which may annoy the subject in the interview. These are used in research concerning leaders with national or international standing. Because their opinions are particularly valuable for their image to the public, they usually have a copy of the interview so that they can prepare answers. While this is effective for the interviewee, it raises concern of the credibility of the information given.
Semi structured interviews use some pre-written questions and points as a basis of the interview. The researcher does not have to ask the questions written down. He or she is free to ask questions that are outside the scope. However, he should follow a certain structure. This design of research gives the researcher flexibility, unlike the structured interview. The interviewer can also allow the interviewee to make extra comments, thus collecting more information than in the structured interview. The unstructured interview is open to any question depending on the motive of the researcher. Unstructured interviews are usually impromptu, and the researcher must improvise as he or she conducts the interview.
Interviews can be used in many areas of higher education. As stated earlier, there is little ethical or legal problem with interviews. Interviews can be useful in researching matters such as subject choice and future career expectations of the students.
Maxwell, J. A. (2005). Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach. New York: Sage.
Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation. New Jersey: Wiley Publishing.