What is Qualitative Research?

A set of research techniques designed to search for patterns and themes acquired by analyzing data collected through controlled observations of phenomena. These techniques do provide answers of efficacy and effectiveness.

Qualitative research relies upon the use of case study, observation, interview, survey and ethnography that yield narrative data descriptive of the events observed or the subjective opinions of the researcher or subjects participants researched. The data is most frequently summarized as text derived from original sources in contrast to quantitative research techniques that rely on measurements of events that can be expressed as a specific quantity or unit.

It is important to note that measurement is central to both approaches. Despite the predominant reliance on text in presenting qualitative data it is possible to assign numbers such as numerical ratings for qualitative tools such as consumer satisfaction surveys. The critical difference is in what is measured and how it is measured. Quantitative measures phenomena that have status independent of the person. Qualitative measures phenomena that cannot be separated from the person. For example in quantitative research one measures words read correctly per minute. In qualitative, one might measure how much the students like reading. The results is are data that is often subjective and cannot be used to establish cause and effect relationships.

These limitations have created methodological and epistemological challenges for researchers attempting to synthesize studies for inclusion of qualitative data in the prevailing evidence-based standards such as those adopted by the What Works Clearinghouse and The Campbell Collaboration.

Despite these challenges, “Evidence from qualitative studies can play an important role in adding value to systematic reviews for policy, practice and consumer decision-making” (Cochrane Handbook, version 5.0.0). It is important that methods be developed and refined for the effective use of the substantial knowledge base that has been acquired through qualitative techniques.

When are qualitative techniques best employed?

Two critical roles for qualitative research are: Acquiring knowledge during the early phase of investigating phenomena, and obtaining feedback on people’s perception.

Early phase of research When initially investigating phenomena there is often insufficient information to design experimental studies. Qualitative techniques can prove valuable in providing researchers with a basic understanding to enable the development of hypothesis and subsequent application of more rigorous research methods to study the phenomena.

Obtaining feedback Qualitative techniques are very effective in informing one of attitudes, beliefs, people’s perceptions of an intervention. This is accomplished through the use of tools such as surveys and questionnaires. Qualitative techniques can assist in answering critical questions such as:

    • Why do participants believees an intervention works (or not)?
    • What aspects of the intervention are valued (or not)?
    • What factors do participants believe facilitate or hinder successful implementation of an intervention?

Example The roll out phase for a new practice in a school is a critical time. It is essential to understand teacher support and quickly identify challenges faced by teachers in adjusting to the new practice. It is an unfortunate fact that most interventions fail within the first three years, primarily often because teachers who implement the intervention do not embrace the new practice. Knowing what factors teachers believe facilitate or hinder successful implementation can prove indispensible in acceptance or outright rejection of an introduced practice.


  • The method is adaptable and flexible
  • Qualitative methods answer questions about perception and experience better than quantitative.
  • The techniques are easily taught to researchers
  • The cost of implementing studies is minimal when compared to randomized controlled trials
  • The technique can may help reduce the number of practices that fail when implemented and are taken to scale


  • There are no agreed upon methods for synthesizing study results
  • The techniques no do not provide researchers with cause and effect answers to questions
  • Qualitative research techniques methods are not included in evidence-based standards
  • The data from studies isare often subjective


  • Education
  • Marketing
  • Social Science

Types of Qualitative Research

  • The Biography
  • Phenomenology
  • Grounded Theory
  • Ethnography
  • Case Study
  • Historical Research


  • Observation (participant and direct)
  • Interviews
  • Group Interviews
  • Documents Collection
  • Photographs and Video Tapes