In qualitative research, there are three primary methodological approaches: (1) post-positivist, (2) interpretative, and (3) critical. The social environment is patterned, according to post-positivism, and causal linkages may be identified and evaluated using trustworthy procedures. Qualitative data analysis is a systematic process that aims to summarize or synthesize the information in a way that captures the essence of what was said by the participants.
Post-positivists believe that reality is structured so that it can be studied. As such, they seek to understand real-world phenomena by looking at their underlying structures and functions. Structuralism is the view that societies and individuals have a language which they use to structure experience and communicate ideas. Functionalism is the view that organisms function to fulfill needs and desires, thus behavior is explained by reference to its consequences. Post-positivists would say that these theories are structuralist and functionalist, respectively.
Qualitative researchers often draw on multiple theoretical perspectives to explain the behaviors they observe. For example, a researcher might look at both structural and psychological explanations to account for the differences in how men and women approach leadership roles. Or she might study different organizational cultures to understand why some companies are more successful than others.
Post-positivists aim to describe what is happening in the world and try to explain why things happen as they do.
The information is mostly non-numerical. Ethnography, grounded theory, discourse analysis, and interpretive phenomenological analysis are examples of qualitative approaches. Sociology, anthropology, political science, psychology, social work, and educational research have all employed qualitative research methodologies.
Qualitative research attempts to understand the underlying causes of behavior by exploring individuals' perceptions and experiences. This type of research can be done either in laboratory settings or in natural environments. Observations, interviews, and focus groups are some techniques used by researchers to collect data about people's attitudes and behaviors.
In addition to these methods, qualitative researchers often use documents, images, and other media sources to learn more about their topics of interest. They may also study how things are connected or related through careful observation of patterns over time.
Finally, qualitative researchers try to make sense of what they observe or experience by interpreting it based on their knowledge of the topic. They may then modify or expand upon this knowledge by discussing it with others who are knowledgeable about the subject.
The aim is not to predict what will happen but rather to understand why certain things are done or said as they are.
The two fundamental approaches to research methodology in sociology are Positivism and Interpretivism. Positivists favor scientific quantitative procedures, whereas Interpretivists favor humanistic qualitative approaches. This page gives a quick summary of the two. For more information on these topics, see our FAQ section on research methods.
Positivist researchers study quantifiable phenomena by using statistical techniques to analyze data that can be measured objectively. The key concept in positivist research is "uniformity", which refers to the belief that the social world is like the natural world and can be studied using the same rigorous scientific principles. Modern scientists often rely on instruments (measuring devices) to quantify observable behaviors and events. For example, psychologists conduct research on memory by asking participants to write down what they remember about an experience during or after it happens. They then analyze the written records to see how well people can be remembered over time.
In contrast, interpretive researchers study subjective experiences by focusing on individual cases or patterns. They try to understand what causes certain actions/behaviors by looking at how things are done in real life. For example, a sociologist might interview several women who work at a company to learn about their jobs and how they differ from manly jobs. She would then analyze the data to see if there were any similarities or differences between the employees' experiences at the company.
Positive qualitative research seeks regularities and causal links between various components of reality using non-statistical methods, and then synthesizes these patterns into generalized results. The goal is to develop understanding of how and why things are as they are.
Qualitative researchers often begin with a question about what people think or feel. They may want to know how different groups view the same event or issue so that it can be better understood by society as a whole. Or perhaps they wish to learn more about the inner thoughts of particular individuals for use in counseling or therapy. In any case, once respondents offer their opinions, interpretations, or perceptions, they seek commonalities and differences among them. They may also look for trends over time or relations to other variables. The aim is to understand why some people act as they do, not just tally up numerical counts of those who agree/disagree with statements or complete surveys questionsnaires.
Qualitative researchers don't always rely on interviews or surveys for data collection. For example, they may observe people, ask them open-ended questions, or explore their environment in order to discover what people think and feel about issues that concern them. These methods are called "qualitative" because they focus on quality and quantity rather than simply counting votes on survey questions or estimating market shares based on available data.