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qualitative research

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A review concluded that (1):

  • qualitative methods aim to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them
  • qualitative research may define preliminary questions which can then be addressed in quantitative studies
  • a good qualitative study will address a clinical problem through a clearly formulated question and using more than one research method (triangulation)
  • analysis of qualitative data can and should be done using explicit, systematic, and reproducible methods

Quantiative methods are useful where research is based on "counting" e.g. "How many parents would consult their general practitioner when their child has a mild temperature?"A qualitiative study however examines less tangible aspects such as attitudes e.g. "Why do parents worry so much about their children's temperature?"

Examples of qualitative research methods

  • documents - study of documentary accounts of events, such as meetings
  • passive observation - systematic watching of behaviour and talk in natural occurring settings
  • participant observation - observation in which the researcher also occupies a role or part in the setting, in addition to observing
  • in depth interviews - face to face conversation with the purpose of exploring issues or topics in detail. Does not use preset questions, but is shaped by a defined set of topics
  • focus groups - method of group interview which explicitly includes and uses the group interaction to generate data

Qualitative research begins with an intention to explore a particular area, collects "data" (observations and interviews), and generates ideas and hypotheses from these data largely through what is known as inductive reasoning

  • strength of qualitative research lies in validity (closeness to the truth) - that is, good qualitative research, using a selection of data collection methods, really should touch the core of what is going on rather than just skimming the surface
    • validity of qualitative methods is greatly improved by using a combination of research methods, a process known as triangulation, and by independent analysis of the data by more than one researcher (1)

Reference:

  1. Greenhalgh T,Taylor R.Papers that go beyond numbers (qualitative research) BMJ. 1997 Sep 20;315(7110):740-3