Another form of research is qualitative research. This form of research is employed when the researcher does not know what variables to explore in a study. There are six characteristics of qualitative research. The characteristics are below.
- Explore a problem to understand the phenomenon
- Minor literature review
- State purpose and research questions in a general way
- Collect data normally from a small sample relying on words instead of numbers
- Analyze the data using text analysis to find themes and descriptions
- Write up
In this post, we will explore the first three characteristics.
Exploration of a Problem
Qualitative research is often used when numbers are not able to shed light on the research problem. Instead, the problem is explored through examining a central phenomenon. For example, if a researcher wanted to know the experiences of African primary students in Thai schools. This is not a study employing numbers but rather exploring the experiences of African children in Thai schools. The central phenomenon would be the testimony and experiences of these minority children in schools in Thailand.
Minor Literature Review
Since it is often exploratory in nature, qualitative research often includes a minor literature review as there is often little information on the central phenomenon. The literature review is mostly used to justify the need for a study. An extensive search of the literature would foreshadow the results and this is inconsistent with the ideal of exploration in qualitative research. The desire is to focus on the views of the participants and less on prior literature that does not take into account the uniqueness of the participants and the setting.
In our example about African students in Thai schools, there is little data on this phenomenon. To justify this study, we may need to find some articles that mention the struggles of international students in school as they deal with culture shock and discrimination. This leads to the question of how African students are coping with their experience in Thai schools. We now know at least that we need to explore culture shock and discrimination as we collect data from African students who attend Thai schools. However, we have no idea what to expect. In other words we have no hypotheses to test only a desire to explore.
Purpose and Research Questions
The purpose and research questions are written in a way that you are able to gather data from the participants about the central phenomenon. For example, in our African students in Thai school case, we are exploring the African students experiences with culture shock and discrimination. These two components are the central phenomenon of the study.
The phenomenon of culture shock and discrimination as experienced by African students in Thai schools will yield verbal data that needs to be analyzed. In other words, we are not using a numerical survey. Instead, the data collected will be the words of the participants as they share their experience with the central phenomenon.
Qualitative research is about examining small samples normally in a non-numerical way. The researcher explores a central phenomenon through the use of interviews, observation and other means. Since there is often a lack of data on the central phenomenon, many qualitative studies have a minor literature review and lack hypotheses as there is no clear direction from the literature. This form of research is an interesting way to gather first-hand experiences from the lives of people.