Qualitative research can be defined as “any kind of research that produces findings not arrived at by means of statistical procedures or other means of quantification” (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, p. 17). There are many stages involved in research work starting from the beginning of the research right through till when the findings are published or available in written form. The starting point for researchers is to identify a research problem e. g. why do men get paid significantly more than women?
The next step is to review the literature and familiarize oneself with the relevant information. Next is when the nature of the problem can sometimes to be turned into a hypothesis (an educated guess of the answer. ) The researcher must now decide how the research materials can be gathered and which methods they will use e. g. experiment, survey, observation. The researcher can now carry out the research and collect the data and record the information. Once this has been done one has to interpret the results and work out the implications of the data one has collected.
The researcher can then ask themselves how do their results compare to other findings and how are the results significant. Researchers often use various research methods and Ethnography is one of them, which is the study of people and groups at first-hand and over a period of time, and is often referred to as a type of quantitative research because it is more concerned with understanding the subject than the numerical data. Qualitative methods use words and descriptions for example open-ended interviews and naturalistic observation, which is common in anthropology.
This is not manipulating the situation and one watches naturally occurring events without controlling them. The characteristics of qualitative research are that there are three types of data collection; documents, observation and interviews and it produces three kinds of data; excerpts of documents, descriptions and quotations. This all results in one product a narrative description but can sometimes be diagrams and charts too. Qualitative research is very dependant on the researcher as a person.
The researcher is often known as an instrument unlike a test instrument or mechanical device as in quantitative research. (A. Giddens, Sociology 4th edition,p646-61) Quantitative research can be defined as ‘ research which calls for procedures that are public, that use precise definitions, that use objectivity-seeking methods for data collection and analysis, that are replicable so that findings can be confirmed or disconfirmed, and that are systematic and cumulative-all resulting in knowledge useful for explaining, predicting, and controlling the effects of teaching on student outcomes. (Gage, 1994, p. 372).
Many sociologists have compared the poem below with qualitative and quantitative research. “Flower in the Crannied Wall” Flower in the crannied wall, I pluck you out of the crannies, I hold you here, root and all, in my hand, Little flower – but if I could understand What you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is. Alfred, Lord Tennyson  Tennyson’s “research method” is to pluck the flower from its situation, to hold it up, and examine it.
The method of quantitative research comes across as Tennyson steals the flower from where it was living and hence he has the ‘variable’ he wants to study in isolation. However qualitative research looks at it from another viewpoint. Instead of ‘plucking’ the flower from its home it would suggest that Tennyson would examine where the flower lives and what has helped it survive. (Dr. Jim Parsons. Coordinator . University of Alberta , 2000. ) Ethnography (ethnos means cultural group and graphy means writing), which is a type of Qualitative research, and it seeks to find out the meaning, which underpin social actions.
This can be done by direct contact with the group one is studying for example a researcher might go and live or work with the group they are studying for lengthy periods of time. Qualitative data does in some retrospect help one to understand general social problems as it goes in depth and detail and one may not find this depth in a standardized questionnaire. It can generate new theories and recognize phenomena, which could be ignored by other researchers due to the ‘openness’ of this research.
It can help people see the worldview of those studies, and can simulate their experience of the world. Once one has seen how things look from the inside of a group, one is likely to have a better understanding of why members act in a certain way. However there are some weaknesses of qualitative research as only fairly small groups or communities can be studied. It also depends on how the researcher interacts with the individual and group to gain their confidence. Similarly the researcher might lose the perspective of an outside view if they become too involved in the ‘insider’ perspective.
Also it is less easily generalized as a result. (A. Bryman 2001 p388. ) Qualitative research usually takes a much lengthier period of time and the results can be very small but however small the results are, the information is usually extremely vital. Social problems include drug use, homelessness, single parenthood and racism. Social problems are defined as ‘Situations affecting a significant number of people that are believed to be sources of difficulty or threaten the stability of the community, and that require programs of amelioration. (Medical dictionary. ) Qualitative research does have the problem of funding as it does include lots of little costly studies, which take up an enormous amount of time. Many people argue that as it is very labour intensive and it yields results that may not be as important for decision or policymaking and many funding sources view it as too expensive for the amount of information obtained, but sociologists would argue that this information is essential.
If everyone had the attitude that Qualitative research ‘undertakes costly little studies that can tell us little about social problems. ‘ Then Qualitative research would be abolished which would prevent small pieces of information being found and could be the linking point for further investigations in the future. A good example of how important qualitative research is is the issue of drug abuse. It has contributed to treating and preventing drug abuse as well as associated problems such as HIV. However the use of drugs is a huge problem in society.
However Qualitative research requires the investigator to spend a lot time with the group under question and hence the investigator will build trust relationships and get an insight into the understanding of drug users. They could look at the structure of the drug users life and the social roles among drug users. The main data collection strategies used in the qualitative studies involve participant observation and in-depth interviewing. This helps to observe behavior and to identify patterns. Wiebel (1990, p. ) suggests that “Qualitative research is often the only means available for gathering sensitive and valid data from otherwise elusive populations of substance abusers. ” Consequently Qualitative methods are extremely important in understanding the sociological context of drug use. In conclusion the statement seen above in the title seems an untrue presumption as qualitative research is vital in everyday life and has helped researchers gain information and help those in trouble whether it be because they are unemployed or are drug users.
I am not disagreeing that qualitative data is costly and can take lengthy periods of time but if even the tiniest bit of evidence comes about from it then surely it is worthwhile and should be funded. In the meantime, qualitative research has Had a tremendous affect in the medical world by providing insights into the current understanding about the illness experience, effectiveness of health care and health and will no doubt evolve more in the future if the funds are still available.