An Overview of Qualitative Research

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  • 0:01 Qualitative Research
  • 1:06 Qualitative Vs. Quantitative
  • 3:23 Strengths & Limitations
  • 5:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Sometimes, a research study does not have results made up of numbers. In this lesson, we'll look at qualitative research, compare it to quantitative research and examine some of its strengths and limitations.

Qualitative Research

Miranda is a psychologist, and she wants to know how law students cope if they fail the bar exam. Do they feel depressed? Angry? Do they get drunk? Hit the books? What thoughts go through their heads?

To answer her questions, Miranda gathers a group of aspiring lawyers who have failed the bar exam in the past three months. She interviews them one at a time, asking them about how they feel, what they did when they found out they had failed and what types of thoughts ran through their head.

Then, Miranda reads through the interviews and looks for patterns. Maybe she notices that many of them said that they thought they had failed because they were stupid or because they felt ashamed and didn't want to tell their professors at law school.

Miranda's research is qualitative research, which involves looking in-depth at a few subjects instead of examining large numbers of subjects with less depth. Let's look closer at qualitative research, how it differs from quantitative research and its strengths and limitations.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative

Let's say for a minute that Miranda changed her mind. Instead of interviewing her subjects and then looking for patterns in their responses, she sends out a survey and asks them how they felt. The survey gives them a list of emotions (depressed, angry, ashamed, relieved) and asks them to rate how much they felt that emotion when they found out that they'd failed the bar exam. If they mark '1,' it means they didn't feel it at all, and if they mark '5,' they felt it a lot.

Then, Miranda gathers the data from the surveys and gets a mean score for each emotion. Maybe the mean score for depressed is 4.6, and the mean score for relieved is 2.1. Miranda can guess that most law students who fail the bar exam feel more depressed than relieved.

Notice that in this new study, Miranda is looking at numbers. Quantitative research looks at data with numerical values. A quantity is a number, so quantitative research works with numbers. It is often used to look at simple phenomenon, like how depressed people feel on a scale of 1 to 5.

Qualitative research, on the other hand, looks at non-numerical data. Qualitative research tries to look at complex, in-depth phenomena, like what thoughts are running through someone's head.

Qualitative research is often done on a smaller group of people than quantitative research. This is for practical reasons: it takes a lot more time to interview and analyze people's answers than it does to hand someone a survey and then get an average from that survey.

Qualitative research is also sometimes followed up with quantitative research. For example, Miranda has found with her qualitative research that several of her subjects believed that they failed the exam because they are stupid.

Is this true of a lot of law students? Miranda might put together a survey and have one of the options be to rate whether or not you agree with the statement, 'When I failed the bar exam, I believed it was because I was stupid.'

She can give the survey to a bunch of people and get an average. She's followed up her qualitative study with a quantitative one, which gives her a more complete view of things.

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