Qualitative research has been used for a long time, it is an effective way of gaining an insight to individual’s experiences, opinions, behaviours, thoughts, feelings and how they see themselves or others. It helps with the understanding of individuals in a naturalistic setting. Researchers explore and attempt to make sense of why people behave the way they do and how and why behaviours happen through the collection of data in the form of words or images. Qualitative research methods help researchers understand things that are not already known, or they intend to explore and find out more such as ethnicity, gender roles, social norms or religion. The research helps to find changes over time and gives an insight into society and provides a source for political decision making.
Before a researcher can conduct studies on humans, they first have to ensure that it is ethical and undergo a review before any research starts. Researchers have to abide by requirements before a study is taken place, this is governed by an ethics committee who oversee the research and gives approval on studies and ensures that it is ethical. The researcher provides the committee with detailed information of what is being studied, how they will carry out the study and how the information will be used during and after the research.
Researchers use various methods to collect information and have to consult with individuals the appropriate method of recording information and data for their study. Any research can have an impact on a person’s personal life and can pose a risk to themselves or others whether it is mentally or physically. The researcher must consider each individual and their personal information particularly those who are vulnerable. Vulnerable groups include children and older people, especially those who are losing capacity to make their own decisions and individuals with cognitive difficulties.
Interviews, observations, focus groups, questionnaires and ethnography are all ways of collecting data. They are often descriptive where the results can be analysed, and the researcher may use more than one to conduct their study.
An interview is a popular method to collect data and is a way to receive large amounts of data by exchanging information through questions and answers. Informed consent needs to be collected from participants before interviews start. Interviews are focused on one person at a time and can be done face to face or over the telephone. The advantage of interviewing allows the researcher to collect more in-depth information. The researcher needs to have good listening skills and be able to recognise important information. They need good interpersonal skills and allow the participant to talk about their experiences without being judged in order for the researcher to be able to collect data that reflects the answers and opinions of the interviewee through natural conversation. Questions and ways of gathering information is often prepared before research starts, although these can be adapted in new situations or when new information happens. Researchers interview people from various backgrounds, the disadvantage to this method is translation difficulties due to different ethnic and culture differences and the language spoken.
The use of a semi structured interview allows the researcher to ask a set of scripted questions, use some open-ended questions and explore a topic in detail. According to Devault a number of feminist researchers have argued that this type of research is positive as it is a good way to study women and marginalized groups due to historically being silenced. Women have not always had the free will to tell their own stories, it allows women to talk freely and express their views. During an interview the researcher can adapt questions or become flexible with content relating to the topic whilst still gathering information and have the ability to control timescales. Using this method allows the researcher to compare to other interviews that have had the same questions allowing information to be analysed more easily.
An unstructured interview with open ended questions allows the participant to voice their opinion and express themselves freely in a less structured way and feel free to talk about their experiences in their own words providing a wealth of information. Using this method to collect information for research allows the interviewer the opportunity to probe and gage a more in-depth response, if the interviewee gives a brief response or they struggle to answer any questions, these can be explained.
Unstructured interviews give large amounts of data that can be harder to analyse. The interviewee may drift off topic, the interviewer needs to be able to have skills to steer them back to topic without disregarding what they are saying and remain professional. The disadvantage of going off topic can become time consuming and affect the quality of data. According to Kumar the quality of data can vary if using varied interviewers or asking personal and sensitive questions which then can cause the interviewees to stop the interview. The quality of interaction from the interviewer and whether the researcher is bias when interpreting responses can also affect the data received.
Similar to interviews some interviews are conducted with a small group of people called focus groups, it is another form of research and is a repeated technique used in social sciences. Focus groups can be called discussion groups or group interviews and is a way of gathering information quickly. Social scientists use this this method to explore a variety of topics and to evaluate training programs, addiction treatment programs, natural disasters and is a useful way to study transient populations.
A focus group is a facilitated group discussion and is a useful way to generate data. The researcher bases their questions on a topic related to their research which enables participants to comment on personal experiences and give their views based on a service provided, issues or feedback. Considerations should be taken on the size of the group. Groups should not be too big or too small as it can impact on the quality of discussion, a group of up to eight or ten people is a suitable size. Arranging groups can be time consuming and not all people may turn up to take part. It is better to invite a few more than needed in case some do not attend. The researcher needs to ensure its accessible for all participants and is at a suitable part of the day with an appropriate venue. `
Researchers known as ‘moderators’ control group discussions and sets ground rules, they need to build a rapport with the group and be confident during discussions. Building rapport is similar to the work of Carl Rogers, the humanistic theory. Rogers person centred methods suggest flexibility, client centred openness and with the goal to view the world through the other person eyes which helps to build positive relationships. Moderators should encourage everyone to take part, and that no one dominates the group discussion and are there to avoid controversial topics. The disadvantage of focus groups is that individuals can influence each other’s opinions or ideas, the phenomenon of the theory groupthink that was developed by Irving .
The role of the moderator needs to focus their attention to everyone within the group and not just on one person. Group discussion can cause problems with confidentiality as individuals may be more open than others, some may feel uncomfortable talking in front others and may not contribute. Confidentiality and anonymity can cause problems within focus groups as the researcher has no control over what is discussed and what information is shared outside of the group. To maintain anonymity, it is recommended participants should be unknown to one another to help prevent disclosures.
Compared to other methods this is cost efficient and less time consuming to complete, it receives a range of responses in one meeting and participant interaction is useful to analyse. Conversations can change quickly during focus groups and audio recordings are a good way to collect data, although this does not say who is talking and may record personal and sensitive information. Recording does allow the researcher to go back and listen in case they miss vital information. DeVault suggests the way someone says something is just as important as what they say, and the recording is evidence of this. Collecting data through notes is the cheapest and helps to prevent repeating topics and does not rely on equipment that may fail. The drawback of taking notes is the lack of eye contact and not collect all the information that is given.
Interviews and focus groups both have their advantages and disadvantages. Interviews and focus groups provide in depth detailed information for analysis for the topic of research. Yin suggests focus groups is an effective way of completing research, but the researcher does not gain as much information as conducting a one to one interview. Semi structured and unstructured interviews allow for more personal responses and interaction with participants compared to focus groups. Focus groups are arguably more of a social element where participants can talk freely about a topic. Depending on what the researcher is studying would depend on the method of qualitative research to be used.