Overview of Qualitative Methods

Overview of Qualitative Methods

The purpose of this module is to introduce qualitative research design by providing a brief overview of the uses of qualitative research and comparing it with other research designs.

Learning Objectives

  • Define qualitative research
  • Describe the uses of qualitative research design
  • Provide examples of when qualitative research methodology should be used


There are two main approaches to a research problem - quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitative methods are used to examine the relationship between variables with the primary goal being to analyze and represent that relationship mathematically through statistical analysis. This is the type of research approach most used in scientific research problems. Qualitative methods are chosen when the goal of the research problem is to examine, understand and describe a phenomenon. These methods are a common choice in social science research problems and are often used to study ideas, beliefs, human behaviors, and other research questions that do not involve studying the relationship between variables. Therefore, it is often said that quantitative research seeks to explain, and qualitative research seeks to understand.

The advantage of qualitative research is that it can be used describe how people experience an issue and allows for the studying the "human" side of an issue. It focuses on the "perceptions" of the participants which can be highly variable and influenced by other factors. Therefore, qualitative methods are often used to study and identify intangible factors such as opinions, prejudices, values, cultural influences, and social contexts just to name a few. 

There are a variety of qualitative methods and sampling techniques that will be discussed in detail in the other modules in this unit. However, following are examples of research questions where qualitative methods may be appropriately applied:

  • How do the perceptions of online learning influence student success in an online course?
  • What are the barriers encountered by elderly patients recovering from a fall?
  • What factors influence patient compliance with drug therapy regimens for hypertension?
  • How is the flipped classroom concept influenced by the learning style of the instructor?


The following SlideShare presentation, "An Introduction to Qualitative Research", is an excellent reference and tool for beginning to understand qualitative research, its purpose, and its applications.



Suggested Readings

Creswell, J. W. (2012). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Sage.
Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage Publications, Incorporated.
Dey, I. (2003). Qualitative data analysis: A user friendly guide for social scientists. Routledge.
Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Sage.
Judd, C. M., McClelland, G. H., & Ryan, C. S. (2009). Data analysis: A model comparison approach . Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods . SAGE Publications, Inc.
Quinn, G. G. P., & Keough, M. J. (2002). Experimental design and data analysis for biologists. Cambridge University Press.

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