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2
What Is Qualitative Research?
CHAPTER OBJECTIVES
By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:
••
link your research topic to an appropriate methodology
••
understand the advantages and disadvantages of both qualitative and
quantitative methods
••
recognize the value of (sometimes) using quantitative data in qualitative
research
••
understand the diverse approaches underlying contemporary qualitative
research.
To call yourself a qualitative researcher settles surprisingly little. First, as we shall see at the end of this chapter, qualitative research covers a wide range of different,
even conflicting, activities. Second, if the description is being used merely as some sort of negative epithet (saying what we are not, i.e. non-quantitative), then I am not clear how useful it is. As Peter Grahame puts it:
the notion that qualitative research is non-quantitative is true but uninformative:
we need more than a negative definition. (1999: In this second sense, qualitative research seems to promise that we will avoid or downplay statistical techniques and the mechanics of the kinds of quantitative methods used in, say, survey research or epidemiology. The danger in the term,
however, is that it seems to assume a fixed preference or predefined evaluation of
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what is good (i.e. qualitative) and bad (i.e. quantitative) research. In fact, the choice between different research methods should depend upon what you are trying to find out.
For instance, if you want to discover how people intend to vote, then a quantitative method, like asocial survey, may seem the most appropriate choice. On the other hand, if you are concerned with exploring people’s life histories or everyday behaviour, then qualitative methods maybe favoured. Table 2.1 gives three more examples of how your research topic should guide your use of quantitative or qualitative methods.



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