Data collection methods in qualitative research

Data Collection Methods in Qualitative Research

Central to qualitative research is the collection of non-numerical data or qualitative properties. Remember that these qualitative properties are not measurable, unlike numerical or quantitative data. These non-numerical or qualitative data can be gathered through several specific data collection methods that are unique in qualitative research. Choosing the suitable method for collecting qualitative data requires an understanding of the types of research question and the types of qualitative research an individual or research team intends to pursue.

The Methods for Collecting Qualitative Data

1. Observation

One of the most popular data collection methods in qualitative research is observation. This approach generally requires a researcher to use all of his or her senses to examine the people in their natural settings or to explore naturally occurring situations.

There are two subtypes of observation. The first is participatory observation in which the researcher mingles with the subject of his or her research while maintaining a professional distance to avoid interference. The second is non-participatory observation involves very limited to zero interactions.

Specific techniques for collecting qualitative data through observation include the writing of fieldnotes or the use of recording devices such as an audio recorder or an audio-video recorder. Regarding the use of a recording device, the researcher can either use such to record a narration of his or her observation or directly record the situation as it unfolds before him or her.

2. Interview

An interview is a one-on-one conversation and bi-directional communication process in which a researcher or interviewer asks a series of questions to an interviewee. Essentially, the interviewer asks a question and the interviewee responds. Both take turns talking to create a substantial conversation about a particular topic. The goal of an interview is to explore the views and opinions, attitudes, experiences, beliefs, and/or motivations of individual informants.

There are three types of interviews in qualitative research. A structured interview is a verbally administered questionnaire that involves directing the entire conversation based on a predetermined list of questions. On the other hand, an unstructured interview has little to zero framework, and the entire conversation is very exploratory. A semi-structured interview combines some of the benefits of structured and unstructured interviews in which the researcher uses a predefined list of questions that allows room for divergence and redirection.

Interviews usually take place in person or face to face. In some instances, an interview can take place using modern communication technologies such as in the case of telephone interviews or Internet-enabled videoconferences. Furthermore, although interviews often involve spoken conversation or oral communication, some interviews involve non-spoken conversation in which the participants type questions and answers back and forth.

3. Focus Group Discussion

Another common data collection method in qualitative research is focus group discussion or FGD. Note that a focus group is a small but demographically diverse group of research participants that represent a larger population. Their verbalized reactions serve as the main source of qualitative data.

There are some similarities between an FGD and an unstructured or semi-structured interview. Such include the need to probe the views and opinions, attitudes, experiences, beliefs, and/or motivations of the focus group members without rigid guidelines. However, an FGD remains considerably different because its primary purpose is to generate qualitative data based on the collective views of the research participants.

Central to FGD is the use of group dynamics to generate qualitative data. Interactivity or active participation among focus group members is very important. To promote interactivity while employing a certain degree of rigidity, the researcher or a commissioned moderator directs the entire discussion. The use of a recording device is helpful in keeping track of the whole discussion for later analysis.

4. Content Analysis

Some types of qualitative research require collecting data from published sources or existing materials. The method used in these situations is content analysis which involves the analysis of communication artifacts such as texts and other communication formats such as pictures or images, and audio or video materials. The purpose of content analysis is to systematically examine patterns in communications to uncover themes for further interpretations.

A systematic analysis of contents or materials centers in a thorough and organized dissection to identify patterns and themes. The involved researcher defines and assigns labels or codes to indicate the presence of interesting or relevant parts of a particular material.

There are three approaches to content analysis: conventional, directed, and summative. A conventional approach involves deriving coding categories from the materials while a directed approach involves using a priori theory or relevant research findings as the basis for determining coding categories. On the other hand, a summative content analysis requires counting and comparison of keywords or contents.

5. Self-Reporting

A self-report is another method for collecting qualitative data. It is similar to an interview and also has some overlaps with observations. However, the primary differentiation of self-reporting is that there is zero interference from the researcher. The research participant is centrally responsible for documenting his or her responses based on the scenarios developed by the researcher.

Most self-reporting techniques use self-administered questionnaires. But there is more to this data collection method than just providing responses to predetermined questions. Some qualitative research will require participants to document their responses, observations, and/or experiences on a notebook, diaries, or a recording device.

The purpose of self-reporting is to generate qualitative data from the subjects of the study while in their natural environment or fixed within a given situation without t any form of interference. However, this method has validity issues because some participants can exaggerate their responses, observations, and/or experiences.