If you want to present straight facts and figures or offer up a statistical analysis of a problem to solve, qualitative research isn't for you. A qualitative researcher uses objective methods that seek to explore and describe a phenomena. Typically used in the social sciences and education, qualitative topics include areas of study that the researcher can investigate through observations and interviews in a more natural setting.
Sample and Content
Qualitative studies typically use a small sample size. This may even include just one individual. Topic and sample selection are based on the researcher's area of interest. As a method to explore phenomena, qualitative research lends itself to socially focused topics and not to subjects that require a measurable outcome. For example, education, child development, social sciences and some health sciences are all topic areas for qualitative inquiry. Specific focus on these content areas may include culture and community groups, elementary schools, secondary schools, the health-care setting or social service agencies.
One advantage of qualitative research is that the investigator can study one unique person, group or community. A case study focuses on one social unit in depth, describing multiple facets of the group in a natural environment. A case study may use interviews, observations and the review of records or other documents. Specific topics for a case study depend on the area you want to investigate but include one specific individual or unit. For example, if you want to study how children who start kindergarten at an early entry age fare, you would focus on the child and her scholastic social unit -- including her parents and teachers. Case-study topics may also include a community such as an eighth-grade class, people who live in a rural towns or members of a specific church.
Whether you're an educational, social sciences or other type of researcher, you can use qualitative methods to explore someone's personal experiences. In general, a topic in this area will look at how an individual perceives an event or activity like going to school, getting health care or navigating though a social system. You will need to choose a specific focus that matches your area of interest. For example, a social worker who is studying the public welfare system may elect to focus on the experiences that young, single mothers have when accessing daycare assistance.
You don't have to isolate your research to one person's experience. You may choose a topic that focuses on how different people perceive an event, behavior or activity. For example, a nurse may select a qualitative topic that explores and compares the perspectives of the patient and the doctor in accessing and providing health care within a hospital setting. Likewise, an educational researcher may choose to observe and interview both a professor and a college student to better understand the differing perspectives of learning in a four-year instruction.
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