Qualitative research seeks to understand the behavior of human groups in social settings through exploratory and inductive means. Qualitative methods focus on direct experience, which marks one of the primary differences of it from quantitative research. The latter interprets the behavior of populations through statistical pattern analysis. Applications of qualitative research can be found in a broad range of fields, including the social sciences, government, business and education.
Phenomenological research is experienced from the perspective of the individual. It focuses on description more than explanation. The purpose is to identify the ways perception influences how people interact with what they encounter. Methods include interviews, conversations, participant observation and focus meetings. Advertising agencies often make extensive use of phenomenological research when planning and developing marketing campaigns.
Ethnographic research strives to understand how ethnic, cultural and other groups function and change over time. During field research, ethnographers participate as much as possible in the subject community while carefully observing and documenting the experience. They also use interviews to explore interconnected relationships. Although primarily associated with anthropology and sociology, ethnographic methods have been used in a number of other fields including the study of computer-human interaction.
Case study research focuses on analyzing a small number of events or conditions to help understand more complex issues within the context of real life. There are different kinds of cases studies. Exploratory case studies explore events where there are no clear outcomes. Explanatory explain causal links in an event, and Descriptive describes the event or the method of analyzing the event. A wide variety of disciplines make extensive use of case studies. In education, for example, case studies inform instructional design.
In Grounded Theory, the theory or explanation of behavior derives from the data in a bottom-up fashion. Theory has to fit the facts, not the other way around. Grounded Theory researchers strive to achieve that goal through constant comparative analysis. The method is especially useful in situations or for issues that haven't previously been well-documented. Information Systems research has started to make extensive use of Grounded Theory.
Historical research explores the background and development pattern of the study subject. Results derived from the research offer insight into the present state of and future possibilities for the subject. The historical research approach has broad applicability for organizations striving to understand themselves. Steps for conducting historical research include defining the problem, gathering relevant information, forming an hypothesis, organizing and verifying the information, and drawing a conclusion.
The process of attempting to solve a problem while trying to understand it forms the essence of action research. Cyclical in nature, action research alternates between planning, action and critical reflection in a spiral-fashion to zero in on a solution. Organizations of all types and sizes use action research to improve their performance.