Qualitative research is a technique that focuses on the intangibles of people's behaviour: their feelings, perspectives, and understanding. This technique is useful for research questions that cannot be answered numerically. However, the non-numerical nature of qualitative research precludes the use of statistics, which makes it difficult to apply research findings to the broader population.
What is Qualitative Research?
Qualitative research aims to discover the meanings behind people's behaviour, how people interpret situations, and what their perspectives are. The data is obtained through observation and by conducting interviews among a small group of people. The interviews are unstructured, allowing people to give their own answers instead of obliging them to select one from a list.
Pros of Qualitative Research
Because qualitative research is not limited to numerical results, it can explore topics in great depth and detail. Often, the openness of mind required gives a qualitative researcher the freedom to explore research questions from many angles. The methods used in qualitative research -- observation and interviews -- are unobtrusive, and allow the researcher to observe their natural behaviour.
Cons of Qualitative Research
The non-numerical aspect of qualitative research can also be a drawback, because it means that qualitative research cannot be approached statistically. Because statistics cannot be applied, it is improper to generalise the findings of qualitative research to a larger population. The personal interaction involved can also make it difficult for the researcher to maintain objectivity.
When to Use Qualitative Research
It is a good idea to use qualitative research when the goal of that research is to explore a topic, or to gain insight into some aspect of your target population. Qualitative research can also add depth to quantitative research, by helping the researcher to understand the reasons behind the statistics. Broadly speaking, if you are interested in meanings, perspectives or understandings, then you should use quantitative research.