Qualitative research aims to address problems found within society. Subjects that often use qualitative research methods include sociology, education and psychology. Unlike quantitative research methods, qualitative methods attempt to learn why humans make certain choices or exhibit specific behaviors. The contents of a qualitative research paper can vary, depending on the focus or methods incorporated in the study. Most academic sources, however, consistently require the inclusion of several key components.
Introduction and Aim of the Study
Some academic institutions will ask for the introduction and aim of the study to be represented separately, while others will combine them into a single heading. The introduction serves to put the paper into context. It should explain how the study was done and what it is about. The aim of the study can be considered an extension of the introduction and should clearly state the research problem.
Qualitative research requires examination of existing research and information about the chosen problem. To accomplish this, qualitative researchers must develop a research plan that determines what sources they will use, such as libraries, databases or specific search engines. Relevant documents are reviewed and carefully summarized. The final literature review should briefly describe how the literature review was conducted and provide summaries of documents relevant to the research problem.
The individuals being studied are referred to as the sample. Certain characteristics are usually identified as important to the research problem. Age, gender, socioeconomic status and educational background are just a few examples of characteristics researchers might need to identify in their sample. This section of the paper is often scrutinized for disparities.
Data Collection Methods
Once a sample group has been identified, researchers must determine how they will obtain information from them. Face-to-face interviews, phone interviews, surveys and group discussions are all possible choices. Copies of research questions used are often included in this section. Anecdotal records kept by interviewers are often kept and made available as well.
Data Analysis Methods
Methods for analyzing data are highly varied and may, on occasion, incorporate quantitative methods. When qualitative and quantitative methods are combined, it is referred to as a mixed approach. It is important to describe how the information obtained from the sample was managed. Examples include audio or video recordings, transcription, database storage and written records.
This section should include a direct report of the data. It should be succinct and impartial without engaging in personal reflections or interpretations. Describe the data in detail without drawing conclusions of any kind.
The discussion section is closely related to, but still separate from, the findings. How this section is presented will largely depend on the findings section. It is important to discuss only relevant facts and abstain from attempting to interpret findings at this time.
The conclusion serves to summarize the entire study and to suggest possible applications. While it is still inappropriate to speculate, suggesting applications from the study are encouraged and expected. Readers are usually interested to know how research findings can be used in society.
Abstracts are often the only portion of a study seen in academic search engines. It is important to provide details on the study's background, goals, data sample, data collection and a summary of the findings. In all, the abstract should be less than a page in length.