How to Write a Qualitative Research Paper

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Sometimes statistical data fails to give a clear picture of the human element in a given field of study. Quantitative data is useful for giving statistics based on numerical frequency, but it does not always give the depth of explanation necessary to enable someone to take action. In contrast, qualitative data is based on actual human responses and gives a greater depth of information. Although collecting and interpreting qualitative data for a report is a long and challenging process, the information enables the writer to deliver an analysis that has much greater meaning.

Data Collection

Decide how your subjects can participate and how you plan to observe them. Observation methods can vary, according to the particular situation. The researcher usually becomes a member of the group and adopts a conventional role within the group. The researcher can gain closer insight into the group’s practices, enthusiasm and sentiments. Focus groups are the most common format and involve a mediator who facilitates a group discussion among selected individuals on a particular topic.

Choose a suitable qualitative research approach, based on what you are investigating. ''Ethnographic Research'' investigates cultures by collecting and describing a theory specific to that ethnic group. ''Critical Social Research'' is used to understand how people communicate and develop symbolic meanings. An ''Ethical Inquiry'' is an intellectual analysis of ethical problems related to issues such as: obligation, rights, duty, choice, and right and wrong. ''Foundational Research'' examines the foundations of a scientific field to understand how its knowledge base might change in light of new information. ''Historical Research'' assesses past events in the context of the present situation so as to consider the path of current and future events. ''Grounded Theory'' is based exclusively on the observations of data from which it was developed. ''Phenomenology'' tries to describe the subjective reality of an event according to how it appears to the study population. ''Philosophical Research'' is conducted by experts within a specific profession to clarify definitions, identify ethics, or make value judgments about their field of study.

Categorize your data according to patterns. Qualitative research usually requires using several methods to collect information: participant observation, non-participant observation, field notes, structured interviews, unstructured interviews, and analyzing related documents and materials.

Data Analysis

Use interpretive techniques when looking at your data. ''Observer impression'' means examining and interpreting the data to form an impression about what themes it contains. The observer reports his impressions in a structured way that can also include quantitative information about the frequency of occurrences.

Use coding to organize the data. Coding usually requires the analyst reading the data to differentiate among particular sections. Each section is labeled with a word or phrase that indicates how the section is related to the research objectives. Coding enables the analyst to show the prevalence of codes and to discuss similarities among data sources.

Consider using ''Recursive Abstraction'' to analyze the data without using coding. In this method, the data is summarized and the summaries are then further summarized to create a concise overview.

Use a mechanical technique when working with large sets of qualitative data. These techniques are based on counting the frequency of words or phrases within the data. The information taken from these techniques is convenient for statistical analysis and should be used when the amount of data precludes the possibility of human analysis.

Format of a Research Paper

Introduce your research paper. This may include what is known about the subject area and the gaps in knowledge you are aiming to fill. Your introduction will explain the importance of your research.

Discuss the materials and methods you used to gather your data. At this point, it is necessary to explain why these methods were preferred over other techniques.

Explain the results of your research. At this stage, it is important to elucidate the findings without interpreting the results. Tell the reader what you have found, but don’t explain what you think about it.

Discuss your findings. Explain how you have interpreted the data. At this point, you are discussing your ideas and this is where you give your ideas on what it means. Be aware that other researchers might interpret the data differently.