Qualitative research is a type of scientific research. In general terms, scientific research
consists of an investigation that:
• seeks answers to a question
• systematically uses a predefined set of procedures to answer the question
• collects evidence
• produces findings that were not determined in advance
• produces findings that are applicable beyond the immediate boundaries of the study
Qualitative research shares these characteristics. Additionally, it seeks to understand a given
research problem or topic from the perspectives of the local population it involves.
Qualitativeresearch is especially effective in obtaining culturally specific information about
the values,opinions, behaviors, and social contexts of particular populations.
The strength of qualitative research is its ability to provide complex
textual descriptions of how people experience a given research issue. It provides information
about the “human” side of an issue – that is, the often contradictory behaviors, beliefs,
opinions, emotions, and relationships of individuals. Qualitative methods are also effective in
identifying intangible factors, such as social norms, socioeconomic status, gender roles,
ethnicity, and religion, whose role in the research issue may not be readily apparent. When
used along with quantitative methods, qualitative
research can help us to interpret and better
understand the complex reality of a given situation
and the implications of quantitative data.
Purposive sampling, one of the most common sampling strategies, groups participants
according to preselected criteria relevant to a particular research question (for example, HIV-
positive women in Capital City). Sample sizes, which may or may not be fixed prior to data
collection, depend on the resources and time available, as well as the study’s objectives.
Purposive sample sizes are often determined on the basis of theoretical saturation (the point
in data collection when new data no longer bring additional insights to the research
questions). Purposive sampling is therefore most successful when data review and analysis
are done in conjunction with data collection.
The three most common qualitative methods, explained in detail in their respective modules,
• Participant observation is appropriate for collecting data on naturally occurring behaviors in
their usual contexts.
• In-depth interviews are optimal for collecting data on individuals’ personal histories,
perspectives, and experiences, particularly when sensitive topics are being explored.
• Focus groups are effective in eliciting data on the cultural norms of a group and in