About Qualitative Methods

Qualitative research seeks to find out why. For example, the research seeks to learn why someone acts the way that they do, rather than counting how many times that person acts in that way. You can find out why a group of high-school freshmen enjoy pizza for lunch versus meatloaf. You cannot, however, find out how many high-school freshmen like pizza versus meatloaf. Finding out how many would involve quantitative research.

Qualitative research is the complement of quantitative research, which relies on large samples and counting. Qualitative research methods involve smaller samples, and organize the data into patterns.

The two methods can be used together to create a comprehensive study.

Qualitative research methods include:

  • Participant observation
  • Direct observation
  • Unstructured interviewing
  • Case studies
  • Field notes
  • Reflexive journals


The following resource provides more information about qualitative methods: Research Methods Knowledge Base: Qualitative Methods