The field of social science is very complex with main field branches that cover
anthropology, economics, history, political science, psychology, social psychology, and sociology. These main branches in turn contain subfields of study and there are still other disciplines in which social research is done including criminology, demography, education, and nursing (Bernard 6). Social science research is split between the positivistic (quantitative) approach and the interpretive-phenomenological approach (qualitative). Social science research often contains a combination of both approaches. But, qualitative research investigates the why and how about human behavior, the reasons that govern behavior. These reasons are complex and cannot be fully understood through only quantitative methods.
In qualitative research, data is collected through direct observation, in depth interviews, participation in the setting and/or an analysis of different forms of printed materials. Qualitative data collection is typically purposively done; selection is based on whether an event fits a specific characteristic. The data is categorized into patterns for organization and reporting results (usually visual in the form of flow charts, maps, or presented in matrix or table form). Data collection is typically approached by traditional methods of phenomenology, some form of field study, grounded theory, and ethnography. A brief description of these methods follows.
Phenomenology: describes in words a person’s reality; a reflection of one’s
consciousness and perceptions (Bernard 20).
Field Study: involves some form of field work either through participant observation or by indirectly through collection of data (Bernard 318).
Grounded Theory: provides a set of techniques that identifies potential analytical
categories for comparison and development of relationships to build theoretical models (Bernard 443).
Ethnography: studies both the process of a collecting descriptive data about a culture and is the product (presented possibly as a book, film or article) of the study itself (Bernard 318).
These methods depend highly on the researcher who plays a key role in the analysis of
the data. Qualitative data analysis is commonly done through observer impression. An
impression is formed by an expert or layman and reported in a structured manner (even
quantitatively). Qualitative research is concerned with content validity, that is, what you believe
is being measured is really being measured. Constant validity checks are necessary to ensure
that this concern is being met. Additional concerns occur when projects consist of more than one
coder. Qualitative data analysis can require a tremendous amount of time and effort. The
qualitative researcher is assisted in this process through the use of relational database
management software to store and manage the data. QSR International
(www.qsrinternational.com) is such a company that offers...