Qualitative research involves long-term, inductive, and in-depth cultural analysis that relies on fieldwork and methods such as case study, observation, and ethnography (interaction, participation, interviews). It is systematic, yet subjective and dichotomous to quantitative research.
Qualitative research is dichotomous to quantitative research in that it does NOT analyze a set of numbers gathered. Still governed by systematic methods, qualitative research aims to gather qualitative data - observations, interviews, opinions, perspectives, relationships, attitudes - and analyze it non-statistically. Its goal is to understand the "why" and "how" of human behavior and decision-making. It uses an inductive approach, building upon what is observed by the researcher within a particular culture to formulating themes and theories. Inherent to the nature of qualitative research, the researcher's own experience can never be fully separated from the data gathered - it is collected, sorted, and analyzed based on the researcher's experience within a culture and his or her perspective of it.
A helpful look into the differences between qualitative and quantitative:


Methods of Qualitative Research
Up until the 1970s, qualitative research was only widely used by scholars in the fields of sociology or anthropology. During the 1970s and 1980, though, its value began to grow. Qualitative research articles developed by anthropologists and sociologists were published in peer-reviewed and scientifically recognized journals. As the popularity of this type of research grew, it became utilized in various other disciplines. Today,qualitative research is frequently used in business research (particularly, marketing and management), education, nursing, communications, philosophy and political science.
Nevertheless, qualitative research often involves long-term contact and relationships with members of a particular culture. Typically, researchers will live in and immerse themselves in a culture in order to get as close to understanding what they are researching as possible. Qualitative research enacts various approaches to gathering the data, such as case study, observation, participant-observation, interviews (with member of culture, an expert, a key-informant, etc), group interviews, focus-groups, and surveys. It is often found in the form of ethnography.

Analyzing Qualitative Data

Qualitative research results in the accumulation of datasets that can be expressed nominally. These can include, but are not limited to, the following types of data: settlement patterns, kinship relations, seasonal subsistence patterns, types of medicine ingested, types of ritual, religious beliefs, and behaviors. It is also important to note that qualitative data can often be analyzed quantitatively if expressed in the proper format.

How do you analyze qualitative research?
  • Interpretive techniques - Note an observer's impression of the data. This is often an expert.
  • Recursive Abstraction - Portions of the data are summarized, then those summarized are summarized, then those summaries are summarized, and so on. End result: compact summary of data.
  • Coding - Rereading the data and demarcating it with a word or symbol that suggest how the data is associated with overall research ideas. End result: sorted data, presenting emergent themes.
  • Technologically coding - Some advanced techniques involve scanning large sets of qualitative data and allowing a computer program to sort the data. This fails to use the most advanced processor though - the human brain. (Attempted) End result: sorted data, presenting emergent themes.
  • Software coding -There are computer programs such as ATLAS.ti that will also assist with coding qualitative data.

Sample Qualitative Research Outline

Anthropological Study/ Examples

Additional Resources and Reading


  • Becker, Howard S. The epistemology of qualitative research. University of Chicago Press, 1996.
  • Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Strauss, Anselm L., and Juliet M. Corbin. Basics of qualitative research grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1996.
  • Taylor, Steven J., and Robert Bogdan. Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods, Wiley, 1998.