What is Qualitative Research?
The term “Qualitative Research” emcompasses a plethora of methods of inquiry applied in a variety of academic disciplines. Traditionally based in the social sciences, qualitative research also extends into great many associated fields such as market research, crimonology, and even medicine, to name only a few.
Qualitative researchers seek an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the motives that govern such behavior.
Qualitative research is all about exploring individual issues and cases, understanding concrete phenomena, and answering practical questions. Although on the large scale there exists an entire industry engaged in its pursuit, qualititative research literally happens in nearly every workplace and study environment, every day.
First and foremost, qualitative methods produce information only on the particular cases studied, and any more general conclusions are only hypotheses (informative guesses). Quantitative methods can be used to verify which of such hypotheses are true. They seeks out the “why,” not so much the “how” of their topic through the analysis of “unstructured” information – things like interview transcripts, emails, notes, feedback forms, photos and videos. Qualitative research does not rely on statistics or numbers (as would “quantatiative” or “statistical” research), but “texts” (in the widest sense), opinions, artifacts, even palimpsests, of concrete human expression.
Most frequently, its main goal can be described as gaining insight into people’s attitudes, behaviors, value systems, concerns, motivations, aspirations, culture or lifestyles. Qualitative research is used to inform business decisions, policy formation, communication, as well as other types of research. Focus groups, in-depth interviews, content analysis, ethnography, evaluation and semiotics are among the many formal approaches that are used, but qualitative research also involves the analysis of any unstructured material, including customer feedback forms, reports or audio/video clips.
Collecting and analyzing this unstructured information can be downright messy and time-consuming when using traditional (i.e. manual) methods. Finding themes and extracting meaning is an extremely daunting task when faced with volumes of materials.
Hence, increasingly a special breed of software assists reasearchers in the complex tasks of collecting, managing, sifting, and ultimately analyzing the increasingly growing masses of material.
What is Qualitative Research Software?
Qualitative research software–like ATLAS.ti–helps people to manage, shape and make sense of unstructured information. It doesn’t do the thinking for you; it provides a sophisticated workspace that enables you to work through your information.
With purpose-built tools for classifying, sorting and arranging information, qualitative research software gives you more time to analyze your materials, identify themes, glean insight and develop meaningful conclusions.
ATLAS.ti was the first of a growing breed of specialized QDA software packages to help the social researcher with the process. Over nearly two decades it has maintanined its status as the de-facto standard QDA software tool for the social researcher although many of its features have been adapted by other manufacturers as well.