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What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is a flexible approach to gaining a deep understanding of a topic, issue or event specific to a particular organization or group. It aims to provide explanation of the structure, order, patterns and unique attributes of groups of individuals as articulated by them.

Topics could include specific health conditions and they related to people’s beliefs, values, perceptions and behaviors. Diabetes is more than blood sugar, medications and a recommended diet. Positive health outcomes for people living with diabetes is reflected by the patient experience with care.

Issues could include a community substance abuse epidemic. Organizations such as law enforcement, treatment facilities and rehabilitation programs must have an understanding of the lived experience of addiction in order to develop and implement sustainable interventions.

Groups could include people with any common characteristic. Students, employees in a particular business, mothers, people living in poverty or those with mental health problems are just a few examples.

Data collection methods include observation, in-depth interviews and discussion as well as first-hand experience guided by the participants. Often, participants essentially become fellow researchers and teachers while researchers become students and participants.

Qualitative research answers questions about the way people perceive the meaning of issues, events and experiences and how that meaning influences behaviors specific to a particular group.

Qualitative research can also have a powerful therapeutic impact. It has been suggested that, as a listener, the qualitative researcher may offer the participant a mechanism for reflection, greater self-awareness, finding a voice, obtaining information, and venting repressed emotions.

This kind of exploration joins the communities of individuals, researchers and healthcare providers. Qualitative research preserves the human side of inquiry, data collection and knowledge so that health can stay connected to care.

Knowledge gained from qualitative research studies can generate hypotheses for further qualitative work or for quantitative research involving specific treatments or interventions. It can provide valuable information that can guide the development of surveys and questionnaires for data collection on a larger scale.

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