Qualitative research differs from quantitative research in that it is more concerned with understanding how and why people feel as they do. It doesn’t use statistics to arrive at conclusions; the data collected is in the form of words rather than numbers. The written results of the research contain direct quotations from respondents to illustrate and substantiate the information.
Personal interviews and group discussions are two common methods used for collecting qualitative information. The dynamic nature of an interview or focus group discussion engages respondents more actively than is possible in a written survey. Because of the in-depth nature, the size of the research sample tends to be smaller than quantitative projects that utilize much larger samples.
Qualitative research is used to gain insight into people's attitudes, behaviors, value systems, concerns, motivations, aspirations, culture or lifestyles. It is ideal for assessing reaction to a new direction, program, product or service; policy formation; defining themes and ideas and discovery of new critical issues.
Resources for more information
Information on research at The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, particularly Charting Change, an article published in Volume 15, Issue 2 of Philanthropy Matters Magazine
Qualitative Research for Education: An Introduction to Theories and Methods, Fifth Edition by Robert Bogdan, Sari Knopp Biklen
Transforming Qualitative Data: Description, Analysis, and Interpretation by Harry F. Wolcott