19 Advantages and Disadvantages of Qualitative Research Methods

The University of Utah College of nursing defines qualitative research like this. “[It] is the process of naturalistic inquiry that seeks in-depth understanding of social phenomena within their natural setting.”

If we were to put that observation into layman’s terms, then we would say that qualitative research wants to answer the questions of “why” when examining a situation instead of looking at the “what.” It relies on the direct experiences that we have as humans as meaning and making agents as we go about our daily lives.

Researchers using the system look at multiple components of inquiry for the study of human-related activities and existence. They may use case studies, biographies, discourse analysis, ground theory, and even phenomenology.

There are three primary areas of focus for qualitative research: cultures, communication, and individuals. Even though there are several methods of inquiry in qualitative research, each has a common assumption. This process considers knowledge to be subjective rather than objective, and it requires the research to learn from participants to understand the meaning of their lives through a neutral perspective.

Here are the qualitative research pros and cons to consider when looking at this particular method.

List of the Pros of Qualitative Research

1. It provides more content that is useful for practical application.
If you want the ability to form relationships in the modern world, then authenticity must be your top priority. Understanding the core concepts of how someone defines themselves is challenging from an outside perspective. The qualitative research process encourages social scientists to understand why people make the choices they do each day. That makes it possible to see how lives are structured, making it possible to develop content that becomes useful for practical application. It is a way to make something that solves actual problems in life.

2. It uses a smaller sample size than other research methods.
Most qualitative research studies are completed rapidly because they use smaller sample sizes. This structure makes it possible for social scientists to glean data from participants quickly, creating a generalization that can then become useful for a demographic or the general population. With the faster results, researchers can move forward confidently because of the quality of the information they obtained.

3. It offers the chance to develop specific insights.
Humans are complex creatures. We tend to make decisions based on convenience and comfort, but we also move forward in ways that are comfortable for our moral or ethical positions. The way that we talk, the words that we use, and even on our non-verbal communication all create a foundation for social scientists to understand us better. When they use this method to look at the problems or choices that we face every day, it becomes possible to find insights within that data which can help to solve problems for everyone. This process is an opportunity to understand the context of what is going on instead of looking at only the choices or behaviors individually.

4. It eliminates the potential for bias within the data.
One of the significant issues that social research faces is the unconscious bias. People have preconceived notions about specific demographics and people that could influence the research. Even scientists and researchers are not immune to this process. Qualitative research makes it possible to set aside these judgments because it looks at the actual structure of the decision-making process. It collects data from the events which lead up to the choice instead of looking at it after the fact. That’s why the information collected from this process is often more accurate than other methods, making it possible to create a predictable outcome.

5. It can be an open-ended process.
One of the significant advantages of the qualitative research process is that it does not rely on closed questioning. Researchers are able to ask open-ended questions whenever they feel it is necessary to collect some more information from the individuals involved in the study. This structure makes it possible to understand why emotional responses develop in the first place. It can also help social scientists discover information that might otherwise be overlooked because there is more emphasis placed on the interview portion of the world.

6. It turns individual experiences into usable data.
One of the reasons why diversity is a buzzword in today’s business climate is because the elements of life that make humans different is what will make them stronger as a group. It is like taking the concept of yin and yang on a massive scale. What qualitative research offers is an opportunity to turn these unique individual experiences into data that is usable in a variety of ways. Once we understand why people make the choices they do, it becomes possible to find ways to improve that process.

7. It uses a fluid operational structure instead of rigid guidelines.
Qualitative research relies on social scientists being able to watch and experience situations with the subjects they are studying to produce usable information. Instead of focusing on a specific framework that require zero deviation from the process, researches can pursue any event, fact, or statistic that they feel is relevant to their data collection efforts. It is a way to incorporate the complexities of the human experience into a structure that creates a database of conclusions that becomes useful for the general population.

8. It focuses on the purpose of a decision instead of the details.
Imagine a scenario of a moment where there is a father of four children who is unemployed. They do not receive any social welfare benefits, and there isn’t a food bank available to use. He has asked food providers in his community to help his family, but the response has always been negative. They have now gone three days without food. Everyone is hungry. The father decides to steal what his family requires in the least harmful way possible to ensure his children get something to eat.

Qualitative research looks at the purpose of the decision as the primary data point, so it would examine the reasons why hunger was there in the first place. Other research methods would look at the behavior, which is a crime. We need to know the full story behind decisions to make improvements to society. If we only get part of the picture, then we can only achieve partial results.

9. It still offers a predictive quality.
The information that researchers gather through the qualitative research process still offers a predictive quality, even though the perspectives and experiences of those involve can vary by a substantial amount. People who grow up in similar circumstances will often prefer specific situations and outcomes to reduce their pain points. Although this data cannot be applied to the general population, there is an opportunity to understand more about the processes of ultra-specific demographics. This process promotes an opportunity to develop responses, services, or products that can help those people.

10. It is more affordable than other research methods.
Focus groups often rely on the qualitative process for gathering information because it is fast, affordable, and effective. You can sit a few people down at a table, ask them specific questions, and then get the answers that you want right away. Compared to the lengthy studies that other methods require, you can proceed with an idea much faster using this process.

List of the Cons of Qualitative Research

1. It creates subjective data.
Although there are several benefits to consider when using the personal perspective of researchers in the qualitative research method, there will always be a subjective quality to the data that they gather. Some people will always believe that certain vital points are more critical to their findings than others. You can place three researchers in the same room to observe an event and then receive three differing perspectives. You can receive highly detailed information with this option, but it can also be incredibly inaccurate.

2. It takes a lot of time to collect the data points.
One of the significant advantages of the qualitative research method is that it creates a lot of potential data points which are usable to the social scientists. This process also creates a disadvantage which must be considered by researchers as well. When there is a lot of information available from this research process, there must be a time commitment to sort through the elements to determine what is usable and what is not. It is an element of uncertainty that is never truly eliminated from this option.

3. It does not offer statistical representation.
Qualitative research does not care about percentages or statistics. It wants to find commonalities. Although this process is helpful for looking at specific areas of concern within ultra-local demographics, it can be challenging to apply the findings to a broader population. The best result researchers can produce is a comparison of data that can help them understand why some things happen the way that they do. If a process requires a broader perspective, then this is not the best option to choose.

4. It requires researchers to be knowledge about what they are reviewing.
The opportunities that are possible through qualitative research become possible because of the industry-related expertise that researchers have. If an interviewer is unfamiliar with the subject involved, then they cannot ask the relevant questions that are necessary to get the results that are desired. Every research method requires some level of personal knowledge of those involved, but this disadvantage can lead to a complete waste of time for everyone involved if no one can interpret the responses correctly.

5. It requires researchers to identify unspoken data points.
Researchers are trusted to connect all of the dots when they gather information through the qualitative process. They must read non-verbal cues, have an empathetic response, and understand the situation behind each action a person takes when going through this process. There is a lot of info that comes to the social scientists in a form that goes beyond observational. Missing this data can lead to incomplete results, false conclusions, or worse.

If there are any questions regarding this disadvantage in the final research summary, it is possible that the scientific community may not accept the findings. The only way to counter this issue is to repeat the work with different researchers, have third-party verification, or take steps to pursue the findings even if no one else agrees with them.

6. It may require repetitive research efforts.
Because qualitative research focuses on a smaller sample size to develop a rich data profile, the complexity of the questions involved becomes a potential disadvantage. When there is a critical decision to be made, then discovering the potential consequences on both sides of that equation can help to develop a better SWOT profile. Since the smaller size of the sample is not always an accurate representation of an entire demographic, there may need to be several follow-ups involved to ensure that there is accuracy throughout the process.

7. It is challenging to replicate results using this method.
Theories become fact because third-party researchers can verify the information that the initial studies produce. When others can duplicate your work, it becomes useful to the betterment of that demographic. Qualitative research is highly subjective, so finding opportunities for duplication are incredibly rare. If you need someone else to verify your results, then the scope of information collection will be limited. This disadvantage would then offer an incomplete look at the subject matter, which could then produce ineffective decisions down the road.

8. It can be subjective to research influence.
The data points collected during the qualitative research process can be influenced subtly to produce specific results that look authentic. It is possible to support a biased point of view by asking targeted questions that generate a specific result. Unless controls are in place to remove this potential for intended influence, there is always the possibility that the results generated by this effort are questioned as to its authenticity.

9. It does not offer data rigidity.
The qualitative research process tries to find points of common ground that people share in specific demographics. It is like having one person say, “I like the color green,” and then having other people agree with that statement. When researchers want to pinpoint specific opportunities for advancement or improvement, the generic nature of common ground makes it impossible to create meaningful results. Even though everyone might like green, one person might prefer lime, another olive, a third sage, and someone might even mention chartreuse. That’s why this process looks more at the reasons behind the color preference in the first place instead of trying to determine a specific outcome.

The pros and cons of qualitative research look at how we are diverse as a people to create a better understanding of why we are who we are. This process makes it possible to look deeper into the issue of choice to determine why specific pain points exist for certain demographics. When researchers can see recurring patterns develop, then they can start to find solutions that benefit everyone. That leads to better processes, products, and opportunities for everyone in the future.

About the Author
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.