Let us first understand the concept, nature and philosophy behind qualitative research to appreciate its strengths and weaknesses better. Qualitative research looks for answers to naturally occurring social phenomenon and presents facts as they appear, with less chance of manipulation of the experiment. Data is collected through direct interaction with respondents to gain a good understanding of their perspectives. This research paradigm in education was developed when researchers struggled with weaknesses of quantitative research such as inability to answer questions about social phenomenon such as how, why, and in what ways. The researchers, therefore, have attempted to develop new paradigms based on the notions that were missing in quantitative research in education. Practitioners also included researcher's viewpoint in qualitative research as this factor too was completely missing from quantitative methods. A researcher's expertise, knowledge and thoughts influence the research to a large extent. There are several situations in which qualitative research is more suitable such as to gain better understanding of lesser know phenomenon, or gather more information or new viewpoints.
Since there are no standardized methods of qualitative enquiry, practitioners usually follow a generally accepted sequence of steps. The first step towards designing qualitative research is to ascertain the focus of the study and the objectives which should also be able to justify the need for a qualitative research paradigm. This is followed by identification and location of the sample group and size. Data collection, recording, interpretation strategies and timeline also need to be planned ahead. Sampling in qualitative research is mostly done through purposive method so that a specific population is targeted to receive in-depth information and build a case study. Purposive sampling is also of many types such as snowball, convenience and needs to be decided according to the objectives of the research.
Data collection techniques in qualitative research usually employ interview focus group discussions and observation methods as well as secondary review of available data. Interviews are open ended and can be in form of informal conversations, semi-structured or standardized interviews. On the other hand, observations provide rich data about respondents in their natural settings. It allows researcher to interpret a lot of information about the subjects without them even being aware of. Observations also allow the opportunity to record verbal and non-verbal cues in given settings, situations and among other people. At times, a researcher may also become a participant and get involved in the groups activities to gain insider knowledge about he subjects, especially when studying cultures. In addition to conducting first hand interviews and observations, review of documents, reports, notes or published data effectively supplements data collection efforts. Literature review also forms one of the first steps to gain more understanding of the area that needs to be researched.
Data analysis in qualitative research has its own bouquet of challenges like the whole qualitative research paradigm. Data must be studied, organized, broken, coded into patterns and selected for dissemination to