Qualitative research is useful for your dissertation

If you are reading this, the likelihood is that you have to write a dissertation. As writing a dissertation means that you have to research a subject, you will most probably have come across the terms quantitative research and qualitative research. The trick here is distinguishing between the two. In this article, you will learn:

Basically, quantitative research means that circumstances or happenings must be able to be monitored in numbers. For instance, if you were researching how many Irish immigrants lived in the Ancoats slum in Manchester during the 19th century, you would be able to express this with a statistic.

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Qualitative research, on the other hand, analyses attitudes, opinions and feelings. In effect, you might use this to collect data that researches how the Irish immigrants felt about living in crowded and cramped, mouldy cellars with effluence rising up outside their front doors.

At this point, if you were researching whether Irish immigrants that fled The Irish Famine benefited more by moving Manchester in England or Toronto in Canada, you might use both quantitative research and qualitative research. The reason being that you might wish to monitor exactly how many Irish people moved to both places and died within a certain time period and for this you could use statistics. However, you might also wish to understand if the people that survived believed they had advanced themselves from the move or thought that they had moved to a worse situation. To collect data on this aspect of your investigations you would use qualitative research. If you were conducting a historical research project such as the one mentioned, it would be impossible to conduct interviews yourself because the Irish immigrants would no longer be living. However, you could take studies such as Frederich Engels “The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) and interpret the interviews that he did.

  • To ensure that you get the best from your qualitative research make sure that your questions are planned in detail.
  • Make sure that you record the answers either down in words, by recording the interviewee or even making a film of the interview.
  • If you are unclear as to what a reply means, don’t be afraid to probe deeper. This is an advantage of qualitative research.
  • If something that hasn’t occurred to you while you were planning your questions arises, don’t be afraid to bring this into the questions. This proves that your qualitative research is working as it is making you think about your subject in a more meaningful manner.
  • Give yourself time to think about what the answers mean. Are you interpreting them as correctly as is humanly possible?
  • Try to keep your interview semi- structured. This way you are getting the best of both structured and unstructured interviews. The reason for this is that you will be able to prevent your interview going off on a tangent as in an unstructured interview. You are also giving yourself the freedom to explore what your interviewee is suggesting if something interesting arises. If your interview was too tightly structured, you would not allow yourself this necessity. Being able to balance your investigations in this manner is another advantage of qualitative research.

Another useful way to practise qualitative research is the focus group. Basically, this is a group of people, usually four to six, that have a discussion on a certain topic. It is important to prepare your topics and questions beforehand. Although, you need to ensure that the discussion doesn’t go completely off your subject, you also need to allow the group to get on with their discussion without constantly interfering. If this seems like a difficult balance, it can be. However, you will find that some groups are harder to observe than others. Another major problem with this type of research is that sometimes dominant members take over and the more introverted members of the group tend to agree to everything that the louder members say. Remember that for your qualitative research to be successful in this instance, you need to monitor the interactions of the group members as well as what is said. In other words, how did they behave? This includes recording the hierarchical structure of the group.

Case studies are not only useful for your qualitative research but they are often fascinating to work on. There are two different types of case studies that might apply to your research:

  • Case studies that are library based. You might use this method for a literature, history or philosophy dissertation. Basically, you would take a primary source and re-analyse it. For instance, you might take a murder inquiry from the 19th century where the accused had been found guilty and hanged. As you scrutinized all the evidence you might have cause to believe that the guilty judgement was an unsafe one. You could then question how many cases did this happen in. Does this have an effect overall in the punishment system?
  • Fieldwork case studies. This is something that you would conduct yourself in the environment of your future field. For instance, if you were going into social work, you may want to explore the effects that having a child with special needs has on the parents’ marriage or career. You would then whittle your research down so that you were attempting to uncover some original data. The secret here is to ensure that once you have done that, it needs to relate back to something significant to do with society and your field.

Observations can be used for both quantitative and qualitative research. However, as this article is about the latter, we shall restrict ourselves to discussing that. Basically, observations can mean observing a whole host of subjects whether it is events, activities, artefacts or even locations. However, it is particularly useful when you believe that people act in a different manner than they suggest. For instance:

“You might have an EAL (English as another language) teacher telling you that she elicits all the responses from her students. In other words, by using a series of questions, she gets them to tell her the answers that she is angling for. It is a two-way street and they do as much speaking English as she does. However, when you sit in on her lesson, she stands at the front of the class and talks solidly for ten minutes at a time. Not only does she not elicit the answers but she sprouts out English grammar rules that would confuse a professor of English.”

This would suggest that the teacher believes that she is teaching the class as she was taught when learning how to teach English as a Foreign Language but, in essence, she is teaching how she was taught at school as a child. Something like this could truly help your research particularly as it has wider implications on the education system. For example, how common is it that teachers don’t actually teach as they believe they are teaching?

In essence, to get the most out of your observations, you need to:

  • Be organised and clear about what it is exactly that you are searching for.
  • Work out how you will record your methods of observation before you start observing your subjects. Don’t leave it until you are in the process of observing to think how you will record your qualitative research.
  • Write or record your observations as they happen. Under no circumstances should you rely on memory.
  • Try to be invisible to the person you are observing. If your presence is really obvious, they make not act as they would naturally and that will not give you a proper picture of the situation. In fact, it could make your research invalid.
  • Reflect upon and analyse your research material as soon as possible after the observation event. If you wait and let everything pile up, your memory will not be as clear and something important to your qualitative research could be forgotten.

What to do if you need help

Conducting research, whether it is quantitative or qualitative research can be confusing and time consuming as can writing a dissertation. You do not need to let it stress you out, however, or scupper your chances of getting a good degree because you can get help. We offer a full range of research and writing service that include dissertation writing, letter writing, research, proof reading and editing. To find out how we can help you, contact us now.

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