When your goal is writing up qualitative research, it needs to be precise yet easy to understand. Simply put, qualitative research is a scientific method used to gather non-numerical data. Instead of researching measures or counts, qualitative research is used to learn descriptions of various items as well as metaphors, meanings, characteristics, and the definitions of those things.
The Basics of Qualitative Research
Research related to qualitative data is usually conducted to determine how and why a certain phenomenon occurs, not how often it occurs. If you were trying to determine how often it occurs, this would be a good example of quantitative research. If you’re curious who uses qualitative research, the answer is simple. Qualitative research is used by non-profit organizations, all types of academic disciplines, the natural and social sciences, businesses, journalists, and those interested in qualitative market research.
It is easier to understand qualitative research when you think of it in simple terms. Qualitative research is used mostly for exploratory research. It helps you learn the underlying reasons and motivations why certain things happen. If you were interested in uncovering trends in opinions and thoughts, you would perform qualitative research. Some of the ways that people conduct this type of research include case studies, individual interviews, and focus groups, among others.
In many cases, qualitative research involves small group sizes because a certain quota must be fulfilled. Some of the techniques used are very structured while others are not structured at all. Qualitative research helps you get insight into certain problem areas and even helps you develop a hypothesis so that you can delve into the problem even deeper. It is frequently used to determine not just what people are thinking but also why they are thinking it.
There are various methods used to conduct qualitative research, including:
- Case study research: This is used for explaining an entity or an organization; it is one of the simplest methods of qualitative research.
- Ethnographic research: This is very in-depth research that can last anywhere from a few days to several years; it involves in-depth observation of a certain ethnic group.
- Focus group: This is used mostly to collect data and to answer questions such as “why,” “how,” and “what.” An online survey is a good example.
- One-on-one interview: This is a very common method that results in a lot of very valuable information; it can be conducted in person or over the phone.
- Qualitative observation: This is the use of subjective methodology so that systematic data or information can be gathered.
- Record-keeping: This involves taking into consideration data that already exists and using it in new research.
When you’ve been tasked with conducting qualitative research, it is good to first learn the basics of this type of research. Furthermore, since this research is often going to be written up and submitted for publication, it is also important to know exactly how to write up the research. Publishers want clear, concise information that even laypeople can understand so it’s good to know how to perform this task so that you don’t just haphazardly write and send in your document.
Some Things to Remember Before You Start Writing
Writing up qualitative research isn’t necessarily complex so once you learn what publishers are looking for, it will be much easier to provide it to them. It is good to start with learning as much as possible about the publication so that you’re familiar with its style and form. It is also good to keep in mind the following basic tips and suggestions:
- Explain why the study was needed in the first place
- Describe what you found while conducting your research
- Describe in detail what you did and why
- Explain what your findings mean
The editors at the publication are likely looking for something very specific so they will reject the paper if it doesn’t fit within their guidelines. Most editors looking for qualitative research papers want to know:
- If qualitative research was the best way to handle the problem
- If you’ve done an efficient analysis of the data so that you end up with the right conclusion
- If the research was scientific and authentic
- If your paper fits within their guidelines and if it’s a good fit for their publication
- If you’ve used the most up-to-date research methods to conduct the research
As you can see, you have to know what a specific publication is looking for before writing up the details of your research. Fortunately, this isn’t a difficult thing to learn because most publications go into detail on their websites and in the issues themselves about everything that you need to know before you start writing.
Getting Started: Basic Parts of a Qualitative Research Paper
Once you’ve chosen a publication and you’re familiar with their rules regarding the submission of papers, you are ready to start writing. Starting at the beginning by deciding on your title is an important part of the process but it is by no means an easy part. The title has to attract attention but it should also include certain pieces of information. This includes the research question itself as well as the method you used.
Titles should be short and sweet because long titles are more difficult to grasp, can be very confusing to the readers, and are even less likely to be cited. Even quotation marks in your title can be confusing and detrimental so it’s best not to use them. If you use the research question and methodology in your title, it is also more likely to appear when prospective readers conduct an Internet search.
Here are some other parts that you should always include in your analysis of the research:
- Introduction: Start with the background and include things such as what was known before the study, clarification of any jargon used in the paper, and a short statement about the literature.
- The research question: Make sure that this is in a separate section and use numbered or bulleted questions whenever possible.
- The research methods used: This is the most important part of your paper and should include recruitment techniques and the analysis and collection of the data, among other topics.
The latter section will be the bulk of your paper and it should include very detailed information on your research. You should include the following information in this section:
- Explain justification and rationale for why you chose qualitative research over other types of research
- Explain how you recruited people for the study; include the reasons why some people chose not to participate in the study
- Describe and justify your sampling strategy whether it’s quota sampling, convenience sampling, theoretical sampling, or any other type.
- Describe where the interviews were conducted, the types of interviews conducted, whether or not you recorded the interviews, and anything else about them that you consider important
- Explain how you analyzed the data and how you coded it
- Describe how you assessed the ways in which claims are supported by the evidence
- Talk about how you assure confidentiality for the participants and how you verified their consent
Once you’re written up this information, you can start writing about the findings. Writing it as a narrative with your data presented as illustrations is a very effective technique. Label your data sources clearly and use italics or indentations for any quotes you use. You should also make sure that you include the results from at least most, if not all, of the participants.
A discussion of your findings can come next. In this section, you can discuss previous research and describe how your research adds to that. You can include any relevance on an international level as well as the limitations and strengths of the research. This is normally the last section of the paper so you should feel free to include anything important that didn’t fit in previous sections.
Giving Editors What They Want
Learning the basics of writing up qualitative research is one thing but you can feel free to make it your own and therefore a little unique. That being said, it is also important to keep in mind that most, if not all, editors of the publications you’re interested in will likely have a checklist when reviewing your article.
What does this mean? It means that you have to adhere to their guidelines and give them what they want every time. Remember that this is a literal checklist and if they aren’t able to check off all of the items on that list, your article is not likely to be accepted. The Mays and Pope checklist, for example, contains 11 items on it and these items include information on whether the phenomenon has a coherent explanation and how well participants’ behavior is explained in the paper, among other things.
In most cases, the editors are looking for specific details in your paper but it is easy to learn beforehand exactly what they’re looking for. It’s a good idea to include an abstract, introduction, problem background, information on the researcher’s role, the methodology used, ethical considerations, and analysis of the data, among other things. You should always be concise with your writing and always use the past tense.
Of course, no qualitative research paper is complete without a list of citations, diagrams and data sets, permission letters, and consent forms signed by the participants. You should always block out names of institutions or participants and use a reference list that adheres to the style guide that you were meant to use. If your report is extra long, you can include an executive summary and you should also have on hand the style manual, the data analysis, and your data sets before you start to write.
Making Sure That Your Research Paper Is Effective
Just as with other types of papers, qualitative research papers can be made much better if you know how to do this. Below is a very general list of what many editors hope to see when they are poring through papers on qualitative research but keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list:
- Always include basic information in the section on methodology. This should include why the research is needed, why you choose a particular context, and how you got from the data to the findings.
- Make sure that you always show your data. Keep in mind that data and theory should always be well aligned and showing data in both the body of the paper and in graphics is highly recommended.
- Consider using figures to organize your thinking. This is especially effective when describing analyses that are complex and difficult to understand. Figures are also great visual ways to show your findings.
- Think of the paper as if you’re trying to tell a story. Think of each segment of the paper as characters in the story, although not all of them will be “major” characters. Allot the appropriate amount of time to each of these characters without overdoing it.
- Read research papers that have already been published so that you can better understand what editors are looking for and what they want from their writers.
Just as with other papers, qualitative research papers need to be well written, concise, easy to understand, and filled with facts and important data that matter. Of course, if you know your audience, writing the paper will be a lot simpler. This is where some research into the publication you’re interested in comes into play.
Of course, if you have all of the data in front of you and you’re struggling to get the paper written, there is no need to be discouraged. This happens sometimes. If you’re having trouble with the actual writing of the document, there are things that you can do to make the process a lot less stressful on you. This includes the following tips and suggestions:
- If you feel overwhelmed, start with the sections that are easiest to write and come back to the more difficult areas at a later time.
- If you’ve written before, consider using your “copy and paste” feature and including some of that content in your current paper. Just don’t forget to tweak it so that it is appropriate for the new paper.
- If a phrase or sentence gives you problems, don’t spend too much time on it. Jot down a symbol or a series of question marks to indicate the parts that you need to come back to later and write as much as you can around that.
- Don’t start writing until all of the information is available. If you haven’t fully analyzed the data, there is no way that you can write about it in your paper. Wait until everything is complete before you start writing.
- Pick a time of day that is most conducive to writing. Everyone has a favorite and most productive time of day to write so find yours and stick with it.
You should also edit the correct way, which is via a hard copy of the document. Proofreading by looking at a computer screen usually doesn’t allow you to catch everything that is wrong with the paper so print out a copy of the paper instead and edit on there.
A Few Other Tips to Help You Write a Better Paper
Writing up qualitative research is better if you know how to prepare for it ahead of time. In addition to learning your audience and choosing the publication to send the paper to, there are also other tips and suggestions that can help you write a better research paper. These include:
- If appropriate, link the information to similar topical issues that may coincide with your findings.
- Make sure that you use graphics to better illustrate your points. Using this technique also makes your paper look better and it will be more enticing to readers.
- Stay away from academic debates. The reason for your paper is to provide the results of your research, not get into a debate between competing professionals.
- Try to make your article accessible in the long term because even years from now, there is likely to be people who want to read what it has to say.
You can also choose to write for a generic audience instead of to a specific one. This way, you can adapt parts of the article when you go to submit it to a publication that has a specific audience or readership. The important thing to remember with any qualitative research paper is to make your points succinctly, use charts and graphs to prove points and keep it interesting, and, most importantly, keep the readers interested with each paragraph so they don’t get bored.