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How Do I Become a Qualitative Researcher?

By E. Reeder
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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To become a qualitative researcher, you first must be certain that this is a type of research that would interest you as a full-time job, because it is a laborious and painstakingly detailed process. Unlike a quantitative researcher, who conducts objective research based on numbers and statistics, a qualitative researcher conducts subjective research based on detailed observations of people in different settings using a variety of methods. Qualitative research is generally employed by academics in social science fields, so obtaining an advanced degree in one of these areas is necessary to become a qualitative researcher.

A person who decides to become a qualitative researcher usually does so after he or she has chosen the academic subject area of interest. While qualitative research is common in social sciences, so is qualitative research, because it can give insights into genuine human interaction through methods such as case studies, interviews, discourse analysis and observations. Fields such as psychology, sociology, education and anthropology routinely employ qualitative research, because human interaction forms the basis of each of them. To fully understand the academic area and gain a deep knowledge of research methods, earning a terminal degree — usually a doctorate — in the subject area of interest is advisable. True qualitative research studies are intense and painstaking endeavors, so people with an intense and undying interest in a particular area of social science are often the only people who would want to complete them.

Quantitative research usually offers a definite conclusion and analysis based on the numbers and statistics obtained. This is appropriate for some fields, such as mathematics and chemistry. Qualitative researchers, on the other hand, are concerned with obtaining rich narrative data through which they can make suggestions but about which there will be no hard and fast conclusions, especially not ones that can be generalized to larger segments of the population than those included in the study. Qualitative researchers want people who read and study their research to be able to draw their own conclusions about the information presented.

After choosing an academic area of intense interest and earning a terminal degree, one wanting to become a qualitative researcher must design and conduct research studies based on genuine questions he or she has. A qualitative research study in education might seek to understand how students and teachers in an inner-city school with a high dropout rate interact on a daily basis to see what clues could be gleaned about why students drop out. In psychology, a qualitative research study might entail developing a detailed case study of one person suffering from multiple personality disorder and her reactions to therapy to try to integrate the personalities into one. Conducting studies can be done as a university professor or as an employee of an organization that has an interest in the respective area. Obtaining funding and sponsoring organizations for qualitative research can be a challenge but is another key ingredient for anyone who wants to become a qualitative researcher.

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