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Qualitative Data at BC

11/17/10

Unlike quantitative data, qualitative data deals with descriptions. It can be observed, but may be difficult to count or express numerically. For example, a group may include 10 people (quantitative), and others interacting with that group may have different perceptions of how friendly the group is (qualitative).

The demand for qualitative and mixed methods research is growing in many disciplines such as social work, education and public health.  

Qualitative data includes text data such as:

  • Field notes
  • Interview transcripts
  • Open ended responses from face-to-face interviews
  • Paper or online surveys
  • Internet blogs, web pages, or wikis
  • Video transcripts
  • Texts of political speeches and other historical documents
  • Full articles from journals or works of literature in specific disciplines.

Qualitative data may also include photographs, drawings, videos, and music.

Qualitative strategies of inquiry may include narrative research, text analysis, phenomenology, ethnography, grounded theory studies, and case studies.

In many disciplines, quantitative research employs mathematical models, theories, and hypotheses.  Surveys, statistically validated tests designed to measure operationalized concepts, and experiments, are widely used to gather quantitative data. Statistical methods are used in the analysis, testing of hypotheses, and presentation of results.

Mixed methods research combines the collection and analysis of both qualitative and quantitative data based on a predetermined research design that takes advantage of both approaches.

Qualitative analysis software can be very helpful and powerful in sorting and sifting through data in large qualitative and mixed methods research projects. The strength of these packages is that they can assist qualitative researchers in identifying new themes, concepts and relationships in large collections of quantitative data, as well as in testing and confirming hypotheses about relationships between concepts in the data. This is very helpful in both qualitative and mixed methods papers.

Although extremely powerful and versatile, qualitative software should never be used as a substitute for strong grounding in qualitative research methodologies. Smaller projects where the researcher is searching for patterns in smaller collections of data, particularly text data, might be accomplished equally efficiently with the search capabilities of a word processor.

Three of the most popular qualitative packages in use at Boston College are HyperResearch, Nvivo and Atlas.ti, which can also export and import demographic and frequency data to and from quantitative packages like SPSS, Stata, and SAS.

Quantitative and mixed methods study design, and consultation on the use of this software is available by contacting ITS Research Services at researchservices@bc.edu. 

Note: The picture associated with this Feature on the ITS home page shows an example of how Nvivo8, a frequently used qualitative analysis software package at BC, is used to query coding of graphic images to display relationship strengthening similarities in dyadic relationships.