Qualitative research and research

In communication, we do research all the time. We need to know what people think about advertising, if they listen to the news, if they like a magazine or new movie, if they participate in a social platform.

The word ‘research’ strikes fear into many students’ hearts.  This is unnecessary.  Research, however, remains the biggest purpose and challenge of studying, especially on a postgraduate level.

As a result of research, millions of society’s problems have been solved.  Cures for diseases were found, practical solutions for living were devised, we found out more about humans and animals and nature.  We also know what to do when something is a real challenge or problem – we ask researchers to do some research and find solutions.

That does not mean that research is easy or that it always works.  “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”  Einstein made this kind of wonderful statement.  Von Braun apparently meant something similar when he said that “research is what I am doing when I don’t know what I am doing”. We often have to do communication research to find what is working and what not.

When a student begins his or her postgraduate studies, an module of research is always involved in the particular course or curriculum.  Then, all of a sudden, one becomes busy with a master’s dissertation or a doctoral thesis, and you need to prove the problem, process and findings through full-blown research.  This research must also valid and reliable and should be repeatable.  What a difficult challenge!

To make it even more frightening and mystifying, you now need to decide whether your research will be qualitative or quantitative.  What? How? Where does one start? What does it even mean?

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This is where the researcher or student needs to relax, take a step back, and focus on the “experiment” and research problem.  What, now we have to have a problem?  This is of course the most exciting and best part of the research – to design the problem you want to explore, analyse, describe, interpret, condense. Sometimes you are lucky, and people tell you what the problem is that needs to be solved through investigation.  The process itself, however, must still be logical.

After decades of being involved with students’ research and my own, I can promise you that it is actually a very exciting challenge.  The design and methods of qualitative research are particularly the ones I love.  This is about the feelings, explanations, clarifications of feelings, emotions, thoughts, needs and problems of human beings.  The methods used for this type of research are focus groups, case studies, content analysis and grounded theory, active participation, field observation, ethnography and phenomenology.  Probing interviews can also be used.

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For quantitative research (meaning that it can be counted through figures, percentages or statistics), the methods are usually laboratory-like and experimental.  Percentages are part of the solution, and often software programs dealing with large numbers of people can be used.

I would love to help you with your qualitative research (as this is what I really love most): facilitating focus groups, drawing up interview schedules or questionnaires, designing phenomenological or etnographical approaches, doing content analysis and media monitoring (which I worked in for many years), or active participation.  If you are a company needing research, or a student who struggle with the concepts of your dissertation of thesis, I am available to help you.

And always remember: some of the world or society or community’s greatest solutions came from research.  You are daily doing research in your own life: shall I go to work by bus or with the car?  For formal research, these problems are just focused and written down.