What Are Qualitative Instruments?

Jennifer Leigh

Qualitative instruments are used in investigative qualitative research. This type of research is different from quantitative research because the researcher is a large part of the process and can be considered one of the qualitative instruments. Other types of qualitative instruments include focus groups, interviews, and documentary analysis. In addition, narratives are utilized as well as observation by the researcher in the field. The data is analyzed using different methods to produce information that is in the form of words or images and can be coded for further analysis.

Focus groups may be used to determine qualitative factors that play a part in a specific opinion.
Focus groups may be used to determine qualitative factors that play a part in a specific opinion.

The researcher is considered one of the major qualitative instruments in this type of research, as he or she is a large part of the process. When the researcher conducts an interview or observes a party, he or she is affecting and becoming involved in the situation. This is different from quantitative research that aims to be objective instead of subjective by utilizing instruments that have been normed on previous populations. A qualitative researcher generally develops the questions that he or she asks before the study begins, as the aim in qualitative research is to get a personal look at the subject, or subjects, being studied.

Interviews are often important instruments in qualitative research, and they can be done in both structured and unstructured ways. Structured interviews include a set of questions that the researcher has formulated beforehand. Unstructured interviews allow the researcher and subject to simply talk with one another and share information in an informal atmosphere. Focus groups are used to get a group talking about a certain subject while the members are under observation. This is a helpful instrument if a researcher wants to get more than one person's ideas at one time, or to see the interaction amongst members of the group.

Another of the major qualitative instruments is field observation, which is done by the researcher when the subject is in a seemingly normal setting. For example, a child playing with toys or other children could be observed with a video camera and the content analyzed at a later time. Narrative is another instrument often used, which allows the subject to tell a story or write something down that he or she gives to the researcher. This allows the subject to relay information completely in his or her own words that can be analyzed later for themes or trends. Analysis of old videos and objects can also be utilized as qualitative instruments.

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