What Are the Different Types of Qualitative Measurements?

Lee Johnson

The different types of qualitative measurements can be split into participant observation, direct observation, unstructured interviews, and case studies. Many different methods of taking measurements can be used, but generally they fall into these categories. Case studies, for example, are often a combination of the other methods used. Qualitative measurements are more difficult to take than quantitative ones because they rely on large, detailed stores of unfocused data rather than specific, numerical data. The key difference is that qualitative measurements are difficult to quantify, and are generally used to formulate hypotheses or create a more in-depth look at a particular subject.

Focus groups and unstructured interviews are both good options for uncovering qualitative information.
Focus groups and unstructured interviews are both good options for uncovering qualitative information.

Participant observation is a group of qualitative measurements that focus on the researcher actively participating in the particular culture or group that is being studied. This is a very time-consuming method of measurement because it will ordinarily take the researcher some time to gain the trust of the people he or she is observing. The best thing about this type of measurement is that the participants often don’t realize they are being studied, and therefore are more likely to behave as they ordinarily would. A major issue with this type of qualitative measurements is that they are taken by an active participant who, as a result of his or her personal involvement, may have difficulty being objective when collecting data.

Direct observation is another of the possible qualitative measurements. It is very similar to participant observation except that the observer occupies the role of observer, rather than participant. This can lead to situations where the participants change their behavior because they are being observed. The method does make it easier for the observer to remain neutral in his or her observations, however. Technology such as video cameras and one-way mirrors can be used to further detach the researcher from the participants.

Other possible qualitative measurements use methods such as case studies and unstructured interviews. Unstructured interviews are more useful for generally probing into a subject than formulating good data, because they are by nature subjective. Interviews can end up discussing some aspects of an issue in more detail than others, and are open to the biases of both the participants and the interviewer. Case studies basically use a combination of other qualitative measurements to form an overall picture.

Analysis of data collected using qualitative measurements is often problematic. Ordinarily, researchers will form generalizations based on the specific things observed. The data will almost always be recorded as a transcript of some description, which is then looked at in detail to draw conclusions. Usually, qualitative measurements are only used to probe into a subject and choose a topic for a quantitative study.

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