A qualitative researcher is a person who employs qualitative research methods to complete research studies, usually in social science subject areas such as psychology, education, anthropology or sociology. The highly trained academic professional known as the qualitative researcher focuses on research methodologies to try to understand the intricacies of human behavior, both as individuals and as members of a group or institution. While a quantitative researcher uses large samples of subjects to extrapolate results that are put in the format of numbers and statistics, a qualitative researcher uses smaller sample sizes to provide a comprehensive picture through data that is detailed and rich.
In the field of education, a qualitative researcher might try to see how students and teachers get along and how the learning environment in a school has been affected by the implementation of a certain behavior modification program. To gather information, the researcher would need what is known as a gatekeeper, such as the principal, to get permission to conduct the study and to gain access to people in the school. The researcher might then spend several weeks over the course of two or three school years gathering information. He or she might interview students and teachers, have them complete surveys, and observe to gather data related to the behavior modification program. Particularly trusted study subjects known as key informants, such as people who might have inside knowledge of how the new plan is affecting faculty and student relations, are people with whom the researcher will want to talk extensively.
Before beginning a study, a qualitative researcher will decide on the goals of the study and the data collection methodologies — such as observation, surveys, interviews or case studies — to be used. During and after the study, the qualitative researcher will keep extensive notes and documentation so rich-thick data will be available for analysis. Coding of data is important to analysis, because it can reduce some of the large amounts of information sure to be recorded. In qualitative research, the researcher is concerned with the trustworthiness of data and may rely on triangulation methods such as peer debriefing and interviewer corroboration to make sure it is accurate. Unlike quantitative research, which is supposed to be able to be generalized to situations or groups larger than the study sample, qualitative research is only meant to give people insight into what happened with the small sample of study subjects so they can study the conclusions of the researcher, draw their own conclusions and see how relevant the research study is to them.