Demystifying qualitative research design for final year undergraduate students in education and social sciences

Maxwell Constantine Chando Musingafi, Isaac Mhute, Ishmael Pombi


In this paper we distinguish between qualitative research and quantitative research design. Quantitative research is based on positivist approaches that originated in the natural sciences such as biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and many others. These early forms of research were concerned with investigating things which we could observe and measure in some way. Such observations and measurements can be made objectively and repeated by other researchers. Much later along came researchers working in the social sciences: psychology, sociology, anthropology and many other human studies. They were interested in studying human behaviour and the social world inhabited by human beings. They found increasing difficulty in trying to explain human behaviour in simply measurable terms. Measurements tell us how often or how many people behave in a certain way but they do not adequately answer the question ‘why?’ Research which attempts to increase our understanding of why things are the way they are in our social world and why people act the ways they do is ‘qualitative’ research. Qualitative methods are more interpretative, historical, and ethnographic than are quantitative approaches. There are many methods of qualitative research designs, but in this paper we explore three specific types of qualitative research design: phenomenology, ethnography, and case study.

KEYWORDS: quantitative research, qualitative research, ethnography, phenomenology, case study, education, social sciences.

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