The main strength of qualitative research is its ability to study phenomena which are simply unavailable elsewhere.
Imagine you want to study ambulance crews’ responses to emergency calls. One way to do this would be to examine statistics giving the time which such crews take to get to an emergency. However, such statistics may not tell the whole story. For instance, when does the timing of the emergency services’ response begin (when the caller picks up the phone or when the ambulance crew receives the information from the operator)? And isn’t it also important to examine how operators and ambulance services grade the seriousness of calls? If so, qualitative research may be needed to investigate how statistics are collected, e.g. when timing starts and what locally counts as a ‘serious’ incident. Note that this is not just an issue of the statistics being biased (which quantitative researchers recognize) but of the inevitable (and necessary) intrusion of commonsense judgments into practical decision-making (Garfinkel,1967).
Many of these points are represented in Table 1.
Some Criticisms of Quantitative Research
Five main forms of data collection have characterized qualitative health research:
The aims of each method are discussed subsequently with the exception of audio-recorded communication.