Qualitative analytical methods are diverse in their ability to analyze data and draw conclusions for non-numerical values. There are different types of qualitative analytical methods for different types of problems and data sets. For example, categorical data can be analyzed qualitatively based on patterns, themes or other relationships. Hierarchical data may warrant a qualitative approach based on the complexity of concepts, and may be further analyzed using a flow chart or diagram. The most common types of qualitative analytical methods are based on observation.
Qualitative research often is discussed in contrast with quantitative research. The difference between the two is based on the type of data and the method of analysis. If data are collected as numerical values, then a quantitative approach that often accompanies statistical analysis can be employed. On the other hand, qualitative techniques are intended for data sets that generally do not lend themselves to statistical analysis. Non-numerical data can be converted to numerical values using a ranking system or a series of codes.
Categories can be coded and the codes can be used for comparison. This do-it-yourself approach is technically referred to as the grounded theory method for comparative analysis. Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss developed it in the 1960s. The “data” are organized based on four criteria: work, relevance, fit and modifiability. Qualitative analytical methods such as this can be used to analyze contextual data such as field or laboratory notes.
A visual representation of non-numerical data is another form of qualitative analysis. Flow charts, infographics and diagrams have the ability to take reasoning and an interpretation from data when it can be challenging to define relationships using another method from the list of qualitative analytical methods. A metaphorical method of analysis also can be used to understand the data set in terms of something more relatable. For example, analyzing chemical processes can be explained in terms of cooking, metaphorically speaking.
Most other types of qualitative analytical methods can be summarized under the umbrella of observation methods. Whether the observation involves animal behavior, semiotics or linguistics, the power of observation can easily be applied to many scenarios. Observations can be recorded in the form of notes, sketches or photographs. The “data” collected can be further analyzed using another qualitative analytical method to categorize or refine the observations. For example, frequency can be measured by counting the number of times a term is repeated in field notes.