Objectivity in Qualitative Research

  • From
    Independent Advisory and Evaluation Service
  • Published on
    06.05.24

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Qualitative research is often regarded as being less objective, and hence less rigorous, than quantitative research. The latter ensures objectivity by standardizing both testing and analytical procedures (Riessman and Given 2008). But the tools of the qualitative researcher – e.g., semi-structured interviews where questions are deliberately open-ended, or observations of natural social interactions, appear at first glance to be the opposite of standardization. Similarly, the analytical procedures in the qualitative tradition, which emphasize interpretation by the researcher, are questioned for being subjective, biased, and unscientific.

Judged by these criteria, we would not be able to study aspects of social life that do not lend themselves to numerical measurement or reproducible experimental research design. Thankfully, however, the practice of using qualitative methods for social inquiry is robust, ongoing, and yielding valuable knowledge. As more researchers commit to mixed-methods studies that combine qualitative with quantitative approaches, it is important to understand the fundamental differences between the two traditions to move forward in concert. One such fault line is on the different ways of approaching “objectivity”. This blog addresses the question – what does objectivity mean to qualitative researchers whose methods do not rely on quantitative measurement and a controlled environment of experimentation?

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