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Qualitative research is a field of inquiry that crosscuts disciplines and subject matters. Qualitative researchers aim to acquire an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons that govern human behavior. Qualitative research relies on reasons behind various aspects of behavior. Simply put, it investigates the why and how of decision making, not just what, where, and when. Hence, the need is for smaller but focused samples rather than large random samples, which qualitative research categorizes data into patterns as the primary basis for organizing and reporting results. Qualitative researchers typically rely on four methods for gathering information: (1) participation in the setting, (2) direct observation, (3) in depth interviews, and (4) analysis of documents and materials .
The term qualitative research is most often used in the social sciences in contrast to quantitative research.