Qualitative Methods of Child Study

The major types of qualitative methods include observation, self-reports, and the case study. Re searchers often choose to view behavior directly through some kind of systematic observation. There are a number of options depending upon the level of intrusion that is desired and the type of environment in which the observation is to occur. The least intrusive form of observation is called naturalistic. In conducting a naturalistic observation, the researcher observes behavior in a natural environment, such as in a home, day-care, or school setting. This can be an excellent way to observe what happens in the everyday setting. The drawback, however, is that the researcher has little control over the environment and, consequently, over any extraneous variables (factors other than the behavior being researched). Furthermore, the behavior may not be displayed very often, or at all, during the observation. To remedy this problem, the researcher may choose to set up the observation in a place where the conditions are the same for all participants. A laboratory setting or contrived classroom, for example, could be set up for this purpose. In such a setting, unfortunately, participants may not behave in the same way that they would in a normal setting. Regardless of how the observation is set up, data from observations, sometimes referred to as field notes, must be studied carefully for themes and major ideas.

The use of self-reports is another option for gathering information qualitatively. There are two forms of self-reports. The first is the interview method, in which the researcher poses questions to participants in either informal or formal settings and records the responses. The second form is the self-report instrument, in which participants respond to a questionnaire or some other type of structured instrument. Both forms have advantages and disadvantages. Structured instruments provide control over external and extraneous stimuli, permit comparisons of the responses, and aid in efficient data collection. Interviews may provide richer information and could tap aspects of the participants that go unmeasured in structured instruments, such as how the participants think and function in the natural setting. Unfortunately, the results of the open interview are difficult to use for comparison purposes among individuals or groups of individuals. The rich data gained through interviews could come at the cost of standardization, thereby ruling out comparisons across participant responses.

The third qualitative method of research is the clinical method, or case study. The case study allows the researcher to gain detailed information on one individual's development. The rich data provides an extensive picture of the developmental process of an individual. In turn this means that there is only one person in the study and that any conclusions that are drawn cannot be easily generalized to other individuals.

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