The Value of Qualitative Research – Understanding and Expression

by Jennifer Smith RN Australia.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a research study. I had completed a survey and was then asked if I would like to participate in an interview as part of a qualitative study on self-care. The research was about exploring the topic of self-care in nurses who work in palliative care and whether this may relate to compassion for self and compassion for others.

I love participating and supporting other nurses, especially when it comes to research, so I jumped at the chance.

The qualitative approach to research, is less about figures and results and more about the experiences and themes of the participants, with a view to establishing a broader understanding of what a group of people’s experiences are on a particular subject. The numbers of participants in qualitative research are often much smaller than with quantitative research and whilst this allows for a richer, in-depth analysis to be performed, there are some factions in science that do not value this and who consider quantitative research superior. Both are valid ways of performing research and are suited to address different research questions and fields of study.

The questions asked were quite broad about how I self-care, how it affects how I am at work, the strategies I use, the things that get in the way of me self-caring and whether or not I had a ‘self-care plan’ and whether a plan is beneficial (this is something that is talked about a lot in palliative care circles). The questions were open so I could really discuss and explore how self-care supports me both personally and most definitely professionally.

What surprised me about being a participant was how profound the experience of being interviewed was.

It really felt like I was having a conversation with an old friend. Even though there were set questions, the flow of our conversation was a very natural one, where each question asked supported me to express more deeply, so that the researcher truly understood what was being said.

He would often repeat back things that I had said in his own words, to make sure he understood what I had said, thus expanding on what I had expressed, to which I was then able to add further depth.

I also got a real sense of his genuineness and care in exploring this topic by how open his questions were. He really wanted to get a thorough understanding from the interview and receive as much of my experiences as possible.

What was to be a 45 minute interview, turned into 90 minutes. We were both enjoying the conversation and connection so much. Who would have thought that being a research subject could be such fun!

What felt so exquisite about my involvement was that through being deeply heard and understood, I could feel the value in my own expression and that what I had to express was immensely important, not because it was better that anyone else’s, but because it was my expression and I am a part of the whole expression of nursing.

I could also feel that the researcher’s part was equally important, supporting me (and no doubt all of the other participants) along the way with dedication, dotting his I’s and crossing his T’s. His willingness to understand and confirm me and what I was sharing was deeply healing.

Reflecting on my own self-care in this way, with another was a powerful experience. As I spoke I was appreciating the level of changes that I had made in my own life, through self-care and how it had brought so much to my life. And it’s the super simple things like going to bed when my body is ready at the end of the day, often before 9pm; treating myself gently, giving myself plenty of time to organise myself for my day without having to rush or hurry. Basically everything came down to listening to what my body was communicating. The other powerful thing about this is what self-care has brought to my work and the patients and families in my care. I genuinely enjoy my work, more so than ever and I know what I bring to patients and their families is a reflection of the care that I have shown myself.

This experience got me wondering about research and why this type of research is not highly valued by some in the scientific community. There are obvious concerns about bias, but is that really all that is at play here? There is potential for bias in all research, and the key is to be aware of the biases and declare them. Even with the most ‘objective’ research, the observations are made by people, who are capable of making mistakes and actively or subconsciously bringing bias to their findings. These same scientists can look with scorn on so-called ‘subjective’ research, in denial of the fact that all research has subjectivity at its heart.

Is there in reality any more bias with a relationship between people based on a true foundation of understanding and an intention to see the bigger picture? Is there potentially more bias when we see things from a limited and narrow view and therefore do not consider the whole picture? I feel there is.

Perhaps if we approached research from the healing opportunities (healing in the broadest meaning of the word), that are potentially available to both participants and researchers equally, rather than being driven for a result (whether it be finding a cure, getting a name or reputation or financial gain), research would be more meaningful to everyone in the community and may in fact lead us to developing a greater understanding of ourselves and each other.

And maybe if we were more open to the ‘subjective’ evidence of real people with real experiences, our research would deliver understandings that actually served us all.


Read more:

  1. How true service begins with caring for self 
  2. Self-care at work makes sense – why is it not common practice? 


608 thoughts on “The Value of Qualitative Research – Understanding and Expression

  1. “And maybe if we were more open to the ‘subjective’ evidence of real people with real experiences, our research would deliver understandings that actually served us all.” Yes, there is great wisdom and healing available to us as society in that deepening, by really opening to understand the human being in their whole nature.

  2. To be heard is a deeply honoring experience for our bodies, When we feel that we are not being listened to or being dismissed our bodies actually contract.

  3. Jennifer, what you have shared in this article is of great value. Where and why did we become so lost in statistics, that one research is superior than another.

    During my health care profession, I had difficulty understanding quantitative research when my whole body resonated with qualitative research. Knowing what other people were thinking or feeling for me bought value and understanding as to where they were at. Agree statistics is needed, for example, the number of people suffering heart disease, or obesity, etc. but where is the vital data about what is going on for them? What led them to be part of this statistic is of importance? And when we begin to tap into this, then we can truly be on the healing path to self care and nurturing of ourselves.

  4. When I take part in a survey I often wonder how useful my answers would really be. I read a question and answer either yes/no or choose a closest one from the options given etc., and I often felt like my answers would need further explanation. Collecting and analyzing such data must be a big, complex job, I can only imagine.

  5. We could ask is the outcome the important part of the research or is the how we go about all the details within the research? So knowing in this case that people were going to be interviewed to share their experience, essentially encouraging and supporting another’s expression, could this as important as the outcome? Maybe we could do research on the value of the interview process in research??

    1. Jennifer, you’ve raised an interesting question, ‘how we go about all the details within the research?’. I was once a research assistant and as much as it was interesting on the one hand, I was bored out of my brain in the other. Trolling though articles to support the end research project, that led to a new policy was not the most riveting experience, but looked great on my CV. It kind of felt, I needed to find the articles that supported the end result. And did we get to the core issue in the end? in my opinion, no.

      We need to research people. We need to know what is going on for them. If we had a cohort of people experiencing the same diagnosis or disease, wouldn’t we want to know what led them to this condition in the first place, or shall we offer pills and potions to keep them ticking?

      I’m conduct research and it is the research I perform on myself on a daily basis. How I live, how I feel, what led to this or that, what was I thinking, what was I eating, drinking, what thoughts or emotions was I putting into my body. There is so much to ponder over research, it starts with our own research in the way we live.

      1. To me when you do research in any way that shores up a pre-determined end result, then this is not true research. We know that scientists have been shown to be incorrect in their research results enough times now that we have to question how they have actually researched their subject and who is funding the research.

  6. For me “‘subjective’ evidence of real people with real experiences, is what researchers in any field ought to be grabbing with both hands and working with, as this world is about people, people who are looking for so many answers to so many problems. To ignore the lived experiences of others is like pretending the sun isn’t shining when covered by a cloud.

  7. Science and research should never be an authority dictating to human beings, it should always be for humans beings and for the greater benefit of the all. I feel encompassing all forms of research is more beneficial.

  8. ‘Basically everything came down to listening to what my body was communicating’. Awesome that we live in something that can communicate to us everything that is going on – we just need to learn how to listen… be still enough inside to feel what is being conveyed.

    1. Elainearthey if we listen to our bodies we become our own researchers… as you say, our bodies are communicating to us all the time… all we have to do is listen.

  9. “Through being heard and understood I could deeply value my own expression”. This demonstrates how important it is for us to be there for each other – and how we can support our growth and evolution.

  10. I really get the sense of collaboration and cross-pollination when reading your blog today, that is such a beautiful part of research and how it has the potential to support humanity through discussions and deeper understandings of life.

  11. “Who would have thought that being a research subject could be such fun!” Being open and sharing all that you are is a beautiful gift for all.

  12. Let’s face it, a lot of research is closed and already with a particular agenda, only when there is a real sense of genuineness and care in exploring a topic can one truly learn and evolve.

  13. There is definitely a real art and science to listening to others in a way that is open and holding and allowing them to express fully everything they are and everything they want to share with the world.

  14. I am truly beginning to appreciate that we each have a different expression and it is through that diversity that we learn more about ourselves and others.

  15. You make a strong point here, the fact that statistical quantitative is regarded as superior to qualitative research. They should both be valued, but on the topic of quantitative research one big question mark: is it possible to put a person with her or his unique expression in box of questions anyway?

  16. I really like your suggestion about approaching research from the healing opportunity. Perhaps we have been too busy getting objective in our pursuit of a homogenized answer, rather than allowing the whole truth to speak for itself.

  17. It does make me ponder on the research that has been carried out and claimed that has been made for self gain. Regardless of where the research comes from it is our responsibility to discern within ourselves whether the information stated is true for us or not.

  18. We shy away from truly connecting to each other and to our stories and we miss so much in that as we can get a great context in what people offer in how they are and how they live. And yes bias is important but if we are honest and transparent with any bias which arises and not in defense or expectation on any results but truly open we provide a platform for qualitative research alongside any quantitative research we do.

  19. It really stands out here the integrity of the interviewer, who seems to have been genuinely interested in what you had to say, someone who values personal expression and experience and these can contribute to the whole industry of nursing.

  20. I reckon it is super important to do research or investigation into what is happening in the world and the reality of how things really are at a grass roots level for people.

  21. The influence of financially invested organisations and companies in research has lowered our level of trust in the research we currently have because some researchers have manipulated the results to influence and market to a less aware general public.

  22. This blog raises an important question about what is bias really? Is it just looking at the study design and mechanics and trying to eliminate any variation or subjectivity? Or could bias be more about what is the intention behind the research? Have we considered this enough? If we measured current research today by this definition of bias how many studies could claim to not be unbiased? Bias for me comes in the moment we are making research about self gain in some way shape or form rather than from the intention to simply observe and learn.

    1. Absolutely! Looking at what the intention behind all research is is a major focus behind any research that is undertaken therefore the researcher can be under no illusion of what their part in the bias or not is. The influence of financially invested parties – i.e you are not free to research fully because you need the financial backing – cannot be underestimated but erodes the trust in research which is so wrong.

  23. I love how you bring research back to connection. We have made so many things in life abstract and not relatable that we often do not understand why we are doing things or why they need to be done, we do them but without any reference to why. And research brings us understanding where we are at as a society but only if we make it about the people and for people, otherwise it becomes not only abstract but also is not serving us anymore.

  24. Research can be so rich when it is about a true and honest conversation with someone – like what is shared here. We start to see that how we live and express is in fact research and living evidence reflected to others.

  25. All of life is based on results and outcomes; it totally ignores the key ingredient, our being. Currently there is no significant way to read this on the temporal level but when you connect to this quality and vibration and live life from here, you know what is your truth and what is not. Nothing on the outside can dictate what is right or true for you.

  26. The lesson here being that we have come to value ‘that which can be measured’ (quantitative research) over the measureless depth of what can be achieved through human connection alone (qualitative research).

  27. The more I understand about research the more I deeply appreciate the value in qualitative research, in fact, its key to how we are in society as we go forward.

    1. What we see is determined by the quality of the lens that we look through. Long before we peer into a microscope, our eyes receive the images through a lens that has already been shaped by the consciousness we have aligned to.

  28. Listening to our body is the best research we can do, we can learn so much about ourselves and about life, just by listening to our body and learning to discern what is true or not.

    1. How often is this brought into any scientific research?The body being the marker rather than the brain directing the bodies way to be marked

      1. Sadly probably never, but I feel there will come a time when scientific research will no longer hold up and people will start to question the validity of what is being given to us. When this happens then as presented by Serge Benhayon since 1999 we will start to look to the body and realise it always had the answers to illness and disease and is the marker by which we all know truth.

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