While quantitative approaches use structured questionnaires which consist mostly of closed questions (i.e. questions for which there are only yes/no answers and/or various tick possibilities), qualitative approaches are characterised by having open ended questions, or questions which allow respondents to voice their experiences, opinions and perceptions.
Qualitative approaches involve speaking to both individuals and groups of people: individual approaches are typically referred to as in-depth interviews and key informant interviews; group approaches involving more than one person are often referred to as focus group discussions. Group approaches are used to obtain wider community perceptions and experiences - often these are occasions to explore norms and expected behaviours and to confirm findings from individual interviews. Individual qualitative approaches are used to explore individual behaviour and also to address more sensitive issues which are more difficult to explore in groups.
Case studies and life histories also form part of qualitative data collection methods and approaches.
Case studies consist of an in-depth exploration of an individual in their household and/or environment. This might entail spending considerable amounts of time with the individual and their households/in their environment; visiting a number of times, on different occasions; and using a variety of approaches including a theme/issue guide, observation and participatory and visual techniques (see below). This allows for a further in-depth understanding of relationships between people and allows researchers to experience firsthand what people mean when they describe their experiences.
Life-histories explore individuals’ perceptions of change through them narrating their own life story. Life-histories can either focusing on a specific theme or period, or on their life as a whole. The interviewer also makes use of a pre-prepared guide as well as visual techniques to represent an individual’s life story.