Defining and Describing What We Do: Doctrinal Legal Research

The practitioner lawyer of the past had little need to reflect on process. The doctrinal research methodology developed intuitively within the common law — a research method at the core of practice. There was no need to justify or classify it within a broader research framework. Modern academic lawyers are facing a different situation. At a time when competition for limited research funds is becoming more intense, and in which interdisciplinary work is highly valued and non-lawyers are involved in the assessment of grant applications, lawyer-applicants who engage in doctrinal research need to be able to explain their methodology more clearly. Doctrinal scholars need to be more open and articulate about their methods. These methods may be different in different contexts. This paper examines the doctrinal method used in legal research and its place in recent research dialogue. Some commentators are of the view that the doctrinal method is simply scholarship rather than a separate research methodology. Richard Posner even suggests that law is ‘not a field with a distinct methodology, but an amalgam of applied logic, rhetoric, economics and familiarity with a specialized vocabulary and a particular body of texts, practices, and institutions ...’.1 Therefore, academic lawyers are beginning to realise that the doctrinal research methodology needs clarification for those outside the legal profession and that a discussion about the standing and place of doctrinal research compared to other methodologies is required.

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Doctrinal legal research: Its methodological characteristics and relevance to modern law by Jack Fox-Williams

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This paper outlines the characteristics of doctrinal legal research and the contexts in which such research is applied. It also examines the strengths and weaknesses of doctrinal research in the analysis of legal cases implicating complex social and moral issues.

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Legal Bites

Legal Research: Doctrinal and Non-Doctrinal

The article 'legal research: doctrinal and non-doctrinal research' provides insight into legal research from two different perspectives, and each has its strengths and limitations..

Legal Research: Doctrinal and Non-Doctrinal

The article ' Legal Research: Doctrinal and Non-Doctrinal ' provides insight into legal research from two different perspectives, and each has its strengths and limitations.

Introduction

Doctrinal Legal Research is defined as research into legal doctrines through analysis of statutory provisions and cases by the application of the power of reasoning. While non-doctrinal legal research is defined as research into the relationship of law with other behavioural sciences. Non-doctrinal research/ Socio-Legal often involves the use of social science research methods, such as surveys, experiments, and case studies, to investigate a particular phenomenon. This type of research is often used in disciplines such as sociology, psychology, and political science.

The choice between doctrinal and non-doctrinal research methodology will depend on the nature of the research question and the research objectives. In some cases, a combination of both methodologies may be used to provide a more comprehensive understanding of a legal issue.

Methodology of Doctrinal Research

Doctrinal research is a research methodology that focuses on analyzing and interpreting legal documents, such as statutes, case law, regulations, and treaties, in understanding legal concepts, principles, and doctrines. The methodology of doctrinal research involves several steps:

Identification of the research problem: This involves defining the research problem or question and clarifying the scope of the research.

Collection of legal sources: The next step is to gather relevant legal sources such as statutes, regulations, case law, and legal treatises.

Evaluation of legal sources: Once the legal sources have been collected, the researcher must evaluate them to determine their relevance, reliability, and credibility.

Analysis of legal sources: After evaluating the legal sources, the researcher must analyze them to identify legal principles, concepts, and arguments.

Synthesis of legal principles: The researcher must then synthesize the legal principles and concepts that have been identified through analysis, to form a coherent and logical understanding of the legal topic.

Application of legal principles: Finally, the researcher must apply the legal principles and concepts that have been synthesized to the research problem or question, to arrive at a conclusion or recommendation.

Overall, the methodology of doctrinal research is a systematic and rigorous approach to legal research that involves careful analysis and interpretation of legal sources to gain insights into legal principles and their application.

The Normative Character of Doctrinal Research

The normative character of doctrinal research means that it is expected to conform to certain ethical and professional standards, such as accuracy, objectivity, and transparency. Researchers are expected to use reliable sources and to analyze and interpret them systematically and rigorously. The methodology of doctrinal research typically involves a process of reading, analyzing, and synthesizing legal texts to identify relevant legal concepts and principles. This may involve using various techniques, such as textual analysis, comparative analysis, and historical analysis. The researcher may also use other sources of information, such as legal commentaries and treatises, to supplement their analysis.

One of the key principles of doctrinal research is the principle of legal certainty, which requires that legal research be conducted in a manner that promotes clarity and consistency in legal interpretation. This means that researchers must be clear and explicit in their analysis and interpretation of legal texts, and must avoid ambiguous or contradictory conclusions.

Overall, the normative character of doctrinal research requires that researchers adhere to rigorous standards of methodology and analysis, to produce accurate and reliable interpretations of legal texts.

Merits of Doctrinal Research

Here are some merits of this research methodology:

  • Clarity : Doctrinal research can provide clear and concise answers to legal questions, as it is based on legal texts that are authoritative sources of law. It allows researchers to identify and analyze legal concepts, principles, and doctrines systematically and objectively.
  • Cost-effective: Doctrinal research is a cost-effective research methodology, as it does not require extensive data collection or empirical analysis. Researchers can access legal documents online or in libraries, and analyze them using legal research tools and methodologies.
  • Time-efficient : Doctrinal research is a time-efficient research methodology, as legal documents are readily available and can be analyzed quickly. Researchers can also use legal research tools and methodologies to streamline the research process and save time.
  • Foundation for further research: Doctrinal research provides a foundation for further research, as it helps researchers identify legal gaps, inconsistencies, and ambiguities. Researchers can use these insights to develop new legal theories, propose legal reforms, or conduct empirical research.
  • Professional development: Doctrinal research can help legal professionals, such as lawyers, judges, and scholars, enhance their knowledge and skills in a particular legal field. It enables them to develop a deeper understanding of legal concepts, principles, and doctrines, and apply them to real-world legal problems.

Demerits of Doctrinal Research

  • Limited scope: Doctrinal research is limited to the study of legal sources, which may not provide a comprehensive understanding of a particular legal issue. It may overlook non-legal factors that can affect legal outcomes.
  • Bias: Doctrinal research relies heavily on legal sources, which can be biased towards a particular interpretation of the law. This can lead to a limited or one-sided analysis of legal issues.
  • Lack of empirical evidence: Doctrinal research does not involve the collection of empirical data, such as surveys or interviews, which can provide insight into the impact of legal rules and practices on individuals and society.
  • Difficulty in predicting outcomes: Doctrinal research is primarily focused on analyzing past legal decisions and interpreting legal sources. As a result, it may not always be reliable in predicting future legal outcomes or identifying trends in legal decision-making.
  • Limited applicability: The findings of doctrinal research may only apply to the specific legal system or jurisdiction being studied, and may not apply to other legal systems or jurisdictions.
  • Limited originality: Doctrinal research is primarily focused on analyzing existing legal sources and interpreting legal decisions. As a result, it may lack originality and creativity compared to other research methodologies.

Non-Doctrinal Research

Non-Doctrinal/Socio-legal research is a multidisciplinary field of inquiry that explores the intersection between law and society. Socio-legal research is a methodology that combines social science and legal principles to study the interaction between law and society. It involves the use of empirical methods to analyze legal institutions, practices, and policies within their social context. The socio-legal approach recognizes that law is shaped by social, economic, cultural, and political factors and that legal norms and practices, in turn, influence behaviour and social change.

Socio-legal research typically involves a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods, such as interviews, surveys, case studies, content analysis, and statistical analysis. This interdisciplinary approach allows researchers to explore how legal systems and practices impact individuals and communities, and how social norms and behaviours shape legal institutions and decision-making.

The ultimate goal of socio-legal research is to provide insights into the complex relationship between law and society and to inform policy decisions and legal reform efforts that can promote greater justice and equity in society.

An example of socio-legal research could be:

Research question: How does the legal system in the United States impact immigrant communities?

Methodology: Qualitative research method, including interviews, focus groups, and participant observation.

Data collection: Interviews with immigrants, lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals; focus groups with community organizations and advocacy groups; participant observation at court hearings and other legal proceedings.

Data analysis: Thematic analysis of interview transcripts and focus group discussions, content analysis of legal documents and court records, and ethnographic analysis of participant observation data.

Findings: The research may find that the legal system in the United States has a disproportionate impact on immigrant communities, resulting in increased rates of detention and deportation, family separation, and other negative consequences. It may also reveal how social factors, such as race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, intersect with legal rules and institutions to create barriers to justice for immigrant populations.

Conclusion: The study may conclude that there is a need for reform in the legal system to address the needs and rights of immigrant communities and that greater attention should be paid to how social factors influence legal outcomes.

Difference between Doctrinal and Non-Doctrinal Research/Socio-Legal Research

There are several key differences between doctrinal research and non-doctrinal research:

  • Focus: Doctrinal research focuses on the analysis of legal rules and principles, while socio-legal research focuses on the social, political, and economic contexts in which legal rules are created, enforced, and applied.
  • Methodology: Doctrinal research typically involves the analysis of legal sources such as statutes, case law, and legal commentary, while socio-legal research often involves the use of qualitative research methods such as interviews, surveys etc.
  • Interdisciplinary approach: Socio-legal research is often interdisciplinary, drawing on theories and methods from a range of fields such as sociology, anthropology, political science, and psychology. Doctrinal research, on the other hand, tends to be more focused on legal analysis and interpretation.
  • Purpose: Doctrinal research is often used to form legal arguments and policy recommendations, while socio-legal research is often used to form policy decisions and to advocate for legal and social reforms.
  • Perspective: Doctrinal research tends to focus on legal rules and principles from a neutral or objective perspective, while socio-legal research often takes a more critical perspective, examining how legal rules and processes may reflect and reinforce existing power structures and social inequalities.
  • Scope: Doctrinal research typically focuses on a specific legal issue or area of law, while socio-legal research may examine a range of legal issues within a particular social, political, or economic context.

Overall, while both doctrinal and socio-legal research are important approaches to legal research, they differ in their focus, methodology, purpose, perspective, and scope.

Doctrinal research and non-doctrinal research are two different but complementary approaches that can be used in legal research. Doctrinal research is focused on analyzing and interpreting legal texts, such as laws, case law, and legal commentary. Non-Doctrinal research, on the other hand, is focused on the social and cultural context in which law operates. It seeks to understand how the law is used, interpreted, and enforced in society.

Combining both approaches can lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the law and its impact on society. This can be particularly useful in identifying areas where the law may need to be reformed or improved. By examining both the legal principles and the social context in which they operate, legal researchers can gain a deeper understanding of how the law works in practice and how it can be improved to better serve the needs of society.

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Apurva Neel

Apurva Neel

Apurva is a Research Associate and Editor at Legal Bites with an LL.M. specialization in Corporate and Commercial Laws from Amity University, Mumbai. She has put her best efforts into presenting socio-legal aspects of society through various seminars, conferences etc.

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Knowledge Base

What is Doctrinal and Non-Doctrinal Legal Research?

What do you mean by legal research.

Legal research is the process of identifying and finding information necessary to support legal decision-making. It is generally the process of checking for a legal precedent that can be cited in a brief or at trial. Virtually every lawsuit, appeal, criminal case, and the legal process usually requires some amount of legal research. Legal research skills are of great importance for lawyers to solve any legal case, regardless of area or type of practice. The most basic step in legal research is to find a noteworthy case governing the issues in question. As most legal researchers know, this is far more difficult than it sounds.

What is Doctrinal and Non-Doctrinal Legal Research?

A researcher’s analysis of a case often begins in the initial research stage when he/she identifies the relevant facts and determines the legal issues that must be researched. As this analysis continues, it is further refined as they decide where, how, and what to search. When they find relevant legal materials, they must understand them and how they apply to the facts of their case in hand. This research provides a crucial analytical foundation that will aid them in their decisions for the remainder of the case.

Whether you are a Lawyer, a paralegal or a law student, it is essential that Legal research is done in an effective manner. This is where the methodology comes into play. Different cases must be approached in different ways and this is why it is important to know which type of legal research methodology is suitable for your case and helpful for your client.

There are many Types of Legal Research like Descriptive Legal Research, Quantitative Research, Qualitative Legal Research, Analytical Legal Research, Applied Legal Research, Pure Legal Research, Conceptual Legal Research, Empirical Legal Research, Comparative Legal Research, Doctrinal Legal Research, Non-doctrinal Legal Research, etc.

This article talks in-depth about two types of Legal Research:

  • Doctrinal Legal Research
  • Non-Doctrinal Legal Research

What is the meaning of the word “Doctrine” under Doctrinal Research??

Doctrine Definition: A rule or principle of the law established through the repeated application of legal precedents.

Common law lawyers use this term to refer to an established method of resolving similar factual or legal issues. For Example Doctrine of Indoor Management – (According to this doctrine, persons dealing with the company need not inquire whether internal proceedings relating to the contract are followed correctly, once they are satisfied that the transaction is in accordance with the memorandum and articles of association.)

The word doctrine refers to a set of beliefs. The word comes from the Latin doctor for “teacher,” so think of a doctrine is the teachings of a school, religion, or political group. Doctrine and doctor derive from the same Latin word, docere, which means “to teach”: doctor means “teacher,” and doctrina means “teaching, learning.”

A legal doctrine is a framework, set of rules, procedural steps, or test, often established through precedent in the common law, through which judgments can be determined in a given legal case.

What is the meaning of the word “Non-Doctrine” under Non-Doctrinal Research?

The word Non-Doctrine under Non-Doctrinal Research deals with the Socio-legal aspect of the research. Here, fieldwork is the most important part of the research. Thus scope is wider. It is more concerned with social values. It can be a problem, policy or law reform based. Non Doctrinal research can be qualitative or quantitative or could be part of a large scale project.

What is Doctrinal Legal Research?

The central question of inquiry here is ‘what is the law?’ on a particular issue. It is concerned with finding the law, rigorously analysing it and coming up with logical reasoning behind it. Therefore, it immensely contributes to the continuity, consistency, and certainty of law. The basic information can be found in the statutory material i.e. primary sources as well in the secondary sources. However, the research has its own limitations, it is subjective, that is limited to the perception of the researcher, away from the actual working of the law, devoid of factors that lie outside the boundaries of the law, and fails to focus on the actual practice of the courts.

  Methodology of Doctrinal Research

Doctrinal or library-based research is the most common methodology employed by those undertaking research in law. Doctrinal research asks, what is the law in a particular case. It is concerned with the analysis of the legal doctrine and how it was developed and applied. As it is well known, this is purely theoretical research that consists of either simple research aimed at finding a specific statement of the law, or it is legal analysis with more complex logic and depth. In short, it is library-based research that seeks to find the “one right answer” to certain legal issues or questions. Thus, the aim of this type of methodology is to make specific inquiries in order to identify specific pieces of information.

For example, an investigation can be conducted to find specific legislation that monitors occurrences of child abuse in a particular jurisdiction.  All inquiries will have specific answers to specific questions that can be easily found and verified, and these are the keys to is doctrinal or library-based research. These steps include analysis of legal issues in order to determine the need for further research. This stage often involves a great deal of background reading on a subject using sources such as dictionaries, encyclopaedias, major textbooks, treatises, and journals that are accompanied by footnotes. These sources provide Definitions of Terms that help the researcher understand and summarize the legal principles involved in the field of law understudy.

Normative Character of Doctrinal Research

The normative character of doctrinal research in particular contexts, is concerned with the discovery and development of legal doctrines and research, for publication in textbooks and journals that take the form of asking the question, “What is the law?”

Legal rules are normative in character because they dictate how we should behave as individuals. They make no attempt to either explain, predict, or even understand human behaviour, just to describe it. In short, doctrinal research is not therefore research about law at all.  In asking “What is the law?”  it takes the internal cognitive approach oriented to the aim of the study. For this reason, it is sometimes described as research in the field of law.

What is Non-Doctrinal Legal Research?

  Non-doctrinal research, also known as social-legal research, is research that employs methods taken from other disciplines to generate empirical data that answers research questions. It can be a problem, policy, or a reform of the existing law. A legal non-doctrinal finding can be qualitative or quantitative, and a dogmatic non-doctrinal finding can be part of a large-scale project. The non-doctrinal approach allows the researcher to conduct research that analyses the law from the perspective of other scientific disciplines, and to employ those disciplines in drafting the law. For example, in the behavioural sciences, there is a standard form of a consumer contract that contributes to the study of psychological phenomena:

  • The tendency of consumers not to read the standard form contract,
  • The inability of consumers to evaluate the terms of the contract correctly once they do read. And
  • The ability of sellers to deal with consumers. Because it uses non-sectarian legal experimental data, it provides vital insights about the law in context, i.e. how the law works out in the real world. Legal research is experimental and valuable in detecting and explaining practices and procedures in legal and regulatory systems. It is also valuable in settling disputes and impacts the legal phenomena of social institutions and businesses. Similarly, experimental legal research in economics applies legal analysis, statistical inference, and economic modelling, to the core areas of national and international law, such as tort, property, contracts, criminal law, law enforcement, and litigation. Earlier research can be used to analyze the economics of legal negligence theory.

In conclusion, we can say that it is easy to target a specific methodology and identify its strengths and weaknesses. However, it must be noted that doctrinal and non-doctrinal legal research is the ultimate way to find the answers that have been raised in the context of attempts to understand the emerging issues in the framework of the law. There is no hierarchy between types of Legal Research and they are all of equal importance for the development and understanding of the law. A good lawyer will be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of any particular methodology and will be able to get better. Often, the combination of different methods of Legal Research, i.e., a mixed-method using ideological, social, and legal, can work together to achieve a better understanding of the law.

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Idea and Methods of Legal Research

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9 Comparative Method of Legal Research: Nature, Process, and Potentiality

  • Published: January 2020
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The relevance of comparative legal research (CLR) consists in comparative evaluation of human experience occurring in legal systems of different jurisdictions. It involves a logical and inductive method of reasoning. It is valuable as it brings out the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches, procedures, and institutions. It has a long history and strong tendency of growth in contemporary times. Appropriate choice of comparative components and choice of the criterion of comparison become crucial for the success of comparative legal research. Functionalist study and cultural immersion give social dimension to the comparison. In the context of multicultural society and march of globalization, CLR has attained great scope and potentiality. Its limitations include inadequate understanding of the social background of other jurisdiction, language barrier, and so on. Its attainments are many in various fields of law.

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Limitations of Research Study: Everything You Need to Know

Table of contents

  • 1 Defining Limitations in Qualitative Research
  • 2.1 Limitations may lead to potentially biased observational studies
  • 2.2 How to address limitations in research?
  • 3 Impact of Study Limitations on Research Outcomes: How to Find Limitations of a Study
  • 4.1 Limited Access to Outstanding Future Study

Research for academic purposes is always challenging and requires much prep. This includes careful research design and an understanding of experiment limitations. Even though you have analyzed and prepared things, the results may still differ.

There are many reasons for this, and one of the main reasons is limitations in research. Unfortunately, a study can’t consider all options or circumstances at once. For example, you are studying how nutrition affects student performance. But you are not considering each student’s traits, routines, relationships, weather, age, and so on.

The study must include confounding factors in its conclusions and results, which can distort the final result. This article will help you understand the strengths and limitations of research and guide you on how to consider them. This is when you reach valid conclusions and plan future investigations.

Defining Limitations in Qualitative Research

What are limitations in research? Many factors confound the study, including its reliability, validity, and generalizability. These can limit the research problem. Internal limitations are constraints within the researcher’s control, including sample bias or method flaws. But external research limits come from factors like population or environmental factors. They are beyond the researcher’s control.

The limitations of research studies are significant in defining the scope of research inquiry. It outlines the results’ extent and meaning. It finds areas where the outcome might be less reliable or relevant.

Acknowledging and writing limits fosters honesty. It reminds researchers and readers of science’s complexity and uncertainties. Researchers can improve methods. They do this by understanding and fixing limitations in a research paper. It helps to interpret research findings more. This advances knowledge in their fields and literature review.

If you need help with writing a research paper , our writing service is ready to assist you.

Common Limitations of Research Studies

In general, there are four types of limitations in a research study:

Limitations may lead to potentially biased observational studies

Many things can become limitations in a dissertation. They affect the study’s reliability, internal and external validity, and generalizability. However, the research method impacts the whole study.

The dissertation has methodological limitations. These include problems in the study’s design and execution and constraints. Simple limitation examples: a small sample size can weaken statistical power. Flaws in prior research design can also hurt the study’s validity.

Collecting precise and complete data in the scientific literature is hard. These challenges are known as data collection limitations in research. The study’s limitations can come from measurement errors. These errors are caused by imperfect tools or human error. They lead to inaccuracies in the data. Also, response bias comes from participants’ tendency to answer in socially desirable ways.  It can distort results and hurt the study’s credibility.

A study’s limited resources can be a big obstacle for research. For instance, time constraints may require shorter periods, which can curtail the breadth and depth of the study’s findings. When funds are limited, researchers may lack resources for good methods or thorough analyses. This further hinders research.

External validity limits research. It refers to how well a study’s conclusions apply to contexts beyond where it was conducted. Factors like the study population or setting have distinct characteristics. They can make extending the findings to other groups or places hard.

How to address limitations in research?

It is essential for researchers to be aware of common research limitations and to plan their research process. They need to know their topic and know the limitations in research examples. Identifying limits in their research paper helps researchers. It can cut flaws, improve data collection, and save resources. They can also judge how their findings apply. Acknowledging these limits can help researchers. It can increase the credibility and impact of their results. This fosters more confidence in their findings. It is in the scientific community and in future research. If you struggle with the limitation, ask for help with research paper .

Impact of Study Limitations on Research Outcomes: How to Find Limitations of a Study

Methodological limitations can compromise research results. These include small sample sizes and flawed research designs. These possible limitations of the study increase the likelihood of chance findings or bias. Similarly, limits on data collection cause inaccuracies. They come from things like response bias or measurement errors and can distort data. These problems harm the validity of the findings.

Unsolved limitations and a lack of research examples greatly affect how we interpret and use study results. Without mitigation, researchers risk drawing wrong conclusions and overgeneralizing findings. For instance, a scientific study may have limited external validity. Its findings may not represent the broader population or apply to different contexts, leading to misguided information in the existing literature or interventions.

Case studies provide valuable insights into the real-world effects of those examples of limitations of a study. For instance, a study may aim to test a new medication. But, it may face limits on resources. These limits could lead to a small sample size and low statistical power. As a result, the study may fail to detect the drug’s subtle, yet clinically significant effects. This could lead to wrong conclusions about its effectiveness. Presenting limitations and alternative approaches is part of the methods section and discussion.

Consider another scenario where a survey aims to investigate public opinion on a social issue. However, the research topic itself may lead to response bias, potentially creating limitations in a study. Ignoring such limits could lead to distorted findings. It would misrepresent the beliefs and attitudes of the surveyed people. This would damage the study’s credibility. So, admitting research’s limits is crucial. The impact of these limits on results is clear. It shows the importance of careful methods and clear reporting. Researchers can improve their findings’ trustworthiness.

They can do this by finding and fixing limitations. In doing so, they can ensure that their research contributes greatly to advancing knowledge. It also informs evidence-based decision-making in future research. If you need help, our writing service specialists will gladly assist you.

Strategies for Addressing and Presenting Studies Limitations

We must acknowledge the limits of the research if we want to keep academic papers authentic and reliable. Below are a few tactics to accomplish this:

  • Transparent Reporting : Researchers should openly acknowledge and describe limitations in their academic publications. Transparently reported findings let readers evaluate their credibility and accuracy, which promotes further investigations.
  • Sensitivity analyses are essential in research writing. They examine the potential limitations of a study. By changing key parameters or assumptions, researchers can check the strength of their findings. They can also find any sources of bias or uncertainty.
  • We recommend using various methods or data sources . This will improve the trust and accuracy of research conclusions. By using all the results, researchers can avoid relying on one method. This helps lessen the impact of method problems on study outcomes.
  • Working with teams of people from different disciplines can beat resource limits . It also expands the toolkit available to researchers. By sharing expertise and resources across fields, researchers can do better research. They can also fix limitations.
  • Considering alternatives will lessen the impact of limits on study conclusions . Researchers should carefully assess and analyze other explanations or interpretations of results. Considering other ideas is crucial. It ensures the findings are robust. They won’t depend only on specific methods or assumptions.

In the future, researchers can use strategies to find limits. They can then fix and cut them in qualitative research. This will ensure their findings are reliable, valid, and credible. It involves a clear understanding of limitations vs implications. Also, being clear about limitations in writing fosters trust. It makes the scientific community more confident. Researchers should communicate any limitations in the discussion section and research limitations section. So, the importance of limitations in research is hard to overestimate.

Limited Access to Outstanding Future Study

Accepting and addressing limits is not a sign of weakness. It is a testament to the difficulty and honesty of science. They can do this by reporting limits in past studies. They can also do this by doing sensitivity analyses and working with other fields. They should also consider alternative explanations. Over these efforts, we can create a culture of humility, transparency, and confidence. This will ensure that research findings add to our understanding. They will do so in a meaningful way. Embracing limits when you write becomes a pathway to better integrity and knowledge.

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Reliability vs. Validity in Research: The Essence of Credible Research

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CRO Guide   >  Chapter 3.1

Qualitative Research: Definition, Methodology, Limitation & Examples

Qualitative research is a method focused on understanding human behavior and experiences through non-numerical data. Examples of qualitative research include:

  • One-on-one interviews,
  • Focus groups, Ethnographic research,
  • Case studies,
  • Record keeping,
  • Qualitative observations

In this article, we’ll provide tips and tricks on how to use qualitative research to better understand your audience through real world examples and improve your ROI. We’ll also learn the difference between qualitative and quantitative data.

gathering data

Table of Contents

Marketers often seek to understand their customers deeply. Qualitative research methods such as face-to-face interviews, focus groups, and qualitative observations can provide valuable insights into your products, your market, and your customers’ opinions and motivations. Understanding these nuances can significantly enhance marketing strategies and overall customer satisfaction.

What is Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is a market research method that focuses on obtaining data through open-ended and conversational communication. This method focuses on the “why” rather than the “what” people think about you. Thus, qualitative research seeks to uncover the underlying motivations, attitudes, and beliefs that drive people’s actions. 

Let’s say you have an online shop catering to a general audience. You do a demographic analysis and you find out that most of your customers are male. Naturally, you will want to find out why women are not buying from you. And that’s what qualitative research will help you find out.

In the case of your online shop, qualitative research would involve reaching out to female non-customers through methods such as in-depth interviews or focus groups. These interactions provide a platform for women to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns regarding your products or brand. Through qualitative analysis, you can uncover valuable insights into factors such as product preferences, user experience, brand perception, and barriers to purchase.

Types of Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative research methods are designed in a manner that helps reveal the behavior and perception of a target audience regarding a particular topic.

The most frequently used qualitative analysis methods are one-on-one interviews, focus groups, ethnographic research, case study research, record keeping, and qualitative observation.

1. One-on-one interviews

Conducting one-on-one interviews is one of the most common qualitative research methods. One of the advantages of this method is that it provides a great opportunity to gather precise data about what people think and their motivations.

Spending time talking to customers not only helps marketers understand who their clients are, but also helps with customer care: clients love hearing from brands. This strengthens the relationship between a brand and its clients and paves the way for customer testimonials.

  • A company might conduct interviews to understand why a product failed to meet sales expectations.
  • A researcher might use interviews to gather personal stories about experiences with healthcare.

These interviews can be performed face-to-face or on the phone and usually last between half an hour to over two hours. 

When a one-on-one interview is conducted face-to-face, it also gives the marketer the opportunity to read the body language of the respondent and match the responses.

2. Focus groups

Focus groups gather a small number of people to discuss and provide feedback on a particular subject. The ideal size of a focus group is usually between five and eight participants. The size of focus groups should reflect the participants’ familiarity with the topic. For less important topics or when participants have little experience, a group of 10 can be effective. For more critical topics or when participants are more knowledgeable, a smaller group of five to six is preferable for deeper discussions.

The main goal of a focus group is to find answers to the “why”, “what”, and “how” questions. This method is highly effective in exploring people’s feelings and ideas in a social setting, where group dynamics can bring out insights that might not emerge in one-on-one situations.

  • A focus group could be used to test reactions to a new product concept.
  • Marketers might use focus groups to see how different demographic groups react to an advertising campaign.

One advantage that focus groups have is that the marketer doesn’t necessarily have to interact with the group in person. Nowadays focus groups can be sent as online qualitative surveys on various devices.

Focus groups are an expensive option compared to the other qualitative research methods, which is why they are typically used to explain complex processes.

3. Ethnographic research

Ethnographic research is the most in-depth observational method that studies individuals in their naturally occurring environment.

This method aims at understanding the cultures, challenges, motivations, and settings that occur.

  • A study of workplace culture within a tech startup.
  • Observational research in a remote village to understand local traditions.

Ethnographic research requires the marketer to adapt to the target audiences’ environments (a different organization, a different city, or even a remote location), which is why geographical constraints can be an issue while collecting data.

This type of research can last from a few days to a few years. It’s challenging and time-consuming and solely depends on the expertise of the marketer to be able to analyze, observe, and infer the data.

4. Case study research

The case study method has grown into a valuable qualitative research method. This type of research method is usually used in education or social sciences. It involves a comprehensive examination of a single instance or event, providing detailed insights into complex issues in real-life contexts.  

  • Analyzing a single school’s innovative teaching method.
  • A detailed study of a patient’s medical treatment over several years.

Case study research may seem difficult to operate, but it’s actually one of the simplest ways of conducting research as it involves a deep dive and thorough understanding of the data collection methods and inferring the data.

5. Record keeping

Record keeping is similar to going to the library: you go over books or any other reference material to collect relevant data. This method uses already existing reliable documents and similar sources of information as a data source.

  • Historical research using old newspapers and letters.
  • A study on policy changes over the years by examining government records.

This method is useful for constructing a historical context around a research topic or verifying other findings with documented evidence.

6. Qualitative observation

Qualitative observation is a method that uses subjective methodologies to gather systematic information or data. This method deals with the five major sensory organs and their functioning, sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.

  • Sight : Observing the way customers visually interact with product displays in a store to understand their browsing behaviors and preferences.
  • Smell : Noting reactions of consumers to different scents in a fragrance shop to study the impact of olfactory elements on product preference.
  • Touch : Watching how individuals interact with different materials in a clothing store to assess the importance of texture in fabric selection.
  • Taste : Evaluating reactions of participants in a taste test to identify flavor profiles that appeal to different demographic groups.
  • Hearing : Documenting responses to changes in background music within a retail environment to determine its effect on shopping behavior and mood.

Below we are also providing real-life examples of qualitative research that demonstrate practical applications across various contexts:

Qualitative Research Real World Examples

Let’s explore some examples of how qualitative research can be applied in different contexts.

1. Online grocery shop with a predominantly male audience

Method used: one-on-one interviews.

Let’s go back to one of the previous examples. You have an online grocery shop. By nature, it addresses a general audience, but after you do a demographic analysis you find out that most of your customers are male.

One good method to determine why women are not buying from you is to hold one-on-one interviews with potential customers in the category.

Interviewing a sample of potential female customers should reveal why they don’t find your store appealing. The reasons could range from not stocking enough products for women to perhaps the store’s emphasis on heavy-duty tools and automotive products, for example. These insights can guide adjustments in inventory and marketing strategies.

2. Software company launching a new product

Method used: focus groups.

Focus groups are great for establishing product-market fit.

Let’s assume you are a software company that wants to launch a new product and you hold a focus group with 12 people. Although getting their feedback regarding users’ experience with the product is a good thing, this sample is too small to define how the entire market will react to your product.

So what you can do instead is holding multiple focus groups in 20 different geographic regions. Each region should be hosting a group of 12 for each market segment; you can even segment your audience based on age. This would be a better way to establish credibility in the feedback you receive.

3. Alan Pushkin’s “God’s Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School”

Method used: ethnographic research.

Moving from a fictional example to a real-life one, let’s analyze Alan Peshkin’s 1986 book “God’s Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School”.

Peshkin studied the culture of Bethany Baptist Academy by interviewing the students, parents, teachers, and members of the community alike, and spending eighteen months observing them to provide a comprehensive and in-depth analysis of Christian schooling as an alternative to public education.

The study highlights the school’s unified purpose, rigorous academic environment, and strong community support while also pointing out its lack of cultural diversity and openness to differing viewpoints. These insights are crucial for understanding how such educational settings operate and what they offer to students.

Even after discovering all this, Peshkin still presented the school in a positive light and stated that public schools have much to learn from such schools.

Peshkin’s in-depth research represents a qualitative study that uses observations and unstructured interviews, without any assumptions or hypotheses. He utilizes descriptive or non-quantifiable data on Bethany Baptist Academy specifically, without attempting to generalize the findings to other Christian schools.

4. Understanding buyers’ trends

Method used: record keeping.

Another way marketers can use quality research is to understand buyers’ trends. To do this, marketers need to look at historical data for both their company and their industry and identify where buyers are purchasing items in higher volumes.

For example, electronics distributors know that the holiday season is a peak market for sales while life insurance agents find that spring and summer wedding months are good seasons for targeting new clients.

5. Determining products/services missing from the market

Conducting your own research isn’t always necessary. If there are significant breakthroughs in your industry, you can use industry data and adapt it to your marketing needs.

The influx of hacking and hijacking of cloud-based information has made Internet security a topic of many industry reports lately. A software company could use these reports to better understand the problems its clients are facing.

As a result, the company can provide solutions prospects already know they need.

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Qualitative Research Approaches

Once the marketer has decided that their research questions will provide data that is qualitative in nature, the next step is to choose the appropriate qualitative approach.

The approach chosen will take into account the purpose of the research, the role of the researcher, the data collected, the method of data analysis , and how the results will be presented. The most common approaches include:

  • Narrative : This method focuses on individual life stories to understand personal experiences and journeys. It examines how people structure their stories and the themes within them to explore human existence. For example, a narrative study might look at cancer survivors to understand their resilience and coping strategies.
  • Phenomenology : attempts to understand or explain life experiences or phenomena; It aims to reveal the depth of human consciousness and perception, such as by studying the daily lives of those with chronic illnesses.
  • Grounded theory : investigates the process, action, or interaction with the goal of developing a theory “grounded” in observations and empirical data. 
  • Ethnography : describes and interprets an ethnic, cultural, or social group;
  • Case study : examines episodic events in a definable framework, develops in-depth analyses of single or multiple cases, and generally explains “how”. An example might be studying a community health program to evaluate its success and impact.

How to Analyze Qualitative Data

Analyzing qualitative data involves interpreting non-numerical data to uncover patterns, themes, and deeper insights. This process is typically more subjective and requires a systematic approach to ensure reliability and validity. 

1. Data Collection

Ensure that your data collection methods (e.g., interviews, focus groups, observations) are well-documented and comprehensive. This step is crucial because the quality and depth of the data collected will significantly influence the analysis.

2. Data Preparation

Once collected, the data needs to be organized. Transcribe audio and video recordings, and gather all notes and documents. Ensure that all data is anonymized to protect participant confidentiality where necessary.

3. Familiarization

Immerse yourself in the data by reading through the materials multiple times. This helps you get a general sense of the information and begin identifying patterns or recurring themes.

Develop a coding system to tag data with labels that summarize and account for each piece of information. Codes can be words, phrases, or acronyms that represent how these segments relate to your research questions.

  • Descriptive Coding : Summarize the primary topic of the data.
  • In Vivo Coding : Use language and terms used by the participants themselves.
  • Process Coding : Use gerunds (“-ing” words) to label the processes at play.
  • Emotion Coding : Identify and record the emotions conveyed or experienced.

5. Thematic Development

Group codes into themes that represent larger patterns in the data. These themes should relate directly to the research questions and form a coherent narrative about the findings.

6. Interpreting the Data

Interpret the data by constructing a logical narrative. This involves piecing together the themes to explain larger insights about the data. Link the results back to your research objectives and existing literature to bolster your interpretations.

7. Validation

Check the reliability and validity of your findings by reviewing if the interpretations are supported by the data. This may involve revisiting the data multiple times or discussing the findings with colleagues or participants for validation.

8. Reporting

Finally, present the findings in a clear and organized manner. Use direct quotes and detailed descriptions to illustrate the themes and insights. The report should communicate the narrative you’ve built from your data, clearly linking your findings to your research questions.

Limitations of qualitative research

The disadvantages of qualitative research are quite unique. The techniques of the data collector and their own unique observations can alter the information in subtle ways. That being said, these are the qualitative research’s limitations:

1. It’s a time-consuming process

The main drawback of qualitative study is that the process is time-consuming. Another problem is that the interpretations are limited. Personal experience and knowledge influence observations and conclusions.

Thus, qualitative research might take several weeks or months. Also, since this process delves into personal interaction for data collection, discussions often tend to deviate from the main issue to be studied.

2. You can’t verify the results of qualitative research

Because qualitative research is open-ended, participants have more control over the content of the data collected. So the marketer is not able to verify the results objectively against the scenarios stated by the respondents. For example, in a focus group discussing a new product, participants might express their feelings about the design and functionality. However, these opinions are influenced by individual tastes and experiences, making it difficult to ascertain a universally applicable conclusion from these discussions.

3. It’s a labor-intensive approach

Qualitative research requires a labor-intensive analysis process such as categorization, recording, etc. Similarly, qualitative research requires well-experienced marketers to obtain the needed data from a group of respondents.

4. It’s difficult to investigate causality

Qualitative research requires thoughtful planning to ensure the obtained results are accurate. There is no way to analyze qualitative data mathematically. This type of research is based more on opinion and judgment rather than results. Because all qualitative studies are unique they are difficult to replicate.

5. Qualitative research is not statistically representative

Because qualitative research is a perspective-based method of research, the responses given are not measured.

Comparisons can be made and this can lead toward duplication, but for the most part, quantitative data is required for circumstances that need statistical representation and that is not part of the qualitative research process.

While doing a qualitative study, it’s important to cross-reference the data obtained with the quantitative data. By continuously surveying prospects and customers marketers can build a stronger database of useful information.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research

Qualitative and quantitative research side by side in a table

Image source

Quantitative and qualitative research are two distinct methodologies used in the field of market research, each offering unique insights and approaches to understanding consumer behavior and preferences.

As we already defined, qualitative analysis seeks to explore the deeper meanings, perceptions, and motivations behind human behavior through non-numerical data. On the other hand, quantitative research focuses on collecting and analyzing numerical data to identify patterns, trends, and statistical relationships.  

Let’s explore their key differences: 

Nature of Data:

  • Quantitative research : Involves numerical data that can be measured and analyzed statistically.
  • Qualitative research : Focuses on non-numerical data, such as words, images, and observations, to capture subjective experiences and meanings.

Research Questions:

  • Quantitative research : Typically addresses questions related to “how many,” “how much,” or “to what extent,” aiming to quantify relationships and patterns.
  • Qualitative research: Explores questions related to “why” and “how,” aiming to understand the underlying motivations, beliefs, and perceptions of individuals.

Data Collection Methods:

  • Quantitative research : Relies on structured surveys, experiments, or observations with predefined variables and measures.
  • Qualitative research : Utilizes open-ended interviews, focus groups, participant observations, and textual analysis to gather rich, contextually nuanced data.

Analysis Techniques:

  • Quantitative research: Involves statistical analysis to identify correlations, associations, or differences between variables.
  • Qualitative research: Employs thematic analysis, coding, and interpretation to uncover patterns, themes, and insights within qualitative data.

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  • Last modified: January 3, 2023
  • Conversion Rate Optimization , User Research

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COMMENTS

  1. All about doctrinal and non-doctrinal research

    Meaning and definition. Non-doctrinal research, also known as social-legal research, is research that employs methods taken from other disciplines to generate empirical data that answers research questions. (Salim Ibrahim Ali 2017) Non-doctrinal research takes a multi-disciplinary approach towards legal research.

  2. Doctrinal Research: Meaning, Purpose, Methodology, Merits and

    Doctrinal research is a research methodology that focuses on analyzing and interpreting legal documents, such as statutes, case law, regulations, and treaties, in understanding legal concepts, principles, and doctrines. It has its jurisprudential root on the positive or analytical school of law.

  3. Defining and Describing What We Do: Doctrinal Legal Research

    This article discusses these limitations using the doctrinal research method, which included, inter alia, an examination of all relevant decisions by local higher courts during the 2009-2019 period. The discussion shows that such limitations can be confronted owing to conflicts with local judicial jurisprudence and/or mandatory statutory ...

  4. Doctrinal Legal Research: What Does It Entail and Is It Still Relevant

    This article examines the main characteristics of doctrinal legal research and the contexts in which it is used. It also highlights the strengths and weaknesses of doctrinal law, particularly in regards to policy-making and socio-legal research. Keywords: Doctrinal Law, Legal Research,

  5. PDF Research Methodology Qualitative and Doctrinal Methods in Research

    To comprehend the advantages and limitations of qualitative and doctrinal method of research. To understand the distinguishing factors between qualitative and doctrinal method of research. ... A doctrinal Research has following aims and objectives, namely: 1. To find the law in the legal statutes, subordinate legislations and judicial ...

  6. Doctrinal and Non-doctrinal Legal Research

    Doctrinal research, of course, involves analysis. of case law, arranging, ordering and systematising legal propositions, and study of legal institutions, but it does more - it creates law and its major tool (but not the only tool) to do so is through legal reasoning or rational. deduction. Even during the period when analytical positivism held ...

  7. Doctrinal Legal Research as a Means of Synthesizing Facts, Thoughts

    Doctrinal legal research (DLR) is the most frequently applied, and professionally a more popular, method of legal research. 1 As doctrine is central to law, understanding it through a focus on foundational facts becomes appropriate. 2 This, in fact, requires an inter-disciplinary approach which is key to discerning the facts and contextual nuances. . Abstracting ideas from diverse sources, and ...

  8. PDF Legal research

    When doctrinal research is undertaken in its pure form it is variously described as legal theory, jurisprudence, or (occasionally) legal philosophy. The limitations of this form of research in defining the nature of law as an academic discipline have already been noted. Nevertheless, although rarely used as a practical basis for legal analysis, it

  9. Doctrinal and Non-doctrinal Legal Research

    Doctrinal research, of course, involves analysis of case law, arranging, ordering and systematising legal propositions, and study of legal institutions, but it does more - it creates law and its major tool (but not the only tool) to do so is through legal reasoning or rational deduction. Even during the period when analytical positivism held ...

  10. A Comparative Analysis of Doctrinal and Non-doctrinal Legal Research

    It explores doctrinal (analyzing legal concepts) and non-doctrinal (empirical) research, both contributing to a holistic understanding of the law's impact. Doctrinal research relies on sources ...

  11. Defining and Describing What We Do: Doctrinal Legal Research

    Jack Fox-Williams. This paper outlines the characteristics of doctrinal legal research and the contexts in which such research is applied. It also examines the strengths and weaknesses of doctrinal research in the analysis of legal cases implicating complex social and moral issues. 2011 •.

  12. Doctrinal legal research: Its methodological characteristics and

    It also examines the strengths and weaknesses of doctrinal research in the analysis of legal cases implicating complex social and ... pg. 96-99) The case of F. (1990) critically highlights the methodological limitations of the doctrinal approach when analyzing complex legal issues. While the method provides a valuable, analytical framework in ...

  13. Legal Research: Doctrinal and Non-Doctrinal

    The article 'Legal Research: Doctrinal and Non-Doctrinal' provides insight into legal research from two different perspectives, and each has its strengths and limitations. Introduction. Doctrinal Legal Research is defined as research into legal doctrines through analysis of statutory provisions and cases by the application of the power of reasoning.

  14. PDF Legal Research of Doctrinal and Non-Doctrinal

    Doctrinal research asks, what is the law in a particular case. It is concerned with the analysis of the legal doctrine and how it ... disadvantages of any particular methodology, and will work to obtain the benefits that result from a better quality of work. Often, the combination of methodologies, i.e., a mixed method ...

  15. PDF A Critical Analysis of Underlying Concepts of Doctrinal Research

    Meaning of Doctrinal Research Doctrinal Research can be bifurcated into two parts 'doctrine' and 'research'. Doctrinederives its essence from a Latin word 'doctrina' which means to learn which means to read, understand or teachii.The term doctrine essentially covers everything under the legal umbrella to rules, precedents and statutes.

  16. What is Doctrinal and Non-Doctrinal Legal Research?

    Non-doctrinal research, also known as social-legal research, is research that employs methods taken from other disciplines to generate empirical data that answers research questions. It can be a problem, policy, or a reform of the existing law. A legal non-doctrinal finding can be qualitative or quantitative, and a dogmatic non-doctrinal ...

  17. Defining and Describing What We Do: Doctrinal Legal Research

    According to W esterman, legal doctrinal research is the type of research. which draws on the legal s ystem 'as the main supplier of concepts, categories. and criteria'. 116 This she ...

  18. (PDF) Legal Research of Doctrinal and Non-Doctrinal

    The method that was used in this research is the non-doctrinal type. This type of method is used in the legal analysis by analyzing data in the field [2].Specifically, in this study, data were ...

  19. Doctrinal Legal Research

    Lawyers, judges and jurists have widely been using doctrinal research as a systematic means of legal reasoning since the nineteenth century. Doctrinal research is therefore established as the traditional genre of research in the legal field. Also known as theory-testing or knowledge- building research in legal academia, it deals with studying existing laws, related cases and authoritative ...

  20. Comparative Method of Legal Research: Nature, Process, and Potentiality

    Its limitations include inadequate understanding of the social background of other jurisdiction, language barrier, and so on. Its attainments are many in various fields of law. ... Comparative legal research may be doctrinal or non-doctrinal, theoretical or fundamental, historical or contemporary, qualitative or quantitative; CLR is also called ...

  21. Doctrinal and socio-legal methods of research: merits and demerits

    Legal research provides an understanding of the basic types of law, legal resources, and subject terms will aid the process. The methodology used by legal scholars may be doctrinal or non doctrinal (socio-legal). In this paper, focus has been taken on two methodologies that are often employed by legal researcher.

  22. Doctrinal Research in Law: Meaning, Scope and Methodology

    This paper introduces into the fundamentals of legal research, socio-legal studies, conceptual framework on doctrinal research, steps of doctrinal studies, limitations and differences between ...

  23. Limitations of Research Study

    The limitations of research studies are significant in defining the scope of research inquiry. It outlines the results' extent and meaning. It finds areas where the outcome might be less reliable or relevant. Acknowledging and writing limits fosters honesty. It reminds researchers and readers of science's complexity and uncertainties.

  24. Qualitative Research: Definition, Methodology, Limitation, Examples

    Qualitative research is a method focused on understanding human behavior and experiences through non-numerical data. Examples of qualitative research include: One-on-one interviews, Focus groups, Ethnographic research, Case studies, Record keeping, Qualitative observations. In this article, we'll provide tips and tricks on how to use ...

  25. Legal Research- Descriptive Analysis on Doctrinal Methodology

    This paper introduces into the fundamentals of legal research, socio-legal studies, conceptual framework on doctrinal research, steps of doctrinal studies, limitations and differences between ...