Qualitative methods are most useful in exploring new issues, investigating hard-to-study groups, and determining the meaning people give to their lives and actions. They rely primarily on participant observation, intensive interviewing, and, in recent years, focus groups.
Field researchers must develop strategies for entering the field, developing and maintaining relations in the field, and sampling, recording, and analyzing data. Selection of sites or other units to study may reflect an emphasis on typical cases, deviant cases, and/or critical cases that can provide more information than others. Sampling techniques commonly used within sites or in selecting interviewees in field research include theoretical sampling, purposive sampling, snowball sampling, quota sampling, and, in special circumstances, random selection with the experience sampling method.
Four ethical issues that should be given particular attention in field research concern (1) voluntary participation, (2) subject well-being, (3) identity disclosure, and (4) confidentiality.