Researchers who follow qualitative methodologies are conducting naturalistic inquiry. Naturalistic inquiry values the variance of human experience and assumes that a straightforward, objectivist collection of knowledge is not possible because humans operate and understand the world based on their own, individual constructed realities. Thus, researchers interested in qualitative methodologies understand that a paradigm shift away from positivist or "conventional" research is necessary to both complete and evaluate naturalistic inquiry.

Qualitative researchers follow philosophies such as the interpretivist paradigm, the critical paradigm, or the feminist paradigm, to name a few. They collect data within the natural world through methods such as observation, interview, or documentation. These methodologies allow researchers to gain an understanding of the natural word based on how individuals experience and make meaning from that world.