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What is Qualitative Research - Methods and Examples

What is Qualitative Research - Methods and Examples

Prior modules have introduced a number of qualitative approaches and methods for study design and the process of data collection.

You have learned that exploring or a research are often addressed using qualitative methods.

Natural observation, interviews, focus group, GIS, social network, to name a few.

1. What is Qualitative Research?

It is a market-based research focusing on the data collection process through communication.

Qualitative research approaches are applied across many academic disciplines. It particularly focuses on the human elements of the natural and social sciences.

It focuses on three main areas - culture and societies, individuals, language and communication. Although there are a number of methods used in qualitative research but the approach that this method uses is rather subjective.

For example:

Suppose a shop is looking to increase their sales. A systematic approach provides results that men visiting the store are more in numbers than the women.

To find out the reason it is important to conduct an interview of female customers in the first place.

After interviewing, it came into account that the store has fewer items for women. It was the main reason for them not visiting the store.

Therefore the qualitative research allows us to perform further questioning based on their initial responses. Understanding how your audience makes their minds can help you in drawing a conclusion in the market research.

1.1 Purpose of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research has a huge background in sociology. It has been used in this field for as long as the sociology field itself existed.

This type of research is mainly used by social scientists to examine the behaviour and interaction of people with each other.

The purpose of qualitative research is to reveal the true meaning. It informs an action or an outcome that is typically measured by the quantitative research.

So the qualitative researchers investigate symbols, meanings and the processes of social life. Because it focuses on the everyday life of people, it tends to create new theories which can further be tested.

Qualitative research produces descriptive data that is then interpreted using different systematic transcribing methods.

1.2 Why Qualitative Research Works

There are several attributes that contribute to the insightful results of qualitative research.

  • The concept of Synergy among the respondents, because they rely on each other's ideas and comments.
  • Interview nature or the group discussion process helps in engaging respondents in a more effective and structured way.
  • The chance to observe and record the non verbal communication is also valuable during discussions and face to face interviews.

2. Types of Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative research methods are designed in a manner that can easily reveal the perception and behavior of your audience.

In qualitative research, different types of methods are used. These are focus group, in-depth interview, case study research, content analysis, and ethnographic research.

Qualitative research results are more descriptive and results can easily be drawn from the obtained data.

Here the most commonly used methods of qualitative research.

2.1 One on one Interview

It is a personal interview conducted with only one person at a time. This is conducted purely in a conversational way and to get details from the respondent.

This is a great chance for you to gather a huge amount of data. You should focus on the thinking of people and what their motivations are.

These interviews can be conducted on the phone or face to face. The duration of such interviews is half an hour to one hour or even more.

2.2 Focus Groups

A most commonly used research method in the data collection process. A focus group includes a fixed number of respondents from the target market.

It is basically a small group discussion on a selected topic.

The purpose of this method is to look for answers to the research questions of what, why and how. In this method, there is no need to interact with the respondents in person.

2.3 Ethnographic Research

It is the most in-depth research method that observes the behavior of people in their natural environment. It requires the researcher to adapt to the environment of their target audience.

The main aim of ethnographic research is to know the culture, challenges, motivation, and settings.

For example:

There is one way to uncover the needs of people is to follow them home. In this way you can observe their interaction with the product.

There is no don't need to come up with hypothesis. Instead you just need to look and observe how the product is being used.

2.4 Case Study Research

The method has evolved over the last few years and has become one of the most valuable research methods.

The case studied is used to explain an entity or a company.

This research method is used within a number of areas like social sciences, education etc.

For Example:

How a multi-national company has used UX research design methods in agile development environment for qualitative studies. This would be a topic of great interest to many small organizations.

2.5 Grounded Theory

Grounded theory is more into providing an explanation behind the events. Researchers make use of interviews and existing paperwork and build a theory.

This method can help in designing decisions by better understanding the product usage by the customer.

For Example:

This method involves the understanding of how software developers make use of portals for communication. And how they are involved in the process of writing code.

2.6 Observation Process

It is a research process that uses subjective methods to collect systematic data or information. This qualitative observation method is primarily used to equate differences in quality.

This method deals with 5 organs - sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. It does not involve numbers but characteristics.

If you want to learn more about research methodologies, you must explore our article on types of research. Make sure to give this article a thorough read.

3. Qualitative Research Question

Usually a research problem frames the whole study and influences the researcher in choosing the research method.

But generally, qualitative research lacks a set of assumptions or hypotheses. In this case, research questions are the result of the research design process.

If you have decided to use qualitative research. Here are the guidelines that can help you develop the right questions for your case study.

  • Qualitative questions usually starts with what, why, or how.
  • It identifies a central phenomenon you are planning to explore
  • Avoid using words such as effect, cause, influence, and relate.
  • It often contains words like personal experience, experience, meaning, stories, and understanding.

3.1 Quantitative Research Questions Examples

  • What it is like growing up in a single parent family?
  • What are the experiences of people doing a night job?
  • Describe the meal time of overweight people while dieting?

4. Qualitative Research: Data Collection and Analysis

It is the initial stages of data preparation in qualitative research. It mainly focuses on the conversion of raw data into something readable and meaningful information.

4.1 Qualitative Data Collection

The method of qualitative data collection allows the researcher to collect non- numerical data and find out how decisions are made. For reaching strong conclusion, collected data needs to be holistic, rich and meaningful.

Whatever method a researcher decided to choose to collect qualitative data. One aspect is clear that the process will generate a huge amount of data.

For example, if a researcher has decided to choose a one to one discussion or a focus group. There will be hand-written notes or tapes for video recording.

4.2 Qualitative Data Analysis

Qualitative data such as notes, images, text documents, audio, and video recordings.

Text analysis is an essential analysis method that is distinctively different from the other qualitative data analysis methods.

4.3 Qualitative Research Sample

Here is a sample of qualitative research paper in which a selected case study is explained very clearly. This will help you to better understand how qualitative research is conducted.

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Qualitative Research Sample (PDF)

5. Characteristics of Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative research is natural because it studies a group of people in its natural setting. Usually, qualitative research methods collect data at first sight in a situation where the respondents are experiencing issues. These are the real-time data and rarely bring the respondents out of their locations.

Through qualitative research methods, data is collected in multiple forms. These are participant observations, paperwork and other rather than depending on a single source of data.

These types of research methods mainly focuses on solving complex problems by breaking down into smaller sections easily readable by all.

As it is more of an engaging method, people can easily build their trust on the person conducting the research.

6. Qualitative Research Vs Quantitative Research

Many times those who undertake a research project often find confused between qualitative research and quantitative research methods.

The qualitative data and quantitative data are collected from various methods different to each other.

Many think that the qualitative and quantitative methods, both can be used. But it is not true.

So what is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research?

The basic difference between these two research methods are quite simple and straightforward.

You can explore our article to know more about qualitative vs quantitative research, similarities and differences between the two types.


Qualitative Research

Quantitative Research

Analytical objectives

This method is primarily focused to describe the experiences and beliefs of an individual.

This method is primarily focused on describing the population's characteristics.

Question Types

Open-ended questions (free form of survey questions)

Close-ended questions

(answer questions with a set of predefined responses)




Data Collection Instrument

Semi-structured methods like in-depth interviewing and focus groups

Highly structured methods like questionnaires

Data produced










It helps in developing initial understanding

It recommends a final action

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