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Qualitative Research Methods: Types, Examples and Analysis

Qualitative Research Methods: Types, Examples and Analysis

Qualitative Research Methods: a phrase that comes into mind when you want to get inside your customers’ heads to understand their thoughts and feelings. Clearly, numbers will not provide a complete picture if you want to understand people’s perceptions, beliefs, and emotions.

For example, suppose you own a bakery and want to know why the sale of pancakes is more than pastries. You cannot determine this with surveys and questionnaires  (qualitative data) that will provide you with all sorts of numerical data. The best solution in this scenario is to interview people and ask them what they like in pancakes, what they do not like in pastry, etc. Accordingly, mold your offering to increase your sales of pastries. 

Qualitative research involves obtaining deep insight into why people behave the way they do. There are different methods to conduct qualitative research. In this blog, we will highlight the top qualitative research methodologies with examples and how you can analyze qualitative data.

Let’s start.

What Is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is a branch of market research that involves collecting and analyzing qualitative data through open-ended communication. The primary purpose of conducting qualitative research is to understand the individual’s thoughts, feelings, opinions, and reasons behind these emotions.

It is used to gather in-depth and rich insights into a particular topic. Understanding how your audience feels about a specific subject helps make informed decisions in research. 

As opposed to quantitative research, qualitative research does not deal with the collection of numerical data for statistical analysis. The application of this research method is usually found in humanities and social science subjects like sociology, history, anthropology, health science, education, etc.

Types of Qualitative Research Methods With Examples

Types of Qualitative Research Methods With Examples

Qualitative research methods are designed to understand the behavior and perception of the target audience about a particular subject.

Qualitative research methods include observations, one-on-one interviews, case study research, focus groups, ethnographic research, phenomenology, and grounded theory.

Let’s discuss them one by one.

1. Observations

Observation is one of the oldest qualitative methods of research used to collect systematic data using subjective methodologies. It is based on five primary sense organs – smell, sight, taste, touch and hearing, and their functioning. This method focuses on characteristics and qualities rather than numbers.

The qualitative observations technique involves observing the interaction patterns in a particular situation. Researchers collect data by closely watching the behaviors of others. They rely on their ability to observe the target audience rather than communicating with people about their thoughts on a particular subject.

Example of observation method:

A researcher observing kids’ behavior in a private school for his research. 

He may watch and record things like how kids interact with each other, how comfortable they are sharing their tiffin, which class they enjoy the most, etc.

2. One-on-one interviews

Conducting one-on-one interviews is the most common type of qualitative research method. It involves open-ended conservation between researchers and participants related to a particular subject. This method is used to gather in-depth qualitative data for the research purpose.

Here, the researcher asks pre-determined questions to the participants to collect specific information about their research topic. Interviews can be conducted via face-to-face, email, or phone. The drawback of this method is that sometimes the participants feel uncomfortable sharing honest answers with the researcher.  

Example of one-on-one interview method:

A business can conduct a structured interview with its target audience to understand the attractiveness of their product before expanding their operations to the global level. 

3. Focus groups

A Focus group involves collecting quantitative data by conducting a group discussion of 6-12 members along with a moderator related to a particular subject. Here the moderator asks respondents a set of predetermined questions so that they can interact with each other and form a group discussion. It helps researchers to collect rich qualitative data about their market research.

However, it is essential to ensure that the moderator asks open-ended questions like “how,” “what,” “why” that will enable participants to share their thoughts and feelings. Close-ended questions like “yes” and “no” should be avoided as they do not lead to engagement among participants.

Example of focus group method:

Suppose a software company wants to test a new feature of its product before launching it in the market. So, in this case, they will conduct a focus group by choosing a sample group from its target audience. The group will discuss the product’s new feature, and the researcher will collect data based on how they react to the new feature and make the decision accordingly.

4. Case Study Research

A case study is another example of qualitative research that involves a comprehensive examination of a particular subject, person, or event. This method is used to obtain in-depth data and complete knowledge of the subject. The data is collected from various sources like interviews and observation to supplement the conclusion.

This qualitative approach is extensively used in the field of social sciences, law, business, and health. Many companies use this technique when marketing their products/services to new customers. It tells them how their business offerings can solve a particular problem. Let’s discuss an example of this method of qualitative research.

Example of case study method:

Businesses can use case studies to show their business solutions effectively and when they introduce any new product in the market.  It will help customers identify how the brand’s offering can solve a particular problem for the subject.

5. Ethnography

Ethnography is a descriptive type of qualitative research that deals with people and their culture. This method aims to study individuals’ behavior in their natural habitat. Here, the researcher lives with the target audience, acts as an observer, and gets involved with their environment. By doing so, they get first-hand experience of motivation, goals, challenges, lifestyle, culture, and tradition of the individuals. 

The ethnographic model is a social science model used in anthropology to study remote cultures and smaller communities within any particular region. This qualitative technique is a time-taking process as it can take days to years to complete the research. Also, geographical constraints can be an issue while collecting data.

Example of ethnography method:

A simple example of ethnographic qualitative methodology is when a researcher travels to a remote village to live with the society for years to research village people and their culture. 

6. Grounded Theory

Grounded Theory is another data collection method of qualitative research used across various disciplines. This method aims to provide the reasons, theories, and explanations behind an event. It focuses on why a course of action has happened the way it did. 

The grounded theory model collects and analyzes the data to develop new theories about the subject. The data is collected using different techniques like observation, literature review, and document analysis. This qualitative method is majorly used in business for conducting user satisfaction surveys to explain why a customer purchases a particular product or service. It helps companies in managing customer loyalty.

Example of grounded theory method:

The HR department of an organization may use grounded research to determine why employees lack motivation in their work.  HR can gather data by conducting grounded theory research, determining the root cause of the problem, and offering solutions.

7. Phenomenology

Phenomenology is another qualitative research example that describes how an individual experiences or feels about a particular event. It also explores the experience of a specific event in a community. Here, the researcher interviews people who have experienced a particular event to find similarities between their experiences. The researcher can also record what they learn from the target audience to maintain the credibility of the data.

Although this qualitative technique depends majorly on interviews, other data collection methods like observation, interviews, and survey questionnaires are also used to supplement the findings. The application of this method is found in psychology, philosophy, and education.

Example of phenomenology method:

A simple example of a phenomenology qualitative research technique would be when a researcher undertakes a study to determine why students prefer to join online courses and the reasons behind the increase in popularity of online courses.

The process of qualitative data analysis usually remains the same regardless of the data collection methods; that is, one-to-one interviews or focus groups. Here are the steps you need to follow to conduct qualitative data analysis.

Also Read: How to Analyze Survey Data Like a Pro

Qualitative Data Analysis

Qualitative Data Analysis

Arranging the Data

Qualitative data is collected in different forms like audio recordings, interviews, video transcriptions, etc. This step involves arranging all the collected data in the text format in the spreadsheet. This can be done either manually or with the help of data analysis tools.

Organizing the Data

Even after putting the data into a spreadsheet, the data is still messy and hard to read. Due to this, the data needs to be organized in a readable and understandable pattern. For example, you can organize data based on questions asked. Organize your data in such a way that it appears visually clear. Data organization can be tedious, but it is essential for the next step.

Assigning Codes

Developing codes for the data helps simplify the data analysis methods in qualitative research. Assigning code implies categorizing and setting patterns and properties to the collected data. It helps in compressing the vast amount of information collected. By developing codes for your data, you can gather deep insight into the data to make informed business decisions.

Analyzing the Data

Qualitative data cannot be analyzed based on some universally accepted equation like quantitative data. Qualitative data analysis depends on the thinking and logical skill of the researcher. However, there are a few techniques by which you can easily interpret data by identifying themes and patterns between sample responses:

  • Checking the data for repetitive words and phrases commonly used by the audience in their answers.
  • Comparing the primary and secondary data collection to find the difference between them.
  • Scanning the data for expected information but has not been included in answers provided by respondents. 

Summarizing the Data

The final stage is to link the qualitative data to the hypothesis. Highlight significant themes, patterns, and trends by using essential quotes from the data, as well as any possible contradictions. One of the main things about qualitative data is that there isn’t a single, formal way to collect and analyze data. Each research project will have its own set of methods and techniques that it needs to use. The key is to look at the specific needs of each project and change the research method accordingly.

Advantages of Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative market research techniques offer a more comprehensive and complete picture of the subject than quantitative research which focuses on specific and narrow areas. Other advantages of using qualitative research methods are:

  • Explore the subject in-depth: Qualitative research is personal and offers a deep understanding of the respondent’s feelings, thoughts, and actions so that the researcher can perform an in-depth analysis of the subject. 
  • Promotes discussion: Qualitative research methods are open-ended in approach rather than rigorously following a predetermined set of questions. It adds context to the research rather than just numbers. 
  • More flexibility: The interviewer can study and ask questions on the subject they feel is pertinent or had not previously thought about during the discussions. Moreover, open-ended questions enable respondents to be free to share their thoughts, leading to more information.
  • Capture trends as they change: Qualitative research can track how people’s feelings and attitudes change over time. Respondents’ opinions can change during the conversation, and qualitative research can show this.

Qualitative Research Methods vs Quantitative Research Methods

In simple words, quantitative research methods are all about numbers and measurements. In contrast, qualitative approaches talk about people’s opinions and the reason behind those opinions.

Qualitative research is holistic in nature, and its primary purpose is to get a deep understanding of the opinions, behavior, and thoughts of the target audience in an open way. It enables the researcher to engage with respondents in a flexible way instead of asking them a set of predetermined questions. In the same way, respondents can also discuss the subject openly, which helps the researcher collect rich information and suggest a final course of action.

On the other hand, quantitative research is particularistic in nature. Here, numbers guide decisions, and data is analyzed using statistical analysis. Qualitative research methods help gain an initial understanding of the subject that deals in figures like how many people are likely to buy your products and services.

Qualitative Research Methods Quantitative Research Methods
Objective  It focuses on “ what” customers think as well as “why” they think in such a manner. It focuses on the “what,” “where,” & “when” of the customer’s needs.
Nature  Holistic Particularistic
Type of data Descriptive Numerical
Methods Focus Group, Interviews, Case Study, Observations. Surveys, questionnaires, A/B Testing
Interaction with users More direct and personal contact with respondents. Less direct and personal contact with respondents.
Type of Questions Open-ended questions Close-ended Questions
Analysis Non-statistical, cannot be expressed in numbers Statistical analysis through charts, graphs, and software
Example Why did you buy chocolate today? Did you buy chocolate today? A. Yes   B. No

Also Read: Qualitative vs Quantitative Data: What Yields the Best Results and When

Ready to Use Quantitative Research?

So, there you have it all about qualitative research methods: their types, examples, use, and importance. Quantitative research is one of the most effective instruments to understand individuals’ thoughts and feelings or identify their needs and problems. After figuring out the problem, quantitative research is used to make the conclusion and offer a reliable solution for business.

You can also supplement your quantitative market research with ProProfs Survey Maker to reach your target audience more effectively and in a shorter duration.

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About the author

Jared is a customer support expert. He has been published in CrazyEgg, Foundr, and CXL. As a customer support executive at ProProfs, he has been instrumental in developing a complete customer support system that more than doubled customer satisfaction. You can connect and engage with Jared on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.