Qualitative Research | 10 mins read

Develop an Understanding of Qualitative Research

develop an understanding of qualitative research
Lauren Christiansen

By Lauren Christiansen

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is the process of gathering and analyzing observable data to understand hypotheses, beliefs, and experiences. It is utilized in the business world to extract insights into inefficiencies and explore opportunities for growth and innovation.

Qualitative research is the opposite of quantitative research because it does not involve gathering and analyzing statistical information. Instead, it helps to gain a deeper understanding of business-related events by drilling down into consumer behavior patterns.

Research questions and areas of study may include -

  • Why do customers prefer a certain service over another?
  • What factors contribute to a high turnover rate?
  • What is causing a decrease in productivity in the sales department?
  • Why is this particular marketing campaign less effective than the previous one?
While most businesses rely on quantitative methods to pinpoint inefficiencies, not all questions can be answered by performing statistical analysis. Drilling down into customer or employee behavior to understand their needs requires using social science to understand their psychology.

Qualitative researchers can extract insights that help to generate customized marketing campaigns, eliminate bottlenecks, improve employee morale, streamline operations, and increase the bottom line.

  • Analyze new product design or concept
  • Assess attitudes and usage of customers
  • Strategic positioning and competitive anlaysis
  • Research product satsifaction rate
  • Effectiveness of marketing campaigns

Methods of Qualitative Research

To better understand human behavior and answer specific business questions, researchers need to collect observation data.

Observation data is gathered by studying individuals in a controlled or natural environment. This can occur in-person, on the phone, or in numerous other ways. Here are the two primary methods used to perform quantitative analysis -

1. Interviews

The interview process requires asking as many questions as possible to address the specific area of research. Open-ended questions that encourage the individual to speak overtly about his/her experiences are useful for gaining honest feedback.

Questions should be unbiased, fair, and comprehensible for every participant involved in the study. It is better to begin asking questions that are easy to answer to help the individual feel comfortable. This will increase trust between the two parties, which is critical for ensuring the answers provided are honest and thorough.

Before the interview process, the participant should be aware of how the meeting will be conducted and what to expect. Informed consent is critical because observation data can be discounted if the individual has not been made aware of the details of the study. Interviews must also be recorded or documented to make certain there is an audit trail of the exact exchange.

2. Focus Groups

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A focus group is similar to an interview but involves more than one person. The discussion is facilitated by the researcher and is typically less intensive than one-on-one meetings.

Due to its documented success rate across different industries, focus groups are frequently used in both the private and public sectors to assess group norms, explore topics, observe body language, gain feedback, and exchange information.

Companies should make sure that the topic is relevant to all participants and that individuals will feel comfortable sharing openly with one another. It's essential to note that focus group data is most accurate when combined with statistical information to develop the most reliable insights.

Moderators need to have a set of specific skills to achieve the best results. These include

  • Values individual opinions by responding politely and respectfully.
  • Listens without intervening by guiding the conversation instead of joining it
  • Prepares for views that may contract one's own beliefs and morals
  • Remains authentic throughout research quantitative study to ensure respondents feel relaxed

Qualitative Research Data Collection and Analysis

Qualitative research allows businesses to explore the way decisions are made and why. To gain valuable insights about the customer or internal behavior, the data collected must be comprehensive, reliable, and relevant. Data collection methods must also be organized and systematic to achieve the best results.

Once the correct observation data is gathered, an organization can then perform in-depth analysis to pinpoint patterns and extract useful information. Here are the best practices for data collection and analysis -

1. Data Collection

Regardless of the collection methods used, most organizations that perform a thorough study gather vast quantities of information. It's important to note that there are various methods used to collect and document the information because each quantitative research method is different. For example, observation data collected in a focus group may be handwritten or recorded.

If the information is gathered via recording, the researcher will need to first transcribe it. This process can take anywhere from 8-10 hours per interview, depending on how experienced the facilitator is. It's best to put each participant's observation data into separate files to ensure everything is organized and easy to reference.

Field note data includes any handwritten notes written by the moderator during the focus group. This is used to understand body language, context, or to remember specific comments that participants made. This information should be saved in a secure location and then compared to the transcribed information during analysis.

2. Data Analysis

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Qualitative data analysis includes all of the documents, audio, surveys, and any other records used during the observation process. Nowadays, many organizations use text analysis instead of more traditional methods.

For text analysis, researchers use a set of images throughout their study and then assess how individuals react to them. Marketers tend to use text analysis to assess which posts are shared on social media and why.

Qualitative research data is usually gathered in real-time at the place a customer is encountering a problem. It relies on multiple streams of data to gain a fuller picture of what is occurring.

Qualitative research allows businesses to solve large problems by breaking them down into separate deductions that are simple to understand. All of the information gathered is raw and unstructured because qualitative research is more communicative.

Examples of Qualitative Research

Seeing how qualitative research is applied in the business environment is critical to understanding its effectiveness and usefulness. Different approaches can help to gain insight into how consumers experience day-to-day life and why they make the decisions that they do.

Each approach to qualitative research is flexible and is focused on extracting valuable inferences. The top approaches used in qualitative research include

1. Grounded Theory

Grounded theory is a research method in which the analysis and development of hypotheses occur after the information is gathered. It identifies relationships between social groups and drills down into group behavior. In this method, data gathering and analysis occur at the same time.

There may be numerical data collected along with any observation data to generate more accurate results. A facilitator typically conducts a comprehensive interview and asks open-ended questions to develop a hypothesis about the topic of study.

2. Ethnography

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The ethnography application requires a researcher to become part of the group of study to better understand their behavior. Its purpose is to gain a full picture of how people act when in their natural environment rather than in a controlled context. Ethnographic research is performed by summarizing and recording the researcher's findings.

Data is collected through video, notes, discovery forums, or even through social media. For example, a marketer may join a certain Facebook community to gain a better understanding of a new target market.

3. Action Research

In action research, an analyst collaborates with participants to link a specific hypothesis to a set of actions. It is used by academia, activists, marketers, and other organizations to encourage change in a social environment.

Participants look inward to study their habits and processes to see which actions are required to change an outcome. Researchers create a larger knowledge base to understand how effective a potential strategy may be.

4. Phenomenal Research

Phenomenal research requires investigating an unusual circumstance by identifying and analyzing respondents' environment. Researchers view events as they occur rather than following up or conducting more analysis after the event.

It requires having an interest in a particular consumer experience. The researcher then conducts interviews or focus group discussions to gain insight into the participants' thought processes.

5. Narrative Research

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Narrative research involves studying how information is explained in order to comprehend respondents' perspectives about their experiences. Its purpose is to drill down into human experience through the stories they tell.

This requires interviewing participants or analyzing notes where these narratives are written down. Journalists often use narrative research to gain a deeper understanding of a group of individuals.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is very effective at helping an organization to understand why individuals act the way that they do. It is often conducted in conjunction with quantitative analysis to pinpoint the reasons behind certain consumer choices. Businesses can use it to make sense of problems that impact productivity.

As a result, executives can optimize workflows and minimize inefficiencies that result in low productivity. Here are the top advantages and disadvantages of qualitative research -

1. Qualitative Research Advantages

Qualitative research is used to record the perspectives of respondents and is easily adjustable once new theories or questions come up. The top benefits of data methods research include

  • Versatility- Data gathering and analytics can be changed once new hypotheses or trends appear. Researchers do not insist that a theory is correct before collecting their observation data.

  • Natural Environment- Data is collected by observing individuals in their natural environment. This results in more honest and accurate observation data.

  • Extracted Insights- Gaining a comprehensive picture of participants' lived experiences is useful for creating new products, fixing problems, and optimizing processes.

  • Innovative- Open-ended questions allow facilitators to pinpoint unnoticeable opportunities for growth and innovation.

2. Qualitative Research Disadvantages

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There are certain limitations when researchers aren't using quantitative data to make conclusions. These include-

  • Inaccurate Insights- Observing individuals in a natural environment can be unreliable because external factors can impact the findings.

  • Subjective Analysis- Each facilitator is responsible for collecting the observation data, which means the study cannot be redone. It's difficult to know how much the researcher impacts the outcome of the study and if it causes the findings to be unreliable.

  • Small Sample Sizes- Using small samples to collect observation data makes it difficult to extract valuable insights because the raw information can be biased and inapplicable to a larger target market.

  • Time-Consuming- Quantitative data analysis is usually conducted through manual processes and the interview/focus group process can be very time-consuming.

  • Easy to lose data if not properly organized
  • May require multiple sessions to gain accurate results
  • Researchers must be knowledgeable about the subject matter
  • Data doesn't always fit neatly into standard categories

Key Takeaways for Qualitative Research

In conclusion, here is what to know about qualitative research

  • Qualitative research is included in social sciences. It is typically performed in case studies through interviews and focus groups. A facilitator moderates the discussion with a set of participants who provide feedback on audio recordings.
  • Qualitative research involves collecting and transcribing large quantities of observation data. The analysis is then performed by aggregating and drilling down into this information to extract valuable insights.
  • Examples of qualitative research include grounded theory, ethnography, action research, phenomenon research, and narrative research.
  • Advantages of qualitative research include its flexibility, limitations of a natural environment, ability to extract insights from quantitative qualitative data that result in innovation. Disadvantages of qualitative quantitative research include the possibility of inaccuracies in handbook qualitative notes, subjective discourse analysis, small sample sizes, and how time-consuming the process is.