Businesses often require vast amounts of meaningful data to improve product development processes or enhance existing products and services. Qualitative research can help researchers understand what customers want when little theory is available to guide consumer research projects. Understanding qualitative research can give you insight into what people think and feel about a product or service.
In this article, we explain the meaning of qualitative research, discuss its uses and benefits and share eight types of qualitative research.
What is qualitative research?
Qualitative research is a research process that aims to understand the subjective experiences of people. It uses nonprobability sampling, which means open-ended questions with no predetermined assumptions. Researchers analyze the data they collect through a process of coding by themes and patterns that emerge from this analysis.
There are different types of qualitative research methods according to the various data collection techniques that researchers use. Examples include interviews, focus groups and observation. These methods help gather information on the participants’ perceptions, feelings and opinions about an issue or problem researchers are investigating.
When to use qualitative research
Qualitative research may be a reliable approach when you want to understand a topic in-depth and from the perspective of the people involved. Qualitative research can also help you understand the meaning and significance of an experience or one event. If you want to understand the context of an experience, such as where it takes place, qualitative research may be your best option.
Qualitative research is appropriate for:
Learning about something that isn’t well-defined or measurable in numbers
Learning how people interpret events or experiences rather than just knowing what happened
Understanding how people feel about a topic instead of only knowing their opinions
8 types of qualitative research
There are several types of qualitative research, including:
1. Action research
In action research, the researcher participates in a situation and collects data on it. The researcher uses this data to analyze the situation and collects more data if they want to adjust the scope of the study or its results. Action research is cyclical, meaning each step involves collaboration between the study participants and the researcher. You can conduct action research at any level, including the individual, group or community level.
This type is appropriate when you want to learn how something works within its natural environment. For example, if you want to understand people’s challenges while using technology at work, you can collaborate with teams in different departments to study this topic.
The phenomenological method is a qualitative research technique that seeks to understand the meaning that people give to their experiences. This type of research uses the phenomenological inquiry method, which focuses on how individuals experience events.
Phenomenological researchers focus on subjective understanding and biases to look at what people say about themselves, rather than on objective interpretations of what participants say. This helps researchers better understand people’s experiences.
Ethnographic research is a qualitative method that focuses on understanding human behavior. Ethnographers are interested in a phenomenon’s social context while learning about cultural norms and beliefs.
In ethnographic research, the researcher frequently lives with the research subjects and studies their culture. Ethnographers interview the most knowledgeable people about their roles and responsibilities within the society or community. Data collection and analysis occur simultaneously, as researchers record their observations in field notes. These notes serve as raw data for future analysis.
4. Case study
Case studies are in-depth examinations of people or groups of people. They help researchers understand an intervention’s context, process, and outcomes. Case studies also help researchers understand the cause-and-effect relationships between variables and the change process over time.
For a case study to qualify as qualitative research, the researcher must focus on the meaning of experiences to subjects. They then use content analysis to evaluate the data from case studies.
5. Narrative model
Narrative research is a popular qualitative research method because it helps you understand how people live and make decisions. You collect data about subjects by tracking them as they go through different stages of your study. By understanding these experiences through observations of participants over time, businesses can create buyer personas for their products and services based on these narratives.
Researchers explore a few participants’ experiences by collecting information on their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors during specific situations. This method allows researchers to gather data from several sources at one time to identify themes or patterns. The narrative research method involves collecting stories from participants to share later. This process involves asking questions like:
What was happening?
How did it feel?
Why was this important?
What did you do next?
6. Grounded theory
Grounded theory is a qualitative research method that uses a systematic review of existing data to develop theories about why events happened the way they did. The grounded theory method uses inductive and deductive approaches to theory development. Rather than using probability sampling procedures, researchers use purposeful sampling to select certain subjects who may share new perspectives on the phenomenon under study.
7. Focus groups
Focus groups are an important tool in qualitative research. They reveal people’s attitudes, perceptions and beliefs to enhance researchers’ knowledge of a particular topic. For instance, moderators might conduct focus groups with eight to 12 participants who meet at set times over several weeks or months. Participants may test out a new product, and researchers can observe subjects and conduct interviews about their experience.
For example, a beverage company may plan to launch a new brand of energy drinks. It invites people of different ages and backgrounds to taste the drink over multiple days. The researchers then conduct follow-up interviews asking each person what they think about the new drink relative to other drinks currently available on the market.
Historical studies identify, locate, evaluate and synthesize data from the past. Historical research helps researchers understand why something happened and what its impact was. Researchers can use this data to predict the future or understand the past better.
You can find data for historical research in documents or relics and artifacts. These include books, published works such as newspapers and older texts and letters from people who lived during certain periods. Historical data sources can be primary and secondary sources. Primary sources provide direct information or evidence, while secondary sources contain indirect information.
Benefits of qualitative research
There are many benefits of qualitative research, including:
Flexibility: You can choose to perform a small or large study and easily adjust your research plan to reflect new learning and insights.
Depth: Qualitative researchers invest time in understanding complex phenomena from multiple perspectives over time. This means they can get deeper insights than quantitative studies often provide.
Customization: Qualitative methods give you more freedom to adapt your methodology to suit your research question and goals. You can customize the study duration, participants and research methods.
Meaning: Qualitative research focuses on meaning rather than facts and statistics. Qualitative methods allow people in studies, such as customers or employees, to share their perspectives without the limitations of facts and numbers.
I hope you find this article helpful.