Qualitative Research – Definition, Pros & Cons, Methods & Examples

Qualitative research is known as the method for market research that primarily focuses on obtaining the data through conversational and open-ended communication. This method explains in detail not only what but also why people think about a particular subject.

For instance, a convenience store that is looking to improve its retail might conduct qualitative research. A systematic method may conclude that the total number of men visiting the store is more than women. The reason for women not visiting the store can be known by an in-depth interview from the selected potential customers in this segment.

On completing the interview with the female consumers by picking them through random sampling the real reason is known. It is seen that the store does not include enough products for women and consists of more products for men. Therefore, qualitative research allows an in-depth understanding of the matter by questioning the respondents. It also gives a clear concept of the feelings and motivations of the clients. Quantitative research helps the organization to take decisions for market planning.

The exact meaning of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research can also be defined as a scientific way of observation to collect data of no numerical value. It helps to answer questions like how or why a certain situation might occur, rather than how frequently it occurs. The approaches for qualitative research are applied in many academic disciplines concentrating mainly on the natural and social sciences. Other than this, it is also applied for market research, service demonstrations, business decisions and many more.

Moreover, Qualitative research focuses on multi-method techniques like naturalistic and interpretive ways to its subject. This indicates that participants of qualitative research examine things in their natural surroundings to bring meaning to them. The main purpose of qualitative research is to recognize the social reality of the groups, cultures, and individuals.

Qualitative research is mostly suitable for the type of explanatory research. The tool kit for the data collection method of the research is quite flexible. The tools might involve semi-structured or completely structured methods. Sometimes qualitative research provides in-depth insights into the problem and generates a hypothesis for the quantitative projects.

Example of a qualitative research

There is a bookstore owner who is always looking for ways to enhance customer outreach and sales. A group of loyal customers of the bookstore was interviewed. Relevant questions to the bookstore were asked to the members.

At the end of the research, it is seen that most of the books in this store are eligible for the adults. There are no enough alternatives to choose from for teenagers or children. Through the conduction of this qualitative research, the owner knows the feelings of his/her patrons and what are the drawbacks that are causing low sales.

What are the advantages of Qualitative Research? 

The strengths of qualitative research are described in detail below.

  • The subject can be analyzed in-depth and in detail
  • The framework of the research can be revised according to the emergence of the data
  • Complexities about a research topic are often discovered that are missed during any other inquiries
  • Interviews are no confined within a single question
  • The research can be guided by the researcher in real-time
  • The data collected from human experience is more powerful and compelling than the quantitative research
  • Data cannot be generalized among a larger population as they are gathered from a small group of individuals
  • The result gives a detailed insider viewpoint on the subject
  • Data is based on the views of the participants, and not on the biases of the researcher
  • The research can be applied to interpret the IQ, fear or opinion of the participants which are impossible in quantitative research
  • Give a clear understanding of the attitude of the member towards the research subject
  • The most effective open-ended research process
  • Predictive and detail-oriented data is gathered

Disadvantages of the Qualitative Research

The drawbacks of the qualitative research are stated in detail as below.

  • Rigor is very hard to assess, maintain and demonstrate
  • Within the scientific community, data is not well accepted or understood like the quantitative research
  • Confidentiality and anonymity can generate a problem while conducting the research
  • Data is time-consuming and tough to visually characterize it
  • The quality of the research is dependent on the experience and skills of the researcher
  • Data can be corrupted due to idiosyncrasies and biasedness of the researcher
  • The presence of the researcher during data collection can have an impact on the response of the participants
  • The outcomes have lower credibility than quantitative research. Hence the data becomes more difficult to be published
  • Not a statistical form of the data collection

Therefore we can conclude that qualitative research creates a better and in-depth understanding of the behaviors and attitudes of the participants. While doing so, it helps social scientists to analyze how the everyday life of the contributor is influenced by the social order and structure. Qualitative research is easily adaptable and flexible in the research environment. Finally, qualitative research is a collective way of putting the perspectives of the members in collecting the data and represents accurate results.

How to Conduct Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research can be applied across numerous disciplines like social, business, healthcare, and education. Now let us check out how to carry out qualitative research as below.

  1. Deciding on the question: A good qualitative research question should be specific, manageable and clear. The question will determine what the researcher wants to understand or learn. Deciding the correct question will also determine how the researcher should conduct the study. Since different questions need different data collection methods. The researcher should always discover the balance between a researchable and burning question. The burning question is something the researcher wants to learn about and is broad. A researchable question is directly investigated implementing various tools and methods.
  2. Literature Review: A literature review is a procedure of going through the documents about what others have stated on that particular topic. The researcher should then illustrate an analytical report that integrates and synthesizes the existing research. The literature review also gives detailed insight into the variables that might affect the research and should be taken into consideration for the research. It also assists in determining whether the researcher is committed and interested in the topic or not. The literature review also indicates the gap in the existing documents that the researcher can fill in by conducting his own research.
  3. Is qualitative research the right choice for the question?: Qualitative research is useful when a question cannot be answered by a simple no or yes hypothesis.
  4. Consider the ideal sampling size: Qualitative research does not rely on large data sampling like quantitative research, but can still represent significant findings and insights. Moreover it helps to consider various numbers of possible outcomes. Qualitative research is in fact much easier and cheaper to execute than the quantitative one. Thus depending on the sampling size, research methods can be implemented.
  5. Choosing the right methodology for qualitative research: The researcher should choose the best and the most suitable methodology for the data collection in qualitative research.

Different Methods for Qualitative Research:

The data collection methods for qualitative methods are designed in such a way that they will disclose the real perception and behavior of the audience on a specific topic. The qualitative method results are always in detail and descriptive in nature. Different inferences can also be drawn from the data that are obtained from the research.

In today’s world, it is very tricky to comprehend what people actually observe and think. Qualitative research methods make these daunting tasks easy by making them more communicative and descriptive. The various types of data collection methods for qualitative research are:

One to One Interview

Processing of one to one in-depth interviews is the most common data collection method in qualitative research. It is a type of personal interview which is carried out with one participant at one time. This is a conversational system and the researcher gets an opportunity to get in-depth detail about the situation from the participant.

Moreover, One to one interviews in qualitative research helps to get clear data about what the motivations and beliefs of the people are. If the researcher is well experienced and knows what kind of questions to ask, then this method can assist him/her in collecting the most meaningful data. If the researcher is confused about any answer, then he/she can ask to follow up questions to clear all the doubts. This will also aid in collecting more information.

The interviews can be carried out face to face or over the phone. It can last for half an hour to three hours. In case of face to face interviews, it is easier to match the body language of the participant during the answers they give.

Ethnographic Research

This research is one of the most commonly implied observational methods that examine participants in their natural environment. In this method, the researcher needs to adapt to the natural environment of the participant that could be anywhere. It can be in any remote region or within a city or an organization.

However, in Ethnographic research, geographical constraints can become an issue in the collection of the data. This type of research targets to comprehend challenges, motivations, settings, and cultures that the participant faces on that specific subject. The researcher gets to experience the natural settings of a participant first along with the discussions and interviews.

Ethnographic research can last from days to years also. It is a time consuming and challenging method as it requires in-depth analysis, observation, and collection of the data.

Record Keeping

In the record-keeping method, the researcher takes advantage of the existing information sources and reliable documents as the source of data. This old data can be used to build a report of new research. There can be numerous books, paper cuttings, documents and other reference materials for the collection of the relevant data.

Focus Groups

In this method of collection of data, a limited number of participants (7 to 10) are selected from the targeted market. The main objective of the focus groups is to find the answers to how and what questions.

The main advantage of this method is that the researcher does not have to interact directly with the group of participants. An online survey can be sent to the entire group on different devices. The researcher can collect all the responses of the participants at the click of a single button.

This is one of the most extensive processes when compared to other data collection methods. It is mostly implemented to explain complex situations in detail. Focus groups are particularly helpful during the testing of the new concepts or market research while launching a new product.

Case Study Research

The case study has evolved into a valuable method of qualitative research. The case study is mainly employed in segments like education, an entity, social sciences or an organization.

A case study involves a thorough and deep understanding of the collection methods and hence inferring the correct data.

Observation process

The observation process implies subjective methodologies for the collection of systematic data or information. This is mainly used to equate the differences between the qualities. It mainly deals with the 5 major senses like smell, taste, sight, hearing, and touch of the participants while giving responses. This method involves characteristics in place of numbers or measurements.

Biographical Study

The biographical study is the method of examining the life experience account of a participant.

Grounded Theory

In grounded theory, conclusions are taken into account from the raw data. The researcher starts with a big topic. But later on, it implies various qualitative data collection methods to define the question of the research. The researcher would next develop the themes by studying the context by the application of code specific examples.

Moreover, it is one of the most dynamic methods in qualitative research that can be revised throughout the entire process.


In this type of collection method, the researchers immerse themselves in the natural surrounding of the participants even for years. It mainly focuses on transmission through meaningful language and action. This type of collection method is invaluable when it is impossible to interview a group of people in a laboratory. For example, it is impossible to convince people from the street gangs to share their opinion on the research subject in a lab.

People from various countries might react differently in another setting. Therefore, observing and collecting data in the natural environment of the participants might remove these aspects.


In this qualitative research method, the researcher can implement their own knowledge to address political, social and cultural issues. It is also known as non-traditional ethnography. This process includes the opinion of many people.

Ethical Inquiry

Ethical inquiry refers to the method of qualitative research where philosophy is employed to find out the answers to the ethical questions. An example of ethical inquiry is “is it ok to eat animals?”

Social Research

This type of method examines specific oppressive structures of society. It helps to expose, evaluate and find the main causes of the problems. The main difference between critical social research and other methods of qualitative research is that there is always a difficulty or a problem that needs to be solved. The question of the research should revolve around the known and existing problems.

Field Research

Field research refers to the process of research outside an on-site laboratory. First-hand notes are generally involved in this method. Field research may also include interviews, video footage, surveys, or public discussion forums.

Qualitative Research Data Collection

Process of Data Collection in Qualitative Research

Qualitative research allows the collection of non-numeric data that will help the organization in making decisions. Qualitative research offers detail and deep insight into how the decisions are made. To draw such conclusions, the collected data should be rich, nuanced and holistic. Ultimately the collected data need to go through methodical analysis to successfully accomplish the research. However, the researcher needs to keep the following points in mind while collecting the data.

  1. The researcher may choose any of the above data collection methods for qualitative research. Whatever methods he/she selects, it will bring together a huge amount of information. For instance, if the data is gathered through one to one interviews or focus groups, there will be videotapes or handwritten notes. In the case of handwritten notes, the data should be carefully transcribed before the data analysis process begins.
  2. Running or field notes are helpful in the maintenance of environmental contexts, comments, and non-verbal cues. These informal notes are most useful during the transcription of the audio-recorded data.
  3. An experienced researcher might need 10 to 12 hours to transcribe the data recordings which can create 30 to 35 pages of the interview. Many researchers also maintain separate folders for the data collected through various methods. This assists the researcher to sort out the gathered data.

Data Analysis of the Qualitative Research

The most common processes for the analysis of the collected data are videos, images, text, notes, audio recordings, and documents. Among these, text analysis is completely different from the other methods of analysis. In this analysis, the researcher examines the social aspect of the participants in the qualitative research. Text analysis also decodes the actions and words of the respondents.

Researchers also conclude qualitative research by studying the images carefully and thus drawing deductions from them. In today’s world, text analysis has chiefly become popular on various social media platforms.

What are the different characteristics of the methods of Qualitative Research?

The characteristics of the methods of qualitative research are as below.

  1. Qualitative data collects data from the on-site where participants are experiencing some kind of problems or issues. All the data collected are real-time in nature and are gathered in their natural geographic environment.
  2. Qualitative research is mainly employed in solving complex issues by breaking them down into easily understood, meaningful and readable conclusions.
  3. Since qualitative research is a communicative method, participants built their trusts on the researcher. Thus the information that is assembled is unadulterated and raw.
  4. Qualitative researchers collect data from several sources like documents, interviews, and observations instead of one supply.
  5. Findings are judged according to the consistency and sense of the collected data.
  6. Results are often validated by the external factors to demonstrate how well they will apply to any other circumstances.
  7. Data is collected from specific, non-random and small samples.

Tips to Conduct a Successful Qualitative Research

Below are the detailed steps on how to conduct qualitative research. They are as follows.

  • Setting a goal:  The researcher needs to set a goal about what he/she is trying to achieve or learn before beginning the qualitative research. Otherwise, the researcher may not frame the right question nor come up with the correct setting to conduct victorious qualitative research. There will be a better outcome if the researcher knows the objective, various collection, and application of the qualitative research methods.

Another part of setting a goal for the research is to select the targeted participants. It will be meaningless to ask questions to all the website visitors rather than selecting a sector that is more qualified for the questions.

  • Think About the Results: There can be quite a few outcomes or products that can come out from qualitative research. Some of the results that are visible in qualitative research are:
    • Taxonomies
    • Recurrent hypothesis and themes
    • Instrument measures for survey
    • Conceptual theories or models

One thing a researcher should keep in mind that this research is not about numeric values but about the characteristics of the data. In this research, specific attributes of psychological or social life are captured.

  • Know the Subject for better Understanding of the Responses : The researcher needs to think and understand the context of the data resulting from qualitative research. Analysis of the data sources is one way to recognize the context. The data in qualitative research should be subjective and change-driven. Thus the researcher should know about the sources of the data, subjectivity, and biases of the participant. This will help them to recognize under what circumstances the participants are giving the responses.
  • Elimination of the biasness: When a researcher is biased about a subject, it can stand in their way of seeking the perspectives of the participants. Hence to ensure to include good reflexivity and have framed the right question, he/she should have prepared a questionnaire before beginning the research. This will help to eliminate the biases of the researcher about a specific matter. The researcher can remove his/her biases in two ways:
    1. Epistemology is the way to know what is possible and how meaningful knowledge can be generated.
    2. Ontology creates a difference between reality and research.

These two terms help the researcher to understand and know the subject, and also ensure that the researched data is not polluted by the biasness. Two fundamental questions help to accomplish all the above terms. They are:

  1. What is the nature and form of reality?
  2. What can be known about the research subject?
  • Beware of the Subjectivity: The researcher often falls into the trap of including histories, values, and assumptions into the research they conduct. Thus it is necessary to continuously maintain the reflexivity of the subject. Reflexivity deals with the ways through which the findings of the research have been produced.
  • Knowing the Targeted Audience: Knowing the targeted audience for selecting the most relevant participant is extremely important for qualitative research. The researcher should look for the individuals who are surviving with the existing circumstances of the research topic. This will make them the most fitted ones for the study.
  • Selection of the Right Methods: Qualitative research involves various methods and formats, each with a particular aim and use. The data collection methods for qualitative research are focus groups, interviews, textual documents or observational processes.
  • Asking the correct question: When it comes to framing or asking the right questions in qualitative research, there are many things to consider for. A perfect research question should include:
    • The topic that will be of interest to the audience
    • A verb to characterize, understand and describe the topic
    • Non-directional impartial language
    • Definition of the sampling and setting
    • Should be sort and simple
  • Conduct the data analysis: The key to conducting a triumphant data analysis is to make sure that there is enough quality data. There are various ways to analyze the data like grounded theory, discourse and thematic analysis, interpretative phenomenological analysis, and narrative analysis.