Qualitative research aims to understand and interpret social phenomena, such as human behavior, experiences, beliefs, attitudes, and motivations, and is focused on collecting and analyzing non-numerical data, such as words, images, and observations. Qualitative research methods allow for in-depth and further probing and questioning of respondents based on their responses.

This type of research aims to gain an in-depth understanding of a specific topic or phenomenon, often from the participants’ perspective. Methods commonly used in qualitative research include interviews, focus groups, and participant observation. The data collected is then analyzed to identify patterns and themes. Qualitative research is often considered more subjective, as the data is based on the perspectives and interpretations of the participants.

Examples of qualitative research questions:

  • What are people’s experiences with a particular issue or phenomenon?
  • How do individuals understand and interpret a particular experience?
  • What are the attitudes and beliefs of a particular group of people towards a particular topic?
  • What are the factors that influence people’s behavior in a situation?
  • How do people’s experiences and perspectives change over time?
  • What are the underlying motivations and emotions associated with a particular behavior or decision?
  • How do people’s experiences and perspectives differ based on demographic factors such as age, gender, or cultural background?
  • What are the cultural meanings and symbols associated with a particular phenomenon?
  • How do people’s experiences and perspectives vary across different contexts or settings?
  • How do people’s experiences and perspectives relate to larger societal or cultural trends and patterns?

How qualitative research compares to quantitative Research

On the other side of research is quantitative research, primarily focused on collecting and analyzing numerical data to establish causal relationships and make predictions about a specific population. While they may ultimately serve the same purpose, qualitative and quantitative research are two distinct approaches to data collection and analysis used in different situations depending on the research question and the type of data needed.

One significant difference between qualitative and quantitative research is the nature of the data they collect. Quantitative research relies on numerical data, which is more concrete and objective, while qualitative research relies on non-numerical data, which is more abstract and subjective. As a result, quantitative research is often considered more reliable and valid, while qualitative research is considered richer and more in-depth.

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Another critical difference between the two approaches is how the data is analyzed. In quantitative research, the data is analyzed using statistical methods, while in qualitative research, the data is analyzed using techniques such as content analysis and thematic analysis. The type of data being collected often determines the choice of analysis method and the research question being addressed.

Qualitative research approaches:

There are several approaches to qualitative research, including:

  • Ethnography – focuses on the study of a particular culture or group. Ethnographers immerse themselves in the culture they are studying, observing, and participating in the group’s daily activities.
  • Phenomenology – focuses on understanding the subjective experiences of individuals. Phenomenologists aim to understand how people experience and interpret the world around them.
  • Grounded theory – used to develop a theory grounded in data collected from participants. Researchers typically begin with a broad research question and use data collection and analysis techniques to develop a theory that emerges from the data.
  • Case study – focuses on an in-depth examination of a particular individual, group, event, or organization. Case studies can be used to understand the unique experiences and perspectives of the people or groups being studied.
  • Narrative analysis – examines the stories and narratives people use to make sense of their experiences. Narrative analysis can be used to understand how people construct their identities and experiences and make sense of the world around them.
  • Historical research –uses historical documents, artifacts, and other sources to understand the past. Historians use these primary sources to reconstruct the past and gain insight into how people lived and thought in the past

Overall, different types of qualitative research allow us to approach a problem from a different perspective and help to obtain a rich and in-depth understanding of a research problem.

Qualitative data collection methods

These are some of the most common qualitative methods of collecting data:

  • Surveys: questionnaires with open-ended questions.
  • Focus groups: asking questions and generating discussion among a group of people.
  • Observations: recording what the researcher has seen, heard, or encountered through field notes.
  • Interviews: personally asking people questions in one-on-one conversations.
  • Secondary research: collecting existing data
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When to use qualitative market research

In market research, businesses and brands conduct qualitative research when a business wants to gain in-depth insights into their customers’ attitudes, behaviors, motivations, and experiences. It is often used to answer questions such as “Why do customers act in a certain way?” or “What are customers’ perceptions of our brand?”

There are several situations where qualitative research can be helpful:

  • Exploratory study: When a business is new to a market or has a limited understanding of a topic, qualitative research can provide a deeper understanding of the market and help identify areas for further investigation.
  • Product development: Qualitative research can be used to gather feedback on product concepts, prototypes, and design, helping businesses to refine their product offerings.
  • Customer satisfaction: Qualitative research can be used to understand customers’ experiences and satisfaction levels, providing businesses with valuable insights into areas where they can improve.
  • Market segmentation: Qualitative research can be used to understand the needs, attitudes, and behaviors of different market segments, helping businesses to tailor their offerings to specific groups of customers.
  • Branding: Qualitative research can be used to understand customers’ perceptions of a brand and to develop compelling brand positioning and messaging.

Generally, qualitative research is appropriate when a business needs to understand its customers’ subjective experiences and attitudes rather than simply gathering quantifiable data.

When not to use qualitative research

There are certain situations when qualitative research may not be the best approach, including:

  • When precise, numerical data is required: it typically provides descriptive data, while quantitative research provides numerical data.
  • When generalizing findings is a priority: it is often used to study a small sample and cannot be used to generalize results to a larger population.
  • When testing a specific hypothesis: it is exploratory and is not designed to test specific hypotheses.
  • When a standardized, objective approach is necessary: it is often subjective and open to interpretation, making it less suitable for situations where objectivity is essential.

Steps to collecting qualitative data

qualitative research interview processHere are the steps to conducting a qualitative research project. It is essential to keep in mind that collecting qualitative data is an iterative process, and you may need to revisit steps and refine your methods as you go along.

  • Determine research questions: Clearly define what you hope to learn through your research.
  • Select data collection method(s): Choose the methods that are most appropriate for your research questions, such as interviews, focus groups, observations, case studies, ethnography, grounded theory, or narrative analysis.
  • Prepare data collection instruments: Develop and refine the tools you will use to collect data, such as interview guides, observation checklists, or consent forms.
  • Recruit participants: Identify and recruit individuals who are suitable for your study and willing to participate.
  • Conduct data collection: Gather data using the methods and instruments you have prepared, following ethical guidelines and obtaining informed consent from participants.
  • Analyze data: Review and interpret your collected data using techniques such as thematic, content, or discourse analysis. Due to its non-numerical nature, analyzing qualitative data typically follows these steps:
    • Data prepping and organization – transcribing audio or typing observation notes
    • Examining the data for patterns that may emerge.
    • Data coding – Establish a set of codes to categorize and assign the codes to the data.
    • Linking the codes together into cohesive, overarching, typically numerical themes.
  • Interpret results: Draw conclusions based on the data and insights you have collected and relate these back to your research questions.
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These steps are not cast in stone. Maintaining a critical and reflexive perspective throughout the data collection and analysis process is vital to ensure the validity and reliability of your findings.

Conduct qualitative research in Africa, Asia, and Latin America

Whether using open-ended mobile-led surveys, focus groups, or in-person interviews, GeoPoll has developed the expertise and tools to produce quality qualitative research in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Our research analysts are experts in coding qual data and providing insights to help our clients make informed decisions.

Contact GeoPoll to discuss your next qualitative research project.