Qualitative research is any type of research that aims to uncover quality data which is captured as text rather than in numerical form. It can generate findings based upon themes, motifs and patterns found in textual data rather than displaying percentages/statistics in graphs and charts.
According to the National Office of Statistics Quantitative research ‘is a naturalistic, interpretative approach concerned with understanding the meanings that people attach to actions, decisions, beliefs, values and the like within their social world, and understanding the mental mapping process that respondents use to make sense of and interpret the world around them‘ (cf. Ritchie and Lewis).
Qualitative research data can be collected though focus groups, one to one interviews, group interviews, semi-structured interviews and comment box questions on questionnaires. These can be used individually or in any combination of data collection methods. It’s worth bearing in mind that within a focus group, participants may be influenced by the views of others, whereas this is not the case for individual interviews. It can be useful to give the same questions to focus groups and interviewees in order to validate findings.
What are the benefits of qualitative research?
- Carrying out qualitative research is one of the best ways for organisations to find out what their target customers are really thinking. If an organisation is launching a new product or service then this information is invaluable because, instead of just learning how likely a customer is to buy a particular new product, you will learn what has influenced this decision.
- The research is usually carried out by freelancers and agencies that are external to the company, which means that the findings that you get are less likely to be biased.
- You get a real insight into how your potential clients think. The research can also tell you a lot about the behaviour and personalities of different groups of clients.
What are some of the barriers to using qualitative research?
- The finding are not often displayed in a visual way unless you decide to use infographics.
- It is more in difficult to see the results of the research at a glance – it can take more of a time investment to discern the main findings of the research and to apply them.
- Focus groups, interviews and semi-structured interviews can take more time and resources to run. You may have to run several focus groups with a range of demographics before you get the spread of data that you need. If you are looking for a quick impression about a new business idea then a survey or social media poll would be quicker and easier to run.
How can qualitative research be used to benefit businesses and organisations?
- Reputational Research: Businesses can use reputational research to find out how they are viewed by their customers as well as any other stakeholders that are connecting to their business – including their competitors. This can be particularly useful intelligence for developing future marketing campaigns.
- Project/Event Feedback: Short interviews or focus groups are useful for finding out what impact a project has had upon respondents. This approach works particularly well for helping to evaluate externally funded projects or to gain actionable data upon how to develop training sessions in the future.
- Market Research: Focus groups can be used to find out what different demographics think about existing or proposed products or services. This information assists businesses to target the groups that were most interested in the product with their marketing and to make any alterations to the product or service that were suggested. This could include changes to price, packaging or to what is included within a particular service plan.
Fink, A. and Kosecoff, J. (1998), How to Conduct Surveys – A Step-by-Step Guide, Sage: London.
Ritchie, J. and Lewis, J. (eds.) (2003), Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers, Sage: London.