Category:Qualitative Research

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Qualitative research is a catch-all term which includes all forms of research that do not involve storing data in data files. Most qualitative research, however, involves a combination of:

  1. Crude quantitative research, where the researcher has insufficient knowledge to conduct a quantitative study so instead conducts a discussion, observes behavior or does something else in an attempt to gain more knowledge. Such research is often a precursor to a quantitative study.
  2. Probing into underlying needs and wants that are not thought to be able to be discovered using quantitative research.

In the US and Asia the focus tends to be more on the first aspect, whereas in the UK, Europe and Australia the focus is more on the second.

In-depth interviews and focus groups

The vast majority of commercial qualitative research involves interviews. A discussion guide is used to structure the interview. Where there is one interviewer and one participant the interview is called a 'depth', which is short for 'in-depth interview'. As the name suggests, such interviews are typically conducted when it is believed that a detailed discussion is required. Such interviews typically go for about 45 minutes but this can vary.

Where there is a desire to involve participants in discussion among themselves, or, to achieve economies of scale, multiple participants may be involved. Where the interview involves two participants it is a called a 'paired depth'. With three to five participants the interview is sometimes known as a 'mini-group'.

A 'group', which is short-hand for a 'focus group' and 'group discussion', is an interview which typically involves one interviewer and from four to sixteen respondents. Six-to-eight is typical when the focus is on probing. Larger group sizes are sometimes used when conducting a crude form of quantitative research.

Moderators and observers

The person that conducts the interview in a group discussion is known as the 'moderator'. Where the qualitative research is focused on probing to understand underlying needs and wants, the moderator is typically also the chief person responsible for observing and interpreting the discussions. Where the study is more of a crude quantitative study it is common that the primary responsibility for observing and interpreting the discussions resides with an observer that is watching either by one-way mirror or a video-link.


There is no agreement among practitioners about how best to analyze qualitative research data. Common methods include:

  • Reflecting upon the interviews and drawing a conclusion (i.e., no formal process).
  • Reading through transcripts, identifying salient quotes.
  • Coding, sometimes with the aid of computer programs developed specifically for this purpose.

The subconscious

There are many situations in which people are unable to answer the questions of interest. For just about anything that people eat and drink, if people are asked why they buy what they buy, they say that it is because they “like it”. Although this answer is obviously true it is incomplete. Consider, for example, choice of brands of beer and cola. When blind taste tests are conducted, people often prefer brands different to those they regularly buy, but when the taste tests are done with the labels on packaging, people invariably say the brand they normally buy, or aspire to buy, tastes best.

A basic framework for trying to disentangle motivatious is view behavior - where an initial answer to a question is an example of a behaviour - as being explained by a combination of:

  • Conscious thought.
  • Subconscious thought.
  • The environment.
  • Error (i.e., random factors which do not really have any meaning).

Two examples are in the following diagram:



Whereas in quantitative research extensive attention is paid to creation of the questionnaire, in qualitative interviews effort is put into the selection of appropriate techniques to permit detailed exploration of the points in a discussion guide. Techniques commonly used include;

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