Qualitative Observations : Definition, Types and Examples

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What are Qualitative Observations?

Qualitative observation implies understanding the differences and similarities in quality. It depends on subjective methods to gather data for analysis. Unlike quantitative observation, takes more time. However, the research is more extensive and personal; also, the size of the sample is much smaller. In this method of observation, a researcher gathers a wide range of responses to receive better outcomes from the survey. 

A qualitative observation involves the use of five sensory organs, sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, and their function to examine the attributes. Being subjective in nature, it focuses on the characteristics and qualities of the variables rather than the numerical value. 


  • My hair is black in color.
  • She is wearing a red sweater.
  • The sandwich is spicy.

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Characteristics of Qualitative Observations

qualitative observation
  1. Inductive: A qualitative observation is personal and thus inductive. The interviewer or the researcher becomes involved in the research along with the group of participants. This method of observation is an ongoing process that means the researcher may establish the question during the process. It is common to identify and establish theories in a qualitative observation along with the result. 
  2. Biased: Being personally involved in a qualitative observation, the research is susceptible to biases. The researcher may include personal opinion and suggestions which can influence the data sample. For instance, a social media influence is conducting a survey based on mobile phone companies with old and new customers. The influencer may incorporate their opinion based on their personal feelings. The data would be subjected to the preference of the researcher.
  3. Naturalism: This observation takes account of the reaction of the participants when they are examined in an environment natural to them. A researcher will try to best condition the environment with the survey purpose.A researcher modifies the method of the survey to suit the research environment and sample, to reach a conclusion about their characteristics under such conditions. For example, if you want to collect data on how many people are working from home, you need to target the group of people who fit the conditions. You have to ask those whose job provides the options of working from home. 
  4. No Right or Wrong: The nature of qualitative observation is so that there is no right or wrong answer. The answer depends on the discretion of the participants. The researcher must prepare for all kinds of aspects that can influence the survey. This observation method gives the responders freedom to reply based on their preference.For instance, if in research for a bakery, the participants want to talk about other deserts or savories, the researcher must influence the discussion.
  5. Unique: Each research study under this observation is different from the other. Therefore, every research requires equal importance and time. The entire market research should be devoted with time no matter the required final result. The participants wanting to discuss the quality of seats of a car is as important as wanting to discuss the technical features of the car.

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Methods of Qualitative Observations

Qualitative Research

In 1990, Connelly and Clandinn observed that in a qualitative observation, a researcher must determine what role to play for the success of the study and acceptance by the participants. Some methods include the following.

  1. Researcher as Participant: In this method, a researcher becomes a participant with the group in the subject of the survey. This type of observation may require a long time for the researcher to become a natural part of the group. For example, as a fan of a band, you want to know if your favorite team is performing in the Grammy. You try to research the possibility, and other fans indulge in the discussion, unaware that you are also the researcher.
  2. Observer: In this method, the researcher does not participate with the group. The participants are unaware that they are under observation. This influences a more free behavior from the target audience. For instance, if you want to conduct a survey on how people treat your restaurant staff, you can add cameras and record your customer’s behavior towards your staff. 
  3. Interview: In this case, the researcher and the participants interact directly with each other. However, this interview is unstructured; that is, the interviewer can steer the discussion in any direction. The conversation can be moved to any topic of interest according to the participant’s preference. For example, a discussion on the fictional book to gather data on popular fictional writers may often lead to different literary topics.
  4. Case Study: In this method, the data is developed by examining individuals based on the specific context. For example, Piaget conducted a study on the development phase of children.
  5. Observing-Participant: In this case, the participant is unaware that the observer is a researcher. The observer indulges the participant and gets involved in the discussion.

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Examples of Qualitative Observations

  • A Clothing store owner wants to understand why there is a decrease in customers. So they conduct a survey among the online shopping community to understand the trend, design, and style preferences. 
  • If you want to conduct research in your company to understand why some of your lead managers are less picked by your clients despite more success in the field. 

The data collected from the qualitative observation explains that these lead managers are not well trained in public relations; hence they are bad at client management. A newly opened café wants to understand the taste preference of the customers to increase the menu. The qualitative observation can help them dive deeper into the customers’ choices by receiving results based on their popular taste.

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