Qualitative research methodology: Definition, Types and examples


Table of Contents

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is a research methodology which deals with understanding human beliefs, behaviour, values and perceptions of certain social or non-social issues within their own environmental contexts. Qualitative research methodology makes use of open-ended questions and motivates participants to express their thoughts and views openly with no limitations. 

Qualitative research works towards understanding not only “what” people think, but also “why” do they think in a particular way. The participants themselves explain their thought process behind a particular choice or opinions in their answers and qualitative research methodology analyses the data gathered to result in conclusions that can be generalised for a larger population of similar kind. 

Example: The participants from a seminar were surveyed to know their views about the seminar conduction and topic discussed. It was observed that most of them thought the topic was not covered very well and would like to have another seminar covering rest of the aspects of the topic. 

Qualitative research is highly driven by social sciences like sociology, anthropology and psychology. Hence, it allows the researcher to dive deep into the data collection process and search for as much qualitative data as possible with no limitations on the questions asked and answers given by the participants.

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Qualitative research types with examples

With so many things going around in the world, it is even difficult to figure out what people think of a particular topic or a social issue. A lot of them are even careful about what to share with other people. In such scenarios, qualitative research helps a lot when it focuses on understanding public needs and expectations and perception of the world. Qualitative research methodology with its various type of data collection techniques, helps the researcher get in touch with people according to their convenience. 

In this section, let’s get familiar with different qualitative research types and understand them thoroughly with examples for each:

  • Interviews 

One-on-one interviews have been a common practice when it comes to qualitative research. It allows the interviewer to connect to the participant more and is open to ask them in-depth question about a certain topic. 

Interviews provide a precise amount of data with higher reliability as the interviewer gathers it first-hand. The key to having precise data is to frame the questionnaire well. Interviewer can also attempt to ask follow up questions based on the main questions in case he needs more detailed answer.

The ideal time of the interviews can be from 10 minutes to 2 hours or even more than that. It can be conducted on phone calls or face-to-face though the previous one is highly preferred among the participants.

Example: A researcher conducts a one-on-one interview with residents of a city regarding its infrastructure. 

  • Focus group

A focus group is a very effective qualitative research type. It starts with 6-10 respondents where all of them are given a topic and they begin to discuss. The researcher does not necessarily have to involve in the discussion. He can just sit back and observe what the individuals think of the given issue. 

Focus group methodology aims to answer the “what, why and how” questions and it can also be conducted online by giving a topic and collecting the responses through various devices. 

Many businesses use this technique to know new market trends, product enhancements and other service-related trends. 

Example: A company decides to conduct focus group research to know their production efficiency and performance. 10 customers are selected at random and asked to discuss the same whereas an observer notices the conversation and notes down how the topics are discussed.

  • Ethnographic research 

Ethnographic research is observational research that examines the respondents in their natural environments. The researcher adopts the respondents’ environment and observes their behaviour without personal intervention. Due to this, the geographical constraints of the respondent can a factor for biases in the results. 

Ethnographic research aims to understand how cultural, environmental and challenges affect the individual’s opinions and preferences. 

The time needed for ethnographic research can range from several months to years as it allows an in-depth understanding of a particular group or an individual. Its success depends on the extent to which the researcher can adapt and analyse the participant’s environment. 

Example: A researcher decides to get into the fashion industry as a model to understand whether men and women are treated equally. 

  • Case study research 

The case study has evolved over the last few years to be the easiest and common way to understand serious social, educational or similar issues. It works by understanding deeply what the issue is and the factors that stand as a reason behind it.

A researcher takes a topic at hand which can be an event or an organization and moves ahead to systematically understand its characteristics. 

Example: A researcher does a case study on the online shopping experiences of people and what their needs and expectations are.

  • Record keeping 

It is a secondary data collection form of research where a researcher uses already existing information about a topic. It is a qualitative research method used when one is starting new research. The researcher can go through already existing research materials, documentaries or interviews related to his topic. 

Example: A researcher refers previously researched diabetic patients to understand the effects of new drugs on them. 

  • Observation 

Qualitative observation focuses on deriving the data or information through observation. It makes use of prime 5 sensory responses – hearing, smell, touch, taste and sight. 

The result of observational research is differences in quality and characteristics. 

Example: A researcher observes a patient for its recovery under a new treatment given for some time. 

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Qualitative research analysis

As we know the gathered data in a qualitative research methodology is mostly videos, notes, audio recording or images or any other kind of potential information. Qualitative research methodology makes use of text analysis to deal with such kinds of data.

In-text analysis, the researcher decodes the notes and actions of the respondents to make sense of their behaviour and opinions from their answers. The images are used to infer what the participants want to tell and analyse it accordingly. The result from the qualitative research analysis is used to generalize the solution over the larger population. 

Textual analysis has gained popularity over the past few years due to its use in social media platform content analysing for the hidden answers from people. 

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Qualitative research characteristics

  • Qualitative research methodology provides real-time data as it is carried out at the exact time of the issues that participants are facing. 
  • Qualitative research provides first-hand reliable data as it is conducted in the participants’ environment.
  • It can make use of various available data gathering sources such as interviews, focus groups, case study and so on to provide all kinds of information. 
  • Qualitative research makes the understanding of the research topic easy by breaking it down into small detailed inferences and studying it individually. 
  • Participants tend to build trust with the researcher and provide real and unaltered information without any hesitation. 
  • Qualitative researchers require to describe the cause and factors behind a phenomenon understanding the reasons behind it. 
  • Qualitative research allows minimum involvement of the researcher, hence eliminating the researcher biases from the results. 
  • It is participant-oriented where the researcher should work to bring out what people think and not what other researchers and observers think. 


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