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What Is Qualitative Research ? 

Qualitative research refers to the method of market research that focuses on gathering data through observations, open-ended questions, and conversations.

Qualitative research pays more attention to concepts, metaphors, meanings, symbols, and characteristics rather than numerical data. In this method, there is more emphasis on collecting data about ‘why’ people think in a particular manner rather than ‘what’ they think.          

Qualitative research is applied to answer specific questions about the human experience, the meaning of a particular situation and perspective, and most often, it is viewed from the standpoint of a participant.

Qualitative research includes small-group discussions to investigate beliefs; semi-structured interviews to collect views from a focused group; in-depth interviews to analyze a condition, and analysis of texts such as media articles and reports, to learn more about specialized knowledge.

Qualitative research involves the collection, description, organization, and interpretation of verbal, textual, or visual data.  

For example, a retail store is wishing to analyze to improve its customer footfall. When a deep dive is conducted, it becomes evident that more men are visiting the store while the number of women customers are on the lesser side. Qualitative research should be undertaken to understand the reason behind the lower footfall of women. Hence in-depth interview of probable customers is required.

When an in-depth interview of women visiting the nearby malls and retail stores was conducted, it came to light that this store was not having enough products for women, and this led to lesser women visiting the stores. This insight was discovered only after conducting qualitative analysis.

Thus, qualitative research follows in-depth research and questioning to gather enough responses from the respondents to find solutions to the issues. 

History and Development of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research existed in a non-structured form much earlier to the 20th century. Researchers used this method to study culture and human behavior. Later in the early 20th century, qualitative research was used in a much methodical manner by anthropologists and sociologists such as Malinowski (1922) and Mead (1935), to inquire and study human behavior.

Wilhelm Wundt was one of the early psychologists who conducted qualitative research as early as 1900. In his book, Völkerpsychologie (Meaning: Social Psychology), he prescribed the relation between psychology and philosophy. He always believed that the gap between psychology and quantitative research could be filled only with the help of qualitative research. The human aspects could not be studied using quantitative analysis as it omitted many elements such as the culture, beliefs, opinions, and expression.

Later towards the 1990s, qualitative analysis was further fueled by increasing usage of computers. Computer-assisted qualitative research started to emerge as a distinct topic among qualitative researchers. Machines gained a prominent position as one of the standard tools for analysis, thereby supporting qualitative research.

Further advancements in computer programs enhanced qualitative research. Software packages have been developed exclusively for making qualitative research more user-friendly. Most researchers have been able to use different programs effectively during a research program.

Thus, qualitative research has evolved from being used for analyzing data using small focus groups to being used to analyze online conversations using the latest technology and gadgets.  

Uses of Qualitative Research in Content Analysis

Content analysis is a qualitative research tool or technique that is used widely to analyze the content and its features.  It is an approach used to quantify qualitative information by sorting data and comparing data to summarize it into useful information. The purpose of content analysis is to research the data collected by organizing and analyzing it to elicit meaning and conclusions from it.

Qualitative research is used extensively in content analysis. Qualitative research is a process that will reduce the volume of text gathered. It further identifies and categorizes data into groups to seek an understanding of it.

Qualitative data is derived through various sources such as interviews, open-ended questions, surveys, images, and social media conversations, which are all expressed in words or text. After gathering this data, the researcher needs to apply some methods of analysis further, and Content analysis is one such method of further investigation.

Quantitative research is used in the content analysis to serve various purposes:

  • To explain in a better way the characteristics of the message or understand a phenomenon
  • To search underlying themes in the text that is being analyzed
  • To systematically explain the meaning of your data
  • To provide the context necessary to interpret quantitative findings
  • To identify variables important for future studies

For example, online courses and online studying has become a trend recently. However, do we know if students engage in these online courses? To find this, we need to examine the time spent and the kind of content accessed by students. However, that is not enough. Qualitative research using content analysis using student’s experience, their level of understanding during the online course, and their level of achievement, will be essential factors that need to be studied.

Types of Qualitative Research

 1. Ethnography

In the ethnography method, the research puts himself into the target participants’ environment to understand the culture, motivation, and challenges faced by the participants.

As Van Maanen says, “Ethnography fieldwork usually means living with and living like those who are studied.”

This method aims to feel the same way as participants. In a business model, ethnography helps to understand customers. If companies want to test products personally or by using the expertise of the beta groups before offering the products to the public, it becomes an ethnography model.

2. Grounded

A grounded type of qualitative research aims to find an explanation behind the events. In this method, data is gathered using systematic approaches and thereby developing theories from research.

The grounded method follows flexible yet systematic steps to collect and code data to arrive at connections and generate theories using data.

In this method, interviews and any existing data is used to build a theory. Businesses make use of the grounded model to conduct satisfaction surveys that aim to find answers to questions such as why consumers use company products or services. The data gathered from this grounded method will help companies to understand customer satisfaction and loyalty.

3. Case Study

The case study method aims at an in-depth analysis of one particular subject. The subject of study can be a company, a person, group of persons, or any location.

Data is gathered first from a variety of valid sources and then consolidated using all the available details to create a more significant source base. Organizations or businesses make use of case studies to show solutions to the problems faced by their potential clients.

Case studies are most likely used when:

(i) a researcher is planning a high focus on how and why of a particular topic

(ii) the researcher wants to observe the behavior of the participants

(iii) the researcher intends to understand a given phenomenon

(iv) there is no clarity of boundaries between the context and phenomena

 4. Phenomenological

Phenomenology means the study of phenomena.  In this method of qualitative research, the study aims to describe the experience of participants during a particular event.  In this method, information is gathered using interviews, watching videos, observation, visiting places, reading documents, and surveys. Phenomena can be an event, a situation, an experience, or a concept. 

Phenomenological qualitative research is used when there is a gap in the understanding of an event and is performed to gather better clarification and understanding. It will help in gaining insight into the phenomena and will raise awareness.

For example, businesses use phenomenology to study the appropriate process that helps a sales representative to use a style based on the personality of the customers and effectively close a sale.

5. Narrative

The narrative method focuses on the events of people as told through their own stories. In the narrative process, a sequence of events is weaved together to form a story. The story illustrates the experiences of life.

Data can be collected from various sources such as journals, field notes, observations, storytelling, social media, interview transcripts, and autobiographies.

In this model, the research is conducted over extended periods and collects information as it happens. Interviews are conducted over a long period such as weeks and months, but the order in which the narrative is presented need not follow the chronological order. Instead, it is presented as a story that includes themes, conflicts, tensions, and challenges that offer themselves as opportunities for further development.

For example, businesses should use the narrative method to define their ideal buyer. This exercise needs analysis of the buyers who can provide details relating to their culture, buying habits, income group, and location. With the help of this narrative method qualitative research, the buyer persona can be designed that can help target the right customers.