Understand what qualitative research is: types, methods, how to do it. And improve the results of your business!
If you already have a business or are planning to start a business and have not yet done qualitative research, you may be missing a great opportunity to better understand your market and your target audience. It is an important practice in the academic and scientific environment, but it is also the basis for the creation of strategic plans and new businesses.
Qualitative research is the detailed study of people based on what they say and do in their sociocultural environment, it allows us to understand the complex world of lived experiences, studies activities, relationships, issues, means and materials, which will serve as the basis for prototyping and product creation.
In this post, then, we are going to talk about the purpose and operation of qualitative research, in addition to offering you a super practical tutorial so you can do your own. Shall we start?
What is qualitative research or qualitative approach?
“Qualitative research is a type of study that aims to understand subjective phenomena, based on the collection of texts.”
An excellent definition of qualitative research is that given by Johnson and Smith, from the University of the California, in one of their articles: Introduction to qualitative research methodology .
In general, the authors describe qualitative research as a methodology that:
“[…] produces descriptive data: people’s own words, spoken or written, and observable behavior.”
Thus, for example, in our case it can be used to understand the reasons that lead consumers to choose a certain brand or product in relation to its competitors.
Illustration of notes on a qualitative investigation.
What is the difference between qualitative research and quantitative research?
Quantitative research captures numbers, its goal is to generate statistics. On the other hand, that of qualitative research is to generate hypotheses.
So that you understand it better, we are going to detail the main characteristics of the two:
Its purpose is to collect numerical data that can be measured.
It is objective and can reach a large scale.
It can start from a hypothesis that the researcher then tests with numerical data.
Data is normally collected through multiple choice questionnaires.
It allows to understand the dimension of a problem and to compare the results.
Its purpose is to collect descriptive data and particularities about phenomena and people.
It is subjective and is usually done on a smaller scale.
It is used for an in-depth study of phenomena, to understand behaviors, opinions, trends, etc.
Helps formulate hypotheses and ideas.
Data can be collected through documents, interviews, focus groups, observations, questionnaires with open questions, etc.
It allows more reflection during the process and to draw more flexible and detailed conclusions.
Choosing which one to use will depend on the objectives of the investigation. For example, if you are starting a business, but you still do not know the market or the characteristics of your customers well, qualitative research will be the ideal, since it will allow you to understand customer behavior and define your buyer persona.
You can also use both types of research at the same time. Thus, as we have already seen, the qualitative can be the starting point to start developing an idea and the quantitative can then be used to obtain statistics that support that idea.
Main types of qualitative research
As Johnson and Smith comment in their article, a qualitative research process can be carried out through various specific actions, which we will now describe.
Document research is a very useful type of qualitative research for several purposes.
The documents can be of different types, although the important thing will be that the researcher can find in them an abundant source of data, even data from distant times.
For example, imagine that a person wants to research fashion trends from the 60s to start a venture in that area.
Said person may go to articles, newspapers, magazines and videos to extract from them the data that will allow them to define the actions necessary to start this undertaking.
The case study focuses on analyzing an object in depth. It is a type of qualitative research widely used in the marketing area and very useful for those who want to analyze phenomena in maximum detail.
One of its possible purposes may be the creation of a buyer persona.
Professionals observe the speech of the people who are part of their target audience to deeply understand their behavior and characteristics, and then design the profile of their ideal client.
Ethnography is closely associated with anthropology, but it can be used (and is used) in other areas as well. For example, in business administration it is quite useful for studies on organizational culture.
This type of research focuses on understanding the behavior of individuals in relation to a certain culture or group.
The methodology most used in ethnographic research is the field study, in which the researcher immerses himself in the culture or group studied to describe them in a broad way.
How to do a qualitative research?
As you already perceived, qualitative research is of great importance to make new discoveries, create ideas, develop projects, products and much more.
So, let’s see how to conduct qualitative research from start to finish.
1. Definition of the research objectives
The first part is defining a goal. Why are you conducting an investigation?
Creation of a brand?
Identify an entrepreneurship opportunity?
Formulate a culture code for your company?
Discover the consumer behaviors of your audience?
Perfect sales strategies?
Create a buyer persona?
Those are just some of the objectives that can be explored. The possibilities are endless.
2. Delimitation of the study objective
After defining your objective, define the object of your study. That is, what will be the documents analyzed, who will be the interviewees or who will be the observed group.
The object depends on the objective. For example, if your objective is to create a brand, your objects of study will be the competitors and the market (specifically those related to your niche of action ).
Another example: if your objective is to discover the consumption behaviors of your audience, your object of study may be a sample of your target audience, such as the neighbors of neighborhood x.
Did you understand how it works? These two initial steps go hand in hand and are extremely important for the development of research.
3. Selection of method
In this step, it is time to select the type of qualitative research that you will use and the method that you will use to collect data.
Since you already know the types, now let’s move on to the most common data collection methods:
Document study: it is very simple, you must collect the documents to read and analyze. It is interesting to define documents generated in a certain period that are of your special interest. For example, documents from the year 2019.
Open questionnaire: you can create questionnaires, printed or online, with your research questions. There are several tools to create online questionnaires, one of the most famous is Google Forms.
Interview: method that allows the collection of data with all the richness and flexibility that allows face-to-face contact with people.
Participatory observation: you can go to the space of a certain community of people – whether physical or virtual – to observe facts, behaviors, actions, etc., and record (with text, image, audio, video …) what is relevant to you.
Some research will require more than one method, and there is no problem combining them either.
The most important thing is that they make sense according to the objectives of your research.
4. Collection of data
Here it is time to read the documents, send the questionnaire, set the days and times with the interviewees or for field studies.
Remember that in qualitative research the reflections and perceptions of the researcher during the process will also be very welcome, as they will enrich it even more.
And it must also be remembered that, due to the usual complexity and subjectivity of the objects of study, they tend to change over time, even before the end of the research period.
Then, it will also be important for the researcher to update the data collected as appropriate.
Image of several shelves with books representing data collection in qualitative research
5. Data analysis
After collecting the data comes another key moment, that of its analysis.
Here the researcher will be able to filter what is really important and significant for the objective of the investigation.
In some types of research, the analysis does not even begin after the data has been collected completely, but already during its collection period, as happens, for example, in case studies.
There is no correct formula to analyze the data, this will always depend on the intention of the researcher.
Finally, after all this process, the final conclusions should be generated based on the data collected and the perspectives developed in the research.
Thus, you will have in your hands a valuable document that will help you make decisions about your current project and that, if necessary, may even be useful for future research.
The importance of qualitative research for the entrepreneur
This type of research is very commonly used in academic and scientific circles, but its usefulness goes far beyond that context. It also makes the task much easier in situations such as product creation or even when planning a business as a whole.
Take advantage of what you have learned in this post, start using qualitative research in your strategies now, and achieve excellent results!
And if you want to know even more about planning, check out our tips for doing good marketing research too!