What is the Definition of Qualitative Research?
Qualitative research is a type of social scientific research that collects non-numerical data that helps the researchers understand a problem or topic from the perspective of the real people it affects.
It shares the same characteristics as other scientific research investigations, in that it seeks to answer a specific question, uses a predefined set of procedures, collects evidence, produces findings that were not predetermined, and that is applicable outside of the study.
Qualitative research is often explained as being in opposition to quantitative research, which uses numerical data and statistics to determine relationships between variables, and focuses on big-picture issues.
How Can Qualitative Research Help You?
Qualitative research’s benefits are in its ability to provide you with detailed descriptions of how people actually experience a problem or issue. Instead of providing you with overarching data, like quantitative research, qualitative research shows how people feel, and the often contradictory and nuanced opinions, behaviors, emotions, beliefs they have surrounding different issues.
While quantitative data can show us trends and issues, qualitative data helps you understand the complex reality of a situation.
Popular Qualitative Research Methods
Now we understand the definition of qualitative research and why it can be so beneficial, we can explore the best methods of gathering our data.
Focus Groups – focus groups are a traditional research method, but they are still used for a reason. Focus groups are a great way to observe a discussion on a topic where the participants are relatively relaxed, open, and free to be opinionated. You’ll uncover the participants’ attitudes and opinions on the topic, without having to isolate someone and ask them specific questions. Often, discussion leads you to a deeper understanding of why people feel the way they do.
Interviews – in interviews, it is up to the person conducting the interview to form the questions and note down their takeaways from the conversation. Often, interviews are a great way to complement other forms of research or build upon answers you received in questionnaires, so you can explore the ideas put forward by those who responded to your questionnaire.
Participant Observation – participant observation is still the basis of UX (user experience) design validation and research, and with good reason. It is still the best way to understand how users interact with your product, website, or other aspects of your business.
Questionnaire – when designed carefully, questionnaires are also a great way to gather qualitative research data, as it allows people to write freely, as they won’t feel judged by others in the room.
And that’s not all, as there are several other survey methods you can use to gather your qualitative research.
How Qualitative Research Can Be Performed Online
There are ways to perform qualitative research online outside of anonymous questionnaires – one great way is to utilize interviews, and to record participants’ interaction with your product or website online.
Online interviews require exactly the same time investment as traditional live interviews and meetings, though of course save some on some of the logistical issues of getting people to come to one location, and benefits from the fact you can speak with anyone anywhere in the world.
Surveys are perfect for distribution online – they are a far cry from the paper questionnaires we once had to sit down, fill out, and mail back. Now, online surveys can be completely personalized using the wealth of data you have on your users, and this can be easier than ever through CRM survey integration.
Surveys are a great way to supplement your interviews (online or offline) and session observations by surveying your users right after they perform a certain action (for example, when a user places an order or clicks on a certain button or page).
It’s possible to launch a survey automatically as soon as they complete an action. This can be incredibly beneficial – you can ask your customers and users questions like “how easy did you find the purchase process?” as soon as they’ve completed the checkout process.
This kind of insight will help you improve your site’s usability so fewer people leave your site with a full cart.
So, Should You Be Using Qualitative Research?
If you’re looking to gather detailed opinions and feelings your users and customers have about your user experience or the experience they have with your products, there is no better way to understand the nuances of their experience.
You are able to obtain a much deeper understanding of the customer experience, and for many of the research methodologies listed above, then probe further into why your users and customers feel the way they do.
This simply isn’t possible with quantitative research – you have no possibility of a back and forth. It is also more difficult to lead people’s answers with your questions accidentally because in an open forum people can and will say how they really feel unless you do something that pressures them to do otherwise.
Furthermore, it is the only way to tap user creativity. While not every customer idea is a good one, customers can offer you ideas of ways they think your product, product line or service could be improved, and sometimes those ideas, when used, can be the thing to put you ahead of your competitors for your customers.
In short, unless you are looking to offer defined parameters that produces a limited amount of data from a lot of people that you can then put on a graph for analysis, and not individual customer experience, qualitative research will offer you the best data, especially if you are dealing with a smaller customer base.