Regarding Qualitative Research

This document is provided by the Professionalism Committee of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association to briefly answer the questions most frequently asked of Qualitative Researchers. Copyright © 1996 QRCA.

Table of Contents

-What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is generally defined as research that utilizes open-ended interviewing to explore and understand the attitudes, opinions, feelings and behavior of individuals or a group of individuals. Qualitative research can take many forms. Typical uses are focus groups, in-depth interviews (IDIs), mini groups, dyads and triads.
Back to Top

-When should I use qualitative research?

In a nutshell, qualitative research is best used for depth, rather than breadth of information. While quantitative surveys are an outstanding medium for gathering a breadth of information regarding "How many?" or "How much?," qualitative research is the best research method for discovering underlying motivations, feelings, values, attitudes and perceptions. Though qualitative research has many applications, some of the more common uses are listed below:

Back to Top

-What are the limitations of qualitative research?

The primary limitation is that, unlike quantitative research, the findings are not statistically projectable to the population under study.

This limitation is created by two facts:

  • Recruiting is rarely completely representative,
  • The very nature of qualitative research necessitates small sample sizes that are contrary to effective quantitative research.
-Back to Top
-Then why conduct qualitative research?
Though findings are not projectable in a statistical sense, qualitative research has the unique ability to provide insight to the underlying issues most pertinent to the population under study. A strength of the process is that it allows for changing areas of exploration as the study progresses. The resulting insight is often the key to successfully positioning a product, service or campaign so that it affects the consumer in the desired manner. Top marketers appreciate the key role that qualitative research plays in developing a deeper understanding of the consumer that leads to effective marketing strategies.
-Back to Top
-Who should conduct the research?
An independent professional should conduct your research. There are many reasons to use an independent, professional qualitative research consultant that are explained in Why Should I Use a Professional Moderator? published by QRCA. Two key reasons are:
  • To avoid bias and or the perception of bias if the research is conducted by an internal moderator
  • To take advantage of the training and experience of a professional. Although qualitative research may look easy, a professional facilitator uses a wide variety of techniques to elicit honest, on-topic responses that provide actionable information. These techniques as well as the interpretation and analysis of qualitative information are developed through extensive training and experience.
A list of professional moderators may be obtained from the QRCA website , the QRCA office at 1-888- 674-7722 or by e-mail, [email protected].
-Back to Top
-What is a focus group?
A focus group is the most common form of qualitative research. A focus group is an informal discussion in which 8-10 respondents discuss the research topic in their own terms, guided by a professional moderator. Focus groups usually last one-and-a-half to two hours. They are often held in a focus group facility that consists of a conference room for respondents and a viewing room for clients to observe the group through a one-way mirror.
-Back to Top
-How many focus groups should I do?
A professional qualitative research consultant will advise you on the most effective research methodology, timing and costs for your particular situation.Focus groups are the most widely used form of qualitative research. Conventional wisdom dictates that at least two focus groups be conducted with each key market segment to provide checks and balances for the findings. Identifying the target market may be very simple or quite complex. Variables that might define target markets, include:
  • Product/Service awareness
  • Frequency of use
  • Demographics (age, income, presence of children, etc.)
  • Regional preferences.
-Back to Top
-Who should participate in the focus groups?
A general rule of thumb is to conduct research among the target market(s) that are critical to a project's success. Target markets should be prioritized according to their importance so that focus groups can be conducted in each target market where the findings can be expected to be most effective.
For most applications, focus group participants should have a shared trait or experience on which the discussion can build. Such a group tends to expand upon their experiences and provide a higher volume and quality of information than groups with widely varying experiences.
-Back to Top
-What is the usual procedure for conducting qualitative research?
  • Assess the situation; identify informational needs; specify research objectives
  • Meet with qualitative research consultant. Discuss:
    • Situation, informational needs, study objectives and methodology.
    • Expected outcomes (hypotheses).
    • Appropriate participants for the study.
    • Site selection; study logistics.
    • Time frame.
    • Costs.
  • Develop and approve a recruiting screener to be used to recruit all participants.
  • Recruit and confirm all participants
  • Develop and approve a discussion guide that will be used by the qualitative research consultant during the research.
  • Conduct the groups.
  • Analyze the results.
  • Present the final report.
-Back to Top
-How much time is required to complete a qualitative project?
This procedure can take as few as two weeks to as many as eight weeks depending on the number of groups or interviews, the difficulty of the recruiting, site availability and the extent of the reporting required.
-Back to Top
As mentioned earlier, this document is intended to provide a brief response to the most asked questions about qualitative research. A qualitative market research professional can answer these and other questions in much more detail. For a free listing of QRCA members, please call QRCA at 1-888-674-7722 or e-mail, [email protected].