Qualitative Research: Definition, Methodology, Limitation, Examples (2023)

CRO Guide > Chapter 3.1

These are tips and tricks on how to use qualitative research to better understand your audience and improve your ROI. Also learn the difference between qualitative and quantitative data.

Qualitative Research: Definition, Methodology, Limitation, Examples (1)

Table of Contents

There is a fundamental distinction between data types: qualitative and quantitative. Typically, we call data ‘quantitative’ if it is in numerical form, and ‘qualitative’ if it’s not.

Marketers love to get into customers’ minds. But for that, they need to do a qualitative research. Face-to-face interviews, focus groups, or qualitative observations can provide valuable insights about your products, your market, and your customers’ opinions and motivations.

What is qualitative research

Qualitative research is a market research method that focuses on obtaining data through open-ended and conversational communication. This method focuses on the “why” rather than the “what” people think about you.

Let’s say you have an online shop that addresses a general audience. You do a demographic analysis and you find out that most of your customers are male. Naturally, you will want to find outwhywomen are not buying from you. And that’s what qualitative research will help you find out.

Qualitative Research: Definition, Methodology, Limitation, Examples (2)

Quantitative vs. qualitative research

Qualitative Research: Definition, Methodology, Limitation, Examples (3)

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Quantitative research is concerned with measurement and numbers, while qualitative research is concerned with understanding and words.

Quantitative research is used to quantify the problem. Its main goal is to generate numerical data or data that can be turned into statistics. It uses measurable data to formulate facts and uncover patterns in research.

Quantitative data collection methods include various forms of surveys (online surveys, paper surveys, mobile surveys, kiosk surveys, etc.), face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews, longitudinal studies, website interceptors, online polls, and systematic observations.

On the other hand, qualitative research is used to gain an understanding of underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations. It provides insights into the problem or helps to develop ideas or hypotheses for potential quantitative research.

Qualitative data collection methods include focus groups (group discussions), individual interviews, and participation/observation.

The statistical data of quantitative methods obtained from many people reveal a broad, generalizable set of findings. In contrast, qualitative methods produce a large amount of detailed information about a smaller number of people that results in rich understanding but reduces generalizability.

Qualitative research methodology

Once the marketer has decided that their research questions will provide data that is qualitative in nature, the next step is to choose the appropriate qualitative approach.

The approach chosen will take into account the purpose of the research, the role of the researcher, the data collected, the method of data analysisand how the results will be presented. The most common approaches include:

  • Narrative: explores the life of an individual, tells their story;
  • Phenomenology: attempts to understand or explain life experiences or phenomena;
  • Grounded theory: investigates the process, action, or interaction with the goal of developing a theory “grounded” in observations;
  • Ethnography: describes and interprets an ethnic, cultural, or social group;
  • Case study: examines episodic events in a definable framework, develops in-depth analyses of single or multiple cases, generally explains “how”.

Types of qualitative research methods

Qualitative research methods are designed in a manner that they help reveal the behavior and perception of a target audience regarding a particular topic.

The most frequently used qualitative research methods are one-on-one interviews, focus groups, ethnographic research, case study research, record keeping, and qualitative observation.

1. One-on-one interviews

Conducting one-on-one interviews is one of the most common qualitative research methods. One of the advantages of this method is that it provides a great opportunity to gather precise data about what people think and their motivations.

Spending time talking to customers not only helps marketers understand who their clients are, but it also helps with customer care: clients love hearing from brands. This strengthens the relationship between a brand and its clients and paves the way for customer testimonials.

These interviews can be performed face-to-face or on the phone and usually last between half an hour and two hours or more.

When a one-on-one interview is conducted face-to-face, it also gives the marketer the opportunity to read the body language of the respondent and match the responses.

2. Focus groups

Focus groups are another commonly used qualitative research method. The ideal size of a focus group is usually between five and eight participants.

If the topic is of minor concern to participants, and if they have little experience with the topic, then a group size of 10 could be productive.

(Video) Overview of Qualitative Research Methods

As the topic becomes more important, if people have more expertise on the topic, or if they are likely to have strong feelings about the topic, then the group size should be restricted to five or six people.

The main goal of a focus group is to find answers to the “why”, “what”, and “how” questions.

One advantage that focus groups have is that the marketer doesn’t necessarily have to interact with the group in person. Nowadays focus groups can be sent as online surveys on various devices.

Focus groups are an expensive option compared to the other qualitative research methods, which is why they are typically used to explain complex processes. Focus groups are especially useful when it comes to market research on new products and testing new concepts.

3. Ethnographic research

Ethnographic research is the most in-depth observational method that studies individuals in their naturally occurring environment.

This method aims at understanding the cultures, challenges, motivations, and settings that occur.

Ethnographic research requires the marketer to adapt to the target audiences’ environments (a different organization, a different city, or even a remote location), which is why geographical constraints can be an issue while collecting data.

This type of research can last from a few days to a few years. It’s challenging and time-consuming and solely depends on the expertise of the marketer to be able to analyze, observe, and infer the data.

4. Case study research

The case study method has grown into a valuable qualitative research method. This type of research method is usually used in education or social sciences.

Case study research may seem difficult to operate, but it’s actually one of the simplest ways of conducting research as it involves a deep dive and thorough understanding of the data collection methods and inferring the data.

5. Record keeping

Record keeping is similar to going to the library: you go over books or any other reference material to collect relevant data. This method uses already existing reliable documents and similar sources of information as a data source.

6. Qualitative observation

Qualitative observation is a method that uses subjective methodologies to gather systematic information or data. This method deals with the five major sensory organs and their functioning, sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.

Qualitative observation doesn’t involve measurements or numbers but instead characteristics.

Examples of qualitative research

1. Online grocery shop with a predominantly male audience

Let’s go back to the previous example. You have an online grocery shop. By nature, it addresses a general audience, but after you do a demographic analysis you find out that most of your customers are male.

One good method to determine why women are not buying from you is to hold one-on-one interviews with potential customers in the category.

Interviewing a sample of potential female customers should reveal why they don’t find your store appealing. The reasons could range from not stocking enough products for women to the fact that you also sell sex toys for example.

Tapping into different market segments will have a positive impact on your revenue.

2. Software company launching a new product

Focus groups are great for establishing product-market fit.

Let’s assume you are a software company who wants to launch a new product and you hold a focus group with 12 people. Although getting their feedback regarding users’ experience with the product is a good thing, this sample is too small to define how the entire market will react to your product.

So what you can do instead is holding multiple focus groups in 20 different geographic regions. Each region should be hosting a group of 12 for each market segment; you can even segment your audience based on age. This would be a better way to establish credibility in the feedback you receive.

3. Alan Peshkin’s “God’s Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School”

Moving from a fictional example to a real-life one, let’s analyze Alan Peshkin’s 1986 book “God’s Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School”.

Peshkin studied the culture of Bethany Baptist Academy by interviewing the students, parents, teachers, and members of the community alike, and spending eighteen months observing them to provide a comprehensive and in-depth analysis of Christian schooling as an alternative to public education.

Peshkin described Bethany Baptist Academy as having institutional unity of purpose, a dedicated faculty, an administration that backs teachers in enforcing classroom disciplines, cheerful students, rigorous homework, committed parents, and above all grounded in positive moral values and a character building environment.

However, it lacked cultural diversity, which meant that students were trained in one-dimensional thought, entirely cut off from viewpoints that differ with their teacher’s biblical interpretations, and a heavily censored library.

Even after discovering all this, Peshkin still presented the school in a positive light and stated that public schools have much to learn from such schools.

Peshkin’s in-depth study represents a qualitative research that uses observations and unstructured interviews, without any assumptions or hypothesis. He utilizes descriptive or non-quantifiable data on Bethany Baptist Academy specifically, without attempting to generalize the findings to other Christian schools.

4. Understanding buyers’ trends

Another way marketers can use quality research is to understand buyers’ trends. To do this, marketers need to look at historical data for both their company and their industry and identify where buyers are purchasing items in higher volumes.

For example, electronics distributors know that the holiday season is a peak market for sales while life insurance agents find that spring and summer wedding months are good seasons for targeting new clients.

5. Determining products/services missing from the market

Conducting your own research isn’t always necessary. If there are significant breakthroughs in your industry, you can use industry data and adapt it to your marketing needs.

The influx of hacking and hijacking of cloud-based information has made Internet security a topic of many industry reports lately. A software company could use these reports to better understand the problems his clients are facing.

(Video) Research Limitations Examples: 5 Common Limitations In Dissertations & Theses (Qual + Quant)

As a result, the company can provide solutions prospects already know they need.

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Limitations of qualitative research

The disadvantages of qualitative research are quite unique. The techniques of the data collector and their own unique observations can alter the information in subtle ways. That being said, these are the qualitative research’ limitations:

1. It’s a time-consuming process

The main drawback of qualitative research is that the process is time-consuming. Another problem is that the interpretations are limited. Personal experience and knowledge influence observations and conclusions.

(Video) How to Write a Research Methodology in 4 Steps | Scribbr 🎓

Thus, a qualitative research might take several weeks or months. Also, since this process delves into personal interaction for data collection, discussions often tend to deviate from the main issue to be studied.

2. You can’t verify the results of qualitative research

Because qualitative research is open-ended, participants have more control over the content of the data collected. So the marketer is not able to verify the results objectively against the scenarios stated by the respondents.

3. It’s a labor-intensive approach

Qualitative research requires a labor-intensive analysis process such as categorization, recoding, etc. Similarly, qualitative research requires well-experienced marketers to obtain the needed data from a group of respondents.

4. It’s difficult to investigate causality

Qualitative research requires thoughtful planning to ensure the obtained results are accurate. There is no way to analyze qualitative data mathematically. This type of research is based more on opinion and judgment rather than results. Because all qualitative studies are unique they are difficult to replicate.

5. Qualitative research is not statistically representative

Because qualitative research is a perspective-based method of research, the responses given are not measured.

Comparisons can be made and this can lead toward duplication, but for the most part, quantitative data is required for circumstances which need statistical representation and that is not part of the qualitative research process.

While doing a qualitative research, it’s important to cross-reference the data obtained with the quantitative data. By continuously surveying prospects and customers marketers can build a stronger database of useful information.

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Chapter 2: Your First Steps in CRO
Chapter 3.2: Qualitative research


What are the limitations of qualitative research methodology? ›

Qualitative research has many limitations which include possible small sample sizes, potential bias in answers, self-selection bias, and potentially poor questions from researchers.

What are two limitations of qualitative research? ›

Limitations of Qualitative Research

The researcher's presence during data gathering, which is often unavoidable in qualitative research, can affect the subjects' responses. Findings can be more difficult and time consuming to characterize in a visual way.

What is a qualitative research methodology? ›

Qualitative research involves collecting and analyzing non-numerical data (e.g., text, video, or audio) to understand concepts, opinions, or experiences. It can be used to gather in-depth insights into a problem or generate new ideas for research.

What is qualitative research methods with examples? ›

Qualitative research is defined as a market research method that focuses on obtaining data through open-ended and conversational communication. This method is about “what” people think and “why” they think so. For example, consider a convenience store looking to improve its patronage.

What are methodology limitations? ›

The limitations of the study are those characteristics of design or methodology that impacted or influenced the interpretation of the findings from your research.

What are limitations of quantitative research? ›

Some limitations are that quantitative research methods take snapshots of a phenomenon: not in-depth, and overlook test-takers' and testers' experiences as well as what they mean by something.

What are limitations and delimitations in qualitative research? ›

Limitations reflect the shortcomings of your study, based on practical or theoretical constraints that you faced. Contrasted to that, delimitations reflect the choices that you made in terms of the focus and scope of your research aims and research questions.

What are the limitations of qualitative interviews? ›

Drawbacks of qualitative interviews include reliance on respondents' accuracy and their intensity in terms of time, expense, and possible emotional strain.

What are the 5 methodology of qualitative research? ›

A popular and helpful categorization separate qualitative methods into five groups: ethnography, narrative, phenomenological, grounded theory, and case study.

Why qualitative methodology is used? ›

Principal findings: Qualitative research methods are valuable in providing rich descriptions of complex phenomena; tracking unique or unexpected events; illuminating the experience and interpretation of events by actors with widely differing stakes and roles; giving voice to those whose views are rarely heard; ...

What is qualitative research methodology pdf? ›

It encompasses all forms of social inquiry that rely primarily on. non-numeric data in the form of words, including all types of textual analyses such. as content, conversation, discourse, and narrative analyses. The aim and function of. qualitative inquiry is to understand the meaning of human action by describing the.

What are 10 examples of qualitative research? ›

10 Examples of Qualitative Data
  • Observation Notes.
  • Semi-structured interviews. ...
  • Open-ended survey.
  • Participant diaries or journals. ...
  • Portfolios of evidence. ...
  • Concept Maps. ...
  • Case Studies. ...
  • Focus Groups.

What is the example of research methodology? ›

Research Methodology Example
Primary researchResearchers themselves gather data that is specific to their study and is more reliable since it is first-hand information. Secondary researchA researcher decides to study the Covid variant that has very few cases in the country
15 more rows
17 Dec 2021

What are limitations in research? ›

Limitations represent weaknesses within the study that may influence outcomes and conclusions of the research.

What are examples of limitations? ›

Understanding our limitations
  • You do not love (or sometimes even like) everyone you are supposed to serve. Nor do you have to. ...
  • You will not be able to save everyone. ...
  • There is never enough time. ...
  • There will always be things about your work and the people you work with that cause a strong emotional reaction.
28 May 2001

What are the 3 categories of limitations? ›

Different types

Research design limitations, Impact limitations, Data or statistical limitations.

What is scope and limitation in research example? ›

For example, if you are studying the ill effects of bullying on middle school children, the scope could include both face-to-face bullying and cyber-bullying in grades 6 through 8. Limitations are matters and occurrences that arise in a study which are out of the researcher's control.

How do you avoid limitations in qualitative research? ›

The strategy to minimize limitations, therefore, should focus on convincing reviewers that the limitations do not affect the conclusions of the study by showing that the methods are appropriate and that the logic is sound.

Why are limitations important in research? ›

Limitations are important to understand for placing research findings in context, interpreting the validity of the scientific work, and ascribing a credibility level to the conclusions of published research. This goes beyond listing the magnitude and direction of random and systematic errors and validity problems.

Why are there limitations in research? ›

Answer: The limitations of a study are its flaws or shortcomings which could be the result of unavailability of resources, small sample size, flawed methodology, etc. No study is completely flawless or inclusive of all possible aspects.

How do you write limitations of a study example? ›

How to Correctly Structure Your Research Limitations?
  1. Declare that you wish to identify your limitations of research and explain their importance,
  2. Provide the necessary depth, explain their nature, and justify your study choices.
  3. Write how you are suggesting that it is possible to overcome them in the future.
6 Nov 2022

Is sample size a limitation in qualitative research? ›

Our findings demonstrate that provision of sample size justifications in qualitative health research is limited; is not contingent on the number of interviews; and relates to the journal of publication.

How do you write scope and limitations of a study? ›

Typically, the information that you need to include in the scope would cover the following:
  1. General purpose of the study.
  2. The population or sample that you are studying.
  3. The duration of the study.
  4. The topics or theories that you will discuss.
  5. The geographical location covered in the study.
16 Apr 2019

Why are qualitative data limited? ›

Qualitative data collection methods are mainly focused on gaining insights, reasoning, and motivations; hence they go deeper in terms of research. Since the qualitative data cannot be measured, researchers prefer methods or data collection tools that are structured to a limited extent.

How do you write a scope and limitation in qualitative research? ›

The scope and delimitation should include the following:
  1. A brief statement of the general purpose of the study.
  2. The subject matter and topics studied and discussed.
  3. The locale of the study, where the data were gathered or the entity to which the data belong.
10 Feb 2013

What are the limitations of qualitative risk analysis? ›

The drawbacks of the qualitative risk analysis are: The evaluations are subjective. There's no combined risk evaluation or cost analysis. There's a lack of differentiation within risk categories.

What are the 4 types of research methodology? ›

Data may be grouped into four main types based on methods for collection: observational, experimental, simulation, and derived.

What are the types of methodology? ›

The three types of methodology used by researchers are qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods.

What is methodology used for? ›

A methodology details a researcher's approach to the research to ensure reliable, valid results that address their aims and objectives. It encompasses what data they're going to collect and where from, as well as how it's being collected and analyzed.

What are 3 advantages of using qualitative methodology for research? ›

The Pros
  • Qualitative Research can capture changing attitudes within a target group such as consumers of a product or service, or attitudes in the workplace.
  • Qualitative approaches to research are not bound by the limitations of quantitative methods. ...
  • Qualitative Research provides a much more flexible approach.
5 Aug 2021

How do you write methodology? ›

How to write an effective methodology section?
  1. Introduce your methods. ...
  2. Establish methodological connection. ...
  3. Introduce your instruments. ...
  4. Discuss your analysis. ...
  5. Provide background information. ...
  6. Discuss sampling process. ...
  7. Address research limitations.

Is a qualitative methodology appropriate? ›

A qualitative study is credible when its results, presented with adequate descriptions of context, are recognizable to people who share the experience and those who care for or treat them.

What is quantitative research methodology? ›

Definition. Quantitative methods emphasize objective measurements and the statistical, mathematical, or numerical analysis of data collected through polls, questionnaires, and surveys, or by manipulating pre-existing statistical data using computational techniques.

What are 3 qualitative examples? ›

Examples of qualitative data
  • Diary accounts. Diary accounts are collected as part of diary studies. ...
  • Documents. ...
  • Case studies. ...
  • Photographs. ...
  • Audio recordings. ...
  • Video recordings. ...
  • Transcriptions. ...
  • Descriptions.
16 Oct 2020

What are the 4 qualitative research? ›

Six common types of qualitative research are phenomenological, ethnographic, grounded theory, historical, case study, and action research.

What are qualitative samples? ›

Sampling in Qualitative Research

In qualitative research, only a sample (that is, a subset) of a popula- tion is selected for any given study. The study's research objectives and the characteristics of the study population (such as size and diversity) determine which and how many people to select.

What is methodology and examples? ›

It involves studying the methods used in your field and the theories or principles behind them, in order to develop an approach that matches your objectives. Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyze data (for example, experiments, surveys, and statistical tests).

What's a methodology definition? ›

plural methodologies. : a body of methods, rules, and postulates employed by a discipline : a particular procedure or set of procedures.

What is your research methodology answer? ›

A research methodology encompasses the way in which you intend to carry out your research. This includes how you plan to tackle things like collection methods, statistical analysis, participant observations, and more. You can think of your research methodology as being a formula.

What are the strength and limitations of qualitative research? ›

Qualitative method
Provide more detailed information to explain complex issuesMore difficult to analyse; don't fit neatly in standard categories
Multiple methods for gathering data on sensitive subjectsData collection is usually time consuming
Data collection is usually cost efficient
1 more row

What are the limitations of quantitative methods? ›

  • Quantitative techniques can lead to misleading results, not least if you use them incorrectly. ...
  • They are not good at capturing feelings.
  • They can be open to misrepresentation or misinterpretation. ...
  • They may require a certain skill set or level of numeracy if they are to be drawn on effectively and accurately.

What is a major limitation of quantitative research? ›

Limitations of Quantitative Research

Variability of data quantity: Large sample sizes are needed for more accurate analysis. Small scale quantitative studies may be less reliable because of the low quantity of data (Denscombe, 2010). This also affects the ability to generalize study findings to wider populations.

How do you write limitations in research? ›

Describe each limitation in detailed but concise terms; Explain why each limitation exists; Provide the reasons why each limitation could not be overcome using the method(s) chosen to gather the data [cite to other studies that had similar problems when possible];

What are limitations of data? ›

Some examples of limitations include a limited sample size or lack of reliable data such as self-reported data, missing data, and deficiencies in data measurements (such as a questionnaire item not asked that could have been used to address a specific issue).

What are the limitations of a sample? ›

Disadvantages of sampling may be discussed under the heads:
  • Chances of bias.
  • Difficulties in selecting truly a representative sample.
  • Need for subject specific knowledge.
  • changeability of sampling units.
  • impossibility of sampling.

What is scope and limitations in research example? ›

For example, if you are studying the ill effects of bullying on middle school children, the scope could include both face-to-face bullying and cyber-bullying in grades 6 through 8. Limitations are matters and occurrences that arise in a study which are out of the researcher's control.


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