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It is any research conducted using an observational technique or

unstructured questioning. It is often viewed as a “Soft-approach.” It is

– when structured research is not possible,

– when true response may not be available [embarrassing
“touchy questions”]
– to explain quantitative research results.

The purpose of qualitative research is to create a robust, detailed description

of behavioral patterns, consumer trends, market needs, and human
motivations. If quantitative research seeks to confirm an existing hypothesis,
qualitative research seeks to collect information that may support the
creation of a hypothesis or invalidate an existing theory. Toward that end,
researchers focus on a smaller number of people and spend more time with
them, eliciting their thoughts and opinions rather than statistical data or yes-
or-no answers. The researcher’s observations, subjective interpretations,
interpersonal skills and interview techniques thus figure critically in the
process, and in the quality and relevance of data collected.


‘Qualitative Research…involves finding out what people think, and how

they feel - or at any rate, what they say they think and how they say they
feel. This kind of information is subjective. It involves feelings and
impressions, rather than numbers’

Bellenger, Bernhardt and Goldstucker, Qualitative Research in

Marketing, American Marketing Association

Qualitative approaches help us to-

● Better understand phenomenon and gain new perspectives

● Collect and explore in-depth information that can’t be conveyed
● Provide rich descriptions of complex phenomena
● Explore sensitive topics
● Explore the issues of difficult to access groups / subcultures
● Explore culturally defined experiences
● Track unique / unexpected events
● Illuminate experience and interpretation by actors
● Gives voice to those rarely heard


 Fewer people studied usually. Less easily generalised as a result.
 Difficult to aggregate data and make systematic comparisons.
 Dependent upon researcher’s personal attributes and skills (also true
with quantitative, but not as easy to evaluate their skills in conducting
research with qualitative).
 Participation in setting can always change the social situation
(although not participating can always change the social situation as
 It can be very subjective as the researcher often includes personal
experience and insight as part of the relevant data thus making
complete objectivity an impossibility.
 It has a very low reliability in that it is extremely difficult to replicate
a piece of qualitative research due to the fact that it does not have a
structured design or a standardised procedure.
Q u a li t a t i v e R e s e a r c h
P r o c e d u r e s
D ir e c t I n d ir e c t
( N o n d is g u is e d ) ( D is g u is e d )

F o c u s G r oD u e p p s t h I n t e r v P i e r ow j se c t i v e
T e c h n i q u e s

A s s o c i a tC i o o n m p l e tC i o o n n s t r u c E t i xo p n r e s s i v e
T e c h n i q uT e e s c h n i q uT e e s c h n i q uT e e s c h n i q u e s

Classification of Observation

Direct vs indirect:
Direct>> observing behavior as it occurs
Indirect >> observing the effects of behavior
Disguised vs nondisguised
Disguised >> Indirect
Structured vs unstructured
Structured>>predetermine what to observe
Unstructured>>monitor all behavior
Human vs Mechanical
Human>>observation done by human beings
Mechanical>>observation by machine
Greater data accuracy than direct questioning, in natural settings people
behave naturally,
Problems of refusal, not at home, false response, non-cooperation etc. are
No recall error,
In some situations, only way
Number of customers visiting a store
Studying children’s behavior

Time consuming,
Too many things to observe,
May not be representative,
Difficulty in determining root cause of the behavior.

An interview conducted by a trained moderator in a non-structured and
natural manner with a small group of respondents.

Group size 8-12

Group composition Homogenous, respondents prescreened

Physical setting Relaxed, informal setting

Time duration 1 - 3 hours

Recording Use of audio and video cassettes

Moderator Observational, interpersonal, good

communication skills needed.
Generate new product or service ideas
Understand consumer vocabulary
Useful for ad campaigns
Reveal consumer needs, motives, perceptions and attitudes,
Generating future research objectives
Facilitate understanding of the quantitative studies


The person who conducts the focus group session.

Success of focus groups depend on him/her,

Traits of a Goo
He/she must strive for generating a stimulating natural
discussion without losing sight of the focus,
Must take initiative, but should not dominate the discussion
Should have feeling of urgency,

Focus Group
Should participate in the research from the beginning,
Must add value beyond just conducting the session.


A Good Focus Grou

Synergism, Snowballing, Stimulation, Security, Spontaneity, Speed and
Cost savings.

Lack of representativeness, Misuse, Misjudge, Moderation problem, and
Difficulty of analysis


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interests discuss an
produce a richer ins
information, and in
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focus groupparticipant
2. Snowballing . In
enables themto feel com
comment often trigg
express their ideas/feeli
other participants a
1. Lack of representativ
representative of the
focus group discussi
be the only basis for
2. Misjudgement . F
client and researche
results of other data
results could be easi
Depth Interview: An unstructured interview that seeks opinions of
respondents on a one-to-one basis. Useful for sensitive issues, politics

Protocol Analysis: Involves placing a person in a decision making

situation and asking him/her to state everything he/she considers in
making a decision. Useful in 1. Purchasing involving a long time
frame (car, house) and 2. Where the decision process is too short
(greeting card).

Projective technique: Involve situations in which participants are placed

in simulated activities hoping that they will divulge information about
themselves that are unlikely to be revealed under direct questing.


These are indirect interviewing methods which enable sampled

respondents to project their views, beliefs and feelings onto a third-
party or into some task situation.
The researcher sets up a situation for the respondents asking them to
express their own views, or to complete/ interpret some ambiguous
stimulus presented to them.
Various types. More common ones are:
Free Word Association
Sentence Completion
Unfinished scenario/story completion
Cartoon completion test


In this technique, a list of carefully selected stimulus words or phrases
related to the topic of research are read out, one at a time, to a
respondent. The respondent is asked to respond with the first word or
phrase that comes to his/her mind. The list of words should contain a
mixture of test words and neutral words.

In the example shown here, the researchers seems to be interested in

studying high-tech banking (words with *).

However, analyzing and interpreting test results are rather difficult.

Stimulus Word
Bank Teller*
This technique is an extension of the free-word association test. In this
technique, the respondent is presented with some sentences containing

incomplete stimuli and is asked to complete them. Like the free-word
association method, interpreting and analysing data obtained from this
technique is also difficult.

Automatic teller ma
Persian C arpet
Automatic teller machine
Bank by Phone*
This technique is similar to the sentence completion test. However, in this
technique, the respondent is presented with a specific scenario
containing incomplete stimuli [see example below] and is asked to
complete the scenario. Interpreting and analysing data obtained from
this technique is also difficult.

Since Mr. Albert L

check just before

to deposit it in an
In the cartoon technique, the respondent is shown a comic-strip like cartoon
with two characters in a conversation. While the speech of one
character is shown in his/her balloon,the other balloon is empty.The
respondent is asked to assume the role of the other person and fill the
empty baloon with a speech.

___________, but
should _________
Data analysis
Interpretive techniques

The most common analysis of qualitative data is observer impression. That

is, expert or bystander observers examine the data, interpret it via forming an
impression and report their impression in a structured and sometimes
quantitative form.


Coding is an interpretive technique that both organizes the data and provides
a means to introduce the interpretations of it into certain quantitative
methods. Most coding requires the analyst to read the data and demarcate
segments within it. Each segment is labeled with a “code” – usually a word
or short phrase that suggests how the associated data segments inform the
research objectives. When coding is complete, the analyst prepares reports
via a mix of: summarizing the prevalence of codes, discussing similarities
and differences in related codes across distinct original sources/contexts, or
comparing the relationship between one or more codes.

Some qualitative data that is highly structured (e.g., open-end responses

from surveys or tightly defined interview questions) is typically coded
without additional segmenting of the content. In these cases, codes are often
applied as a layer on top of the data. Quantitative analysis of these codes is
typically the capstone analytical step for this type of qualitative data.

Contemporary qualitative data analyses are sometimes supported by

computer programs. These programs do not supplant the interpretive nature
of coding but rather are aimed at enhancing the analyst’s efficiency at data
storage/retrieval and at applying the codes to the data. Many programs offer
efficiencies in editing and revising coding, which allow for work sharing,
peer review, and recursive examination of data.

A frequent criticism of coding method is that it seeks to transform

qualitative data into quantitative data, thereby draining the data of its variety,
richness, and individual character. Analysts respond to this criticism by
thoroughly expositing their definitions of codes and linking those codes
soundly to the underlying data, therein bringing back some of the richness
that might be absent from a mere list of codes.

Recursive abstraction

Some qualitative datasets are analyzed without coding. A common method

here is recursive abstraction, where datasets are summarized, those
summaries are then further summarized, and so on. The end result is a more
compact summary that would have been difficult to accurately discern
without the preceding steps of distillation.

A frequent criticism of recursive abstraction is that the final conclusions are

several times removed from the underlying data. While it is true that poor
initial summaries will certainly yield an inaccurate final report, qualitative
analysts can respond to this criticism. They do so, like those using coding
method, by documenting the reasoning behind each summary step, citing
examples from the data where statements were included and where
statements were excluded from the intermediate summary.

Mechanical techniques

Some techniques rely on leveraging computers to scan and sort large sets of
qualitative data. At their most basic level, mechanical techniques rely on
counting words, phrases, or coincidences of tokens within the data. Often
referred to as content analysis, the output from these techniques is amenable
to many advanced statistical analyses.

Mechanical techniques are particularly well-suited for a few scenarios. One

such scenario is for datasets that are simply too large for a human to
effectively analyze, or where analysis of them would be cost prohibitive
relative to the value of information they contain. Another scenario is when
the chief value of a dataset is the extent to which it contains “red flags” (e.g.,
searching for reports of certain adverse events within a lengthy journal
dataset from patients in a clinical trial) or “green flags” (e.g., searching for
mentions of your brand in positive reviews of marketplace products).

A frequent criticism of mechanical techniques is the absence of a human

interpreter. And while masters of these methods are able to write
sophisticated software to mimic some human decisions, the bulk of the
“analysis” is nonhuman. Analysts respond by proving the value of their
methods relative to either a) hiring and training a human team to analyze the
data or b) letting the data go untouched, leaving any actionable nuggets

Differences between qualitative and quantitative research

Qualitative Methods Quantitative Methods

Methods include focus groups, in-depth Surveys, structured interviews &

interviews, and reviews of documents for observations, and reviews of records or
types of themes documents for numeric information

Primarily inductive process used to Primarily deductive process used to test pre-
formulate theory or hypotheses specified concepts, constructs, and
hypotheses that make up a theory

More subjective: describes a problem or More objective: provides observed effects

condition from the point of view of those (interpreted by researchers) of a program on
experiencing it a problem or condition

Text-based Number-based

More in-depth information on a few cases Less in-depth but more breadth of
information across a large number of cases

Unstructured or semi-structured response Fixed response options


No statistical tests Statistical tests are used for analysis

Can be valid and reliable: largely depends Can be valid and reliable: largely depends
on skill and rigor of the researcher on the measurement device or instrument

Time expenditure lighter on the planning Time expenditure heavier on the planning
end and heavier during the analysis phase phase and lighter on the analysis phase

Less generalizable More generalizable


 You're in new territory and little is known.

When considering products or new markets, qualitative research can
deliver an early landscape profile of consumer or business buyer
attitudes and behavior.
 Customer perceptions or attitudes may be hidden from easy view.
When the product category may represent unspoken meaning to
buyers, qualitative market research may provide needed tools.
 Generate ideas for products, advertising, or brand positioning.
The nuances of buyer attitudes and beliefs can often provide stimulus
for fresh new ideas, and feed a formal idea generation process.
 Screening ideas and concepts.
Qualitative market research can be a useful first step, prior to
quantitative research, to screen new advertising, product, or
positioning concepts. This allows time for refining concepts prior to
quantitative market research.