Qualitative Research Techniques (2/2)

Qualitative Research Techniques (2/2)

In this lesson, you’re expected to:
– understand the main characteristics of qualitative research
– identify common features of qualitative research
– learn about commonly used qualitative tools and techniques

In-depth interviews can be defined as a qualitative research technique which involves “conducting intensive individual interviews with a small number of respondents to explore their perspectives on a particular idea, program or situation” (Boyce and Neale, 2006).

There are three different formats of interviews: structured, semi-structured and unstructured.


(1) Structured Interviews

Structured interviews consist of a series of pre-determined questions that all interviewees answer in the same order.

Data analysis in structured interviews usually tends to be more straightforward compared to other forms of interviews, because researchers can compare and contrast different answers given to the same questions.

(2) Unstructured Interviews

Unstructured interviews are usually the least reliable form of interviews because no questions are prepared prior to the interview and it is conducted in an informal manner.

Unstructured interviews can be associated with a high level of bias and comparison of answers given by different respondents tends to be difficult due to the differences in the formulation of questions.

(3) Semi-Structured Interviews

Semi-structured interviews contain components of both structured and unstructured interviews. In semi-structured interviews, the interviewer prepares a set of the same questions to be answered by all interviewees.

However, additional questions might be asked during interviews to clarify and/or further expand on certain issues.

Interview Methodologies

1) Face-to-Face Interview
Face-to-face (F2F) interviewing is one of the oldest and most widely used methods of conducting primary research. F2F interviews are conducted by a market researcher and a target respondent in the street, home, office, meeting place etc.

2) Phone Interview
Phone interviews can be much more effective if you’re doing a study that requires your respondents to answer multi-step questions. That’s because it’s easier to walk each respondent through the set of questions over the phone. In a focus group environment, that process will get confusing and chaotic.

Advantages of interviews include possibilities of collecting detailed information about research questions. Moreover, in interviews, the researcher has direct control over the flow of primary data collection process and has a chance to clarify certain issues during the process if the need arises.

Disadvantages of interviews include longer time requirements compared to some primary data collection methods and difficulties associated with arranging an appropriate time with the perspective sample group members to conduct interviews.

When conducting interviews you should have an open mind and refrain from displaying disagreement in any form when viewpoints expressed by interviewees contradict your own ideas.

Moreover, timing and environment for interviews need to be scheduled effectively. Specifically, interviews need to be conducted in a relaxed environment, free of any forms of pressure for interviewees whatsoever.

What is Observational Research?

Observational research (or field research) is a type of correlational (i.e. non-experimental) research in which a researcher observes ongoing behavior. There are a variety of types of observational research, each of which has both strengths and weaknesses.

It is a social research technique that involves the direct observation of phenomena in their natural setting. This differentiates it from experimental research in which a quasi-artificial environment is created to control for spurious factors, and where at least one of the variables is manipulated as part of the experiment.

Observational research is a technique which involves directly observing consumers or another target audience in their natural environment – for instance, watching how shoppers stop outside a fashion retailer, what they are drawn to in a window display and which direction they go after entering the store.

By using observation-based methodologies, information can be gathered from respondents through an analysis of their behaviour.

This method of capturing primary data can be used to either complement a question-based methodology or stand alone as a methodology in itself and can be used with both qualitative and quantitative techniques.

Types of Observational Research

It is typically divided into naturalistic (or “non-participant”) observation, and participant observation. Cases studies and archival research are special types of observational research.

1) Naturalistic Observation involves no intervention by a researcher. It is simply studying behaviors that occur in natural contexts, unlike the artificial environment of a controlled laboratory setting – there is no attempt to manipulate variables. It permits measuring what behavior is really like. However, its typical limitations consist in its incapability exploring the actual causes of behaviors, and the impossibility to determine if a given observation is truly representative of what normally occurs.

2) Participant Observation

The researcher intervenes in the environment – most commonly, this involves inserting himself/herself as a member of a group, aimed at observing behavior that otherwise would not be accessible. Also, behaviors remain relatively natural, thereby giving the measurements high external validity.

Case Studies are a type of observational research that involve a thorough descriptive analysis of a single individual, group, or event. They can be designed along the lines of both nonparticipant and participant observation. Both approaches create new data, while archival research involves the analysis of data that already exist. A hypothesis is generated and then tested by analyzing data that have already been collected. This is a useful approach when one has access to large amounts of information collected over long periods of time. 

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Advantages of Observation

One of the key advantages of observation market research for some types of project is that it provides a measure of behaviour directly, rather than relying on respondents to recall their behaviour at a later date.

When combined with a survey-based approach, this methodology can be used to understand the type of behaviour exhibited by the target audience, and then questioning can be used to probe the drivers of these actions – i.e. the researcher gains a picture of what actually happened, and the respondent’s reasons for choosing something.

Advantages of Observation

Whether you require a simple footfall survey, an observation of respondents’ behaviour as they enter or browse a store, or a larger scale survey of amenities provision in a local authority for instance, observation is a good option.

Other common uses of observation are to:
– View products being used in-situ in order to understand usage patterns and any potential problems.
– Understand consumers’ views on packaging.
– Measure the time it takes the target audience to make a purchase decision in a specific setting.

Exploratory research, as the name states, intends merely to explore the research questions and does not intend to offer final and conclusive solutions to existing problems.

Conducted in order to determine the nature of the problem, this type of research is not intended to provide conclusive evidence, but helps us to have a better understanding of the problem. When conducting exploratory research, the researcher ought to be willing to change his/her direction as a result of the revelation of new data and new insights.

Exploratory research is a good first step before using other techniques if the research problem is not clearly defined.

Advantages of Exploratory Research

1) Flexibility and adaptability to change.

2) Exploratory research is effective in laying the groundwork that will lead to future studies.

3) It can potentially save time and other resources by determining the types of research that are worth pursuing at the earlier stages.

Exploratory research design does not aim to provide the final and conclusive answers to the research questions, but merely explores the research topic with varying levels of depth.

It has been noted that “exploratory research is the initial research, which forms the basis of more conclusive research. It can even help in determining the research design, sampling methodology and data collection method.”*

Exploratory research tends to tackle new problems on which little or no previous research has been done. Unstructured interviews are the most popular primary data collection method for this type of research.

 * Singh, K. (2007) “Quantitative Social Research Methods” SAGE Publications, p.64
[Optional] Fundamentals of Qualitative Research Methods
Watch this 14-minute video by Yale University professor, Dr. Leslie Curry, for a recap of qualitative methods.
Link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbdN_sLWl88
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