What do you think of when you hear the phrase “qualitative research”?

Definitions differ depending on your experience and exposure, but the consensus is that quantitative research can tell you what is happening, while qualitative can help explain why it is happening. Helping customers identify and analyze the “why” is what methinks specializes in and is always working toward. 

Getting to “the why” has six pathways researchers follow, six distinct types of research they can use to surface insights, including: 

  • Ethnographic Model
  • Phenomenological Method
  • Grounded Theory Method
  • Case Study Model
  • Historical Model
  • Narrative Model

Some methods may be more familiar to some than others, but all are equally effective in surfacing insights if applied properly. 

Qualitative Research in Action
Image Source: Optimal Workshop

Ethnographic Model 

Ethnography is probably the most familiar to those working in UX or product management. It involves immersion in the participant’s environment to better understand things like goals, challenges, and motivations. This enables researchers to put themselves in the shoes of the participant, providing them with a direct point of view on the topic at hand. Instead of relying on participant interviews or surveys, the environmental immersion provides the researcher with first-hand experience. 

We may use several ethnographic approaches when conducting this type of research. For example, you can “follow them home.” Now, you could make this weird or be up front about why you’re following this person, observing their use of a product. We suggest the latter. The point being, the immersive quality of the ethnographic model is less about engagement with the subject and more about the subject’s engagement with the product or service they’re using. 

Phenomenological Method

If ethnography is an immersive experience within a subject’s environment, the phenomenological method is a research approach that immerses the researcher in the feelings of the participant. This method uses interviews, surveys, and observation to gather the inputs and related data from research participants. It’s akin to the skills and methods a car salesman uses when trying to close deals. They play on the emotions of how the buyer (i.e. research participant) feels about the vehicle, its ability to keep them and their family safe; closing the sale using styles that contextually fit the personality of the buyer. 

Grounded Theory Method

The grounded theory method is often a more time-consuming and tedious method of research. It typically looks at large numbers of participants and tries to explain why something happened the way it did. “It enables a researcher to develop a theory which offers an explanation about the main concern of the population of your substantive area and how that concern is resolved or processed.” [link to source]

Typically, businesses use the grounded theory method when developing and executing tactics like user satisfaction surveys that seek to surface why customers use a particular company’s products or services. 

Case Study Model

The case study model is one most people are familiar with, even if they don’t realize it. The case study model provides a thorough review of one subject. Typically, the subject is a business or an organization, but can also be a person or group of people, or even a town or city. All included data points are aggregated from various sources to provide color and depth to the conclusions. 

The most familiar application of the case study model appears in businesses seeking to market their products’ or services’ capabilities and ROI to potential customers. Case studies often showcase a subject’s need, problem, the solution provided by the product or service, and the eventual results of their use. 

The Historical Model

The historical method is a collection of techniques used by qualitative researchers to describe and analyze past events to understand present day and attempt to predict the future. The model uses hypotheses and resources to answer questions, testing the idea for changes or thematic deviations. A good example of the historical model implemented in business is using historical data from previous marketing campaigns and the target audience and split-testing it with current campaigns to identify which was most effective. It’s benchmarking (historical data) and cross-referencing new performance data with the past.

The Narrative Model

The narrative model requires a substantial investment of time during which researchers collect and compile information in real-time. It uses a combination of in-depth interviews, documents, and theme analysis. Often the interviews are conducted over weeks, months, and even years. The final analysis, or narrative, doesn’t always end up in chronological order. Rather, it can be reviewed and shared as a story with themes, stories, and various challenges and opportunities.

The narrative model fits well within a business environment, especially when developing a profile or persona of primary customers. While personas should be developed and built using a mix of methods – like audience segmentation analysis – in-depth interviews with participants who fall within a particular persona can provide information that provides color to broader themes.

Qualitative research isn’t simple. However, making the right investment of time and money in the right methods can produce valuable insights that will inform and educate decision-makers. Uncovering the “why” is the primary goal of qualitative research and those insights have proven time and time again to be just as valuable, or more, than insights produced by quantitative research. 

If you’re considering a qualitative research project and you want to get it done quickly, easily, and cheaply, sign up for a demo with us and we can show you how valuable knowing the “why” really can be. 

1 thought on “What is Qualitative Research?”

  1. Pingback: What is the Difference Between Quantitative and Qualitative Research? - methinks

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