Choosing the Type of Qualitative for Your Project
choosing the type of qualitative

Return to Marketers and Market Researchers

Choosing Qualitative Approaches

As communications technologies have evolved, so has the range of methods, tools, and talent available for designing, conducting, and interpreting qualitative research.

Popular methods now include time-proven classics as well as evolving and experimental approaches such as:

  • Real-time focus group sessions and individual interviews, conducted in person or via phone, webcam, text chat, or instant messaging
  • Activity boards or discussion boards where participants can engage asynchronously (and live, if desired) via computers and/or mobile devices
  • Research that focuses on experiences as they occur -- such as shop-alongs, usability sessions, and many types of ethnographic research that occur within the participants' own worlds
  • Approaches that are actively moderated, self-directed, observational, or use a mix of these methods
  • Approaches that rely mainly on text-based, oral, visual, or multi-media input (including body language, tone of voice)
  • Approaches that include methods drawn from biometrics or neuroscience

To create a qualitative plan, researchers and their client users often start by asking themselves three questions:

  1. OBJECTIVES - Which approaches will best help us meet our reseach objectives?
    • When choosing qualitative methods or providers, the single most important factor to consider is: What kinds of information, insights, or inspiration does your research need to wind up with?Clear definition of "where you need to wind up" will be your best guide for decisions about planning, conducting, interpreting/analyzing, and communicating the outcomes of any type of qualitative research.

  2. FEASABILITY FACTORS - Which approaches will be feasible, taking into consideration our resources (time, money, team availability, etc.) plus any logistical, confidentiality, privacy, legal, or compliance constraints? For example…
    • Will your research involve sharing condifential ideas or information with participants, and you cannot take any risk that they might capture and share this material with third parties? If so, you may be limited to using in-person methods so that participants can only walk away with whatever they can retain in their minds. When you share material with participants digitally, there is no way to guarantee that they will not capture that information using their computers, mobile devices, or cameras.

  3. PARTICIPANT AND TEAM EXPERIENCE - Which approaches will provide the best experience for the participants, and the research/client team? For example…
    • In some situations, giving participants a completely anonymous way to engage in the research (where no identifiable text or visual cues are shared with other participants or client observers) can encourage much more openness on their part. In other situations, participants often value the ability to interact with people with similar needs or interest as well as the qualitative researchers.
    • Sometimes client users work with qualitative researchers up front to set objectives and plans, then the researchers venture off to conduct, interpret, and report back on the outcomes. But often qualitative research involves close team collaboration as the research/client team works iteratively to generate ideas, explore targeting and positioning opportunities, co-create and optimize product or services, and more. When this is the case, it is important to consider which research approaches will best support this type of teamwork.

Defining objectives, feasability factors, and what you want the participant/team experience to be like, makes it much easier to make the other choices listed below. Many qualitative approaches are quite flexible scalable, and an generate very rich, rapid learning.

Choosing Qualitative Methods -
A Starter Checklist


Does your research need to happen in real time, asynchronously, or both ways?


Do you need to include just one or a few cities, or multiple regions or countries? Or people in remote areas?

Individuals or Groups

Do you need individual interaction, group interaction, or some of each?

Top-of-mind or In-depth

Do you need input that's top-of-mind/ visceral/ immediate, or in-depth/ thoughtful/ reflective, or some of each?


Will target participants be able and willing to participate in the methods you're considering?


What will participants need to see, smell, hear, touch, or taste?


Will participants need to express themselves in speech, writing, or other ways?

Client Involvement

When/where/how do clients need to observe or engage with the research while it's in progress?

Unobtrusive or Engaged

Do you need methods that enable qualitative researchers to be unobtrusive, highly engaged, or both?


Are there specific qualitative techniques you need to use (image sorting, laddering, mini-breakouts, montages, etc.)?


What evidence or documentation will you need to communicate key learning effectively -- Verbatims? Visuals? Videos? Other?

3 Ways to Keep Up with the Qualitative Choices

Learn from experts through the many free resources that QRCA provides including: QRCA Views magazine, Qcastswebinars, the QRCA Linked In Group and the Find A Researcher searchable database of qualitative consultants.

See for yourself. Qualitative researchers and platforms or tool providers can often share non-confidential demonstrations or case examples to help qualitative users envision a variety of classic an new ways to conduct and interpret qualitative research.

Just do it! Committing a little time and money to experimenting with qualitative options that are new to you is a low-risk way to boost your qualitative expertise. For example, if you want to explore how mobile or online approaches might expand your ability to reach and engage with your targets, try adding some live webcam sessions or mobile-enabled activities to the schedule the next time you do in-person or other types of qualitative.

Untitled Document

Copyright 2018 Qualitative Research Consultants Association. All rights reserved.
651-290-7491 | 888-674-7722 |
Privacy Policy

This website is optimized for Firefox and Chrome.
If you have difficulties using this site, see complete browser details.