Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative Research Methods

Chapter Objectives

After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

Ü        Explain the difference between qualitative and quantitative research.

Ü        Understand the various forms of qualitative research

Ü        Describe focus groups in detail with emphasis on planning and conducting focus groups, and their advantages, disadvantages and applications.

Ü        Describe in-depth interview techniques in detail, citing advantages, disadvantages and applications.

Ü        Explain projective techniques in detail and compare the various projective techniques.

Ü        Understand the direction of the latest developments in qualitative methods and the analysis of qualitative data.

Figure 4.1 A Classification of MR Data


Ü  Seeks to provide insights and understanding to the research problem.


Ü  Seeks to quantify the data.

Table 4.1 Qualitative vs Quantitative Research

Classification of Qualitative Research Procedures

Direct Approach

Ü  True purpose of the study is not disguised

Ü  Techniques:

Focus groups

In-depth interviews

Indirect Approach

Ü  True purpose of the study is disguised

Ü  Techniques:

Projective techniques

Focus Groups

Ü  A moderator leads a interactive discussion on the research problem with a small group of respondents.

Ü  The value of the technique lies in the unexpected findings often obtained from a free-flowing group discussion.

Table 4.2 Characteristics of Focus Groups

The Moderator

The success of a focus group session depend heavily on the moderators and his/her communication, interpersonal, probing, observation and interpretative skills.  The key characteristics of good qualitative research are:

Ü Kindness with firmness

Ü Permissiveness

Ü Involvement

Ü Exhibit incomplete understanding

Ü Encouragement

Ü Flexibility

Ü Sensitivity

Variation in Focus groups

Ü Two-way focus groups

Ü Dual-moderator group

Ü Duelling-moderator group

Ü Respondent moderator group

Ü Client participant group

Ü Mini groups

Ü Telesession group

Ü On-line focus group

Advantages of Focus groups

Ü  Synergy

Ü  Snowballing

Ü  Stimulation

Ü  Security

Ü  Spontaneity

Ü  Serendipity

Ü  Specialisation

Ü  Scientific scrutiny

Ü  Structure

Ü  Speed


Disadvantages of Focus groups

Ü Misuse

Ü Misjudge

Ü Moderation

Ü Messy

Ü Misrepresentation

[5 Ms]

Application of Focus groups

Ü  Understanding consumers’ perceptions, preferences and behaviour concerning a product category

Ü  Obtaining impressions of new product concepts

Ü  Generating new ideas about older products

Ü  Developing creative concepts and copy material for advertisements

Ü  Securing price impressions

Ü  Obtaining preliminary consumer reaction to specific marketing programs

Case: Focus Group at GM

Ü  General Motors used focus groups and survey research to help develop the coupe. They held 20 focus groups across the country to determine what features customers wanted in a car. The focus groups told GM they wanted a stylish car, legitimate back seat, good fuel economy acceleration and power.

Ü  Based on these results, engineers created clay models of the car and mock-ups of the interior. These were shown to another set of focus groups of target buyers. These respondents did not like the oversized bumpers and the severe slope of the hood, but liked the four-disc brakes and independent suspension.

In-depth Interviews

Ü  An unstructured, direct, personal interview in which a single respondent respondent is probed by a highly skilled interviewer to uncover underlying motivations, beliefs, attitudes and feelings

Characteristics of In-depth Interviews

Ü  Unstructured, direct, personal interview in which a single respondent is probed by a highly skilled interviewer to uncover underlying motivations, beliefs, attitudes and feelings on a topic

Ü  30 minutes to 1 hour in duration

Ü  Probing is of critical importance in obtaining meaningful responses and uncovering hidden issues

Interviewer’s Role

Ü  Avoid appearing superior and put the respondent at ease

Ü  Be detached and objective, yet personable

Ü  Ask questions in an informative manner

Ü  Not accept brief ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers

Ü  Probe the respondent

Advantages of In-depth Interviews

Ü  Flexibility

Ü  Uncover greater depth of insights

Ü  Large amount of detailed data can be obtained from the respondent

Ü  Attribute the responses directly to the respondent

Ü  Free exchange of information

Disadvantages of In-depth Interviews

Ü  Skilled interviewers required

Ü  Lack of structure tends to lead to lack of generalisability, reliability, and the ability to distinguish small differences

Ü  Reduced accuracy possibly due to potential biases from interviewer-respondent artefacts, respondent bias, or interviewer errors

Ü  Data obtained is difficult to analyse and interpret

Ü  Costly and time consuming

Applications of In-depth Interviews

Ü  Where detailed probing of the respondent is required

Ü  Discussion of confidential, sensitive, or embarrassing topics

Ü  Situations where strong social norms exist and the respondent may be easily swayed by group responses

Ü  Detailed understanding of complicated behaviour

Ü  Interviews with industry people

Ü  Interviews with competitors, who are unlikely to reveal the information in a group setting

Ü  Situations where the product consumption experience is sensory in nature, affecting mood states and emotions

Projective Techniques

Ü  An unstructured, indirect form of questioning that encourages respondents to project their underlying motivations, beliefs, attitudes or feelings regarding the issue of concern

Association Techniques

Ü  An individual is presented with a stimulus and asked to respond with the first thing that comes to mind

Word association

Ü  Respondents are likely to reveal their inner feelings about the topic of interest

Ü  Responses are calculated by:

Ü  The frequency of a given response

Ü  The amount of time that elapses before a response is given

Ü  The number of respondent who do not respond at all to a test word within a reasonable time period

Completion Techniques

Ü  Respondents are asked to complete a sentence or story.

Sentence completion

Completion Techniques cont.

Story completion

Ü  Respondents are given part of a story – enough to direct attention to a particular topic not to hint at the ending

A woman is organising a surprise party for her husband.  She realises there is so much to organise – the food, decorations and entertainment and doesn’t know where to start.  What should she do?

Construction Techniques

Ü  Picture response techniques

Ü  Cartoon tests

Expressive techniques

Ü  Role playing

Respondents asked to play the role or assume the behaviour of someone else

Ü  Third person technique

Respondent is asked to relate the beliefs and attitudes of a third person

eg. Do you think your friend would shop at Best and Less?

Advantages of Projective Techniques

Ü  Elicit responses that respondents would be unwilling or unable to give if they knew the purpose of the study

Ü  Useful when issues are personal, sensitive or subject to strong social norms

Ü  When underlying motivations, beliefs are operating at the subconscious level

Disadvantages of Projective Techniques

Ü  Highly trained interviewers are needed

Ü  Expensive

Ü  Risk of interviewer bias

Usefulness of Projective Techniques

Ü  Useful when the required information cannot be accurately obtained by direct methods

Ü  Used for exploratory research to gain initial insights and understanding

Ü  Used to test brand names

Ü  Measure attitudes about particular products, brands, packages and advertising