What is Qualitative Research?

What is Qualitative Research?
The Basics of Qualitative Research How it Differs from Quantitative Research

By: Garnette Weber, COO & Co-founder, itracks

Qualitative research projects seek to gain an understanding the “why” and “how” of different concepts, experiences and phenomena.  Text, video and audio data is collected to gather in-depth insights into an opportunity, problem or to generate new ideas. Qualitative studies typically focus on exploring ideas, description of complex topics and formulating theories.

Quantitative research projects seek to measure a problem or question by collecting numerical data that can be reported using statistics. Typically quantitative studies will quantify opinions, behaviors and defined variables within a smaller sample population with a goal to predict the incidence or behavior of a larger population.

Sample / Participants

Qualitative research typically uses smaller sample sizes allowing the researcher to go in-depth with fewer participants as opposed to quantitative research, which is more focused on collecting numerical data to facilitate statistical analysis on the data. Qualitative samples are usually non-random and may be selected based on the purpose of the study, convenient access or snowball sample where respondents refer others to be researched in the study. Ideally the sample is representative of the target group that the research is focusing on with a balance of diversity and includes participants that are able to effectively articulate their thoughts, perceptions and experiences. itracks partners with a number of companies that have expertise in recruiting high quality respondents for qualitative research, which you can find at https://trusted.itracks.com/.


Qualitative research is exploratory in nature, therefore qualitative research projects may evolve over the course of the project in order to ensure there is flexibility to provide a thorough understanding of the topic in question. Quantitative research utilizes structured methods such as surveys.

Most qualitative studies include engagement between the participants and researchers to explore the research topics in depth.  The engagement facilitates a greater understanding the context of experiences and exploring complex topics. Topics can be discussed in a more private interview mode where participant responses being only viewable by the researcher and observers. Participants would not see the responses of other participants. Studies can also be designed to allow for inter-participant interactions to encourage a collective discussion to enhance understanding of the topic. A risk of group discussions is “group think” where a participants shares an opinion and the group rallies together on that opinion without expressing their own opinions. An advantage of text based focus groups or online discussion boards is that “uninfluenced” question types can be used to force respondents to respond to the question independently prior to seeing the responses of others.  Text focus groups in itracks Realtime offer this feature as well as online discussions hosted in itracks Board.

Qualitative data can be collected by engaging online, meeting in a research facility or “in the field” where the researcher can observe or view participants recordings of their experiences in natural setting such as a home, workplace, story or event. Learn more about different research data collection methods here.

Many qualitative research studies include observing stakeholders that can discuss the research and engage with the moderator. The observer engagement can identify areas to explore further and contribute to enhancing the understanding. Stakeholders may be biased and may influence the participants therefore having them in a separated environment where they can observe, but be prevented from interacting with the participants is important. In-person focus group facilities often have a one way mirror on one of the walls of the focus group room. In the next room, also known as the “backroom” observing stakeholders can view the room via the mirror and discuss the research amongst themselves. Online qualitative platforms create a “virtual backroom” which allows observing stakeholders to view the research taking place, discuss with other stakeholders and privately message the moderator conducting the research without participants being aware or biased by the exchange.

More information is available on qualitative data collection methods here. Professional qualitative research moderators can assist with planning the research design and moderating the discussions and interviews.  Learn more at https://trusted.itracks.com/

Data and Analysis

Quantitative data is numerical or closed ended (yes, no, ratings etc.) and the analysis typically involves statistical techniques.

The data collecting during qualitative research may include words, images and videos. There are many creative approaches that can use different research activities such as creating a collage or sorting images. Image market up exercises can produce a heat map report showing the key areas of positive or negative feedback. Qualitative research analysis is often inductive where the research builds theories, concepts and summary descriptions of the data gathered.  The analysis often involves categorization of data into patterns.

Video data from group exercises can include the thumbnail videos of all of the respondents on the screen which is convenient to re-watch the session and understand the full context of the discussion. Some platforms also record single stream data where there is a full recording of the video and audio of the respondent. Facial coding analysis takes the single stream video recording and charts the facial emotions of the respondent during the session. Single stream video and audio recordings can be helpful in avoiding extraneous noise from other participants (eg. dog barking) when producing highlight videos. itracks Realtime offers both group video and single stream video and audio recordings.

Video or audio data may be transcribed to text to allow for easier analysis, searching and categorization of data. Human transcription services are more accurate and come at a higher price than machine based transcription which is automated. Machine transcription works better with high quality, single stream audio files and participants with clear pronunciations. Text based methods offer the advantage of having the data already available in text format.


Quantitative research studies provide reports with charts and graphs summarizing the statistical analysis completed. There is typically a discussion regarding how applicable the results are to the larger population.

With qualitative research, the goal is to enhance understanding of the participants’ perspectives within their personal context.  The results for the stakeholders can come in the form of a report as well as the actual experience of observing the research. Sue Moore, a customer immersion specialist stated, “The experience of observing clients speak about their experience provided the executives with the emotional intelligence to make critical changes in the company.  While they had seen quantitative charts and graphs showing the problems existed, it wasn’t until they heard the clients describe their experiences that the executives gained the emotional intelligence needed to make the change.”

Qualitative research reports often include a summary of the research and key insights.  It is common to include video or audio highlight reels or text verbatims/quotes showing key insights discovered during the research.

Quantitative and qualitative research are very different in terms of the sample, design, data, analysis and results. It is very common for research programs to use both quantitative and qualitative research to meet the full set of research goals.  The best choice for project is determined by your research objectives and choosing the approach that will best meet your research needs.

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