Qualitative Research Data Collection Methods

Asynchronous, synchronous, IDIs, focus groups… what does it all mean?

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

There are many types of qualitative research methods offering researchers and stakeholders different environments to hold discussions and observe participants. Historically, these were made up of standard traditional (i.e., in-person) approaches to collecting data. More recently there has been a rapid shift to online methods offering easier access and faster turnaround times.  Here is a quick overview of the more common primary qualitative research data collection methods:

Traditional Research Methods

  • In-person Focus Groups: Hosting a discussion in-person typically with observing stakeholders viewing the session from a hidden backroom – think your traditional two-way mirror setup. 
  • In-person In-Depth Interviews: Personally asking people questions in one-on-one conversations, while sitting together in the same room.
  • Observations: Recording what you have seen, heard, or encountered in detailed field notes. 

Synchronous Online Research Methods

When we say “synchronous” in referring to online qualitative research, we mean that everyone participating in the research is participating at the same time, together. This means that responses are instantaneous, and the session typically takes place over a relatively short period of time. There are several online qualitative research methods where there is a specific scheduled time that participants engage in the research.

  • Video Online Focus Groups:Video focus groups involve a moderator hosting a discussion with multiple participants using an online focus group platform with video streaming. Everyone participates from their own location, but video enables participants’ facial expressions, changes in vocal tone, etc. to be seen. Because everyone must take turns speaking these are often limited to 6-8 participants, but could include more or less depending on the project. In platforms designed for online research, observing stakeholders (these could be clients, execs, staff from other departments) watch and engage with the moderator from within a virtual backroom.  
  • Video In-Depth Interviews:Video IDIs are similar to video focus groups, but involve online one participant for a deeper one-on-one streamed video sessions. Again, when using the proper platform, stakeholders can observe from the virtual backroom and provide feedback to the moderator to gain a deeper understanding or help drive the conversation. 
  • Text-based Focus Groups: Text-based focus groups with people using text responses as the primary method of communication. These are handy for groups where you want to include a lot of participants in a short period of time, anonymity or extra-candid responses are desired, or for live event research where the participants are watching a live-streamed event and providing comments (like this case study which involved a major sports league). Like all of the above methods, this should include a virtual backroom for stakeholders.  
  • Telephone Interviews: Telephone IDIs are similar to video interviews, but the communication is audio only and there is a web view of media available during the discussion. A virtual backroom allows observers to provide input and feedback. 

Asynchronous Online Research Methods

There are also online qualitative research methods where participants are asked to log on at their convenience and share posts over the course of a couple days, weeks or months – these are asynchronous.  Real-world examples of asynchronous discussion that you may be more familiar with are the popular social media platforms and discussion boards – for example, you don’t need to be logged into Facebook or Instagram at the same time as someone else in order to comment on their post. In asynchronous online research, the posts may be private and viewable only by the moderator, or viewable by other participants who can then engage, allowing a threaded discussion to evolve.  

  • Online Discussion Boards:  In online discussion boards, discussions are generated using a platform where questions are posted and participants respond to questions using text or video.  Some questions may request that the participants share media or complete other exercises.  A threaded discussion develops surrounding the questions as participants view comments from others regarding their posts and provide feedback on the posts of other participants. 
  • Diary Studies: In diary studies, participants provide responses to a series of questions in an online platform.  The researcher will often posts responses and feedback to the participants.  Typically the discussion is one-on-one between the researcher and participant with no inter-participant interaction. itracks Board offers an “interview” question type to allow for private discussions between the researcher and participant.        
  • Online Communities: In communities, participants engage with the research over a longer period of time. For example, research activities may be posted weekly to engage with the participants over days, months, or in rare cases, even years. 
  • Online Ethnography Studies:  In an online ethnography, the researcher observes and gains an understanding of the behavior of participants engaged in the research topic.  Studies typically involve gathering of media which shares information related to the topic of interest. The key difference here, is that the researcher should be observing the behaviour as it happens, as opposed to asking about it later. So, for example, a participant may live-stream themselves cooking dinner or grocery shopping so that the researcher can observe this, as opposed to asking the participant later on about their experiences cooking or shopping.
  • In-Home Usage Tests: Participants use a product and record videos showing their experience with a specific product. The study often involves in depth discussion regarding their usage experiences. 

There are many types of qualitative research methods offering different approaches and advantages.  It is common for qualitative research initiatives to leverage a hybrid approach of both qualitative and quantitative or several qualitative methods.  Examples could include an online survey integrated with an online discussion board where target participants may move directly to the board. Another common approach is for a short online discussion board “homework” or diary exercise where respondents will share media and answer initial questions prior to engaging in an online focus group where the homework media can be discussed. To allow for maximum flexibility, it is often best to choose a platform that allows you to switch between methodologies in your projects (for example, itracks GO’s platform including both Board and Realtime).