Whether you’re currently in school or in the workforce (and looking to change careers) qualitative research is a path worth exploring if you’re the curious type who wants to understand how and why people make decisions. Qualitative research is a broad field that encompasses research in various settings and spans industries. This post will break down the most common types of qualitative research studies, as well as the types of qualitative research that’s typically done.
First off, let’s define qualitative research
Don’t worry. It’s not a dumb question. What is qualitative research exactly? Qualitative research is rooted in the social sciences and seeks to understand how and why people make decisions and go through a process. This could be as simple as how they navigate through a website or app (user experience research); it could seek to learn how people make shopping choices when inside a store (ethnographic research); it could seek to understand how people perceive advertising commercials or visuals (ad copy testing research); or it could seek to understand how to position a brand or product by talking to groups of people (focus groups). The list of use-cases for qualitative research is extensive, but basically, most products, advertising from large brands, and complex services you interact with in your life have probably gone through qualitative research testing.
So qualitative research isn’t surveys?
Qualitative research does consist of asking people questions (if you’re curious about this, check out our post on how to write a discussion guide), but in qualitative research, the questions are open-ended, as opposed to close-ended. (Surveys pre-define answers, and they’re done after you already know what themes to test/what to ask). Qualitative research, is, by nature, exploratory in nature. It helps the researcher learn what people’s behaviors, thoughts, and perceptions are, without assuming. Additionally, qualitative research uses smaller sample sizes than quantitative research and surveys, since qualitative research is seeking to understand how and why, versus how many and how much.
So what exactly does a qualitative researcher do?
A qualitative researcher wears many hats. Qualitative researchers are strategists, who work closely with clients or internal teams to understand business objectives, product-development objectives, and often, marketing and sales objectives. Based on the business needs, the qualitative researcher identifies the best methodology to use for the study. Once the study is designed and outlined, the researcher then either outsources recruiting, or helps find the right participants to interview. While this is taking place, the researcher assembles the stakeholders to write the interview questions/tasks for participants. Once the study kicks off, the researcher then interviews participants (one-on-one, through observation and interviews, or in focus groups). Finally, the researcher analyzes the data (from transcripts) and writes a report with the key findings and insights.
What skills does a qualitative researcher need?
People who excel in qualitative research are by nature very curious about human nature. The best researchers are able to be objective, yet show empathy and connect with participants. Having a background in business strategy/marketing/ psychology/social sciences is helpful, but not required. However, going through training courses that are specific to qualitative researchers is extremely important, and most jobs/roles will require a training certification in moderation, ancillary methods, and report writing.
Qualitative research is an incredibly fulfilling career, and it spans industries from consumer products to high-tech to healthcare. If you’re interested in exploring research as a career, start by checking out training programs, specifically designed for researchers.