6 Types of Qualitative Research Methods and Designs

Nowadays, our world is more complex than ever before and so are we. However, as a marketing expert or a business owner, you struggle to understand why people think, react, feel and behave in the way that they do.

This is where qualitative research methods come to help with their focus on the natural setting and the points of views of customers and buyers.

On this page:

  • What is the qualitative research methodology? Definition, characteristics, and importance.
  • Different types of qualitative research methods and designs.
  • Infographic in PDF for free download.

What is Qualitative Research? Importance and Benefits.

Definition: Qualitative research is in-depth data collection method designed to reveal target customers behavior, feelings, thinks and etc.

You know that our feelings, thoughts, perceptions are the key drivers for making different types of decisions (including purchase decisions).

Qualitative data collection aims to investigate exactly these psychological elements that make us do things.

Let’s see the key benefits of the qualitative research methodology for marketing and business:benefits of the qualitative research methodology

  • Understand your customer’s meanings, interpretations, opinions, underlying reasons, and motivations.
  • Catch the language that customers use to describe a product or service.
  • Generate numerous ideas for improvements and development of your products.
  • Generate ideas for improving the communications with your customers.
  • Understand how people perceive your marketing messages.
  • Develop hypotheses for further testing with qualitative methods.

Qualitative research is an open-ended methodology that can be adapted while you are doing the research. That is why it increases the quality of the data and improves the understanding that you want to receive.

There are many different types of qualitative research methods and many of these are under constant improvement to meet the researcher needs better.

Key Types of Qualitative Research Methods

1. In-depth interview

The in-depth interview is one of the most common types of qualitative research methods out there. It involves a personal interview with a single respondent.

This method provides a great opportunity to capture rich, descriptive data about people’s behaviors, motivations, beliefs and etc. You can use the in-depth interview as an individual research method or as part of a multi-method design.

Depth interviews are typically performed face to face or by phone. In addition, you can pay attention to the body language of the respondent to understand better his/her answers.

Interviewing takes time to organize it. The interview might take between half an hour to two hours or even more.

2. Focus groups

A focus group is also among the most common types of qualitative research methods used in marketing data collection. A focus group normally includes a limited number of participants (around 6 to 12 from) within your target market.

This research technique collects data through group interaction. A researcher leads a discussion amongst the group where the participants share lifestyle, needs or behavioral characteristics.

Focus groups aim to find an answer of why, what, and how questions. This research design need not be in person. Nowadays, focus groups can be hosted by several platforms.

Focus groups are an expensive method of qualitative research. Typical they are used to explain complex processes from the basics, to identify customer motives and needs (where a complex interaction of factors presence), to identify how products are used and etc.

Group discussions are very useful when it comes to market research of new products and testing new concepts.

3. Ethnographic research

Ethnographic research is probably the most in-depth observational method that studies people in their naturally occurring environment.

This technique requires the researcher to immerse themselves in the target participants’ environment, which may be anywhere from an organization to a geographical location.


This research design aims to understand the cultures, challenges, motivations, and settings that occur. Instead of relying on interviews and discussions, you experience the natural settings first hand.

The purpose is to gain a detailed description of everyday life and to see events from the viewpoints of participants studied. Ethnography can last over a few days to a few years.

4. Action Research

This is an interesting qualitative research method in which the researcher and recipients have the same characteristics.

Action data collection aims to solve a problem and is conducted by individuals working with others as part of a “community of practice”.

It is a method of problem-solving led by people working with others in teams. Action research is known also as collaborative inquiry, emancipatory research, and contextual action research.

Mainly, action research focuses on turning people into researchers. The assumption is that people learn best when they do the research themselves. It also aims to promote improvement or change by stimulating knowledge sharing activities.

A great example of action research is psychotherapists conducting research to improve their therapeutic practice.

This type of research might involve types of field research such as interviews, focus groups, observation, and others.

5. Content analysis

This method includes interpreting words and images from a variety of documents, music, or other types of media.

The researchers aim to find out how the words and images are used, and in what context. This way you can draw and come up with conclusions about the hidden culture and behavior.

Nowadays, content analysis in researching digital and social media users is a common technique within the social sciences.

The main goals of content analysis include identifying important aspects of the content, presenting them in a clear way, support of some argument and others.

6. Case study research

The case study research has developed over the past few years as a valuable method for investigating trends and for explaining an organization, entity, business, or situation.


A case study is in-depth research of a particular situation or event. This approach growing in the recent years because it is based on real-world experiences.

Case study research methodology is used within a number of disciplines including education, social sciences, business, law, health, and many others.

Despite this type of research sounds very easy to perform, it involves a deep understanding of a variety of data sources and types of statistical analysis. In addition, case studies can be qualitative and/or quantitative.


While the above six types of qualitative research methods use similar data gathering techniques (interviews, observation), the goals of the study distinguish them.

This set of designs also has the advantage of being flexible and easily adaptable to changes in the research requirements and circumstances.

Nevertheless, qualitative research can help you understand the motivations and behaviors of people, generate original insights and ideas, formulate better the research problem (in the first step in marketing research process) and even tell amazing stories about what your business does.

Download the next infographic in PDF

Types of Qualitative Research Infographic

One Response

  1. C. Guidry

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