Specializing in
health care and


Qualitative Research Facts from QRCA

What is qualitative research?
Qualitative research is designed to reveal a target audience's range of behavior and the perceptions that drive it with reference to specific topics or issues. It uses in-depth studies of small groups of people to guide and support the construction of hypotheses. The results of qualitative research are descriptive rather than predictive. Qualitative research methods originated in the social and behavioral sciences: sociology, anthropology and psychology. Today, qualitative methods in the field of marketing research include in-depth interviews with individuals, group discussions (from two to ten participants is typical); diary and journal exercises; and in-context observations. Sessions may be conducted in person, by telephone, via videoconferencing and via the Internet.

Why qualitative research works

Several unique aspects of qualitative research contribute to rich, insightful results:
• Synergy among respondents, as they build
on each other's comments and ideas.
• The dynamic nature of the interview or group
discussion process, which engages respondents
more actively than is possible
in more structured survey.
• The opportunity to probe ("Help me understand
why you feel that way") enabling the researcher
to reach beyond initial responses and rationales.
• The opportunity to observe, record and interpret
non-verbalcommunication (i.e., body language, voice
intonation) as part of a respondent's feedback,
which is valuable during interviews or discussions,
and during analysis.
• The opportunity to engage respondents in "play"
such as projective techniques and exercises,
overcoming the self-consciousness that can inhibit
spontaneous reactions and comments.

When to use qualitative research

Qualitative research can help you:
• Develop hypotheses
• Understand the feelings, values, and perceptions
that underlie and influence behavior
• Identify customer needs
• Capture the language and imagery customers use to
describe and relate to a product, service, brand, etc.
• Generate ideas for improvements and/or extensions
of a product, line, or brand
• Uncover potential strategic directions for branding
or communications programs
• Understand how people perceive a marketing message
or communication piece
• Establish parameters (i.e., relevant questions, range
of responses) for a quantitative study
• Explore specific information obtained in a quantitative
study, to better understand the context and/or subtext
of the data

Do not expect qualitative research to:
• Count, measure or offer statistical validation
• Determine the most effective or desirable product
concept or price point; or establish importance of specific
customer needs or satisfaction criteria
• Substitute for quantitative research because of time
and/or budgetary constraints when quantitative
evaluation is critical

Situations where qualitative research is often used:
• New product development
• Investigating current or potential product/service/brand
positioning and marketing strategy
• Identifying new uses for current products
• Identifying strengths and weaknesses
• Understanding purchase decision dynamics
• Developing or evaluating advertising or public relations
campaigns, other types of marketing communications,
graphic identity/branding, package design, etc.
• Probing opinions of current societal
or public affairs issues
• Assessing the usability of websites
or other interactive products or services
• Understanding peoples' perceptions of a company, brand,
category or product idea
• Pre-quantitative survey – developing hypotheses
to be covered in structured questionnaires,
in the respondent's language
• Post-quantitative survey – in-depth exploration
and interpretation of quantitative findings

Why use a professional moderator?

A professional knows how to:
• Establish rapport with respondents
• Probe beyond rationalizations
to uncover genuine motivations
• Interpret and build on what they hear
• Maintain flexibility in guiding the discussion
without losing sight of the objectives
• "Turn on a dime" – adapt their approach
when they and the clients encounter
unexpected issues or insights
• Manage the energy level and personality
dynamics of the discussion
• Avoid creating bias among respondents

A professional is prepared for challenging situations, and is able to:
• Get around respondents' defensive behavior
• Effectively handle talkers and non-talkers
• Keep unexpected issues from sabotaging the discussion
• Notice contradictions that don't "ring true"
• Handle sensitive topics with diplomacy
• Recognize problem respondents and act appropriately

A professional brings:
• Mastery of multiple techniques
• Experience in diverse disciplines
• Knowledge about relevant trends in other categories
and industries

A professional does more than moderate. They also:
• Help sharpen the focus and clarify the objectives
of the research
• Ensure objectivity from the design stage
through final analysis
• Stay focused on clients' business issues, to ensure
the research findings are relevant and actionable
• Build a positive working relationship with clients
• Help keep the research team objective about the topic
• Stand up to pressure when necessary based
on the research learning

A professional ensures high standards by:
• Protecting client confidentiality
• Protecting respondent confidentiality and anonymity
• Staying committed to non-discriminatory recruiting
• Being considerate and respectful of respondents
and their differences

Copyright © 2003 Qualitative Research Consultants Association