How to become an expert in qualitative research?

You need to conduct a qualitative survey but you are not sure where to start ? We explain how to proceed step by step in order to gather the maximum amount of relevant information !

Five essential steps to follow :

  1. Define your target

2. Choose an appropriate method

3. Collect the information

4. Analyze the results

5. Exploit these results

Introduction

Quantitative and qualitative research are complementary methods that you can combine in your surveys to obtain both detailed and wide-ranging results.

Quantitative data provides the numbers that validate the general points of your study, while qualitative data provides the details and context to understand the full implications.

A qualitative study relies on impressions, opinions, and views to gather information to describe a topic rather than measure it. The choice of a qualitative study can also be motivated by the human approach of the study. The purpose of a qualitative survey is to go deeper into a topic to gain insight into the motivations, reasoning and attitudes of those surveyed. You gain depth, but the results are more difficult to analyze.

Qualitative research allows you to understand and analyze behaviors and attitudes by structuring the information produced by a group or an individual in order to report it as objectively as possible. It is therefore necessary to work upstream to target the right person or group and to ask the right questions.

Qualitative market research requires several steps to ensure that the results are relevant and usable.

  1. Define your target

First of all, you have to ask yourself the right questions in order to define a sample to be interviewed. To do this, it is essential to know the precise objective(s).

Various objectives can be possible for a qualitative study :

  • validate, improve or reject a project
  • to determine the consumer’s expectations
  • to understand the triggers of the decision to buy a product/service
  • define the personality of the typical consumer and his attitudes
  • test a campaign
  • see the emergence of new consumption patterns

In general, qualitative research is used for a company in order to highlight the needs of consumers and to know the characteristics of the demand so that the offer can be better adapted.

The sample determined will then include at most a few dozen people. The number of respondents is significantly lower than in the case of a quantitative study, the important thing here being to understand the feeling and not to obtain a mass of data.

Then comes the creation of the questionnaire. It must be personalized according to the consumers interviewed so that each one clearly expresses his or her expectations towards your product or service. It is important to keep the questions open-ended and to have the respondent answer with sentences and not with simple yes or no answers. This allows you to avoid biasing the answers and to avoid missing important points.

Note : remember to remain neutral, you should not tell the interviewee too much, as their answers may be influenced by your presentation. It is better to remain general about the objective of your project without going into too much detail on the subject. The best attitude to have is that of a “benevolent neutrality” that can hear everything objectively.

After this step comes the choice of the method you will use to conduct your qualitative market research.

2. Choosing an appropriate method

There are different ways to approach a qualitative study :

-> Individual interview

The individual interview is conducted face-to-face with a single person.

This interview allows for spontaneity and freedom of response from the interviewee, who is alone and therefore does not depend on mimetic behavior or psychological pressure from a group. The exchange is then flexible, which allows for highly personalized follow-up.

However, it generally takes several weeks of analysis to obtain usable results, so the interview must be very well prepared and thorough.

It last on average 40 to 90 minutes.

It is important to have a heterogeneous sample. The maximum variation technique allows us to have different respondent profiles, based on 2 to 3 criteria.

Individual interviews are conducted with an interview guide*.

*The interview guide is a written document that summarizes the main points around which the interview will be conducted. It is a summary list of the themes and questions to be addressed, and specifies the time and manner in which they are to be introduced into the conversation. This guide is provided to the interviewer to enable him/her to follow the defined methodology (depending on the type of interview chosen: semi-directive, non-directive or directive), while applying appropriate behavior during the interview. For greater efficiency, it can be written in the form of a table, which is why it is sometimes called an “interview grid”. In general, the interview guide is composed of three main steps: the relevant hypotheses (which must be confirmed or invalidated during the exchange) with several questions to be developed, the identification of the interviewee (we need a target that meets specific criteria) and then the qualitative analysis of the results and comparison. To learn more, click here.

Finally, do not forget to choose one of the following interviewing techniques :

The non-directive interview : the interviewee is invited to develop a theme that is proposed to him/her. The interviewee answers freely. No order of answers is imposed. The role of the interviewer is very important in that he/she must not intervene or guide the interviewee too much. The interviewer’s role is to encourage the interviewee’s comments and sometimes to insist on certain points that are not necessarily very clear. This method is less used because it requires mastery and regular practice.

Semi-directive interview : the interviewee is asked to develop a theme that is proposed to him/her. You will use an interview guide. The interviewee must speak freely about the themes. The interviewer’s task is to let the person speak and to ask him/her about themes that he/she has not addressed on his/her own. Note: The semi-structured interview can be free response or focused. When it is open-ended, this means that the researcher has prepared his or her hypotheses in advance but can add questions during the exchange. When it is focused, it means that the researcher asks open-ended questions about a specific situation or event.

The directive interview : the interviewee is invited to develop one or more themes that are proposed to him/her. The questions are open-ended (without pre-formulated answers) and asked in a specific order. The interviewer uses a guide and conducts the interview himself. The answers must respect the established order.

-> The group interview also called “focus group

The group interview is a group interview technique. It is a semi-structured discussion, moderated by a neutral facilitator in the presence of an observer, which aims to collect information on a limited number of questions defined in advance. The objective is to bring together 6 to 10 people for an hour to three hours to gather personal views on a particular topic. This information will then be generalized to the entire target population. It is important to be aware that this form of interview can generate social influence mechanisms.

For the recruitment and the composition of the groups, you are free to opt for a homogeneous or heterogeneous group. In some cases, it may be in your interest to mix several profiles of participants in order to elicit varied reactions; in other cases, it is preferable to make a homogenized assembly to facilitate the approach to certain subjects.

A single focus group is not enough; two or even three are needed to obtain useful results.

Note: the “undercover” method has been proven to be conclusive. This technique consists of bringing in someone who will be paired with the researcher (and infiltrated in the group interview). The researcher begins to conduct the group interview, opens the discussion on a subject and lets the interviewees talk. After a few minutes, the researcher finds an excuse to leave. The infiltrator remains in the discussion group, without anyone knowing that he or she is an “investigator” as well, and the interviewees will then speak more openly in the researcher’s absence, which will make it possible to gather relevant information.

-> observation

The observation technique consists of analyzing an individual’s behavior rather than his or her statements. The objective is to observe practices as closely as possible, with a minimum of filters and without changing the situation as a result of the observation.

You can choose whether or not to inform the people you are observing, depending on the project.

There is participatory and non-participatory observation: when it is participatory it means that you play a role in the situation, when it is non-participatory it means that you are outside the situation.

When combined with the interview method, observation increases the internal quality of the study.

3. Collecting information

The collection of information is done during the interview or during the observation. It is necessary to have good equipment in order to be able to record everything and then analyze the key elements. This is an essential phase during which the interviewer collects information that will be analyzed to confirm (or not) the initial hypotheses and to answer a problem.

This collection can be done in different ways and using different techniques.

First of all, there are two options: audio or video recording. Audio recording is more suitable for an individual interview, while video recording is interesting for an observation survey in order to see and analyze the behavior and reactions of the interviewees. However, it is also possible to combine the two techniques. This allows a complete reproduction of the information and messages transmitted by the attitude and words of the interviewees.

To do this, you can use your smartphone, a dictaphone, a camera (the sound will be optimized) or an SLR camera etc.

Once you have chosen the right type of recording, it is important to plan your work place and your equipment. Remember to recharge your battery, check the memory of your camera and test the microphone and/or camera. In addition, on the day of the interview, it is advisable to arrive early in order to set up your equipment, choose a quiet place suitable for your interview and test your tools one last time.

Note : Don’t forget to tell your interviewers when they are being recorded. It is important that they know that their words will be recorded, analyzed, transcribed and potentially broadcast to others.

Finally, the transcription stage. It consists of writing down word for word what the interviewee says, without any modification, interpretation or abbreviation of the text. This step is long and meticulous. To do this, you can opt for manual or automated transcription. Manually, the transcription of a 1 hour interview is done in about 4 hours or sometimes more. You can indeed do it alone, but it takes a lot of time. Some researchers choose to call on service providers, this option allows a perfect transcription of the interview because the professional writes the text from beginning to end, correcting all syntax errors and language fluctuations. However, this option remains quite expensive, as the service can cost up to 70€ per hour (sometimes more). Today, there are alternatives such as automatic transcription. This means using a tool that, thanks to artificial intelligence, manages to render the entire audio and convert it into text. This option is the fastest, it allows to have a 1 hour interview transcribed in 15 minutes. However, you will need to proofread the text to correct any errors and restructure it as you see fit. If you wish, you can try it now.

4. Analyze the results

The fourth step of the qualitative survey consists in analyzing the collected discourse. This analysis is an exercise in synthesis and takes place in two stages.

First, the “coding” process: this consists of describing, classifying and transforming the raw qualitative data according to the analysis grid. You will also have to list, interview by interview, all the themes addressed by each respondent: you must produce monographs for each survey.

It is important to know that there are two types of coding: closed coding, which corresponds to a procedure in which the analysis grid is predefined before the study, and open coding, which is carried out according to an inductive procedure that is not defined at the outset (developed from the verbatim).

As well as different coding units (which will allow you to cut up the text in order to assign it a category) :

  • the syntactic unit

Corresponds to the way the interviewee expresses himself, his intonations, his turns of phrase, the words he uses, etc.

  • the semantic unit of analysis

Corresponds to the key ideas evoked

  • the unit of psychological analysis

This unit is used to code sensations, emotions, images, memories, missing ideas, etc.

Then, the “categorization“. This second step consists of building an analysis grid made up of criteria and indicators that are called analysis categories. You will need to group the different themes more generally. You will then need to carry out a cross-sectional analysis of the themes and individuals in a large table: for each theme, you will include the verbatim statements made by the interviewees who spoke about it.

The objective is then to analyze the information collected, including: behaviors, words, gestures, what is not said and what is implied. The difficulty of this last step is to gather ambiguous, incomplete and contradictory information, to interpret the similarities and differences between the respondents and to arrive at an objective analysis.

5. Exploiting these results

This part allows you to conclude a study in the most relevant way possible. Each interviewer will have his or her own objective and will use the results obtained in his or her own way. You can write them in the form of an article, a guide, a thesis… In order to structure your remarks you can follow the general plan : present the survey, state the results and their limits, announce a conclusion followed by an opening.

For a summary of the qualitative study in video, it is here.

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