Investigating methodologies. Taking a closer look at ethnographic, anthropological, or naturalistic techniques. Data mining through observer recordings. This is what the world of qualitative research is all about. It is the comprehensive and complete data that is collected by having the courage to ask an open-ended question.
Print media has used the principles of qualitative research for generations. Now more industries are seeing the advantages that come from the extra data that is received by asking more than a “yes” or “no” question.
The advantages and disadvantages of qualitative research are quite unique. On one hand, you have the perspective of the data that is being collected. On the other hand, you have the techniques of the data collector and their own unique observations that can alter the information in subtle ways.
That’s why these key points are so important to consider.
What Are the Advantages of Qualitative Research?
1. Subject materials can be evaluated with greater detail.
There are many time restrictions that are placed on research methods. The goal of a time restriction is to create a measurable outcome so that metrics can be in place. Qualitative research focuses less on the metrics of the data that is being collected and more on the subtleties of what can be found in that information. This allows for the data to have an enhanced level of detail to it, which can provide more opportunities to glean insights from it during examination.
2. Research frameworks can be fluid and based on incoming or available data.
Many research opportunities must follow a specific pattern of questioning, data collection, and information reporting. Qualitative research offers a different approach. It can adapt to the quality of information that is being gathered. If the available data does not seem to be providing any results, the research can immediately shift gears and seek to gather data in a new direction. This offers more opportunities to gather important clues about any subject instead of being confined to a limited and often self-fulfilling perspective.
3. Qualitative research data is based on human experiences and observations.
Humans have two very different operating systems. One is a subconscious method of operation, which is the fast and instinctual observations that are made when data is present. The other operating system is slower and more methodical, wanting to evaluate all sources of data before deciding. Many forms of research rely on the second operating system while ignoring the instinctual nature of the human mind. Qualitative research doesn’t ignore the gut instinct. It embraces it and the data that can be collected is often better for it.
4. Gathered data has a predictive quality to it.
One of the common mistakes that occurs with qualitative research is an assumption that a personal perspective can be extrapolated into a group perspective. This is only possible when individuals grow up in similar circumstances, have similar perspectives about the world, and operate with similar goals. When these groups can be identified, however, the gathered individualistic data can have a predictive quality for those who are in a like-minded group. At the very least, the data has a predictive quality for the individual from whom it was gathered.
5. Qualitative research operates within structures that are fluid.
Because the data being gathered through this type of research is based on observations and experiences, an experienced researcher can follow-up interesting answers with additional questions. Unlike other forms of research that require a specific framework with zero deviation, researchers can follow any data tangent which makes itself known and enhance the overall database of information that is being collected.
6. Data complexities can be incorporated into generated conclusions.
Although our modern world tends to prefer statistics and verifiable facts, we cannot simply remove the human experience from the equation. Different people will have remarkably different perceptions about any statistic, fact, or event. This is because our unique experiences generate a different perspective of the data that we see. These complexities, when gathered into a singular database, can generate conclusions with more depth and accuracy, which benefits everyone.
7. Qualitative research is an open-ended process.
When a researcher is properly prepared, the open-ended structures of qualitative research make it possible to get underneath superficial responses and rational thoughts to gather information from an individual’s emotional response. This is critically important to this form of researcher because it is an emotional response which often drives a person’s decisions or influences their behavior.
8. Creativity becomes a desirable quality within qualitative research.
It can be difficult to analyze data that is obtained from individual sources because many people subconsciously answer in a way that they think someone wants. This desire to “please” another reduces the accuracy of the data and suppresses individual creativity. By embracing the qualitative research method, it becomes possible to encourage respondent creativity, allowing people to express themselves with authenticity. In return, the data collected becomes more accurate and can lead to predictable outcomes.
9. Qualitative research can create industry-specific insights.
Brands and businesses today need to build relationships with their core demographics to survive. The terminology, vocabulary, and jargon that consumers use when looking at products or services is just as important as the reputation of the brand that is offering them. If consumers are receiving one context, but the intention of the brand is a different context, then the miscommunication can artificially restrict sales opportunities. Qualitative research gives brands access to these insights so they can accurately communicate their value propositions.
10. Smaller sample sizes are used in qualitative research, which can save on costs.
Many qualitative research projects can be completed quickly and on a limited budget because they typically use smaller sample sizes that other research methods. This allows for faster results to be obtained so that projects can move forward with confidence that only good data is able to provide.
11. Qualitative research provides more content for creatives and marketing teams.
When your job involves marketing, or creating new campaigns that target a specific demographic, then knowing what makes those people can be quite challenging. By going through the qualitative research approach, it becomes possible to congregate authentic ideas that can be used for marketing and other creative purposes. This makes communication between the two parties to be handled with more accuracy, leading to greater level of happiness for all parties involved.
12. Attitude explanations become possible with qualitative research.
Consumer patterns can change on a dime sometimes, leaving a brand out in the cold as to what just happened. Qualitative research allows for a greater understanding of consumer attitudes, providing an explanation for events that occur outside of the predictive matrix that was developed through previous research. This allows the optimal brand/consumer relationship to be maintained.
What Are the Disadvantages of Qualitative Research?
1. The quality of the data gathered in qualitative research is highly subjective.
This is where the personal nature of data gathering in qualitative research can also be a negative component of the process. What one researcher might feel is important and necessary to gather can be data that another researcher feels is pointless and won’t spend time pursuing it. Having individual perspectives and including instinctual decisions can lead to incredibly detailed data. It can also lead to data that is generalized or even inaccurate because of its reliance on researcher subjectivisms.
2. Data rigidity is more difficult to assess and demonstrate.
Because individual perspectives are often the foundation of the data that is gathered in qualitative research, it is more difficult to prove that there is rigidity in the information that is collective. The human mind tends to remember things in the way it wants to remember them. That is why memories are often looked at fondly, even if the actual events that occurred may have been somewhat disturbing at the time. This innate desire to look at the good in things makes it difficult for researchers to demonstrate data validity.
3. Mining data gathered by qualitative research can be time consuming.
The number of details that are often collected while performing qualitative research are often overwhelming. Sorting through that data to pull out the key points can be a time-consuming effort. It is also a subjective effort because what one researcher feels is important may not be pulled out by another researcher. Unless there are some standards in place that cannot be overridden, data mining through a massive number of details can almost be more trouble than it is worth in some instances.
4. Qualitative research creates findings that are valuable, but difficult to present.
Presenting the findings which come out of qualitative research is a bit like listening to an interview on CNN. The interviewer will ask a question to the interviewee, but the goal is to receive an answer that will help present a database which presents a specific outcome to the viewer. The goal might be to have a viewer watch an interview and think, “That’s terrible. We need to pass a law to change that.” The subjective nature of the information, however, can cause the viewer to think, “That’s wonderful. Let’s keep things the way they are right now.” That is why findings from qualitative research are difficult to present. What a research gleans from the data can be very different from what an outside observer gleans from the data.
5. Data created through qualitative research is not always accepted.
Because of the subjective nature of the data that is collected in qualitative research, findings are not always accepted by the scientific community. A second independent qualitative research effort which can produce similar findings is often necessary to begin the process of community acceptance.
6. Researcher influence can have a negative effect on the collected data.
The quality of the data that is collected through qualitative research is highly dependent on the skills and observation of the researcher. If a researcher has a biased point of view, then their perspective will be included with the data collected and influence the outcome. There must be controls in place to help remove the potential for bias so the data collected can be reviewed with integrity. Otherwise, it would be possible for a researcher to make any claim and then use their bias through qualitative research to prove their point.
7. Replicating results can be very difficult with qualitative research.
The scientific community wants to see results that can be verified and duplicated to accept research as factual. In the world of qualitative research, this can be very difficult to accomplish. Not only do you have the variability of researcher bias for which to account within the data, but there is also the informational bias that is built into the data itself from the provider. This means the scope of data gathering can be extremely limited, even if the structure of gathering information is fluid, because of each unique perspective.
8. Difficult decisions may require repetitive qualitative research periods.
The smaller sample sizes of qualitative research may be an advantage, but they can also be a disadvantage for brands and businesses which are facing a difficult or potentially controversial decision. A small sample is not always representative of a larger population demographic, even if there are deep similarities with the individuals involve. This means a follow-up with a larger quantitative sample may be necessary so that data points can be tracked with more accuracy, allowing for a better overall decision to be made.
9. Unseen data can disappear during the qualitative research process.
The amount of trust that is placed on the researcher to gather, and then draw together, the unseen data that is offered by a provider is enormous. The research is dependent upon the skill of the researcher being able to connect all the dots. If the researcher can do this, then the data can be meaningful and help brands and progress forward with their mission. If not, there is no way to alter course until after the first results are received. Then a new qualitative process must begin.
10. Researchers must have industry-related expertise.
You can have an excellent researcher on-board for a project, but if they are not familiar with the subject matter, they will have a difficult time gathering accurate data. For qualitative research to be accurate, the interviewer involved must have specific skills, experiences, and expertise in the subject matter being studied. They must also be familiar with the material being evaluated and have the knowledge to interpret responses that are received. If any piece of this skill set is missing, the quality of the data being gathered can be open to interpretation.
11. Qualitative research is not statistically representative.
The one disadvantage of qualitative research which is always present is its lack of statistical representation. It is a perspective-based method of research only, which means the responses given are not measured. Comparisons can be made and this can lead toward the duplication which may be required, but for the most part, quantitative data is required for circumstances which need statistical representation and that is not part of the qualitative research process.
The advantages and disadvantages of qualitative research make it possible to gather and analyze individualistic data on deeper levels. This makes it possible to gain new insights into consumer thoughts, demographic behavioral patterns, and emotional reasoning processes. When a research can connect the dots of each information point that is gathered, the information can lead to personalized experiences, better value in products and services, and ongoing brand development.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.