Conducting Qualitative Research


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Qualitative research is the collection and analysis of non-numeric, aural, written and visual data to gain understanding of a research problem. It provides an insight into the characteristics, attitudes and beliefs of respondents.

The two main methods of qualitative data collections are interviewing (such as focus groups or individual depth interviews) and observation.

Projective enabling techniques are very often used within qualitative research as a way of allowing the respondents to express attitudes that they find difficult to talk about. Popular examples of these techniques include:

Technique  Description 
Sentence completion Respondents are asked to complete statements such as:‘Train passengers who avoid paying fares are………’‘The one thing I like most about going on holiday is…….’
Word association Respondents are presented with a list of words and asked ‘What comes to mind?’ when they see each word.
Cartoon/Storey completion Cartoons often consist of two people interacting, both with speech bubbles and sometimes thought bubbles. The respondent is asked to fill in the bubbles. One may contain speech to inspire storey completion.
Brand personalities Respondents are asked to relate an appropriate personality (human or animal) to a product. E.g. if the iPhone was a showbiz personality, who would it be?
Brand mapping Respondents are asked to place brands on a ‘map’ according to their perception of dimensions such as quality, value for money, and product range.
Photo sorts Respondents are given a pile of photographs of all sorts of people. They are then asked to sort them into piles, e.g. which of these people drive a BMW and which drive a Skoda. They would then be asked why they assigned photographs to each pile.


Stimulus material will often be used as a point of discussion within focus groups and in-depth interviews.

Qualitative research is based on small samples. By their nature, these small samples cannot deliver statistical representativeness. Representativeness in qualitative research is achieved by ensuring that the population and the sample are related to the research objectives and that sampling is conducted in a systematic and rigorous way.

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