What is the need for qualitative data collection?

Whenever research carried out with a qualitative approach for exploratory reasons and to seek how and why a specific program or phenomenon operates in the way it is operating, we call it qualitative research and to seek end results we need qualitative data. Qualitative data is collected for research purposes to examine a) knowledge around a specific issue or a program, experience of people, b) meaning, and relationships, and c) social norms and contextual or cultural practices demeaning people or impacting a cause. The qualitative data is textual or non-numerical it covers mostly the images, videos, texts, and written or spoken words by the people. To collect the necessary data you can opt to collect data online through structured or semi-structured surveys or settle for the traditional approach of individual interviews, group discussions, etc. 

Methods used to collect qualitative data 

Data at hand leads to a smooth process ensuring all the decisions made are for the betterment of the business. In qualitative research data collection, one of the biggest decisions that impacts the data quality is methods used to collect data and its analysis. Only if you have relevant data you will be able to make informed decisions. Well! With quality data, you will not only improve the quality of decision-making but you will also enhance the quality of the results expected from any endeavor. 

Qualitative data collection methods are exploratory in nature and they are usually more focused on gaining insights and understanding the underlying reasons by digging deeper. Although, quantitative data cannot be quantified, measuring it or analyzing it might become an issue. Due to the lack of measurability, methods used to collect qualitative data are largely unstructured or structured in rare cases – that too to some extent. 

Let’s explore the most common methods used to collect qualitative data 

Individual interview: 

This is one of the most trusted, widely used, and commonest qualitative data collection methods primarily because of its personal approach. An individual or a face-to-face interview is a direct conversation between two people that has a specific structure and purpose. The interview questionnaire is designed in the manner to elicit interviewee’s knowledge or perspective related to a topic, program, or an issue. 

At times depending on the approach of the interviewer the conversation can be unstructured or informal but focused to understand the individual’s beliefs, values, understandings, feelings, experiences and perspectives of an issue. More often the interviewer chooses to ask open-ended questions in individual interviews because if the interviewee selects answers from a set of given options it becomes a structured, fixed response, or a biased interview. 

The individual interview is an ideal method of collecting data when the researchers want highly personalized information from the participants. The is a notable method if the interviewer decides to probe further and ask follow-up questions to gain more information. 

Qualitative surveys: 

To develop an informed hypothesis many researchers use qualitative surveys for online data collection or to collect a piece of detailed information about a product or an issue. If you are thinking surveys can be qualitative or not, then yes surveys can be qualitative if you ask more open-ended questions like text box question wherein the person has to write his/her opinion or point of view concerning a specific topic or issue. Unlike other methods, qualitative surveys have a wider reach wherein a large number of people can provide you quality data that is highly credible and valuable. 

  • Paper surveys

These are paper questionnaires often used to collect qualitative data from the participants. The questionnaire consists of short text questions which are often open-ended asking respondents to give detailed answers in their own words. More often the survey questionnaires are designed to collect standardized data hence used at the time of collecting responses from a larger population or large sample size. 

  • Online surveys 

This is basically a web survey is prepared using a prominent survey software and either uploaded in a website or emailed to the selected sample size with a motive to collect reliable online data. Instead of writing down responses, the respondents use computers and keyboards to type their answers. With an online survey questionnaire, it becomes easier and smoother to collect qualitative data. In addition to that, online surveys have a wider reach and the respondent is not pressurized to answer each and every question under the supervision of the interviewer. Online surveys can be taken either on desktops or on mobile devices. 

Focus group discussions:

Basically, this is also a type of interview but is conducted in a group discussion setting. Usually, the group consists of 8 – 10 people (the size may vary depending on the researcher’s requirement), wherein they are given appropriate space to discuss on a topic or issue in a context where the participants are allowed to either agree or disagree with each other’s comments. With focused group discussion, researchers get to know how a particular group of participants perceives the topic, what they think of an issue, the range of opinions expressed and ideas discussed, and note the variations or inconsistencies if any existing in the participants especially in terms of belief, experiences, and practice. 

The participants of focused group discussions are selected based on the topic or issues for which the researcher wants actionable insights. For example, is the research is about the recovery of college students from drug addiction then the participants have to be a college student, studying and recovering from the drug addiction. Other parameters such as age, qualification, financial background, social presence, and demographics are also considered but not primarily, as the group needs to have diverse participants. More often the data collected through focused group discussion is more descriptive and highly detailed. 

Observations: 

Observation is one of the traditional methods of data collection used by researchers to gather qualitative data by watching or observing the people and their behavior at events or in their natural settings. In this method, the researcher is completely immersed in watching or observing people by taking a participatory stance to take down notes. Aside from taking notes, these days different methods such as videos, photographs, audio recordings, tangible items like artifacts, mementos are also be used. 

There are two main types of observation,

  • Covert: In this method, the observer is concealed without letting anyone know that they are being observed. For example, a researcher studying the rituals of a wedding in nomadic tribes must join them as a guest and quietly observe everything that goes around him. 
  • Overt: In this method, everyone is aware that they are being observed. For example, while attending the wedding rituals of nomadic tribes, the observer or researcher can reveal why he is attending the marriage and even use a video camera to shoot everything that goes on around him. 

This is a useful method when you want to study the ongoing process, situation or reactions on a specific issue related to the people being observed. Even when you want to understand people’s behavior or their way of interaction in a specific community or demographic you can rely on data generated through observation. In addition to that, if you fail to get quality data through surveys, interviews, or group discussions, observation is the best method to generate qualitative data as it requires equal to no efforts from the participants. 

Conclusion 

To identify behavior and patterns governing social conditions, issues or topics, qualitative research is one of the best methods. It actually spans a step ahead of quantitative data as it fails to explain the reasons and rationale behind a phenomenon but qualitative data easily does. 

The methods mentioned in the blog – interviews, surveys, group discussions, and observations are the most widely and commonly used for collecting qualitative data. Although there are few other data collection methods,  such as longitudinal studies, document revision, etc., they are rarely used.  

Qualitative research is one of the best tools to identify behaviors and patterns governing social conditions. It goes a step beyond quantitative data by providing the reasons and rationale behind a phenomenon, which often cannot be explored quantitatively. At the end of the day selecting a method to collect qualitative data is only half the process. Using data collection methods correctly enhances the quality and integrity of the collected data.