Methods used for qualitative data collection

What is the need for qualitative data collection?

Qualitative research is a type of study carried out with a qualitative approach to understand the exploratory reasons and to assay how and why a specific program or phenomenon operates in the way it is working. A researcher can access numerous qualitative data collection methods that he/she feels are relevant. 

Qualitative data collection methods serve the primary purpose of collecting textual data for research and analysis. The collected research data is used to examine

  1. knowledge around a specific issue or a program, experience of people,
  2. meaning and relationships, and
  3. 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. You can opt for any digital data collection methods, like structured or semi-structured surveys, or settle for the traditional approach comprising individual interviews, group discussions, etc. 

Methods used for qualitative data collection

Data at hand leads to a smooth process ensuring all the decisions made are for the business’s betterment. You will be able to make informed decisions, only if you have relevant data. Well! With quality data, you will 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, 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, qualitative data collection methods are primarily unstructured or structured in rare cases – that too to some extent. 

Let’s explore the most common methods used for qualitative data collection.

Individual interview: 

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

At times, depending on the interviewer’s approach, the conversation can be unstructured or informal but focused on understanding 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. If the interviewee selects answers from a set of given options, it becomes a structured, fixed response, or a biased discussion.

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

Qualitative surveys: 

To develop an informed hypothesis, many researchers use qualitative surveys for data collection or to collect a piece of detailed information about a product or an issue. If you want to create questionnaires for collecting textual or qualitative data, then ask more open-ended questions. To answer such questions, the respondent has to write his/her opinion or perspective concerning a specific topic or issue. Unlike other qualitative data collection methods, online surveys have a wider reach wherein many people can provide you quality data that is highly credible and valuable. 

  • Paper surveys

The paper questionnaires are frequently used for qualitative data collection from the participants. The survey consists of short text questions, which are often open-ended. These questions’ motive is to collect as much detailed information as possible in the respondents’ own words. More often, the survey questionnaires are designed to collect standardized data hence used to collect responses from a larger population or large sample size. 

  • Online surveys 

An online survey or a web survey is prepared using a prominent online 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 question under the interviewer’s supervision. One of the significant benefits that online surveys offer is that they allow the respondents to take the survey on any device, be it a desktop, tablet, or mobile. 


Focus group discussions:

Focus group discussions can also be considered a type of interview, but it is conducted in a group discussion setting. Usually, the focus group consists of 8 – 10 people (the size may vary depending on the researcher’s requirement). The researchers ensure appropriate space is given to the participants to discuss a topic or issue in a context. The participants are allowed to either agree or disagree with each other’s comments. 

With a focused group discussion, researchers know how a particular group of participants perceives the topic. Researchers analyze what participants think of an issue, the range of opinions expressed, and the ideas discussed. The data is collected by noting down the variations or inconsistencies (if any exists) 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, 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 diverse participants. Frequently, the qualitative data collected through focused group discussion is more descriptive and highly detailed. 


Observation is one of the traditional qualitative data collection methods used by researchers to gather descriptive text data by observing people and their behavior at events or in their natural settings. In this method, the researcher is completely immersed in watching or seeing people by taking a participatory stance to take down notes. Aside from taking notes, different techniques such as videos, photographs, audio recordings, tangible items like artifacts, and souvenirs 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 see everything that goes around him. 
  • Overt: In this method, everyone is aware that they are being watched. For example, A researcher or an observer wants to study the wedding rituals of a nomadic tribe. To proceed with the research, the observer or researcher can reveal why he is attending the marriage and even use a video camera to shoot everything around him. 

Observation is a useful qualitative data collection method, especially 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 particular community or demographic, you can rely on the observation data. Remember, if you fail to get quality data through surveys, interviews, or group discussions, rely on observation. It is the best and trusted qualitative data collection method to generate qualitative data as it requires equal to no efforts from the participants. 


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

The methods mentioned in the blog – interviews, surveys, group discussions, and observations are the most widely and commonly used qualitative data collection methods. 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 cannot be explored quantitatively. 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.