10 Types of Qualitative Research Methods

10 Types of Qualitative Research Methods

10 Types of Qualitative Research Methods
Saru Niraula

Do you plan to write a research proposal for your PhD and MPhil thesis? A research thesis's research methodology is a crucial component, and the approach you choose will affect a lot of your study. Research approaches are divided into two primary categories: qualitative and quantitative. One of the sought-after and well-liked approaches, qualitative research seeks to probe more profound in a theoretical way. We've discussed 10 types of the several qualitative research techniques utilised in research analysis in this blog.

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research seeks to understand and interpret the meaning of social phenomena, such as people's experiences, behaviours, and perspectives. It is typically used to explore complex, subjective, and contextual issues and understand how people understand the world around them. Qualitative research often involves collecting and analysing data in the form of words, images, or sounds rather than numerical data.

Qualitative research can take many forms, including interviews, focus groups, ethnographic research, case studies, observations, narrative analysis, content analysis, phenomenological research, grounded theory, and discourse analysis. Qualitative research often complements quantitative methods, which involve collecting and analysing numerical data.

Qualitative research is often used in sociology, anthropology, psychology, education, and public health, as well as in business and marketing research. It can help generate ideas, explore new topics, and understand the context and complexity of social phenomena.

Characteristics of Qualitative Research 

Several characteristics define qualitative research:

  • Subjective: Qualitative research is subjective, meaning that it is based on researchers' interpretations and perspectives. It often involves collecting data from words, images, or sounds, which can be challenging to quantify and analyse.
  • Open-ended: Qualitative research is often open-ended, meaning it does not have a predetermined set of questions or hypotheses. Researchers may start with a general research question, but the research direction can change as they collect and analyse data.
  • Contextual: Qualitative research is contextual, meaning it considers the specific context in which the research is conducted. Researchers may consider factors such as culture, history, and social norms.
  • In-depth: Qualitative research involves collecting detailed data about a specific topic or issue. Researchers may use various methods, such as interviews, focus groups, or observations, to gather data.
  • Iterative: Qualitative research is often iterative, meaning researchers may revise their research questions or methods as they collect and analyse data. This allows them to explore new ideas and perspectives as they emerge.
  • Emerging: Qualitative research is often emerging, meaning the findings may only be fully understood or articulated at the end of the research process. Researchers may need to review and analyse the data multiple times before concluding.

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10 Types of Qualitative Research Methods 


Interviews involve one-on-one or small group conversations with participants, in which the researcher asks questions, and the participant responds. Interviews can be structured, semi-structured, or unstructured. Structured interviews involve asking a predetermined set of questions in a specific order, while semi-structured interviews involve following a general outline but allowing for flexibility in the conversation. Unstructured interviews involve a more open-ended conversation with no predetermined set of questions. Interviews can be conducted in person, over the phone, or online.

Focus groups

Focus groups involve small discussions, usually with six to ten participants, facilitated by a researcher. The researcher poses questions and prompts discussion among the group. Focus groups can help explore a topic in-depth and get a range of perspectives on an issue. They are often used in market research to gather feedback on products or services.

Ethnographic research

Ethnographic research involves immersing oneself in a particular culture or community to observe and understand its practices and beliefs. Ethnographic research can include living with or among the people being studied, participating in their daily activities, and conducting interviews and observations. Ethnographic research is often used in anthropology, sociology, and education to study cultural practices and traditions.

Case studies

Case studies involve in-depth individual, group, or event analysis. Case studies can help understand complex phenomena and generate new insights and theories. Case studies can be qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods. Qualitative case studies may involve collecting data through interviews, observations, or written documents, while quantitative case studies may involve collecting numerical data through surveys or experiments.


Observations involve watching and recording the behaviour of participants in their natural settings. Observations can be structured, in which the researcher follows a predetermined set of procedures, or unstructured, in which the researcher is more open-ended in their approach. Observations can be overt, in which the researcher is visible to the participants, or covert, in which the researcher is hidden or disguised. Observations can help understand how people behave in their natural environment.

Narrative analysis

Narrative analysis involves analysing people's stories and experiences through words or written accounts. Narrative analysis can include examining stories' structure, content, meaning, and context in which they are told. Narrative research can be used to understand people's perspectives and experiences of events, situations, or phenomena.

Content analysis

Content analysis involves analysing written or visual texts (such as news articles, social media posts, or advertisements) to understand the message's meaning. Content analysis can be qualitative, in which the researcher interprets the importance of the text, or quantitative, in which the researcher counts the number of occurrences of specific words or themes. Content analysis can help understand how messages are conveyed through media and identify communication patterns and trends.

Phenomenological research

Phenomenological research involves studying people's subjective experiences and understanding how they make sense of the world. Phenomenological research often involves collecting data through in-depth interviews or focus groups and analysing the meaning of the data in the context of the participants' experiences. Phenomenological research can help understand the meaning and significance of people's experiences.

Grounded theory

The grounded theory involves using data collected through interviews or observations to develop a theory about a phenomenon. The grounded theory involves iterative data collection and analysis to identify patterns and themes in the data. Grounded theory can be used to develop or refine new theories.

Historical Example

The historical model is one of the distinctive approaches in qualitative research that thoroughly examines previous events to understand the present better and make predictions based on that understanding. This model's primary goal is to examine how the past has affected the present to find analogous processes happening now and predict how they will affect the future. The primary data source for this strategy is a review of pertinent literature, though oral sources can also be employed.

What is Research Proposal

Pros and Cons of  Qualitative Research Methods

There are several pros and cons to using qualitative research methods:


  • Flexibility: Qualitative research methods allow researchers to explore various topics and adapt their research questions and practices as they collect and analyse data.
  • Depth: Qualitative research methods are often in-depth, allowing researchers to gather detailed data about a specific topic or issue.
  • Contextual: Qualitative research methods are contextual, considering the specific context in which the research is conducted. This allows researchers to understand the complexity and nuance of social phenomena.
  • Meaningful: Qualitative research methods often provide rich, meaningful data that can help researchers to understand people's experiences, perspectives, and behaviours in depth.


  • Subjectivity: Qualitative research is subjective, meaning that it is based on researchers' interpretations and perspectives. This can introduce bias and make it challenging to replicate research findings.
  • Time-consuming: Qualitative research can be time-consuming, often involving collecting and analysing large amounts of data.
  • Difficult to generalise: Qualitative research findings may not be generalisable to the broader population, as the sample size is often small, and the results may need to be more representative.
  • Lack of reliability: Qualitative research can be challenging to replicate, as it often relies on subjective interpretation and has a different level of reliability than quantitative research methods.
  • Data analysis: Qualitative data can be challenging to analyse, often in words, images, or sounds rather than numerical data. This can require specialised skills and software.

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