Skip to content
This Blog Discusses FAQs In Qualitative Research

Article Summary: At InterQ, we commonly receive phone calls, website inquiries, and client questions about our methodologies and process. To help distill this down, we thought it would be helpful to write a FAQ article about qualitative research.

FAQs about Qualitative Research

Here is a compilation of some of the most frequently-asked questions we receive at InterQ. If you have questions that aren’t addressed here, send us a note and we’ll add it!

FAQ #1: How many people should be in a qualitative research study?

This is easily our most-asked question, and we’ve written numerous blog posts on the ideal sample size in qualitative research. To sum it up: Well, it depends! In qualitative research, we have smaller samples sizes than in quantitative research, which relies on statistics (how much/how many out of a given population). In contrast, qualitative research uses homogenous population segments to understand the “why” and “how” behind human behavior. With proper sampling and segmentation (also called “personas”) you can have as few as 8 and up to 30 participants, per segment, in a qualitative research study.

FAQ #2: What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research?

This is another great question, and it’s a common FAQ we hear when we discuss market research methods and qualitative research. To break it down: Quantitative research seeks to measure how many or how much. It relies on larger sample sizes (anywhere from 50 on the very lowest end up to thousands, if it’s a very heterogenous population or you’re looking for patterns across wide data sets). In quantitative research, you already need to know enough about the population to know what to ask. This is a very important point, and it’s where a lot of people miss the mark when they’re deciding on research methods. If you don’t know which themes are common in behavior or about people’s opinions, how do you know which choices to use in your multiple choice questions, Likert Scale questions, or True/False questions? For this reason, we typically do quantitative research after a qualitative study. First, we seek to learn the “why” and “how” by having open-ended conversations with participants. Once we have enough responses and start to see clear patterns in themes (also called reaching data saturation), we can then package up these findings and test across a wider population to see if there are statistical patterns. But, remember this: Don’t assume you know what to ask until you’ve had in-depth, exploratory conversations with participants, either in focus groups, user research studies (UX), ethnographic research, or in-depth interviews. To sum it up – quantitative research counts and looks for data patterns. Qualitative research seeks to understand the why and how behind human behavior.

FAQ #3: What are the main methodology methods used in qualitative research?

Sometimes clients will come to us and tell us that they want to do focus groups. Then, they explain the business issue they’re attempting to answer, and are surprised if we recommend a methodology other than focus groups. See, it turns out there are multiple methodologies we employ in qualitative research, and focus groups are only appropriate in certain scenarios. One of the main litmus tests we use when deciding on the methodology is asking the question: Is this an individual decision or a group decision? If it’s an individual decision, such as navigating a website or app, than focus groups are not what we recommend. User interviews would be our choice here, either held online (Zoom or an online video streaming platform), or by tracking people’s behaviors and actions on a mobile ethnography app. We can also observe in-person. The goal here is to understand how an individual navigates a website or app, so we don’t need focus groups. That’s a good segue to explaining mobile ethnographies. A mobile ethnography is a study we recommend if we’re trying to track in-the-moment behavior or feelings. For example, when Delta Air Lines wanted to understand where passengers encounter the most stress when traveling, we had travelers give us feedback using a mobile ethnography app. As people were arriving at the airport, going through security, waiting to board, etc., they responded to questions we sent them on a mobile ethnography app. They responded with selfie video recordings, written text, and pictures. This allowed us to get way richer feedback than if we would have asked them, post-trip, where they felt the most stressed.

Next up, we have in-depth interviews. In-depth interviews encompass user interviews, sensitive topics, or when it’s hard to get people together in the same space for a group discussion. A moderator interviews a participant for 20 minutes to an hour (typically), going in-depth on a topic. These can be done online or in-person.

Focus groups are what we recommend when we’re trying to understand how people influence each other’s decisions, how a group makes a decision (for example, a team that collaborates in an office), or if we’re doing big-picture brainstorming. We have groups with 5-7 people, and a skilled moderator spends 2 hours having participants brainstorm, provide feedback, and discuss a topic together. These can be done in research facilities, co-working spaces, hotel conference rooms, or even in someone’s living room. They should almost always be held in a neutral location so as not to bias people toward the brand being studied (in other words, we’re not going to host focus groups at your office!).

The above list outlines the primary qualitative research methods we use, and typically, we do hybrid studies employing a few of these techniques to help us observe behavior from multiple angles.

FAQ #4: How much does market research cost?

Ah, yes, we often get this question before we’ve even heard what types of business issues our clients are attempting to solve. The answer varies widely. Here are some factors that influence cost: Sample size, study complexity, how many methodologies are used, the types of participants being studied (B2B or B2C), if products are being tested and need to be present, location of research, and the study timeline. Once we know this, we can scope out the study methodology and pricing, but we first need to address those questions before we can give accurate pricing. If you are interested in conducting a market research study, but you haven’t yet figured out what business problem you’re trying to solve, who your target audience is, or how the results will be put into action, it’s best to first tackle those points internally before you request a proposal.

FAQ#5: Can’t we just do research ourselves, internally?

Sometimes we get this response after we discuss pricing and timing. And the answer is always “no, you shouldn’t.” (And it’s not because we’re trying to sell you research – we honestly just want good research to be completed, whether we do it or another firm.) The reason is simple: You’re too close to your product. You know too much, and you’re biased because you know far more than a customer or potential customer ever will, so you’re going to ask questions with a slight bias and filter the answers through that same bias. Moreover, qualitative research is very time consuming and requires experts who know how to choose the methodology, how to recruit participants, how to write a discussion guide, how to moderate, and how to write a research report that can be put to use. Chances are, you don’t have the staff to do that, and if they do, they will be too biased to do the project effectively. So bottom line: Always outsource your research!

Do you have more questions? Send us a message and we’ll respond! 

Author Bio: Joanna Jones is the CEO and founder of InterQ Research. At InterQ, she works closely with clients to develop a methodology, oversees projects, moderates, and leads research insights workshops. She has been doing qualitative research since college, where she studied psychology.