New Qualitative Research

By Jay Zaltzman and Betsy Leichliter

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Once upon a time, long ago (think “Mad Men”), qualitative research users and providers had limited choices about what types of qualitative research to use. They wondered, “Should we do individual or group sessions? In person, or on the phone? Which city or cities should we choose? Should we do qualitative research first, or quantitative?” They also debated whether men and women could ever be included in the same group discussion, and other issues that may seem very quaint in 2012!

As new communications channels and habits evolve rapidly around the world, researchers continue to experiment with, adapt, and adopt new qualitative options — especially approaches that can help them get “up close” to their target audiences and experience their worlds through their eyes.

Along with this evolution, industry discussions about qualitative best practices are elevating a notch. In recent years, such discussions have focused largely on the “data collection” aspects of the process — especially when and how to use new internet and mobile-enabled methods. Now these discussions are broadening to include issues related to every aspect of qualitative research. — for example:

  • How to source authentic participants and protect their privacy when using digital methods?
  • How to manage the rich “information overload” that qualitative can generate, and streamline qualitative interpretation and output to deliver actionable information, insights, or inspiration to qualitative users more rapidly?
  • How to define qualitative and quantitative research and make them work together well in a world where qualitative research might involve huge samples of participants or long-term engagement with them (as in some types of social media analysis or market research communities) — and classic notions of sampling and statistical projections are being being re-thought?

Qualitative providers and users now have a lot to think about when choosing the methods, tools, and talent that can best meet their research objectives. This Guide aims to help make these choices easier, by providing:

  • Brief overviews of various qualitative approaches in use today, including ones that do or do not involve internet or mobile-based communications.
  • Checklists of factors and tips to consider when choosing qualitative methods and providers to help you meet your research objectives.
  • Tips for getting and staying up to date with new and emerging qualitative methods.

In last year’s edition of this Guide, one of the most popular features was a checklist of things to consider when planning qualitative research. This year, we have expanded the checklist to reflect the more extensive options now available. As qualitative specialists who do not own or sell proprietary tools or platforms, we both think “agnostically” when it comes to choosing and recommending qualitative methods. We believe there is always more than one way to meet a client’s qualitative research objectives, and in many cases, using multiple methods can provide much richer insights than just one approach. Thinking through the factors on this checklist has helped us and our clients make the best choices.



The many time-tested and newer qualitative options available today fall into one of two categories: Real-time (live, synchronous) and Not Real-time (asynchronous).  Examples include…

Real-time (live) qualitative options

  • Face-to-face one-on-one or group sessions, at research facilities or other locations
  • Webcam/video one-on-ones or groups via computers or mobile devices
  • Text chat, instant messaging, or SMS texting dialogues with individuals or groups, using computers or mobile devices
  • Landline or mobile phone one-on-one or group discussions — with or without web support for showing multi-media information or concepts, collaborating with markup tools, sharing computer screens remotely, and more

Non-real-time (asynchronous) qualitative options

  • Online discussion boards, forums, or collaboration platforms for one-on-one or group interactions that may include Q&A dialogues, projective or immersive activities, journaling/diaries,/blogs or other multi-media activities accessed via computers and/or mobile devices
  • Longer-term insight communities, co-creation networks, or other longitudinal approaches
  • Social media listening/observing, or engaging social media users in market research

Infinite combinations of these options are possible, and multi-method qualitative designs are becoming increasingly popular as researchers experiment with different ways to achieve their qualitative research objectives.

With so many new options, qualitative research providers and users are asking, “How do we choose the best qualitative methods to meet our research objectives?”  In this article, we will:

  • Provide a range of factors to consider when defining your qualitative objectives and considering which methods and tools to consider
  • Discuss the strengths and challenges of various qualitative methods and tools and propose some parameters for choosing among them.

The following sections briefly explain a variety of methods and tools that can be used — alone or in combinations — for qualitative research.

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