What is the benefit of qualitative research? Since pure qualitative analysis doesn’t generally result in a simple percentage or handy pie chart, people often have difficulty understanding the value of this type of research. Interviews, observations, and focus groups sound great, but what do they really get us?
The short answer: qualitative data provides context and meaning.
In many cases, qualitative information works best alongside statistical data found through quantitative analysis. Quantitative data can cover a wide scope of issues, but only superficially.
If Whole Foods wants to learn about the behavior of their customers, they can easily collect and analyze information about top-selling items, buying trends in various geographic locations, and overall sales figures by month. This can give them a broad sense of who is doing what, when and where.
To complete this customer picture, Whole Foods would also benefit from qualitative information that delves into the why and how. As the Field Methods blog explains, “if the quantitative data represents the skeleton of an answer to the research questions, qualitative data gives it flesh.”
If the grocers discover that peanut butter sales are off the charts in Arkansas during the autumn, the obvious question becomes: Why?
Qualitative data can explore narrowly-defined issues in greater depth, explaining the setting in which behavior takes place. The goal is to build a complete picture of the issue being studied.
Whole Foods may decide to interview a few customers in the Arkansas Market, or conduct a focus group session focused on peanut butter. Through systematic gathering, recording and organization of the emergent data, a skilled qualitative researcher can begin to provide context and meaning to the quantitative data.
For example, the interviewer may discover that citizens of Arkansas love making a special treat around Halloween involving chocolate, popcorn, and — you guessed it — peanut butter.
With this information, Whole Foods could offer recipes in their newsletter, or hold a baking competition to further buttress sales. Qualitative data “gives flesh” to the research question and allows stakeholders to take informed action steps based on the complete picture.
You may not end up with pretty bar graphs, but you do get in-depth, contextual information. That’s quite a value.