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Types Of Qualitative Research Methods: Use And Examples

March 21, 2024
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Choosing the right type of research method can highly impact the outcome of your user research. Defining the best way to gather data about your audience’s preferences, behavior, wants, and needs, will ensure you find the most optimal solutions for your unique situation. While the first challenge is to decide whether you’ll use qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods, you can further specify the techniques used. That’s why we want to elaborate on the different types of qualitative research methods and their use. 

By giving you an insight into the most common qualitative research techniques, you’ll easily decide which ones will be of your biggest advantage. Furthermore, taking the time to dive deep into the information you may collect from such testing will help you plan out the right questions you need to ask. Continue reading to explore the best qualitative research techniques, their applications, and potential benefits.

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is one of the three main types of user research and stands out as a foundational approach. This method focuses on gathering non-numerical data that showcases the user's experience with a given product or service. The main objective is to unearth a profound comprehension of the customer's behaviors, needs, and underlying motivations.

It’s important to remember that this type of research thrives on direct observation. Thus, it’s particularly well-suited for smaller study groups that can elaborate on the subject. Since your focus is on understanding user behavior, using the question "Why?" frequently becomes pivotal to uncovering deeper insights. This deliberate approach ensures a more profound exploration of the intricacies of user experiences, ultimately enhancing the qualitative research process.

Furthermore, ensuring the integrity of qualitative research relies on carefully considering its precision and dependability. So whenever you’re planning your next testing process, ensure you have well-crafted, open-ended questions, steering participants toward providing comprehensive explanations. 

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Types of Qualitative Research Methods

As with any user research type, you can choose between several focus points when using qualitative methods. The most commonly used ones are the following:

  • Action research: a collaborative approach where researchers actively engage with the participants to gather more in-depth data. This dynamic process involves a continuous cycle of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting, creating a transformative impact on both you and the participants.
  • Ethnographic research: observational research focused on the participants' daily lives to gain deep insights into their behaviors. It uncovers hidden patterns and social dynamics for a comprehensive understanding of human experiences.
  • Phenomenological research: by focusing on individuals' subjective experiences, you can gain insights into how the audience feels about certain phenomena. It’s a great way to get a deeper understanding of how people make sense of their world.
  • Grounded theory: an empirical research method that develops theories from real-world data. Since it’s based solely on the information gained during the research, it focuses on identifying both the problem and how the users deal with it. 
  • Historical study: analyzing past events to understand why something happened and its effects. By understanding the past better, you can make more informed decisions and predict future outcomes. 

Qualitative Research Techniques

Now that you understand the basics of qualitative research, you should focus on choosing the most suitable methods for gathering the information you need. While you may have noticed that some businesses experience great results from one technique, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the same will work for you. Thus, before you begin the testing process, you should decide on your most favorable method from a vast list of options.

That being said, here are some of the most commonly used techniques for qualitative research:

  • User interviews
  • Card sorting
  • Usability testing
  • A/B testing
  • Focus groups
  • Case studies
  • Observation
  • Surveys

User interviews

The first option you can try is conducting user interviews. Opting for this in-depth technique enables a one-on-one conversation with the selected participant. Moreover, it proves highly efficient in gathering data on the user’s behavior and motivations.

You can also maximize the time dedicated to the interview by preparing suitable questions in advance. This way, you’ll be able to drive the conversation in the direction most beneficial for gathering the needed information. Additionally, it's crucial to prompt participants for clear and detailed answers to ensure the interview stays within the predetermined time frame.

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Card sorting

Card sorting is the second qualitative research technique you can use. Primarily utilized to comprehend users' mental models, this method aids in identifying optimal solutions for enhanced user navigation. During such testing, the participants are asked to organize content or features into categories that make sense to them. By understanding how users naturally group information, you’ll be able to optimize the layouts, ultimately improving the overall usability and accessibility of your product. 

Usability testing

If your main focus is gathering detailed usability insights, you should focus your attention on conducting usability testing. Participants engage in realistic scenarios that include tasks and actions while using your product, providing valuable insights into the product's efficiency. This hands-on approach aids in identifying potential usability issues, allowing for necessary improvements and optimization.

A/B testing

A/B testing is another frequently used qualitative research method. It allows you to test the success of two different product designs to decide which works best with the users. By presenting different variations to users, you can observe and analyze the real-time user interactions and preferences.

Focus groups

Unlike one-on-one user interviews, focus groups are designed to gather detailed insights from a small group of people. However, you can still come up with suitable questions to ask the predetermined group of participants to gather their opinions and feelings surrounding the product. This way, you can capture multiple perspectives on a single topic, gaining a deeper understanding of users’ motivations, needs, and desires. 


The last commonly used qualitative research method you should know of is the renowned survey. While it may sound outdated, this technique can be used to gather comprehensive insight into user preferences, opinions, and experiences. It consists of a set of product-related questions which are sent to a broader test audience. As participants are obligated to return results before the specified deadline, it minimizes the need for extensive observation.

How to Choose the Right Qualitative Research Methods

Even though you may be aware of all the choices you have, you may still find it troublesome to decide which ones to use. To ensure your qualitative research goes as smoothly as possible, you can choose the best research technique based on the following factors:

  • Define research goals and objectives
  • Data collection techniques
  • Compiling questions
  • Qualitative data analysis

Define research goals and objectives

The first thing every business should do before conducting user research is define the research goals and objectives. This process aids in concentrating efforts on gathering essential data and formulating optimal solutions to address knowledge gaps. To achieve this, many practitioners utilize the SMART framework, emphasizing the need for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound information.

Data collection techniques

After you’ve decided on the research goals and objectives, you should decide which of the above-mentioned data-collection techniques will be of your advantage. For instance, if your priority is evaluating the usability of your product, direct your attention towards usability testing. Alternatively, if you’re seeking responses to multiple short-format questions, conducting survey testing is the preferable option.

Compiling questions

Next, you should also be mindful of the questions you’re planning to ask. If you plan on asking only a few questions that demand in-depth elaboration, you should choose user interviews due to the ability to guide the conversation. On the other hand, if you want answers to multiple short-format questions, your better option is conducting survey testing.

Qualitative data analysis

Lastly, you should also determine the way you’ll analyze the gathered data. Remember that gathering the data is only the first step of the process. Once you’ve gathered the information, you have to turn it into understandable insights which can then be analyzed and presented to the team. If you’re looking for the best ways to collect and summarize your data, remember that you can always rely on the effectiveness our User Evaluation platform offers. 


After discovering the different types of qualitative research methods, remember that you should always choose the ones that align best with your research goals and objectives. Even though you can test out different techniques and focus points, you should always be mindful of your desired outcomes. Lastly, regardless of your chosen option, you can always efficiently collect, analyze, and summarize your findings on User Evaluation, to further improve your research process.

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