Qualitative research design comes in many forms. Understanding what qualitative research is and the various methods that fall under its umbrella can help determine which method or design to use. Various techniques can achieve results, depending on the subject of study.

Types of qualitative research to explore social behavior or understand interactions within specific contexts include interviews, focus groups, observations and surveys. These identify concepts and relationships that aren’t easily observed through quantitative methods. Figuring out what to explore through qualitative research is the first step in picking the right study design.

Let’s look at the most common types of qualitative methods.


  1. What Is Qualitative Research Design?

  2. Types Of Qualitative Research Designs

  3. How Are Qualitative Answers Analyzed?

  4. Qualitative Research Design In Business

What Is Qualitative Research Design?


There are several types of qualitative research. The term refers to in-depth, exploratory studies that discover what people think, how they behave and the reasons behind their behavior. The qualitative researcher believes that to best understand human behavior, they need to know the context in which people are acting and making decisions.

Let’s define some basic terms.

  • Qualitative Method

A group of techniques that allow the researcher to gather information from participants to learn about their experiences, behaviors or beliefs. The types of qualitative research methods used in a specific study should be chosen as dictated by the data being gathered. For instance, to study how employers rate the skills of the engineering students they hired, qualitative research would be appropriate.

  • Quantitative Method

A group of techniques that allows the researcher to gather information from participants to measure variables. The data is numerical in nature. For instance, quantitative research can be used to study how many engineering students enroll in an MBA program.

  • Research Design

A plan or outline of how the researcher will proceed with the proposed research project. This defines the sample, the scope of work, the goals and objectives. It may also lay out a hypothesis to be tested. Research design could also combine qualitative and quantitative techniques.

Both qualitative and quantitative research are significant. Depending on the subject and the goals of the study, researchers choose one or the other or a combination of the two. This is all part of the qualitative research design process.

Types Of Qualitative Research Designs


Before we look at some different types of qualitative research, it’s important to note that there’s no one correct approach to qualitative research design. No matter what the type of study, it’s important to carefully consider the design to ensure the method is suitable to the research question. Here are the types of qualitative research methods to choose from:

  • Cluster Sampling

This technique involves selecting participants from specific locations or teams (clusters). A researcher may set out to observe, interview, or create a focus group with participants linked by location, organization or some other commonality. For example, the researcher might select the top five teams that produce an organization’s finest work. The same can be done by looking at locations (stores in a geographic region). The benefit of this design is that it’s efficient in collecting opinions from specific working groups or areas. However, this limits the sample size to only those people who work within the cluster.

  • Random Sampling

This design involves randomly assigning participants into groups based on a set of variables (location, gender, race, occupation). In this design, each participant is assigned an equal chance of being selected into a particular group. For example, if the researcher wants to study how students from different colleges differ from one another in terms of workplace habits and friendships, a random sample could be chosen from the student population at these colleges. The purpose of this design is to create a more even distribution of participants across all groups. The researcher will need to choose which groups to include in the study.

  • Focus Groups

A focus group is a small group that meets to discuss specific issues. Participants are usually recruited randomly, although sometimes they might be recruited because of personal relationships with each other or because they represent part of a certain demographic (age, location). Focus groups are one of the most popular styles of qualitative research because they allow for individual views and opinions to be shared without introducing bias. Researchers gather data through face-to-face conversation or recorded observation.

  • Observation

This technique involves observing the interaction patterns in a particular situation. Researchers collect data by closely watching the behaviors of others. This method can only be used in certain settings, such as in the workplace or homes.

  • Interview

An interview is an open-ended conversation between a researcher and a participant in which the researcher asks predetermined questions. Successful interviews require careful preparation to ensure that participants are able to give accurate answers. This method allows researchers to collect specific information about their research topic, and participants are more likely to be honest when telling their stories. However, there’s no way to control the number of unique answers, and certain participants may feel uncomfortable sharing their personal details with a stranger.

  • Survey

A survey is a questionnaire used to gather information from a pool of people to get a large sample of responses. This study design allows researchers to collect more data than they would with individual interviews and observations. Depending on the nature of the survey, it may also not require participants to disclose sensitive information or details. On the flip side, it’s time-consuming and may not yield the answers researchers were looking for. It’s also difficult to collect and analyze answers from larger groups.


A large study can combine several of these methods. For instance, it can involve a survey to better understand which kind of organic produce consumers are looking for. It may also include questions on the frequency of such purchases—a numerical data point—alongside their views on the legitimacy of the organic tag, which is an open-ended qualitative question.

Knowledge of the types of qualitative research designs will help you achieve the results you desire.

How Are Qualitative Answers Analyzed?


With quantitative research, analysis of results is fairly straightforward. But, the nature of qualitative research design is such that turning the information collected into usable data can be a challenge. To do this, researchers have to code the non-numerical data for comparison and analysis.

The researcher goes through all their notes and recordings and codes them using a predetermined scheme. Codes are created by ‘stripping out’ words or phrases that seem to answer the questions posed. The researcher will need to decide which categories to code for. Sometimes this process can be time-consuming and difficult to do during the first few passes through the data. So, it’s a good idea to start off by coding a small amount of the data and conducting a thematic analysis to get a better understanding of how to proceed.

The data collected must be organized and analyzed to answer the research questions. There are three approaches to analyzing the data: exploratory, confirmatory and descriptive.

  • Explanatory Data Analysis

This approach involves looking for relationships within the data to make sense of it. This design can be useful if the research question is ambiguous or open-ended. Exploratory analysis is very flexible and can be used in a number of settings. But, it generally looks at the relationship between variables while the researcher is working with the data.

  • Confirmatory Data Analysis

This design is used when there’s a hypothesis or theory to be tested. Confirmatory research seeks to test how well past findings apply to new observations by comparing them to statistical tests that quantify relationships between variables. It can also use prior research findings to predict new results.

  • Descriptive Data Analysis

In this design, the researcher will describe patterns that can be observed from the data. The researcher will take raw data and interpret it with an eye for patterns to formulate a theory that can eventually be tested with quantitative data. The qualitative design is ideal for exploring events that can’t be observed (such as people’s thoughts) or when a process is being evaluated.


With careful planning and insightful analysis, qualitative research is a versatile and useful tool in business, public policy and social studies. In the workplace, managers can use it to understand markets and consumers better or to study the health of an organization.

Qualitative Research Design In Business


Businesses conduct qualitative research for many reasons. Harappa’s Thinking Critically course prepares professionals to use such data to understand their work better. Driven by experienced faculty with real-world experience, the course equips employees on a growth trajectory with frameworks and skills to use their reasoning abilities to build better arguments. It’s possible to build more effective teams. Find out how with Harappa.

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