Top 60 Examples of Qualitative Research Topics

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Table of contents

  • 1.1 Align your research topic with your field of interest
  • 1.2 Make sure you have all the right research on the topic
  • 1.3 Follow your university guidelines!
  • 2 List of qualitative research topics examples
  • 3 Conclusion

Qualitative research refers to the intuitive and creative analysis of intangible information you can use for writing a top-class college paper. Due to interacting with the data before and after the collection, having the best qualitative research topics is paramount to writing a research assignment that stands above the rest.

These topics can involve gathering key data from the most relevant sources to your assignment topics and are fundamental to your effort to collect first-hand information. Some of the major fields where qualitative research is performed include:

  • Anthropology
  • Political science
  • Business management
  • Social science

The main goal of qualitative research is to help you understand the topic of your assignment by identifying the most important aspects of your topic and gathering enough information to provide an in-depth analysis of the topic at hand and provide the answers to all the related questions. This type of research aims to identify and understand the general lifestyle, issues, and problems to provide solutions to a global problem. Since doing all the research on your own can turn out to be quite daunting, you can always resort to hiring an  affordable research paper writing service  to get professional assistance.

Tips on how to choose good qualitative research topics

Writing a research paper or a college assignment with success solely depends on your ability to choose suitable qualitative research topics. It’s essential to carefully examine and explore the field with all the challenges before you start writing to identify the key factors and aspects of your assignment. Here are a few tips on how to do that to get good research paper ideas.

Align your research topic with your field of interest

Your assignment topic should be something that interests you deeply so that you can completely get into it and make the most out of your efforts. More importantly, your topic should allow you to develop your personal skills and learn new things.

Make sure you have all the right research on the topic

If you choose a topic that has little to no supporting research available, you’ll end up getting stuck. You must properly research the topic before you start writing. This research will also help you shortlist unrelated topics and narrow down your scope so that you can focus on the information that matches your exact needs.

Follow your university guidelines!

Consulting with your professors and going through the assessment guidelines is paramount to writing a top-class paper. Follow your university guidelines to make sure your efforts get approved by your supervisor.

List of qualitative research topics examples

  • Long-term planning methods for better project management
  • How to deal with issues during a project implementation program
  • The best practices for dealing with tight project deadlines
  • Why time management is essential for goal setting
  • Flexibility in management: How to improve decision-making as a manager
  • Top professional techniques for developing management skills
  • Healthcare in low-income societies: How to achieve affordable medical care
  • Dealing with a loss and the process of recovery
  • How to make eco-friendly facemasks
  • Preventing flu during cold seasons: The most effective preventative methods
  • The importance of developing community-based sanitization programs
  • The best practices for quitting alcohol and cigarettes
  • Helping the young manage their obesity: The most effective obesity management strategies
  • Promoting healthcare during COVID-19: Strategies for expanding the health sector
  • Guide to collecting resources for building a centralized community
  • How academic and social practices can help uplift a society
  • Professional practices for building a one-on-one relationship between teachers and students
  • The science behind consumer motivations and appraisals
  • Reshaping the traditional form of virtual ethnography
  • Are homeschooling programs as efficient as they should be?
  • The importance of developing healthy eating habits
  • The best strategies for getting ahead of the prospective market
  • How to track the dynamics of real estate investments
  • How effective are modern newsgathering technologies?
  • Developing introvert behavior and its key effects
  • Can sharing help an individual overcome addictions?
  • Guide to creating a one-people community
  • The most effective methods for dealing with cyberbullying
  • The best way to bringing social equity to patriarchal societies
  • How quarantine prevents the spread of infectious diseases
  • The aging populations and the trends they follow
  • The latest digital media trends
  • Methods for mitigating communicable diseases
  • How governments work on protocol observance
  • Practices for preventing the spread of the coronavirus in crowded places
  • Alleviating pain during childbirth
  • Maternal healthcare in developing countries
  • Can pop music change erratic youth behavior?
  • The best therapies for recovering from brain surgery
  • How alcohol changes normal behavior
  • Depression management among school-going children
  • Strategies for avoiding a viral disease
  • Ways to influence the eating habits of children
  • How and when to engage in sporting activities
  • How low socioeconomic background impacts self-esteem
  • The importance of parenting for shaping children’s morals
  • The impact of poor market completion on supply and demand
  • Do children under four years need preschool education?
  • Single-gender schools vs. mixed schools
  • How the world would benefit from the same education system
  • How virtual reality helps reshape the world
  • The hottest destinations for traveling at the moment
  • How fast does the ozone layer deplete?
  • Is it possible to predict natural disasters before they occur?
  • The effects of digital marketing on modern businesses
  • Physical learning vs. online learning
  • How related are Windows and Apple products?
  • Study cases of bullying in schools
  • The effect of stress on human behavior
  • Patient behavior and the influence of social processes

If you’re looking for the best way to choose some of the most suitable qualitative research paper topics for your college assignment, these 60 topics should help you get ahead of your task and write an engaging paper. All topics above are for your personal education and motivation. If you still need help with your assignment, our professional paper writing services are available 24/7.

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131 Interesting Qualitative Research Topics For High Scoring Thesis

qualitative research topics

Qualitative research topics are undoubtedly not easy. While statistics enthralls some students, others don’t like the subject. That’s because qualitative assignments entail cognitive analysis, which complicates them. But apart from the hardships of completing the projects, selecting topics for qualitative research papers is also a challenge.

This article presents a list of 130-plus qualitative research topic ideas to help learners that struggle to get titles for their papers. It is helpful because many learners have difficulties picking titles that will make their essays impressive to educators. But before presenting the topics, this article defines qualitative research.

What Is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is an investigative and innovative abstract data analysis. When writing a qualitative research paper, a learner analyzes intangible data. Qualitative researchers code the data after or during collection. Therefore, having top-notch research topics is necessary for a first-class essay.

Knowing how to write a qualitative research paper is vital because it helps the student deliver a copy that provides a clear picture of an event or situation. A researcher can achieve this via practical experience, reliable reporting, and conversations. Gathering raw data is the initial step in qualitative research. A researcher can gather raw data by conducting reviews, observations, and surveys. Also, researchers can use creative methods to collect data.

Best Examples Of Qualitative Research Topics

Qualitative research covers many things. Here are examples of topics that learners can explore in their qualitative study.

  • What causes stigma around some health challenges?
  • Stigma facing the people living with disabilities- What is the cause?
  • Can Pro Bono legal assistance improve the criminal justice system?
  • How the less privileged can benefit from Pro Bono services
  • The educational challenges facing rural children- Are there ways to help them?
  • Child labor causes- How to mitigate the practice
  • Substance and drugs- What are young people abusing more?
  • How alcohol affects college students
  • Can food insecurity interfere with children’s performance in school?
  • Food banks intricacies- Understanding the challenge in low-income areas
  • Free education- Does it have socioeconomic benefits?
  • Culture and female harm- What’s the connection?
  • The impact of social media on physical and social engagement among teens in urban areas
  • Using medication to treat depression- What are the health benefits?
  • Investigating peer educators’ efficiency in creating awareness of health and social issues
  • Gender-based violence- What causes it in rural areas, and how does it affect victims?
  • Sexual reproductive health challenges of child brides- Are there ways to control it?
  • Investigating the causes of school dropout among teenagers
  • How to address school dropout among young adults
  • Investigating the deteriorating academic pursuit in Third-World countries
  • Social activities- Do they have benefits for depressed people?
  • Investigating cerebral palsy and the stigma that people associate with it.
  • Living with disabilities- Are there social implications?
  • The impact of ableism on disabled people
  • Exploring the promotion and benefits of feminist values
  • Why should society promote free education in all learning environments?
  • What causes food insecurities among low-income earners?
  • Food and housing insecurity- What are the root causes?
  • What are the effects of displacement- Investigating the homeless people’s mental health

These are good examples of qualitative research topics. However, a student that picks a title in this category should research it extensively to impress the educator with their work.

Qualitative Nursing Research Topics

Professors ask students to write about qualitative topics when pursuing nursing studies. Here are issues to consider in this category.

  • How does the nurse-patient relationship affect health outcomes?
  • How can nurses deal with complex patients?
  • How can nurses provide culturally competent care?
  • How do personal beliefs affect nursing practice?
  • What is the impact of spirituality on nursing care?
  • How does the nurse’s role change when working with terminally ill patients?
  • What challenges do nurses face when providing end-of-life care?
  • How can nurses best support families whose members have serious illnesses?
  • What are the unique challenges of caring for elderly patients?
  • How does the nurse’s role change when working in a hospice setting?
  • Health outreach programs- What are the most effective ways to execute them?
  • Effective methods of curbing drug abuse
  • Effective ways to help rape survivors
  • How can nurses administer care to female genital mutilation victims?
  • How to care for special needs individuals
  • Anxiety and depression symptoms
  • Methods of administering care to Dyslexia patients
  • How to help individuals dealing with mental disorders
  • Signs of Alzheimer’s disease in older people
  • How to provide primary patient care

These are good qualitative research topics for students pursuing nursing studies. Nevertheless, learners must research any of these titles before writing their papers.

Qualitative Research Topics In Education

Most topics spring up from the education niche despite fitting other specifications. Here are examples of qualitative research topics that include the education niche.

  • Are guidance and counseling essential in schools?
  • How computer literacy affects education
  • Why governments in developing schools should encourage adult education
  • Autistic children’s education- Which learning style suits them?
  • Is mental health education relevant in the modern school curriculum?
  • Exploring the learning conditions for kids in third world countries
  • Child education and food insecurity- What is the connection?
  • The impact of virtual learning on high school students
  • How does alcoholism affect a student and their education?
  • Homeschooling- What are its advantages and disadvantages?
  • How do teachers’ beliefs about intelligence affect their teaching?
  • What is the teacher’s role in developing a student’s self-concept?
  • Does race or ethnicity play a role in how teachers treat their students?
  • What are the teachers’ experiences with teaching students with special needs?
  • What methods do effective teachers use to motivate their students?
  • What are the most effective ways to teach reading and writing?
  • How does technology use affect how teachers teach, and students learn?
  • What are the challenges faced by teachers in rural areas?
  • What are the challenges faced by teachers in urban areas?
  • How do charter schools differ from traditional public schools?

Many topics and issues in the education system allow learners to find subjects to investigate and cover in their papers quickly. And this is not an exhaustive qualitative research topic list in this field. Nevertheless, it covers the most exciting ideas to explore.

Qualitative Research Topics In Public Health

Educators ask students to write academic papers while studying the public health sector. And this provides insights into crucial and relevant aspects of this sector. Here are qualitative research topics examples in this category.

  • How does the public health sector manage epidemics?
  • The role of public health in disaster management
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of public health campaigns
  • An analysis of the factors that hinder effective public health delivery
  • Access to healthcare: A study of rural and urban populations
  • Health needs assessment of refugees
  • Mental health support within the public health sector
  • The role of technology in public health
  • Understanding and addressing health disparities
  • Sexual and reproductive health rights in the public health discourse
  • How immunization benefits people in rural areas
  • What causes water-borne diseases, and how can society mitigate them?
  • Symptoms of high blood pressure among young people
  • How antenatal care helps pregnant women
  • How to boost breast cancer awareness

These are excellent qualitative research paper topics in the public health sector. Nevertheless, learners need sufficient time and resources to investigate their preferred titles in this category to write winning papers.

Qualitative Research Topics In Project Management

Project management writing focuses on ways to achieve results and goals while basing the achievement on the process. This subject covers planning, structuring, proffering, and controlling ways to execute plans to accomplish desired goals. Here are research topics for qualitative research in project management.

  • How effective communication strategies can impact the outcome of a project
  • How different leadership styles affect team productivity during a project
  • The role of conflict management in ensuring successful project outcomes
  • Gender differences in the perception and understanding of project risk
  • The impact of organizational culture on a project’s likelihood of success
  • How different project management methodologies affect its outcome
  • The effect of stakeholder involvement on project success
  • How to manage virtual teams effectively to ensure successful project outcomes
  • What motivates project managers to achieve successful results?
  • How can project managers create a positive work environment that leads to successful outcomes?
  • What challenges do project managers face when trying to achieve successful outcomes?
  • How can project management be used to achieve social change?
  • What are the ethical implications of project management?
  • What are the global impacts of project management?
  • Ways to achieve sustainable development through project management

These are topics to explore in project management. Nevertheless, learners need adequate time to investigate their chosen titles and write winning essays.

Qualitative Research Topics In Political Science

Qualitative research can also cover political science. Investigating this field enables people to understand it better and can be broad. Here are sample titles to consider in for your scientific thesis .

  • How do social media affect the way people engage with politics?
  • What motivates people to vote?
  • How does voting behavior change over time?
  • What are the consequences of gerrymandering?
  • How does campaign finance influence elections?
  • Interest groups- What is their role in politics?
  • How do the media cover politics?
  • What are the effects of political scandals?
  • How does public opinion influence policymakers?
  • How feminism enhanced the American politics
  • The adverse effects of misrepresentation
  • The American democracy- A look into its dimensions
  • Colorism, racism, and classism- How the American ideologies differ
  • What causes an election crisis?
  • Two-party system- What challenges does it face in America?
  • Black women’s inclusion in the American politics
  • Should America have a multi-party system?
  • Why mass media matters in politics’ scrutiny and promotion

While political science is a broad field, these narrow topics help learners handle their research effectively. Pick any of these ideas to write a winning essay.

Topics For Ethnography Qualitative Research

Ethnographic research entails studying and paying attention to society and describing it. Here are topics to consider for a research paper in this field.

  • Studying a subculture: Reasons people join and stay in gangs
  • How does social media use vary by culture?
  • An ethnographic study of a homeless shelter or soup kitchen
  • Understanding the lives of sex workers through ethnography
  • The impact of religion on family life
  • How does parenting vary between cultures?
  • How do children learn and socialize in different cultures?
  • What is the effect of migration on family life?
  • What are the experiences of refugees?- An explorative case study
  • What is the impact of poverty on family life?
  • How do people in different cultures understand and experience mental illness?
  • What is the role of the family in other cultures?
  • What are the end-of-life experiences and beliefs around death in different cultures?

This article has presented easy qualitative research topics. However, some need time and resources to investigate and write quality papers. Therefore, pick your paper title carefully to write an essay that will earn you an excellent grade.

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Qualitative Research Topics & Ideas For Students

The Best Qualitative Research Topics For Students

Do you have difficulty finding a qualitative research title for your project? If you are, you need not worry because you are not alone. However, there are many unique qualitative titles you can explore for your research. You just need a few qualitative research title examples to get you started. Qualitative research is focused on data obtained through a researcher’s first-hand observations, natural setting recording, artifacts, case studies, documents, questionnaires, and interviews. The findings in qualitative research are usually non-numerical. Also, it is common in humanities and social sciences. This post provides over 100 qualitative research topics you can consider.

  • The Best Qualitative Research Topics That Impress the Teacher

Exceptional Qualitative Research Topics In Social Science

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An excellent research topic will help you earn a good grade. Consider any example of a qualitative research title from the following options:

  • The impacts of social media on physical social engagement in society
  • The benefits of treating mental disorders with medication
  • The effects of Gender-Based Violence on women’s social lives in rural areas
  • The decline of academic pursuit in third-world countries
  • Sexual workers: the stigma they experience
  • How has the promotion of feminist values influenced workplaces?
  • Free education: its impact in third-world countries
  • What is the correlation between education and success?
  • Ableism: its effects on disabled people in society
  • Food insecurity in third-world nations
The topic of your research paper can influence how easily you can conduct your study and draw conclusions.

Here are fantastic examples of qualitative research titles:

  • Female harm: how it is influenced by culture
  • The socioeconomic impacts of free education
  • The link between food insecurity and poor performance in schools
  • Alcoholism among college students: a critical study
  • How to mitigate child labor in our society
  • The root causes of child labor in Latin America
  • The stigma of living with transmissive medical conditions
  • The root cause of the stigma of people living with disabilities
  • How to identify depression in small children
  • Signs of autism in kids below two years old

Choosing a qualitative research topic is not a task you should take lightly because it can influence your performance. Here are some noteworthy qualitative research titles examples:

  • Basic patient care policies in developing nations
  • The impacts of alcoholism on education
  • Adult learning: what does it entail?
  • Homeschooling: Is it the latest trend after the pandemic?
  • Does computer literacy influence the quality of education kids enjoy?
  • How to effectively teach students with learning disabilities
  • The relationship between poor education systems and crime rates in third-world countries
  • Student bullying: the psychological impacts
  • Should high school students go through university preparedness programs?
  • research writing in high schools: its significance

Are you looking for qualitative research topic examples to start your study? Below are some creative examples to consider:

  • Remote tests: are they as effective as in-class tests?
  • The value of social activities in academic institutions
  • Why should healthcare be free in all countries?
  • The implications of racist laws on society
  • The reception of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments
  • What is the difference between foreign policies in first-world and third-world nations?
  • Racism and Colorism: what is the difference?
  • Dissecting the causes of low voter turnouts in the 21 st century
  • The challenges of social media on kid’s brain development
  • The inclusion of black women in American politics and its impacts

When competing with several brilliant minds, a good research topic can do you greatly. The following qualitative research examples titles are a great place to start:

  • Should school uniforms be discarded for high schoolers?
  • The need for equal representation in global politics
  • The implications of police brutality on politics
  • The role of parental care in foster kids
  • The distinction between Islamic values and Christian values
  • The correlation between political instability and migration
  • Sex trafficking and violence against women: what is the link?
  • How can global governments eradicate homelessness?
  • Fraternities and sororities: are they still relevant?
  • The role of literature in promoting societal changes

Qualitative research is popular in the education field and other social sciences. Choose a qualitative research title example on the subject of education from the following list:

  • Effectively introducing foreign languages in the high school curriculum
  • How can teachers help students with disabilities improve their learning?
  • The link between social activities and comprehension among students
  • Research writing in high schools: is it necessary?
  • How has virtual learning influenced teacher-student relationships?
  • The implications of allowing smartphones in classes
  • Should all schools introduce sign language lessons in their curriculum?
  • Student loans: their impacts on black students
  • The impacts of race on college acceptance rates
  • Poverty and education: what is the link?
  • Ethnic and socioeconomic causes of poor school attendance in developing worlds
  • Various teaching methods and their efficiency
  • Efficient teaching methods for children below two years
  • Why do students perform better in humanities than in sciences?
  • The difference between college acceptance and completion in most nations
  • Remote learning in developing countries
  • What are the best ways of approaching bullying in schools?
  • How do teachers promote inequality among students?
  • Does social class influence academic performance negatively or positively?
  • How do teachers shape their students’ personalities?

Coming up with a qualitative research title can be hard because of the numerous subject areas and the issue of uniqueness. Therefore, we have prepared the following qualitative title examples for you:

  • How to promote oral learning in classrooms
  • Political instability in developing countries: its economic impacts
  • The impacts of weather on social activities
  • Boredom and poor-decision making: the connection
  • Exploring the connection between attachment types and love languages
  • Socioeconomic impacts of instability on a country
  • How does social media impact the perception of reality
  • Reality TV shows: are they a true reflection of reality?
  • How culture applies to different age groups
  • Is social media influencing the loss of cultural values?

You can base your research topic on a specific region or nation, like the Philippines. A sample qualitative research title can get you started. You can pick a sample qualitative research title from the ideas below:

  • Why are so many Philippines residents migrating to America?
  • The impact of politics on migration in the Philippines
  • How has violence led to food insecurity in rural areas in the Philippines?
  • The Philippine education system: an overview
  • How cultural norms influence social activities in the Philippines
  • Gender roles in the Philippines society
  • How popular Filipino cultures have served as agents of social change in the nation
  • The link between male dominance and GBV in the Philippines
  • Barriers to clean hygiene in health centers in the Philippines
  • The spread of COVID in rural areas in the Philippines

Most top performers in research subjects attribute their success to choosing the best title for qualitative research. Here are some qualitative research topics about humanities and social science to promote good performance:

  • The impact of poor market rivalry on supply and demand
  • The role of parents in shaping kids’ morals
  • Is social media the root cause of poor societal morals?
  • How does alcohol impact a person’s normal behavior?
  • How often should adults engage in sporting activities?
  • Children’s eating habits and their influences
  • Low socioeconomic backgrounds and their impacts on self-esteem
  • The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world’s views on viral diseases
  • How can school-going kids manage depression
  • Causes of mental challenges among school-going kids

Finding a good topic for qualitative research is a critical task that requires a lot of thought and research. However, we have simplified the process with the following qualitative topic ideas:

  • Pop music and erratic youth behavior: is there a link?
  • How do public figures influence cultures?
  • Ideas for improving healthcare in developing nations
  • Possible solutions for alleviating the food crisis in developing nations
  • New ways of mitigating viral diseases
  • Social media trends among the elderly
  • Quarantine as a mitigation approach for infectious diseases
  • Promoting social justice in patriarchal societies
  • Worrying trends among the young population
  • Emerging marketing trends in 2023

Qualitative research for college and high school students helps improve reading, writing, and intellectual skills. Here are some qualitative research examples and topic ideas for students :

  • How to detect and prevent natural disasters beforehand
  • Can the whole world have the same education system?
  • What is the most effective therapy for patients recuperating from brain surgery?
  • Possible solutions for promoting ethical practices in telehealth
  • Can addicts overcome addiction without therapy?
  • The latest technology trends and their impacts?
  • How can global governments promote mental health awareness?
  • Have smartphones caused reduced attention spans among users?
  • Sexual violence in rural areas
  • The introduction of Islam in African nations

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Qualitative research is an investigative analysis of intangible or inexact data, mostly non-numerical. The title of qualitative research you choose will guide your entire research process and influence its conclusions. Do you need a paper or an example of a research title qualitative topic? Our expert team is ready to write it for you.

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189+ Most Exciting Qualitative Research Topics For Students

Researchers conduct qualitative studies to gain a holistic understanding of the topic under investigation. Analyzing qualitative? Looking for the best qualitative research topics? 

If yes, you are here at the right place. We are discussing here all the topics in every field. Basically, qualitative research is the most valuable approach within the fields of social sciences, humanities, and various other fields. 

Qualitative research uses a wide array of methods such as interviews, focus groups, participant observation, content analysis, and case studies. Even among others, to gather and analyze non-numerical data. 

In this blog, we will explore the diverse, most interesting qualitative research topics, highlighting their importance. Whether you are a student, a scholar, or a practitioner in your field, these best qualitative research ideas are most helpful for you.

Must Read: 21 Ways To Get Good Grades In College

What Is Qualitative Research

Table of Contents

Qualitative research is a systematic and exploratory approach to research that focuses on understanding and interpreting the complexities of human experiences, behaviors, and phenomena. It aims to provide in-depth insights into the “how” and “why” of various issues by examining them in their natural settings and contexts. Unlike quantitative research, which primarily deals with numerical data and statistical analysis, qualitative research relies on non-numerical data such as interviews, observations, textual analysis, and participant narratives to uncover deeper meanings and patterns.

Key Characteristics Of Qualitative Research

These are the main features of Qualitative research. It is such as;

1. Subjective Understanding

Qualitative research is concerned with subjective aspects of human experiences, such as beliefs, emotions, values, and perceptions. It seeks to understand the world from the perspectives of the individuals being studied.

2. Contextual Exploration

Researchers immerse themselves in the context or environment in which the phenomenon of interest occurs. This contextual understanding is crucial for interpreting the findings accurately.

3. Flexibility

Qualitative research methods are flexible and adaptive, allowing researchers to adjust their approaches as they gain insights during the research process.

4. Small Sample Sizes

Qualitative studies often involve smaller samples compared to quantitative research, but they prioritize depth over breadth, aiming to gain a profound understanding of a particular group or issue.

5. Data Collection Techniques

Qualitative data is gathered through various techniques, including interviews, focus groups, participant observations, document analysis, and open-ended surveys. Researchers often use a combination of these methods to triangulate their findings.

6. Inductive Approach

Qualitative research typically employs an inductive approach, meaning that researchers develop theories or concepts based on the data they collect, rather than testing pre-existing hypotheses.

7. Rich and Detailed Data

The data collected in qualitative research is rich and descriptive, often involving transcripts of interviews, field notes, or coded textual data. Researchers analyze this data to identify themes, patterns, and relationships.

8 Great Tips On How To Choose Good Qualitative Research Topics

Here are some tips to help you select strong qualitative research topics:

How To Choose Good Qualitative Research Topics

1. Personal Interest and Passion: Start by considering what genuinely interests and excites you. Your enthusiasm for the topic will sustain your motivation throughout the research process.

2. Relevance: Ensure that your chosen topic is relevant to your field of study or the discipline you are working within. It should contribute to existing knowledge or address a meaningful research gap.

3. Research Gap Identification: Review relevant literature and research to identify gaps or areas where there is limited qualitative research. Look for unanswered questions or underexplored aspects of a particular subject.

4. Feasibility: Assess whether the topic is feasible within the scope of your research project. Consider factors like available time, resources, and access to potential participants or data sources.

5. Clarity and Specificity: Your research topic should be clear, specific, and well-defined. Avoid overly broad topics that are difficult to explore in depth. Narrow it down to a manageable focus.

6. Significance: Ask yourself why your research topic matters. Consider the potential implications and applications of your findings. How might your research contribute to understanding, policy, or practice?

7. Originality: Aim for a unique angle or perspective on the topic. While you can build on existing research, strive to offer a fresh viewpoint or new insights.

8. Researchable : Ensure that your topic is researchable using qualitative methods. It should allow you to collect relevant data and answer research questions effectively.

137+ Most Exciting Qualitative Research Topics For All Students 

These are The following best qualitative research topics are given below for the students. 

Qualitative Research Topics In Health and Medicine

  • Experiences of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Perceptions of alternative medicine among cancer patients.
  • Coping mechanisms of individuals with chronic illnesses.
  • The impact of telemedicine on patient-doctor relationships.
  • Barriers to mental health treatment-seeking among minority populations.
  • Qualitative analysis of patient experiences with organ transplantation.
  • Decision-making processes of families regarding end-of-life care.

Qualitative Research Topics In Education

  • The role of parental involvement in student academic achievement.
  • Teacher perceptions of remote learning during a pandemic.
  • Peer influence on academic motivation and performance.
  • Exploring the experiences of homeschooling families.
  • The impact of technology on the classroom environment.
  • Factors influencing student dropout rates in higher education.

Qualitative Research Topics In Psychology and Mental Health

  • Understanding the stigma associated with seeking therapy.
  • Experiences of individuals living with anxiety disorders.
  • Perceptions of body image among adolescents.
  • Coping strategies of survivors of traumatic events.
  • The impact of social support on mental health recovery.
  • Narratives of individuals with eating disorders.

Qualitative Research Topics In Sociology and Culture

  • Experiences of immigrants in adapting to a new culture.
  • The role of social media in shaping cultural identities.
  • Perceptions of police-community relations in marginalized communities.
  • Gender dynamics in the workplace and career progression.
  • Qualitative analysis of online dating experiences.
  • Narratives of LGBTQ+ individuals coming out to their families.

Qualitative Research Topics In Technology and Society

  • User experiences with augmented reality applications.
  • Perceptions of online privacy and data security.
  • The impact of social media on political activism.
  • Ethical considerations in artificial intelligence development.
  • Qualitative analysis of online gaming communities.
  • Experiences of individuals participating in virtual reality environments.

Qualitative Research Topics In Environmental Studies

  • Public perceptions of climate change and environmental policies.
  • Experiences of individuals involved in sustainable living practices.
  • Qualitative analysis of environmental activism movements.
  • Community responses to natural disasters and climate change.
  • Perspectives on wildlife conservation efforts.

Qualitative Research Topics In Business and Economics

  • Qualitative analysis of consumer behavior and brand loyalty.
  • Entrepreneurial experiences of women in male-dominated industries.
  • Factors influencing small business success or failure.
  • Corporate social responsibility and its impact on consumer trust.
  • Experiences of employees in remote work settings.

Qualitative Research Topics In Politics and Governance

  • Perceptions of voter suppression and electoral integrity.
  • Experiences of political activists in grassroots movements.
  • The role of social media in shaping political discourse.
  • Narratives of individuals involved in civil rights movements.
  • Qualitative analysis of government responses to crises.

Qualitative Research Topics In Family and Relationships

  • Experiences of couples in long-distance relationships.
  • Parenting styles and their impact on child development.
  • Sibling dynamics and their influence on individual development.
  • Narratives of individuals in arranged marriages.
  • Experiences of single parents in raising their children.

Qualitative Research Topics In Art and Culture

  • Qualitative analysis of the impact of art therapy on mental health.
  • Experiences of artists in exploring social and political themes.
  • Perceptions of cultural appropriation in the arts.
  • Narratives of individuals involved in the hip-hop culture.
  • The role of art in preserving cultural heritage.

Qualitative Research Topics In Crime and Justice

  • Experiences of formerly incarcerated individuals reentering society.
  • Perceptions of racial profiling and police violence.
  • Qualitative analysis of restorative justice programs.
  • Narratives of victims of cyberbullying.
  • Perspectives on juvenile justice reform.

Qualitative Research Topics In Sports and Recreation

  • Experiences of athletes in overcoming career-threatening injuries.
  • The role of sports in building resilience among youth.
  • Perceptions of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports.
  • Qualitative analysis of sports fandom and its impact on identity.
  • Narratives of individuals involved in adaptive sports.

Qualitative Research Topics In History and Heritage

  • Experiences of descendants of historical events or figures.
  • Perceptions of cultural preservation and heritage conservation.
  • Narratives of individuals connected to indigenous cultures.
  • The impact of oral history on preserving traditions.
  • Qualitative analysis of historical reenactment communities.

Qualitative Research Topics In Religion and Spirituality

  • Experiences of individuals who have undergone religious conversion.
  • Perceptions of spirituality and well-being.
  • The role of religion in shaping moral values and ethics.
  • Narratives of individuals who have left religious communities.
  • Qualitative analysis of interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

Qualitative Research Topics In Travel and Tourism

  • Experiences of solo travelers in foreign countries.
  • Perceptions of sustainable tourism practices.
  • Qualitative analysis of cultural immersion through travel.
  • Narratives of individuals on pilgrimages or spiritual journeys.
  • Experiences of individuals living in tourist destinations.

Qualitative Research Topics In Human Rights and Social Justice

  • Narratives of human rights activists in advocating for change.
  • Experiences of refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Perceptions of income inequality and wealth distribution.
  • Qualitative analysis of anti-discrimination campaigns.
  • Perspectives on global efforts to combat human trafficking.

Qualitative Research Topics In Aging and Gerontology

  • Experiences of individuals in assisted living facilities.
  • Perceptions of aging and quality of life in older adults.
  • Narratives of caregivers for elderly family members.
  • The impact of intergenerational relationships on well-being.
  • Qualitative analysis of end-of-life decisions and hospice care.

Qualitative Research Topics In Language and Communication

  • Experiences of individuals learning a second language.
  • Perceptions of non-verbal communication in cross-cultural interactions.
  • Narratives of people who communicate primarily through sign language.
  • The role of language in shaping identity and belonging.
  • Qualitative analysis of online communication in virtual communities.

Qualitative Research Topics In Media and Entertainment

  • Experiences of content creators in the digital media industry.
  • Perceptions of representation in the film and television industry.
  • The impact of music on emotional well-being and identity.
  • Narratives of individuals involved in fan communities.
  • Qualitative analysis of the effects of binge-watching on mental health.

Qualitative Research Topics In Ethics and Morality

  • Experiences of individuals faced with ethical dilemmas.
  • Perceptions of moral relativism and cultural differences.
  • Narratives of whistleblowers in exposing corporate misconduct.
  • The role of empathy in ethical decision-making.
  • Qualitative analysis of the ethics of artificial intelligence.

Qualitative Research Topics In Technology and Education

  • Experiences of teachers integrating technology in the classroom.
  • Perceptions of online learning and its effectiveness.
  • The impact of educational apps on student engagement.
  • Narratives of students with disabilities using assistive technology.
  • Qualitative analysis of the digital divide in education.

Qualitative Research Topics In Gender and Sexuality

  • Experiences of transgender individuals in transitioning.
  • Perceptions of gender roles and expectations.
  • Narratives of individuals in same-sex relationships.
  • The impact of intersectionality on experiences of gender and sexuality.
  • Qualitative analysis of gender-based violence and advocacy.

Qualitative Research Topics In Migration and Diaspora

  • Experiences of immigrants in maintaining cultural ties to their home country.
  • Perceptions of identity among second-generation immigrants.
  • Narratives of refugees resettling in new countries.
  • The role of diaspora communities in supporting homeland causes.
  • Qualitative analysis of immigration policies and their impact on families.

Qualitative Research Topics In Food and Nutrition

  • Experiences of individuals with specific dietary restrictions.
  • Perceptions of food sustainability and ethical consumption.
  • Narratives of people with eating disorders seeking recovery.
  • The role of food in cultural identity and traditions.
  • Qualitative analysis of food insecurity and hunger relief efforts.

Qualitative Research Topics In Urban Studies and Community Development

  • Experiences of residents in gentrifying neighborhoods.
  • Perceptions of community engagement and empowerment.
  • Narratives of individuals involved in urban farming initiatives.
  • The impact of housing policies on homelessness.
  • Qualitative analysis of neighborhood safety and crime prevention.

Qualitative Research Topics In Science and Technology Ethics

  • Experiences of scientists in navigating ethical dilemmas.
  • Perceptions of scientific responsibility in climate change research.
  • Narratives of whistleblowers in scientific misconduct cases.
  • The role of ethics in emerging technology development.
  • Qualitative analysis of the ethics of genetic engineering.

Qualitative Research Topics In Social Media and Online Communities

  • Experiences of individuals in online support groups.
  • Perceptions of social media’s influence on self-esteem.
  • Narratives of social media influencers and their impact.
  • The role of online communities in social and political movements.
  • Qualitative analysis of cyberbullying and online harassment.

Qualitative Research Topics in Daily Life

  • The Impact of Social Media on Personal Relationships and Well-being.
  • Exploring the Experience of Remote Work during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • Perceptions of Sustainable Living Practices Among Urban Dwellers.
  • Qualitative Analysis of Food Choices and Eating Habits in a Fast-paced Society.
  • Understanding the Motivations and Barriers to Physical Activity Among Adults.

Qualitative Research Topics for Students

  • Student Perceptions of Online Learning: Challenges and Opportunities.
  • Peer Pressure and Decision-making Among Adolescents.
  • Exploring the Transition from High School to College: Student Experiences.
  • The Role of Extracurricular Activities in Student Development.
  • Motivations and Challenges of Student Entrepreneurs in Starting Their Businesses.

Qualitative Research Topics for STEM Students

  • Qualitative Analysis of Ethical Dilemmas in Scientific Research.
  • Women in STEM: Barriers, Challenges, and Strategies for Success.
  • Understanding the Decision-making Process in Biomedical Research.
  • Qualitative Exploration of Team Dynamics in Engineering Projects.
  • Perceptions of Artificial Intelligence and Automation Among STEM Professionals.

Qualitative Research Titles Examples

  • “Voices of Resilience: Narratives of Cancer Survivors.”
  • “Exploring Cultural Identity Among Immigrant Communities.”
  • “From Addiction to Recovery: Life Stories of Former Substance Abusers.”
  • “Inside the Classroom: Student and Teacher Perspectives on Inclusive Education.”
  • “Navigating Caregiving: Experiences of Family Members Caring for Alzheimer’s Patients.”

Qualitative Research Topics in Education

  • Teacher Beliefs and Practices in Culturally Responsive Pedagogy.
  • Qualitative Study of Bullying Incidents in Elementary Schools.
  • Homeschooling: Parent and Student Perspectives on Alternative Education.
  • Evaluating the Impact of Technology Integration in Classroom Learning.
  • Parental Involvement in Early Childhood Education: A Qualitative Analysis.

Qualitative Research Topics for Nursing Students

  • Patient Experiences of Chronic Illness Management.
  • The Role of Empathy in Nursing Practice: A Qualitative Study.
  • Qualitative Exploration of End-of-Life Care Decision-making.
  • Perceptions of Nurse-Patient Communication in Intensive Care Units.
  • Nursing Burnout: Causes, Consequences, and Coping Strategies.

Qualitative Research Topics for Human Studies

  • Understanding the Impact of Climate Change on Vulnerable Communities.
  • The Role of Social Support in Mental Health Recovery.
  • Experiences of First-time Homebuyers in the Real Estate Market.
  • Exploring the Motivations and Challenges of Volunteering.
  • Narratives of Trauma Survivors: Coping and Resilience.

Qualitative Research Topics 2023

  • Emerging Trends in Remote Work: Employee Perspectives.
  • The Influence of Social Media on Political Engagement in the Post-COVID-19 Era.
  • Qualitative Study of Mental Health Stigma Reduction Campaigns.
  • Sustainability Practices in Business: Stakeholder Perceptions and Implementation.
  • Narratives of Long COVID: The Lived Experience of Survivors.

10 Major Differences Between Qualitative And Quantitative Research 

Here are the 10 best differences between qualitative and quantitative research:

Conclusion – Qualitative Research Topics 

Consequently, the selection of qualitative research topics is a critical phase in the journey of any researcher or student pursuing qualitative inquiry. The process of choosing the right topic involves a delicate balance of personal passion, research significance, feasibility, and ethical considerations. 

As we’ve discussed, it’s essential to choose a topic that not only resonates with your interests but also contributes to the broader academic or practical discourse. Qualitative research offers a unique lens through which to examine the complexities of human experiences, behaviors, and phenomena. 

It provides the opportunity to delve deep into the “how” and “why” of various subjects, offering nuanced insights that quantitative methods may not capture. Whether you are investigating personal narratives, cultural dynamics, educational practices, or social phenomena, qualitative research allows you to uncover the rich tapestry of human existence.

What is a good topic for qualitative research?

Self-esteem among people from low socioeconomic backgrounds. The advantages of online learning over physical learning.

What are the five topics of qualitative research?

These are biography, ethnography, phenomenology, grounded theory, and case study.

What is the easiest type of qualitative research?

Content analysis is possibly the most common and straightforward QDA method. At the simplest level, content analysis.

What are the 4 R’s of qualitative research?

Qualitative social research, whether conducted as ethnography, participant observation, or in situ interviewing, fares poorly when examined by the criteria of representativeness, reactivity, reliability, and replicability.

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202 Best Choice Qualitative Research Topics for Students 2023

qualitative research topics

As a college student, you’ll always encounter a series of essays to write while in school. These essays will always be of different types, and they’ll include research essays. There are two important things to know when embarking on research paper writing. First, you have to understand if your research work is to be quantitative or qualitative.

For qualitative research writing, you’ll be required to go through a fundamental research process which entails gathering raw and primary information through field research which can either be done through interviews, surveys, observations, or through any other way of harnessing raw data.

There are so many research topics to look into when preparing for your essay writing. Among these are some of the qualitative research topics ideas to look out for.

Examples of Qualitative Research Topics

There is a wide variety of what qualitative research can cover. Below you’ll find a qualitative research topics list with some initial ideas that can get you started.

  • How Social media is affecting the physical social engagement of Teenagers in Urban areas
  • Health benefits of treating depression with medication and some of them realize results
  • The efficiency of Peer educators in creating social awareness on social and health issues
  • Understanding the effects of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in rural areas and how this negatively impacts women in such areas
  • Challenges of the sexual reproductive health of child brides and how this can be controlled
  • Social investigation into the cause of dropping out of the school of teenagers and young adults and some of the ways through which it can be addressed
  • Academic pursuit: is it deteriorating in Third World countries
  • Benefits of engaging in social activities to depressed people and those struggling with certain mental health challenges
  • Understanding the learning challenges of dyslexic children and progressive ways to administer help to them
  • A questioning of the stigma associated with cerebral palsy
  • The social implications of living with disabilities
  • How ableism affects disabled people in our society
  • Understanding the benefits and promotion of feminist values in rural areas
  • The need to promote free education across every learning environment
  • Investigating the root causes of food insecurities in low-income neighborhoods
  • Understanding the challenges of housing insecurity and food insecurity
  • Displacement and its accompanying effects: a look into the mental health of homeless people
  • How culture contributes to female harm in the society
  • Socioeconomic benefits of free education in our society
  • Understanding the intricacies of food banks in low-income neighborhoods
  • How food insecurity causes children to perform poorly in school
  • The effects of alcohol on college students
  • Drugs & Substance: which do young adults abuse more
  • The causes of child labor and how to mitigate against such practices
  • Educational challenges on children in rural areas and ways to proffer help
  • Benefits of Pro Bono services to the less privileged
  • How Pro Bono legal aids improve the justice system
  • Understanding the stigma of living with disabilities
  • Causes of the stigma that surrounds certain health challenges

Qualitative Nursing Research Topics

Even while your area of specialization in college is in medicine or health care, you’ll still be required to carry out research writing. If your specialization is in nursing, there is still research to embark on. Because nursing itself as a field of study touches across a lot of medical and health care issues which requires research to be paid attention to and brought relevance to. Here are some qualitative research topics examples on nursing to look into.

  • How to administer care to patients with Dyslexia
  • How to help patients with mental disorders
  • Signs and Symptoms of autism and how to extend help to these patients
  • How to identify Alzheimer’s in older patients
  • Understanding how to deal with pregnant women and emergencies
  • Administering antenatal care to pregnant women
  • Patient care in psychiatric units and a look into that
  • Identifying and treating Alzheimer’s
  • Basics of patient care
  • Difference between workloads of ICU nurses and OR nurses
  • Care for hypertensive patients with diabetes
  • First aid treatments for gun victims
  • Pros & cons of nurses’ drug prescription
  • The role of nurses in rural healthcare services
  • Understanding care in nursing homes
  • Intensive care for visually and verbally impaired patients
  • Benefits of immunization in rural areas
  • Outlining and handling the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine
  • Why compassion and sensitivity is important for nurses
  • The role of nurses and healthcare corporations
  • How nurses can handle cardiovascular challenges
  • Signs of Depression and anxiety in patients
  • How to take care of people with special needs
  • How to take care of elderly
  • How to administer care to survivors of female genital mutilation
  • How to assist rape survivors
  • Bipolar symptoms in young adults
  • How to curb drug abuse
  • Effective ways to carry out health outreach programs

Qualitative Research Topics in Education

While there are other topics specific to different other specifications, they all mostly spring up from education. There are so many issues and topics that pertain to the education system which allows for more research to be embarked on this aspect of learning. The one realistic and easy way to evaluate and improve the quality of education is through the carrying out of the research. Here are some good qualitative research topics in education.

  • Which learning style is efficient for autistic children
  • Importance of mental health education in the school curriculum
  • The importance of computer literacy
  • Learning condition of children in third world countries
  • Food insecurity and child education
  • How virtual learning affects high school students
  • Can students manipulate lockdown browsers?
  • Effects of alcoholism on education
  • Understanding adult learning
  • The need to encourage adult education
  • Impacts of computer literacy on education
  • Disadvantages of homeschooling
  • Importance of guidance and counseling in schools
  • Significance of school uniform to learning
  • How to improve oral learning in classrooms
  • The negative impacts of student loans
  • How to teach and improve the learning abilities of ADHD students
  • The importance of sign language learning
  • Impacts of the poor educational system
  • The need to include technology into the education system
  • How smartphones affect students academic performance in the academic system
  • Psychological impacts of student bullying
  • Developing connecting through virtual learning
  • Importance of research writing in schools
  • The need to improve educational learning for children in low-income neighborhoods
  • The importance of reading to preschoolers
  • Importance of social activities in schools
  • Ways to help children with learning disabilities to improve their learning
  • Easy ways to master foreign languages for students in high school.

Qualitative Research Topics in Political Science

Writing qualitative research also extends to the field of political sciences. Qualitative research is very important in the political field because it allows people to have a clearer understanding of the field as in most cases, it can easily become broad. Narrowing your research to specific topics will help you handle the research effectively. Here are some qualitative research topics lists in political science.

  • How COVID-19 impacts low-income neighborhoods
  • The need for the cancellation of student loans and not the suspension of student loans
  • Racism as a dividing factor in America
  • Segregation and racist laws
  • Effects of capitalism on America’s health system
  • Why healthcare in America should be free
  • The abortion regulation bill and its effects
  • What the return to office move says about American capitalism
  • The distinction between Liberalism and Conservatism and places where they merge
  • Understanding neoliberalism and how it impacts our activities in the society
  • COVID-19: Vaccines and treatments
  • The importance of independent judiciary and legislation to improve the American legal system
  • Understanding the effects of American incarceration
  • Carceral system in America and how it targets mostly people in minority groups
  • Understanding American foreign policy
  • The negative impacts of peace war in affected countries
  • A look into the dimensions of the American democracy
  • Classism, racism, colorism: understanding the different American ideologies
  • The need for the cancellation of the American carceral system
  • Dissecting the causes of the election crisis
  • The need for a free polling system to encourage free and fair voting practices
  • The challenges of Americans two-party system
  • The role of mass media in promoting and scrutinizing politics
  • Why America needs a multi-party system
  • The inclusion of black women in American politics
  • The need for representation in American politics
  • The negative impacts of misrepresentation
  • Addressing Police brutality in America
  • The role of feminism in enhancing American politics

Topics for Ethnography Qualitative Research

Carrying out Ethnographic research requires paying attention and studying society from a descriptive perspective. This form of research writing is usually useful in cultural anthropology. Practically, when you are writing ethnographic research, you’ll be required to carry out a series of research writings. One of the most important researches you’ll be embarking on which in turn becomes primarily beneficial to the essay is qualitative research. With qualitative research writing in ethnography, every single collected raw data is useful information to you that will enable you to pull through with your essay. Listed below are some qualitative research paper topics.

  • How does Sexual violence in rural areas affect the psychological well-being of the women and girls in such locality
  • Evaluating the role of parental care and the lack of it thereof in the lives of some foster kids
  • An insight into the primary causes of the swift migration happening from African to Europe
  • Examining the distinction between the Sharia laws applicable to Muslims abroad and those in African countries
  • Explain how political instability in certain countries is often the remote cause of the general instability that arises in any country.
  • The relationship between political and instability and migration
  • Exploring the link between violence against women and sex trafficking
  • Analyzing the socioeconomic impacts of instability on a nation
  • An overview of the rise of oral literature study in literature
  • The social implications of American confinement systems on individuals
  • What are the ways through which sororities impacts the lives of those within it
  • A study into the ways through which government enables homelessness
  • A study of the American society and how to reach it is in culture and history
  • Outlining some of the challenges of Muslims in Africa
  • Discussing the leniency of the practice of Islam in foreign spaces
  • A study into the importance of fraternities and sororities
  • How is the popular culture impacting the psyche of Americans
  • The impacts of westernization in human perception
  • How does literature contribute to change the world
  • Discussing the challenges transgender people undergo within and outside the LGBTQ+ community
  • How social media distorts the perception of reality
  • The role of the smartphone in our deteriorating attention span
  • Understanding culture and how it applies to different American groups
  • The importance of books in the lives of children in rural areas
  • How violence breeds housing and food insecurity
  • The role of capitalism in generating food insecurity
  • Understanding the effects of female genitalia mutilation in girls
  • How popular culture serves as an agent of social change
  • How male dominance breeds male violence

Qualitative Research Topics in Public Health

Even while within the public health sector, you’ll still be required to write qualitative research on your field of study. What this allows is that it gives you the much-needed insight into looking into relevant and crucial aspects of your field of specialty that might need the extra attention. Knowing this while writing research will enable you to broaden your understanding of the intricacies of your course of study as it allows you to gather information firsthand. Here are some research topics for qualitative research on public health.

  • The benefits of immunization in rural areas
  • Causes of water-borne diseases in such our society and how this can be mitigated against
  • The simple signs and symptoms on how to indicate high blood pressure in young people
  • The importance of antenatal care to every pregnant woman
  • Ways to create awareness for breast cancer
  • Barriers to clean hygiene in health centers
  • Understanding the health challenges of lack of drinkable water in a community
  • Prevalence of COVID and how to control its spread
  • Importance of nose masks in the times of Covid-19
  • Health insurance and how it benefits people
  • Importance of safe menstrual care for girls
  • How to control the widespread of Flu
  • Benefits of exercise to obese people
  • How to properly manage to live with Diabetes type II
  • Causes of malnutrition in young children
  • Control of the prevalence of drug and substance abuse
  • Prevention methods for COVID-19
  • The importance of contraceptives for sexually active teenagers
  • Why do teenagers need sex education and not complete abstinence
  • Poorly maintained public hospitals and their effects
  • The need to properly manage the source of our waste products disposal
  • Factors generating health issues in pregnant women
  • The importance of post-natal to nursing mothers
  • The need for the creation of health awareness in rural areas
  • The growing impacts of COVID-19 on the healthcare system
  • The health benefits of constant sanitation
  • Role of social distancing in limiting the cases of COVID-19 in the society
  • The difference between epidemic and pandemic
  • The role of finance in propagating an inclusive and efficient healthcare system.

Qualitative Research Topics in Project Management

Project management entails making plans, structuring, controlling, and proffering reliable ways for the carrying out of such plans to achieve desirable results or goals. The main focus of every form of project management writing is that it focuses on ways through which goals or results can be achieved while basing it on a given process. There are so many topics that are in line with project management. Here is a look into some of the easy qualitative research topics within this particular field of study.

  • The leading causes of underdevelopment in most sectors in the society and possible ways to mitigate against this.
  • The assessment of the contributing factors that lead to failed healthcare systems in rural areas
  • Understanding the challenges that often generate food insecurity and scarcity within a given locality
  • Plausible ways through which food insecurity can be handled within a given society
  • An investigation into the causes of increased child mortality cases in rural areas
  • Impacts of financial management in a country and how it benefits citizens
  • How to set up an operation pest control activity in a society
  • Investigation into the current cost of living in the society and how this is propagated by capitalism
  • The need to create a more inclusive healthcare system
  • The root causes of lack of medical insurance and possible ways to curb it.
  • The importance of health management in organizations and possible ways to ensure it
  • Procedure to encourage the building of health centers in underdeveloped areas
  • Promoting the growth and enhancement of management systems that ensure positive impacts on underserved areas
  • Analysis of the cost-effectiveness of manufacturing learning centers in urban areas
  • Evaluation of accommodation spaces in public nursing homes
  • Enhancing the living situation of charity homes and ways to ensure it
  • What is the benefit of building communication masts in rural areas
  • Efficient ways of regulating revenue distribution
  • Design system for building online regulated parking system
  • Design process and management of geolocators
  • How to ensure effective budget planning
  • The importance of budgeting systems and revenue regulatory systems in government sectors
  • Overview of budgeting and budget padding as a financial regulatory system.
  • The problem with healthcare construction projects in Louisiana
  • The role of strategy in enhancing business management
  • Student loan challenges faced by academic students in America
  • The importance of developing healthy customer-client relationships
  • Foreign policy and its impact on developing industrial complexes

Are you writing your college research essay and wondering about how to go about it and, at the same time, if it will require expert writing help? Look no further, for you can rest assured that there are professional research writing experts here that will provide you with quality but cheap essays that will get you high grades! Don’t hesitate to try it out if you are struggling.

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300 Qualitative Research Topics For Easy Academic Victory

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You are on the right page if you are looking for a perfect qualitative research topic and have difficulty finding it. 

Writing a qualitative research paper is not a piece of cake. Let alone the research and writing; the first and most significant challenge is finding the qualitative research topic that is a perfect fit for you. You have to be sure about a handful of things to decide the best topic for you, and you can ace it. First and most important, you must choose a topic that you find appealing and motivating. If you are not interested in a topic, not only will it tire you, but it will make your research dull and exhausting as well. Two, choose a relevant topic that adds value to the academia. Last but not least, there must be enough data about the theme that you are about to choose. In case of any confusion, concerns, or questions, you can consult for paper writing help from Paper Perk . 

Table of Contents

Qualitative Research Topics: Psych, Education, Health, Medicine & More

Wandering around the internet looking for qualitative research topics can be exhausting. We are writing this article to make it a one-stop solution for you. There is enough inspiration to come up with the most suitable topic for you, no matter your academic area.

Psychological Qualitative Research Topics

psychological qualitative research topics

  • Emotional Intelligence: Can it be an excellent alternative to IQ?
  • Oxytocin in autistic children.
  • Meditation: A means to control emotions
  • Emotional dependency during pregnancy
  • Schizophrenia: Causes and treatment
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: Causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment
  • Psychology of physical attraction in opposite sexes
  • What is a borderline personality disorder? Facts and myths
  • Psychological elements in electronic media: Marketing, persuasion, and propaganda
  • Psychology in public relations
  • Psychology in international relations
  • Causes of depression and what to do to avoid it?
  • Detailed analysis of speech disorders
  • Criminal psychology and the origin of serial killers
  • Psychological aspects of the aging process
  • The character of NGOs regarding awareness about mental health
  • How to prevent child abuse with the help of psychology?
  • Aspects of criminal psychology
  • Emotional imbalance: Causes, symptoms, and treatment
  • Memory loss? Is it a neural problem or a psychological problem?
  • The secrets to well-being
  • Mental disorders in teens

Read More:  Psychology Research Paper Topics

Political Qualitative Research Topics

political qualitative research topics

  • What role did masons’ living conditions have in forming  workers’ political movements ?
  • How do presidential elections matter?
  • Political compass: A critical analysis
  • Is a representative democracy genuinely democratic?
  • How has Europe evolved in terms of democracy?
  • Democratic evolution in the United States in the last three centuries
  • Is democracy a myth or a reality?
  • Why is voter abstention a danger to democracy?
  • Role of minorities in the United States politics
  • Freedom of expression in developing countries
  • Freedom of expression under Islamist regimes
  • Misconduct on television: Awareness and Legislation

Read More:  Political Science Research Topics

Qualitative Research Topics for Art and Culture

qualitative research topics for art and culture

  • Is history a universally shared concept?
  • Can a man be indifferent to art?
  • How do we articulate the link between science and technology?
  • What is the purpose of art?
  • What does the artist show us? Expression and symbolism
  • What is an artist? What does an artist do?
  • What is an artist?
  • Is art always transgressive?
  • Work of art: The proof of the freedom of the spirit
  • Can art compete with nature?
  • Does art only have the function of freeing us from our passions?
  • Passion and emotion in art
  • Absurd surrealism 
  • Grotesque surrealism
  • Different movements in art
  • Progress and evolution of art
  • The art of the middle ages
  • The art of the renaissance
  • Is the work of art necessarily beautiful?
  • Does art change our relationship with reality?
  • Does the critic able to regard something as art or not?
  • Does the experience of beauty necessarily pass through the work of art?
  • Things that art teaches us, artists, as a technician
  • Importance of meaning in a work of art
  • Meaningless art and absurdist existentialism
  • The need for a model in the production of art
  • Can we conceive of a society without art?
  • Different aspects of society are defined and differentiated by art
  • The fear of industrial production among the artists
  • Dystopian art: The ability to predict the future among artists
  • Elements that distinguish the work of art from any object
  • Why the artists deserve a special place in the world
  • Rules and regulations in art
  • Reproduction of art: Plagiarism in art and harm of repetition
  • Art and escapism
  • Anachronistic art and the element of satire
  • Should the artist seek to please the audience
  • Can we blame a work of art for not being worth anything?
  • Does every human being understand and appreciate art?
  • Do you think that, according to Aristotle’s formula, art is an “imitation of nature”?
  • Why does what we dislike in life please us in a work of art?
  • Does art seem to be a “revolt against the tyranny of desire”?
  • Why do we apply the term “creation” to artistic activity?
  • Sacrosanctity of art and human duty to uphold it

Read More:  Music Research Topics

Qualitative Research Topics Involving Environment Issues

qualitative research topics involving environment issues

  • Advantages and disadvantages of technology for the environment
  • Benefits of environmental education in children
  • Methods to make modern society aware of the environment
  • Alternative energies
  • Nuclear energy production: An alternative to the planet’s growing energy demand
  • X degree care for the environment
  • Analyze the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of renewable energy
  • Need to develop environmentally friendly products 
  • Documentation of experience: Protection of nature
  • Elements involved in environmental deterioration
  • Environment and strategies for sustainability
  • Environmental activism in adolescents and young people
  • Sustainability and security for environmental justice
  • Raising awareness about the protection of the environment through sports, literature, and culture
  • Environment influenced by collective and individual actions
  • Awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of the use of technologies
  • Effects and causes of acid rain and groundwater
  • Ways to live sustainably or focus on a specific aspect of sustainability
  • Recent disasters caused by global warming
  • Greenhouse effect and melting ice
  • Importance of renewable energy
  • Wildlife and endangered species
  • Air quality and pollution
  • Water quality in underdeveloped countries
  • Famines caused by environmental changes
  • Various recycling programs: Which one is the most effective
  • Awareness to participate in the initiatives about the protection of the environment
  • How deforestation has affected animals or how it is related to climate change
  • Importance of the coral reef, the dangers of its destruction, or preservation strategies

Read More:  Best Legal Research Paper Topics

Qualitative Research Topics on Public Relations

qualitative research topics on public relations

  • Public Relations and socio-productive activity
  • Organizational Communication and Public Relations
  • Ethics in the practice of Public Relations
  • Epistemological foundations of Public Relations.
  • Factors that limit the practice of Public Relations.
  • Public Relations is a strategic factor of the company.
  • Relationship workers and professional practice in the United States
  • Corporate image and Public Relations
  • Corporate identity and Public Relations.
  • Public Relations and social enterprise
  • Public Relations as an integration factor.
  • Profile of the teacher of Public Relations.
  • Legislation of Public Relations in Europe
  • The free exercise of Public Relations
  • Public Relations and the labor market
  • Public Relations and digital communication
  • History of Public Relations in Europe
  • History of Public Relations in the United States
  • History of Public Relations in Canada
  • Semiology and Public Relations
  • Linguistics and Public Relations
  • Indicators to evaluate Public Relations programs
  • Planning of Public Relations in organizations
  • Public Relations through radio and television
  • University teaching in Public Relations

Read More:  Criminal Justice Research Paper Topics

Qualitative Research Topics for High School Students

qualitative research topics for high school students

  • How has technological development helped hospitals?
  • Benefits of technological advances in the classroom
  • Advantages and disadvantages of technology in children
  • How and why are fun activities different during every stage of the educational period, Montessori, school, college, and university?
  • Most dangerous challenges that must be avoided as students
  • Challenges made by celebrities: How do future career choices and jobs look for you in the next decade?
  • The pros and cons of viral challenges from Tiktok and reels
  • How/what do social networks help?
  • Disadvantages of social networks
  • Problems of social network in adolescents
  • What is the most suitable age for children to have a social media presence?
  • Toxic behaviors accompanied by social media: Prevention and Solution

Read More:  Chemistry Research Topics

Educational Qualitative Research Topics

educational qualitative research topics

  • History of education
  • How education has changed over time in one place
  • Importance of sports and games in early childhood education
  • Possible results of adding playtime to education
  • Pros and cons of a grading system
  • Most effective grading methods
  • How tests affect the success or mental health of students
  • Assessment methods: Such as standardized tests or open tests
  • Investigate how dress codes affect student performance
  • Different schools of learning
  • Qualities that effective teachers possess
  • Effects of teaching and lesson planning
  • Different approaches of public and private schools
  • Pros or cons of a charter school systems
  • How class size and number of students affect student performance
  • Qualities of an Effective Teacher
  • The length of the school day, or the length of breaks, and how the durations affect the progress of the students
  • How the start time of school affects performance

Read More:  Biology Research Paper Topics

Qualitative Research Topics for Business and Economy

qualitative research topics for business and economy

  • The chartered accountant and the client: what relationship today?
  • How does the arrival of the low-cost accountant change differentiation practices in accounting?
  • Law and accounting: how do the new laws impact the profession of a chartered accountant?
  • Accountants, why are they so difficult to recruit?
  • How does accounting make it possible to assess the state of health of a company?
  • Accounting and new technologies: the future or the end of the accountant?
  • Can inequalities be reduced with new technologies?
  • What distribution of wealth in France (or other)?
  • Why do companies relocate?
  • Protectionism or free trade?
  • Has the organization of work changed after the pandemic?
  • Do flexibility and home-working reduce unemployment?
  • Should we be afraid of financial bubbles?
  • Financial crises, similar cogs? Are we headed to a new recession?
  • What is money, and who creates it?
  • The stock market against growth?
  • How does economic growth lead to sustainable development?
  • What is the impact of innovation on growth?
  • What role does investment play?
  • What are the keys to productivity?
  • Is it possible to measure economic growth?
  • Why do stock markets crash?

Read More  Law / Legal Research Paper Topics

Medical Qualitative Research Topics

medical qualitative research topics

  • Current situation of palliative care in health institutions in the United States
  • Complications of acute diarrheal disease in children under five years of age
  • Nutritional status of surgical oncology patients and its relationship with postoperative complications
  • Cost-effectiveness of cervical cancer screening strategies in California
  • Thyroid cancer and risk factors in patients treated at San Jose Hospital
  • Communicative processes in American ancestral medicine
  • Seronegative rheumatoid arthritis in a patient with a pulmonary septic complication
  • Telemedicine and Tele-health of the inhabitants of Massachusetts
  • Feasibility study and technical, infrastructure and human sustainability for the implementation of the care model
  • Epidemiological profile of the general surgery outpatient service 
  • Physical activity and sport as determinants of health
  • Cost of treatment and follow-up of people with the  human immunodeficiency virus  (HIV) 
  • National Health System for the formal introduction of the family doctor
  • How is the social security system in France unsustainable?
  • Comparative study of health systems in the United States and Europe?
  • Allergies and intolerances, what are the differences for lactose?
  • Is gluten intolerance an actual disease?
  • Social inequalities in health in rural countries
  • Public health policy or health policy
  • Public health at the European level, what public policies
  • Public health in developing countries
  • Public health and environmental issues through the prism of red meat consumption
  • Communication of medicines when advertising is prohibited

Related:  Medical research paper writing services

Qualitative Research Topics for Law and Crime

  • Consequences of the death penalty.
  • Capital offenses: Law, persecution, and penalties
  • Classic methods used in the death penalty
  • Arguments for or against this punishment
  • The stipulation for others and the promise of a stronghold
  • Consumer protection in the American Law
  • The social attributions of the captain of the ship
  • Recent developments in the constitutional justice
  • Reframing the civil code
  • Critical analysis of the scope of the principle of free justice
  • Institutions of the criminal records
  • Equality of the creditors in collective proceedings
  • Risk management in expertise
  • The repressive jurisdiction of the court of peace in the event of insufficiency of the judges
  • Labor law and the rights of workers
  • Secularism and labor law: Question of religion in business
  • The Management of transit migration
  • The legal framework of bank credit
  • Legal regime of intellectual rights
  • Compensation for moral damage
  • Family criminal law in the relation between parents and children
  • Unilateral termination of the contract
  • Role of the military in public prosecution
  • Critical analysis of the pre-jurisdictional procedure regarding human rights
  • The fault of the administration in land matters
  • The subsequent attitude of the victim and compensation for the damages
  • Action for retrocession in the event of excessive liberalities
  • The exploitation of child labor under Labor Law
  • Reflection on the introduction of the system of the dematerialization of bearer shares
  • Study on the feasibility of a structure for the amicable settlement of consumer disputes
  • The life insurance contract
  • Legal liability of the community pharmacist
  • The legal age of marriage: legislative, jurisprudential, and doctrinal approach
  • Protection of the unpaid seller in the event of insolvency of the buyer
  • The renewal of the employment contract
  • The regulatory framework for outdoor advertising, signs, and pre-sign
  • Extra-judicial resolution of land disputes

Read More:  Research Paper Topics

Qualitative Research Topics Concerning Drug Abuse

qualitative research topics concerning drug abuse

  • Drug use in adolescents
  • Consequences of excessive drug use
  • Legal and illegal addictive substances
  • Effects of drugs on the brain
  • Effects of alcohol and tobacco
  • Social science research on drugs
  • Psychological research on drugs
  • Biomedical research in the field of drugs
  • Drug addiction treatment
  • Cannabis in Europe: a study of social research
  • Drug expectations
  • Dynamics of drug cartels: Perception, politics, and markets
  • Sources and uses of methamphetamine
  • Sensation seeking
  • Contribution of research in psychology on drugs
  • Drug research: recent developments
  • in the field of psychology
  • Places of cannabis consumption
  • Drug prevention for the most vulnerable young people
  • Cannabis retail markets
  • Cultivation of cannabis at home
  • Cannabis Dependence and the Strength of Marijuana
  • Cannabis and youth
  • Cannabis and schizophrenia

Read More:  Social Work Research Topics

Women Issues and Rights Qualitative Research Topics

women issues and rights qualitative research topics

  • How to educate teens about pregnancy
  • Women’s rights violations in the middle east
  • Forced-Hijab conflict in Iran
  • How to live a healthy pregnancy period
  • Access to health is a fundamental right: what role can parliaments play in ensuring health for women and children?
  • The wave of feminist movements in the Middle East
  • The situation of women and children in times of conflict
  • The role of women parliamentarians in the prevention of national and international terrorism and in the promotion of peace
  • Promoting women’s participation and gender equality in multilateral negotiations
  • The contribution of women to the establishment of a new global financial and economic model
  • Feminism in Egypt
  • Impact of the media on the status of women and image of women politicians in the media
  • Poverty and extreme poverty: women as victims of this phenomenon and as key actors in the fight to eradicate it
  • Complementarity of women’s rights and children’s rights
  • Health and well-being of older people, especially women
  • Women in Armed Conflict
  • Feminism in the South Asian Subcontinent 
  • Violence against women
  • Role of women in ensuring environmental protection within the framework of development
  • Women in the informal economic sector and their access to microcredits
  • Women in economic life and the world of work
  • Impact of women on the democratic process
  • Women in the political process
  • Women’s rights violations in Africa
  • Financing women’s electoral campaigns
  • Women’s political and electoral training
  • Women in political parties
  • United Nations Initiatives for Women’s Education and the role of Malala Yousafzai
  • Women in national parliaments
  • The partnership between men and women in politics

Still feel the need to know more? It is noble to be insatiable about knowledge, so here are  402 More Research Paper Topics  for you.

As we said in the beginning, writing a qualitative research paper is not a piece of cake. But after reading all these topics above, you now know that it is not rocket science either. All you need is a little commitment and a pint of inspiration potion that we have above 300 research paper topics. 

If you still need professional qualitative research writing services, you can get to know  our writers  or contact us. We are online 24/7 with immediate responses to offer you research paper help . 

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  • Knowledge Base
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  • What Is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples

What Is Qualitative Research? | Methods & Examples

Published on 4 April 2022 by Pritha Bhandari . Revised on 30 January 2023.

Qualitative research involves collecting and analysing non-numerical data (e.g., text, video, or audio) to understand concepts, opinions, or experiences. It can be used to gather in-depth insights into a problem or generate new ideas for research.

Qualitative research is the opposite of quantitative research , which involves collecting and analysing numerical data for statistical analysis.

Qualitative research is commonly used in the humanities and social sciences, in subjects such as anthropology, sociology, education, health sciences, and history.

  • How does social media shape body image in teenagers?
  • How do children and adults interpret healthy eating in the UK?
  • What factors influence employee retention in a large organisation?
  • How is anxiety experienced around the world?
  • How can teachers integrate social issues into science curriculums?

Table of contents

Approaches to qualitative research, qualitative research methods, qualitative data analysis, advantages of qualitative research, disadvantages of qualitative research, frequently asked questions about qualitative research.

Qualitative research is used to understand how people experience the world. While there are many approaches to qualitative research, they tend to be flexible and focus on retaining rich meaning when interpreting data.

Common approaches include grounded theory, ethnography, action research, phenomenological research, and narrative research. They share some similarities, but emphasise different aims and perspectives.

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Each of the research approaches involve using one or more data collection methods . These are some of the most common qualitative methods:

  • Observations: recording what you have seen, heard, or encountered in detailed field notes.
  • Interviews:  personally asking people questions in one-on-one conversations.
  • Focus groups: asking questions and generating discussion among a group of people.
  • Surveys : distributing questionnaires with open-ended questions.
  • Secondary research: collecting existing data in the form of texts, images, audio or video recordings, etc.
  • You take field notes with observations and reflect on your own experiences of the company culture.
  • You distribute open-ended surveys to employees across all the company’s offices by email to find out if the culture varies across locations.
  • You conduct in-depth interviews with employees in your office to learn about their experiences and perspectives in greater detail.

Qualitative researchers often consider themselves ‘instruments’ in research because all observations, interpretations and analyses are filtered through their own personal lens.

For this reason, when writing up your methodology for qualitative research, it’s important to reflect on your approach and to thoroughly explain the choices you made in collecting and analysing the data.

Qualitative data can take the form of texts, photos, videos and audio. For example, you might be working with interview transcripts, survey responses, fieldnotes, or recordings from natural settings.

Most types of qualitative data analysis share the same five steps:

  • Prepare and organise your data. This may mean transcribing interviews or typing up fieldnotes.
  • Review and explore your data. Examine the data for patterns or repeated ideas that emerge.
  • Develop a data coding system. Based on your initial ideas, establish a set of codes that you can apply to categorise your data.
  • Assign codes to the data. For example, in qualitative survey analysis, this may mean going through each participant’s responses and tagging them with codes in a spreadsheet. As you go through your data, you can create new codes to add to your system if necessary.
  • Identify recurring themes. Link codes together into cohesive, overarching themes.

There are several specific approaches to analysing qualitative data. Although these methods share similar processes, they emphasise different concepts.

Qualitative research often tries to preserve the voice and perspective of participants and can be adjusted as new research questions arise. Qualitative research is good for:

  • Flexibility

The data collection and analysis process can be adapted as new ideas or patterns emerge. They are not rigidly decided beforehand.

  • Natural settings

Data collection occurs in real-world contexts or in naturalistic ways.

  • Meaningful insights

Detailed descriptions of people’s experiences, feelings and perceptions can be used in designing, testing or improving systems or products.

  • Generation of new ideas

Open-ended responses mean that researchers can uncover novel problems or opportunities that they wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

Researchers must consider practical and theoretical limitations in analysing and interpreting their data. Qualitative research suffers from:

  • Unreliability

The real-world setting often makes qualitative research unreliable because of uncontrolled factors that affect the data.

  • Subjectivity

Due to the researcher’s primary role in analysing and interpreting data, qualitative research cannot be replicated . The researcher decides what is important and what is irrelevant in data analysis, so interpretations of the same data can vary greatly.

  • Limited generalisability

Small samples are often used to gather detailed data about specific contexts. Despite rigorous analysis procedures, it is difficult to draw generalisable conclusions because the data may be biased and unrepresentative of the wider population .

  • Labour-intensive

Although software can be used to manage and record large amounts of text, data analysis often has to be checked or performed manually.

Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.

Quantitative methods allow you to test a hypothesis by systematically collecting and analysing data, while qualitative methods allow you to explore ideas and experiences in depth.

There are five common approaches to qualitative research :

  • Grounded theory involves collecting data in order to develop new theories.
  • Ethnography involves immersing yourself in a group or organisation to understand its culture.
  • Narrative research involves interpreting stories to understand how people make sense of their experiences and perceptions.
  • Phenomenological research involves investigating phenomena through people’s lived experiences.
  • Action research links theory and practice in several cycles to drive innovative changes.

Data collection is the systematic process by which observations or measurements are gathered in research. It is used in many different contexts by academics, governments, businesses, and other organisations.

There are various approaches to qualitative data analysis , but they all share five steps in common:

  • Prepare and organise your data.
  • Review and explore your data.
  • Develop a data coding system.
  • Assign codes to the data.
  • Identify recurring themes.

The specifics of each step depend on the focus of the analysis. Some common approaches include textual analysis , thematic analysis , and discourse analysis .

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Research

83 Qualitative Research Questions & Examples

83 Qualitative Research Questions & Examples

Qualitative research questions help you understand consumer sentiment. They’re strategically designed to show organizations how and why people feel the way they do about a brand, product, or service. It looks beyond the numbers and is one of the most telling types of market research a company can do.

The UK Data Service describes this perfectly, saying, “The value of qualitative research is that it gives a voice to the lived experience .”

Read on to see seven use cases and 83 qualitative research questions, with the added bonus of examples that show how to get similar insights faster with Similarweb Research Intelligence.

Inspirational quote about customer insights

What is a qualitative research question?

A qualitative research question explores a topic in-depth, aiming to better understand the subject through interviews, observations, and other non-numerical data. Qualitative research questions are open-ended, helping to uncover a target audience’s opinions, beliefs, and motivations.

How to choose qualitative research questions?

Choosing the right qualitative research questions can be incremental to the success of your research and the findings you uncover. Here’s my six-step process for choosing the best qualitative research questions.

  • Start by understanding the purpose of your research. What do you want to learn? What outcome are you hoping to achieve?
  • Consider who you are researching. What are their experiences, attitudes, and beliefs? How can you best capture these in your research questions ?
  • Keep your questions open-ended . Qualitative research questions should not be too narrow or too broad. Aim to ask specific questions to provide meaningful answers but broad enough to allow for exploration.
  • Balance your research questions. You don’t want all of your questions to be the same type. Aim to mix up your questions to get a variety of answers.
  • Ensure your research questions are ethical and free from bias. Always have a second (and third) person check for unconscious bias.
  • Consider the language you use. Your questions should be written in a way that is clear and easy to understand. Avoid using jargon , acronyms, or overly technical language.

Choosing qualitative questions

Types of qualitative research questions

For a question to be considered qualitative, it usually needs to be open-ended. However, as I’ll explain, there can sometimes be a slight cross-over between quantitative and qualitative research questions.

Open-ended questions

These allow for a wide range of responses and can be formatted with multiple-choice answers or a free-text box to collect additional details. The next two types of qualitative questions are considered open questions, but each has its own style and purpose.

  • Probing questions are used to delve deeper into a respondent’s thoughts, such as “Can you tell me more about why you feel that way?”
  • Comparative questions ask people to compare two or more items, such as “Which product do you prefer and why?” These qualitative questions are highly useful for understanding brand awareness , competitive analysis , and more.

Closed-ended questions

These ask respondents to choose from a predetermined set of responses, such as “On a scale of 1-5, how satisfied are you with the new product?” While they’re traditionally quantitative, adding a free text box that asks for extra comments into why a specific rating was chosen will provide qualitative insights alongside their respective quantitative research question responses.

  • Ranking questions get people to rank items in order of preference, such as “Please rank these products in terms of quality.” They’re advantageous in many scenarios, like product development, competitive analysis, and brand awareness.
  • Likert scale questions ask people to rate items on a scale, such as “On a scale of 1-5, how satisfied are you with the new product?” Ideal for placement on websites and emails to gather quick, snappy feedback.

Qualitative research question examples

There are many applications of qualitative research and lots of ways you can put your findings to work for the success of your business. Here’s a summary of the most common use cases for qualitative questions and examples to ask.

Qualitative questions for identifying customer needs and motivations

These types of questions help you find out why customers choose products or services and what they are looking for when making a purchase.

  • What factors do you consider when deciding to buy a product?
  • What would make you choose one product or service over another?
  • What are the most important elements of a product that you would buy?
  • What features do you look for when purchasing a product?
  • What qualities do you look for in a company’s products?
  • Do you prefer localized or global brands when making a purchase?
  • How do you determine the value of a product?
  • What do you think is the most important factor when choosing a product?
  • How do you decide if a product or service is worth the money?
  • Do you have any specific expectations when purchasing a product?
  • Do you prefer to purchase products or services online or in person?
  • What kind of customer service do you expect when buying a product?
  • How do you decide when it is time to switch to a different product?
  • Where do you research products before you decide to buy?
  • What do you think is the most important customer value when making a purchase?

Qualitative research questions to enhance customer experience

Use these questions to reveal insights into how customers interact with a company’s products or services and how those experiences can be improved.

  • What aspects of our product or service do customers find most valuable?
  • How do customers perceive our customer service?
  • What factors are most important to customers when purchasing?
  • What do customers think of our brand?
  • What do customers think of our current marketing efforts?
  • How do customers feel about the features and benefits of our product?
  • How do customers feel about the price of our product or service?
  • How could we improve the customer experience?
  • What do customers think of our website or app?
  • What do customers think of our customer support?
  • What could we do to make our product or service easier to use?
  • What do customers think of our competitors?
  • What is your preferred way to access our site?
  • How do customers feel about our delivery/shipping times?
  • What do customers think of our loyalty programs?

Qualitative research question example for customer experience

  • ‍♀️ Question: What is your preferred way to access our site?
  • Insight sought: How mobile-dominant are consumers? Should you invest more in mobile optimization or mobile marketing?
  • Challenges with traditional qualitative research methods: While using this type of question is ideal if you have a large database to survey when placed on a site or sent to a limited customer list, it only gives you a point-in-time perspective from a limited group of people.
  • A new approach: You can get better, broader insights quicker with Similarweb Digital Research Intelligence. To fully inform your research, you need to know preferences at the industry or market level.
  • ⏰ Time to insight: 30 seconds
  • ✅ How it’s done: Similarweb offers multiple ways to answer this question without going through a lengthy qualitative research process. 

First, I’m going to do a website market analysis of the banking credit and lending market in the finance sector to get a clearer picture of industry benchmarks.

Here, I can view device preferences across any industry or market instantly. It shows me the device distribution for any country across any period. This clearly answers the question of how mobile dominate my target audience is , with 59.79% opting to access site via a desktop vs. 40.21% via mobile

I then use the trends section to show me the exact split between mobile and web traffic for each key player in my space. Let’s say I’m about to embark on a competitive campaign that targets customers of Chase and Bank of America ; I can see both their audiences are highly desktop dominant compared with others in their space .

Qualitative question examples for developing new products or services

Research questions like this can help you understand customer pain points and give you insights to develop products that meet those needs.

  • What is the primary reason you would choose to purchase a product from our company?
  • How do you currently use products or services that are similar to ours?
  • Is there anything that could be improved with products currently on the market?
  • What features would you like to see added to our products?
  • How do you prefer to contact a customer service team?
  • What do you think sets our company apart from our competitors?
  • What other product or service offerings would like to see us offer?
  • What type of information would help you make decisions about buying a product?
  • What type of advertising methods are most effective in getting your attention?
  • What is the biggest deterrent to purchasing products from us?

Qualitative research question example for service development

  • ‍♀️ Question: What type of advertising methods are most effective in getting your attention?
  • Insight sought: The marketing channels and/or content that performs best with a target audience .
  • Challenges with traditional qualitative research methods: When using qualitative research surveys to answer questions like this, the sample size is limited, and bias could be at play.
  • A better approach: The most authentic insights come from viewing real actions and results that take place in the digital world. No questions or answers are needed to uncover this intel, and the information you seek is readily available in less than a minute.
  • ⏰ Time to insight: 5 minutes
  • ✅ How it’s done: There are a few ways to approach this. You can either take an industry-wide perspective or hone in on specific competitors to unpack their individual successes. Here, I’ll quickly show a snapshot with a whole market perspective.

qualitative example question - marketing channels

Using the market analysis element of Similarweb Digital Intelligence, I select my industry or market, which I’ve kept as banking and credit. A quick click into marketing channels shows me which channels drive the highest traffic in my market. Taking direct traffic out of the equation, for now, I can see that referrals and organic traffic are the two highest-performing channels in this market.

Similarweb allows me to view the specific referral partners and pages across these channels. 

qualitative question example - Similarweb referral channels

Looking closely at referrals in this market, I’ve chosen chase.com and its five closest rivals . I select referrals in the channel traffic element of marketing channels. I see that Capital One is a clear winner, gaining almost 25 million visits due to referral partnerships.

Qualitative research question example

Next, I get to see exactly who is referring traffic to Capital One and the total traffic share for each referrer. I can see the growth as a percentage and how that has changed, along with an engagement score that rates the average engagement level of that audience segment. This is particularly useful when deciding on which new referral partnerships to pursue.  

Once I’ve identified the channels and campaigns that yield the best results, I can then use Similarweb to dive into the various ad creatives and content that have the greatest impact.

Qualitative research example for ad creatives

These ads are just a few of those listed in the creatives section from my competitive website analysis of Capital One. You can filter this list by the specific campaign, publishers, and ad networks to view those that matter to you most. You can also discover video ad creatives in the same place too.

In just five minutes ⏰ 

  • I’ve captured audience loyalty statistics across my market
  • Spotted the most competitive players
  • Identified the marketing channels my audience is most responsive to
  • I know which content and campaigns are driving the highest traffic volume
  • I’ve created a target list for new referral partners and have been able to prioritize this based on results and engagement figures from my rivals
  • I can see the types of creatives that my target audience is responding to, giving me ideas for ways to generate effective copy for future campaigns

Qualitative questions to determine pricing strategies

Companies need to make sure pricing stays relevant and competitive. Use these questions to determine customer perceptions on pricing and develop pricing strategies to maximize profits and reduce churn.

  • How do you feel about our pricing structure?
  • How does our pricing compare to other similar products?
  • What value do you feel you get from our pricing?
  • How could we make our pricing more attractive?
  • What would be an ideal price for our product?
  • Which features of our product that you would like to see priced differently?
  • What discounts or deals would you like to see us offer?
  • How do you feel about the amount you have to pay for our product?

Get Faster Answers to Qualitative Research Questions with Similarweb Today

Qualitative research question example for determining pricing strategies.

  • ‍♀️ Question: What discounts or deals would you like to see us offer?
  • Insight sought: The promotions or campaigns that resonate with your target audience.
  • Challenges with traditional qualitative research methods: Consumers don’t always recall the types of ads or campaigns they respond to. Over time, their needs and habits change. Your sample size is limited to those you ask, leaving a huge pool of unknowns at play.
  • A better approach: While qualitative insights are good to know, you get the most accurate picture of the highest-performing promotion and campaigns by looking at data collected directly from the web. These analytics are real-world, real-time, and based on the collective actions of many, instead of the limited survey group you approach. By getting a complete picture across an entire market, your decisions are better informed and more aligned with current market trends and behaviors.
  • ✅ How it’s done: Similarweb’s Popular Pages feature shows the content, products, campaigns, and pages with the highest growth for any website. So, if you’re trying to unpack the successes of others in your space and find out what content resonates with a target audience, there’s a far quicker way to get answers to these questions with Similarweb.

Qualitative research example

Here, I’m using Capital One as an example site. I can see trending pages on their site showing the largest increase in page views. Other filters include campaign, best-performing, and new–each of which shows you page URLs, share of traffic, and growth as a percentage. This page is particularly useful for staying on top of trending topics , campaigns, and new content being pushed out in a market by key competitors.

Qualitative research questions for product development teams

It’s vital to stay in touch with changing consumer needs. These questions can also be used for new product or service development, but this time, it’s from the perspective of a product manager or development team. 

  • What are customers’ primary needs and wants for this product?
  • What do customers think of our current product offerings?
  • What is the most important feature or benefit of our product?
  • How can we improve our product to meet customers’ needs better?
  • What do customers like or dislike about our competitors’ products?
  • What do customers look for when deciding between our product and a competitor’s?
  • How have customer needs and wants for this product changed over time?
  • What motivates customers to purchase this product?
  • What is the most important thing customers want from this product?
  • What features or benefits are most important when selecting a product?
  • What do customers perceive to be our product’s pros and cons?
  • What would make customers switch from a competitor’s product to ours?
  • How do customers perceive our product in comparison to similar products?
  • What do customers think of our pricing and value proposition?
  • What do customers think of our product’s design, usability, and aesthetics?

Qualitative questions examples to understand customer segments

Market segmentation seeks to create groups of consumers with shared characteristics. Use these questions to learn more about different customer segments and how to target them with tailored messaging.

  • What motivates customers to make a purchase?
  • How do customers perceive our brand in comparison to our competitors?
  • How do customers feel about our product quality?
  • How do customers define quality in our products?
  • What factors influence customers’ purchasing decisions ?
  • What are the most important aspects of customer service?
  • What do customers think of our customer service?
  • What do customers think of our pricing?
  • How do customers rate our product offerings?
  • How do customers prefer to make purchases (online, in-store, etc.)?

Qualitative research question example for understanding customer segments

  • ‍♀️ Question: Which social media channels are you most active on?
  • Insight sought: Formulate a social media strategy . Specifically, the social media channels most likely to succeed with a target audience.
  • Challenges with traditional qualitative research methods: Qualitative research question responses are limited to those you ask, giving you a limited sample size. Questions like this are usually at risk of some bias, and this may not be reflective of real-world actions.
  • A better approach: Get a complete picture of social media preferences for an entire market or specific audience belonging to rival firms. Insights are available in real-time, and are based on the actions of many, not a select group of participants. Data is readily available, easy to understand, and expandable at a moment’s notice.
  • ✅ How it’s done: Using Similarweb’s website analysis feature, you can get a clear breakdown of social media stats for your audience using the marketing channels element. It shows the percentage of visits from each channel to your site, respective growth, and specific referral pages by each platform. All data is expandable, meaning you can select any platform, period, and region to drill down and get more accurate intel, instantly.

Qualitative question example social media

This example shows me Bank of America’s social media distribution, with YouTube , Linkedin , and Facebook taking the top three spots, and accounting for almost 80% of traffic being driven from social media.

When doing any type of market research, it’s important to benchmark performance against industry averages and perform a social media competitive analysis to verify rival performance across the same channels.

Qualitative questions to inform competitive analysis

Organizations must assess market sentiment toward other players to compete and beat rival firms. Whether you want to increase market share , challenge industry leaders , or reduce churn, understanding how people view you vs. the competition is key.

  • What is the overall perception of our competitors’ product offerings in the market?
  • What attributes do our competitors prioritize in their customer experience?
  • What strategies do our competitors use to differentiate their products from ours?
  • How do our competitors position their products in relation to ours?
  • How do our competitors’ pricing models compare to ours?
  • What do consumers think of our competitors’ product quality?
  • What do consumers think of our competitors’ customer service?
  • What are the key drivers of purchase decisions in our market?
  • What is the impact of our competitors’ marketing campaigns on our market share ? 10. How do our competitors leverage social media to promote their products?

Qualitative research question example for competitive analysis

  • ‍♀️ Question: What other companies do you shop with for x?
  • Insight sought: W ho are your competitors? Which of your rival’s sites do your customers visit? How loyal are consumers in your market?
  • Challenges with traditional qualitative research methods:  Sample size is limited, and customers could be unwilling to reveal which competitors they shop with, or how often they around. Where finances are involved, people can act with reluctance or bias, and be unwilling to reveal other suppliers they do business with.
  • A better approach: Get a complete picture of your audience’s loyalty, see who else they shop with, and how many other sites they visit in your competitive group. Find out the size of the untapped opportunity and which players are doing a better job at attracting unique visitors – without having to ask people to reveal their preferences.
  • ✅ How it’s done: Similarweb website analysis shows you the competitive sites your audience visits, giving you access to data that shows cross-visitation habits, audience loyalty, and untapped potential in a matter of minutes.

Qualitative research example for audience analysis

Using the audience interests element of Similarweb website analysis, you can view the cross-browsing behaviors of a website’s audience instantly. You can see a matrix that shows the percentage of visitors on a target site and any rival site they may have visited.

Qualitative research question example for competitive analysis

With the Similarweb audience overlap feature, view the cross-visitation habits of an audience across specific websites. In this example, I chose chase.com and its four closest competitors to review. For each intersection, you see the number of unique visitors and the overall proportion of each site’s audience it represents. It also shows the volume of unreached potential visitors.

qualitative question example for audience loyalty

Here, you can see a direct comparison of the audience loyalty represented in a bar graph. It shows a breakdown of each site’s audience based on how many other sites they have visited. Those sites with the highest loyalty show fewer additional sites visited.

From the perspective of chase.com, I can see 47% of their visitors do not visit rival sites. 33% of their audience visited 1 or more sites in this group, 14% visited 2 or more sites, 4% visited 3 or more sites, and just 0.8% viewed all sites in this comparison. 

How to answer qualitative research questions with Similarweb

Similarweb Research Intelligence drastically improves market research efficiency and time to insight. Both of these can impact the bottom line and the pace at which organizations can adapt and flex when markets shift, and rivals change tactics.

Outdated practices, while still useful, take time . And with a quicker, more efficient way to garner similar insights, opting for the fast lane puts you at a competitive advantage.

With a birds-eye view of the actions and behaviors of companies and consumers across a market , you can answer certain research questions without the need to plan, do, and review extensive qualitative market research .

Wrapping up

Qualitative research methods have been around for centuries. From designing the questions to finding the best distribution channels, collecting and analyzing findings takes time to get the insights you need. Similarweb Digital Research Intelligence drastically improves efficiency and time to insight. Both of which impact the bottom line and the pace at which organizations can adapt and flex when markets shift.

Similarweb’s suite of digital intelligence solutions offers unbiased, accurate, honest insights you can trust for analyzing any industry, market, or audience.

  • Methodologies used for data collection are robust, transparent, and trustworthy.
  • Clear presentation of data via an easy-to-use, intuitive platform.
  • It updates dynamically–giving you the freshest data about an industry or market.
  • Data is available via an API – so you can plug into platforms like Tableau or PowerBI to streamline your analyses.
  • Filter and refine results according to your needs.

Are quantitative or qualitative research questions best?

Both have their place and purpose in market research. Qualitative research questions seek to provide details, whereas quantitative market research gives you numerical statistics that are easier and quicker to analyze. You get more flexibility with qualitative questions, and they’re non-directional.

What are the advantages of qualitative research?

Qualitative research is advantageous because it allows researchers to better understand their subject matter by exploring people’s attitudes, behaviors, and motivations in a particular context. It also allows researchers to uncover new insights that may not have been discovered with quantitative research methods.

What are some of the challenges of qualitative research?

Qualitative research can be time-consuming and costly, typically involving in-depth interviews and focus groups. Additionally, there are challenges associated with the reliability and validity of the collected data, as there is no universal standard for interpreting the results.

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Home » Qualitative Research – Methods, Analysis Types and Guide

Qualitative Research – Methods, Analysis Types and Guide

Table of Contents

Qualitative Research

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is a type of research methodology that focuses on exploring and understanding people’s beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and experiences through the collection and analysis of non-numerical data. It seeks to answer research questions through the examination of subjective data, such as interviews, focus groups, observations, and textual analysis.

Qualitative research aims to uncover the meaning and significance of social phenomena, and it typically involves a more flexible and iterative approach to data collection and analysis compared to quantitative research. Qualitative research is often used in fields such as sociology, anthropology, psychology, and education.

Qualitative Research Methods

Types of Qualitative Research

Qualitative Research Methods are as follows:

One-to-One Interview

This method involves conducting an interview with a single participant to gain a detailed understanding of their experiences, attitudes, and beliefs. One-to-one interviews can be conducted in-person, over the phone, or through video conferencing. The interviewer typically uses open-ended questions to encourage the participant to share their thoughts and feelings. One-to-one interviews are useful for gaining detailed insights into individual experiences.

Focus Groups

This method involves bringing together a group of people to discuss a specific topic in a structured setting. The focus group is led by a moderator who guides the discussion and encourages participants to share their thoughts and opinions. Focus groups are useful for generating ideas and insights, exploring social norms and attitudes, and understanding group dynamics.

Ethnographic Studies

This method involves immersing oneself in a culture or community to gain a deep understanding of its norms, beliefs, and practices. Ethnographic studies typically involve long-term fieldwork and observation, as well as interviews and document analysis. Ethnographic studies are useful for understanding the cultural context of social phenomena and for gaining a holistic understanding of complex social processes.

Text Analysis

This method involves analyzing written or spoken language to identify patterns and themes. Text analysis can be quantitative or qualitative. Qualitative text analysis involves close reading and interpretation of texts to identify recurring themes, concepts, and patterns. Text analysis is useful for understanding media messages, public discourse, and cultural trends.

This method involves an in-depth examination of a single person, group, or event to gain an understanding of complex phenomena. Case studies typically involve a combination of data collection methods, such as interviews, observations, and document analysis, to provide a comprehensive understanding of the case. Case studies are useful for exploring unique or rare cases, and for generating hypotheses for further research.

Process of Observation

This method involves systematically observing and recording behaviors and interactions in natural settings. The observer may take notes, use audio or video recordings, or use other methods to document what they see. Process of observation is useful for understanding social interactions, cultural practices, and the context in which behaviors occur.

Record Keeping

This method involves keeping detailed records of observations, interviews, and other data collected during the research process. Record keeping is essential for ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the data, and for providing a basis for analysis and interpretation.

This method involves collecting data from a large sample of participants through a structured questionnaire. Surveys can be conducted in person, over the phone, through mail, or online. Surveys are useful for collecting data on attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, and for identifying patterns and trends in a population.

Qualitative data analysis is a process of turning unstructured data into meaningful insights. It involves extracting and organizing information from sources like interviews, focus groups, and surveys. The goal is to understand people’s attitudes, behaviors, and motivations

Qualitative Research Analysis Methods

Qualitative Research analysis methods involve a systematic approach to interpreting and making sense of the data collected in qualitative research. Here are some common qualitative data analysis methods:

Thematic Analysis

This method involves identifying patterns or themes in the data that are relevant to the research question. The researcher reviews the data, identifies keywords or phrases, and groups them into categories or themes. Thematic analysis is useful for identifying patterns across multiple data sources and for generating new insights into the research topic.

Content Analysis

This method involves analyzing the content of written or spoken language to identify key themes or concepts. Content analysis can be quantitative or qualitative. Qualitative content analysis involves close reading and interpretation of texts to identify recurring themes, concepts, and patterns. Content analysis is useful for identifying patterns in media messages, public discourse, and cultural trends.

Discourse Analysis

This method involves analyzing language to understand how it constructs meaning and shapes social interactions. Discourse analysis can involve a variety of methods, such as conversation analysis, critical discourse analysis, and narrative analysis. Discourse analysis is useful for understanding how language shapes social interactions, cultural norms, and power relationships.

Grounded Theory Analysis

This method involves developing a theory or explanation based on the data collected. Grounded theory analysis starts with the data and uses an iterative process of coding and analysis to identify patterns and themes in the data. The theory or explanation that emerges is grounded in the data, rather than preconceived hypotheses. Grounded theory analysis is useful for understanding complex social phenomena and for generating new theoretical insights.

Narrative Analysis

This method involves analyzing the stories or narratives that participants share to gain insights into their experiences, attitudes, and beliefs. Narrative analysis can involve a variety of methods, such as structural analysis, thematic analysis, and discourse analysis. Narrative analysis is useful for understanding how individuals construct their identities, make sense of their experiences, and communicate their values and beliefs.

Phenomenological Analysis

This method involves analyzing how individuals make sense of their experiences and the meanings they attach to them. Phenomenological analysis typically involves in-depth interviews with participants to explore their experiences in detail. Phenomenological analysis is useful for understanding subjective experiences and for developing a rich understanding of human consciousness.

Comparative Analysis

This method involves comparing and contrasting data across different cases or groups to identify similarities and differences. Comparative analysis can be used to identify patterns or themes that are common across multiple cases, as well as to identify unique or distinctive features of individual cases. Comparative analysis is useful for understanding how social phenomena vary across different contexts and groups.

Applications of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research has many applications across different fields and industries. Here are some examples of how qualitative research is used:

  • Market Research: Qualitative research is often used in market research to understand consumer attitudes, behaviors, and preferences. Researchers conduct focus groups and one-on-one interviews with consumers to gather insights into their experiences and perceptions of products and services.
  • Health Care: Qualitative research is used in health care to explore patient experiences and perspectives on health and illness. Researchers conduct in-depth interviews with patients and their families to gather information on their experiences with different health care providers and treatments.
  • Education: Qualitative research is used in education to understand student experiences and to develop effective teaching strategies. Researchers conduct classroom observations and interviews with students and teachers to gather insights into classroom dynamics and instructional practices.
  • Social Work : Qualitative research is used in social work to explore social problems and to develop interventions to address them. Researchers conduct in-depth interviews with individuals and families to understand their experiences with poverty, discrimination, and other social problems.
  • Anthropology : Qualitative research is used in anthropology to understand different cultures and societies. Researchers conduct ethnographic studies and observe and interview members of different cultural groups to gain insights into their beliefs, practices, and social structures.
  • Psychology : Qualitative research is used in psychology to understand human behavior and mental processes. Researchers conduct in-depth interviews with individuals to explore their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  • Public Policy : Qualitative research is used in public policy to explore public attitudes and to inform policy decisions. Researchers conduct focus groups and one-on-one interviews with members of the public to gather insights into their perspectives on different policy issues.

How to Conduct Qualitative Research

Here are some general steps for conducting qualitative research:

  • Identify your research question: Qualitative research starts with a research question or set of questions that you want to explore. This question should be focused and specific, but also broad enough to allow for exploration and discovery.
  • Select your research design: There are different types of qualitative research designs, including ethnography, case study, grounded theory, and phenomenology. You should select a design that aligns with your research question and that will allow you to gather the data you need to answer your research question.
  • Recruit participants: Once you have your research question and design, you need to recruit participants. The number of participants you need will depend on your research design and the scope of your research. You can recruit participants through advertisements, social media, or through personal networks.
  • Collect data: There are different methods for collecting qualitative data, including interviews, focus groups, observation, and document analysis. You should select the method or methods that align with your research design and that will allow you to gather the data you need to answer your research question.
  • Analyze data: Once you have collected your data, you need to analyze it. This involves reviewing your data, identifying patterns and themes, and developing codes to organize your data. You can use different software programs to help you analyze your data, or you can do it manually.
  • Interpret data: Once you have analyzed your data, you need to interpret it. This involves making sense of the patterns and themes you have identified, and developing insights and conclusions that answer your research question. You should be guided by your research question and use your data to support your conclusions.
  • Communicate results: Once you have interpreted your data, you need to communicate your results. This can be done through academic papers, presentations, or reports. You should be clear and concise in your communication, and use examples and quotes from your data to support your findings.

Examples of Qualitative Research

Here are some real-time examples of qualitative research:

  • Customer Feedback: A company may conduct qualitative research to understand the feedback and experiences of its customers. This may involve conducting focus groups or one-on-one interviews with customers to gather insights into their attitudes, behaviors, and preferences.
  • Healthcare : A healthcare provider may conduct qualitative research to explore patient experiences and perspectives on health and illness. This may involve conducting in-depth interviews with patients and their families to gather information on their experiences with different health care providers and treatments.
  • Education : An educational institution may conduct qualitative research to understand student experiences and to develop effective teaching strategies. This may involve conducting classroom observations and interviews with students and teachers to gather insights into classroom dynamics and instructional practices.
  • Social Work: A social worker may conduct qualitative research to explore social problems and to develop interventions to address them. This may involve conducting in-depth interviews with individuals and families to understand their experiences with poverty, discrimination, and other social problems.
  • Anthropology : An anthropologist may conduct qualitative research to understand different cultures and societies. This may involve conducting ethnographic studies and observing and interviewing members of different cultural groups to gain insights into their beliefs, practices, and social structures.
  • Psychology : A psychologist may conduct qualitative research to understand human behavior and mental processes. This may involve conducting in-depth interviews with individuals to explore their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  • Public Policy: A government agency or non-profit organization may conduct qualitative research to explore public attitudes and to inform policy decisions. This may involve conducting focus groups and one-on-one interviews with members of the public to gather insights into their perspectives on different policy issues.

Purpose of Qualitative Research

The purpose of qualitative research is to explore and understand the subjective experiences, behaviors, and perspectives of individuals or groups in a particular context. Unlike quantitative research, which focuses on numerical data and statistical analysis, qualitative research aims to provide in-depth, descriptive information that can help researchers develop insights and theories about complex social phenomena.

Qualitative research can serve multiple purposes, including:

  • Exploring new or emerging phenomena : Qualitative research can be useful for exploring new or emerging phenomena, such as new technologies or social trends. This type of research can help researchers develop a deeper understanding of these phenomena and identify potential areas for further study.
  • Understanding complex social phenomena : Qualitative research can be useful for exploring complex social phenomena, such as cultural beliefs, social norms, or political processes. This type of research can help researchers develop a more nuanced understanding of these phenomena and identify factors that may influence them.
  • Generating new theories or hypotheses: Qualitative research can be useful for generating new theories or hypotheses about social phenomena. By gathering rich, detailed data about individuals’ experiences and perspectives, researchers can develop insights that may challenge existing theories or lead to new lines of inquiry.
  • Providing context for quantitative data: Qualitative research can be useful for providing context for quantitative data. By gathering qualitative data alongside quantitative data, researchers can develop a more complete understanding of complex social phenomena and identify potential explanations for quantitative findings.

When to use Qualitative Research

Here are some situations where qualitative research may be appropriate:

  • Exploring a new area: If little is known about a particular topic, qualitative research can help to identify key issues, generate hypotheses, and develop new theories.
  • Understanding complex phenomena: Qualitative research can be used to investigate complex social, cultural, or organizational phenomena that are difficult to measure quantitatively.
  • Investigating subjective experiences: Qualitative research is particularly useful for investigating the subjective experiences of individuals or groups, such as their attitudes, beliefs, values, or emotions.
  • Conducting formative research: Qualitative research can be used in the early stages of a research project to develop research questions, identify potential research participants, and refine research methods.
  • Evaluating interventions or programs: Qualitative research can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions or programs by collecting data on participants’ experiences, attitudes, and behaviors.

Characteristics of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is characterized by several key features, including:

  • Focus on subjective experience: Qualitative research is concerned with understanding the subjective experiences, beliefs, and perspectives of individuals or groups in a particular context. Researchers aim to explore the meanings that people attach to their experiences and to understand the social and cultural factors that shape these meanings.
  • Use of open-ended questions: Qualitative research relies on open-ended questions that allow participants to provide detailed, in-depth responses. Researchers seek to elicit rich, descriptive data that can provide insights into participants’ experiences and perspectives.
  • Sampling-based on purpose and diversity: Qualitative research often involves purposive sampling, in which participants are selected based on specific criteria related to the research question. Researchers may also seek to include participants with diverse experiences and perspectives to capture a range of viewpoints.
  • Data collection through multiple methods: Qualitative research typically involves the use of multiple data collection methods, such as in-depth interviews, focus groups, and observation. This allows researchers to gather rich, detailed data from multiple sources, which can provide a more complete picture of participants’ experiences and perspectives.
  • Inductive data analysis: Qualitative research relies on inductive data analysis, in which researchers develop theories and insights based on the data rather than testing pre-existing hypotheses. Researchers use coding and thematic analysis to identify patterns and themes in the data and to develop theories and explanations based on these patterns.
  • Emphasis on researcher reflexivity: Qualitative research recognizes the importance of the researcher’s role in shaping the research process and outcomes. Researchers are encouraged to reflect on their own biases and assumptions and to be transparent about their role in the research process.

Advantages of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research offers several advantages over other research methods, including:

  • Depth and detail: Qualitative research allows researchers to gather rich, detailed data that provides a deeper understanding of complex social phenomena. Through in-depth interviews, focus groups, and observation, researchers can gather detailed information about participants’ experiences and perspectives that may be missed by other research methods.
  • Flexibility : Qualitative research is a flexible approach that allows researchers to adapt their methods to the research question and context. Researchers can adjust their research methods in real-time to gather more information or explore unexpected findings.
  • Contextual understanding: Qualitative research is well-suited to exploring the social and cultural context in which individuals or groups are situated. Researchers can gather information about cultural norms, social structures, and historical events that may influence participants’ experiences and perspectives.
  • Participant perspective : Qualitative research prioritizes the perspective of participants, allowing researchers to explore subjective experiences and understand the meanings that participants attach to their experiences.
  • Theory development: Qualitative research can contribute to the development of new theories and insights about complex social phenomena. By gathering rich, detailed data and using inductive data analysis, researchers can develop new theories and explanations that may challenge existing understandings.
  • Validity : Qualitative research can offer high validity by using multiple data collection methods, purposive and diverse sampling, and researcher reflexivity. This can help ensure that findings are credible and trustworthy.

Limitations of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research also has some limitations, including:

  • Subjectivity : Qualitative research relies on the subjective interpretation of researchers, which can introduce bias into the research process. The researcher’s perspective, beliefs, and experiences can influence the way data is collected, analyzed, and interpreted.
  • Limited generalizability: Qualitative research typically involves small, purposive samples that may not be representative of larger populations. This limits the generalizability of findings to other contexts or populations.
  • Time-consuming: Qualitative research can be a time-consuming process, requiring significant resources for data collection, analysis, and interpretation.
  • Resource-intensive: Qualitative research may require more resources than other research methods, including specialized training for researchers, specialized software for data analysis, and transcription services.
  • Limited reliability: Qualitative research may be less reliable than quantitative research, as it relies on the subjective interpretation of researchers. This can make it difficult to replicate findings or compare results across different studies.
  • Ethics and confidentiality: Qualitative research involves collecting sensitive information from participants, which raises ethical concerns about confidentiality and informed consent. Researchers must take care to protect the privacy and confidentiality of participants and obtain informed consent.

Also see Research Methods

About the author

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Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer

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Qualitative Research

What is qualitative research.

Qualitative research is the methodology researchers use to gain deep contextual understandings of users via non-numerical means and direct observations. Researchers focus on smaller user samples—e.g., in interviews—to reveal data such as user attitudes, behaviors and hidden factors: insights which guide better designs.

“ There are also unknown unknowns, things we don’t know we don’t know.” — Donald Rumsfeld, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense
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See how you can use qualitative research to expose hidden truths about users and iteratively shape better products.

Qualitative Research Focuses on the “Why”

Qualitative research is a subset of user experience (UX) research and user research . By doing qualitative research, you aim to gain narrowly focused but rich information about why users feel and think the ways they do. Unlike its more statistics-oriented “counterpart”, quantitative research , qualitative research can help expose hidden truths about your users’ motivations, hopes, needs, pain points and more to help you keep your project’s focus on track throughout development. UX design professionals do qualitative research typically from early on in projects because—since the insights they reveal can alter product development dramatically—they can prevent costly design errors from arising later. Compare and contrast qualitative with quantitative research here:

Qualitative research

Quantitative Research

You Aim to Determine

The “why” – to get behind how users approach their problems in their world

The “what”, “where” & “when” of the users’ needs & problems – to help keep your project’s focus on track during development

Loosely structured (e.g., contextual inquiries) – to learn why users behave how they do & explore their opinions

Highly structured (e.g., surveys) – to gather data about what users do & find patterns in large user groups

Number of Representative Users

Often around 5

Ideally 30+

Level of Contact with Users

More direct & less remote (e.g., usability testing to examine users’ stress levels when they use your design)

Less direct & more remote (e.g., analytics)

Statistically

You need to take great care with handling non-numerical data (e.g., opinions), as your own opinions might influence findings

Reliable – given enough test users

Regarding care with opinions, it’s easy to be subjective about qualitative data, which isn’t as comprehensively analyzable as quantitative data. That’s why design teams also apply quantitative research methods, to reinforce the “why” with the “what”.

Qualitative Research Methods You Can Use to Get Behind Your Users

You have a choice of many methods to help gain the clearest insights into your users’ world – which you might want to complement with quantitative research methods. In iterative processes such as user-centered design , you/your design team would use quantitative research to spot design problems, discover the reasons for these with qualitative research, make changes and then test your improved design on users again. The best method/s to pick will depend on the stage of your project and your objectives. Here are some:

Diary studies – You ask users to document their activities, interactions, etc. over a defined period. This empowers users to deliver context-rich information. Although such studies can be subjective—since users will inevitably be influenced by in-the-moment human issues and their emotions—they’re helpful tools to access generally authentic information.

Structured – You ask users specific questions and analyze their responses with other users’.

Semi-structured – You have a more free-flowing conversation with users, but still follow a prepared script loosely.

Ethnographic – You interview users in their own environment to appreciate how they perform tasks and view aspects of tasks.

How to Structure a User Interview

Usability testing

Moderated – In-person testing in, e.g., a lab.

Unmoderated – Users complete tests remotely: e.g., through a video call.

Guerrilla – “Down-the-hall”/“down-and-dirty” testing on a small group of random users or colleagues.

How to Plan a Usability Test

User observation – You watch users get to grips with your design and note their actions, words and reactions as they attempt to perform tasks.

qualitative research research topics

Qualitative research can be more or less structured depending on the method.

Qualitative Research – How to Get Reliable Results

Some helpful points to remember are:

Participants – Select a number of test users carefully (typically around 5). Observe the finer points such as body language. Remember the difference between what they do and what they say they do.

Moderated vs. unmoderated – You can obtain the richest data from moderated studies, but these can involve considerable time and practice. You can usually conduct unmoderated studies more quickly and cheaply, but you should plan these carefully to ensure instructions are clear, etc.

Types of questions – You’ll learn far more by asking open-ended questions. Avoid leading users’ answers – ask about their experience during, say, the “search for deals” process rather than how easy it was. Try to frame questions so users respond honestly: i.e., so they don’t withhold grievances about their experience because they don’t want to seem impolite. Distorted feedback may also arise in guerrilla testing, as test users may be reluctant to sound negative or to discuss fine details if they lack time.

Location – Think how where users are might affect their performance and responses. If, for example, users’ tasks involve running or traveling on a train, select the appropriate method (e.g., diary studies for them to record aspects of their experience in the environment of a train carriage and the many factors impacting it).

Overall, no single research method can help you answer all your questions. Nevertheless, The Nielsen Norman Group advise that if you only conduct one kind of user research, you should pick qualitative usability testing, since a small sample size can yield many cost- and project-saving insights. Always treat users and their data ethically. Finally, remember the importance of complementing qualitative methods with quantitative ones: You gain insights from the former; you test those using the latter.

Learn More about Qualitative Research

Take our course on User Research to see how to get the most from qualitative research.

Read about the numerous considerations for qualitative research in this in-depth piece.

This blog discusses the importance of qualitative research , with tips.

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What is the primary focus of qualitative research in user experience?

  • To determine statistical significance of user behavior
  • To explore user behaviors and motivations in-depth
  • To quantify user interaction across multiple platforms

How many participants typically participate in qualitative research studies?

  • About 5 to allow in-depth exploration
  • Between 30 and 50 for moderate generalization
  • Over 100 to guarantee statistical reliability

Which method do researchers often use in qualitative research to understand user experiences in their natural environment?

  • Ethnographic interviews
  • Laboratory experiments
  • Online surveys

What characterizes the analysis of data in qualitative research?

  • Simple tabulation of numeric responses
  • Statistical analysis of large data sets
  • Thematic analysis of detailed descriptions

What is a common challenge researchers face when they conduct qualitative research?

  • The ability to obtain a large enough sample size for statistical analysis.
  • The ability to remain objective and avoid bias in data interpretation.
  • The ability to use advanced statistical tools to analyze data.

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Literature on Qualitative Research

Here’s the entire UX literature on Qualitative Research by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Qualitative Research

Take a deep dive into Qualitative Research with our course User Research – Methods and Best Practices .

How do you plan to design a product or service that your users will love , if you don't know what they want in the first place? As a user experience designer, you shouldn't leave it to chance to design something outstanding; you should make the effort to understand your users and build on that knowledge from the outset. User research is the way to do this, and it can therefore be thought of as the largest part of user experience design .

In fact, user research is often the first step of a UX design process—after all, you cannot begin to design a product or service without first understanding what your users want! As you gain the skills required, and learn about the best practices in user research, you’ll get first-hand knowledge of your users and be able to design the optimal product—one that’s truly relevant for your users and, subsequently, outperforms your competitors’ .

This course will give you insights into the most essential qualitative research methods around and will teach you how to put them into practice in your design work. You’ll also have the opportunity to embark on three practical projects where you can apply what you’ve learned to carry out user research in the real world . You’ll learn details about how to plan user research projects and fit them into your own work processes in a way that maximizes the impact your research can have on your designs. On top of that, you’ll gain practice with different methods that will help you analyze the results of your research and communicate your findings to your clients and stakeholders—workshops, user journeys and personas, just to name a few!

By the end of the course, you’ll have not only a Course Certificate but also three case studies to add to your portfolio. And remember, a portfolio with engaging case studies is invaluable if you are looking to break into a career in UX design or user research!

We believe you should learn from the best, so we’ve gathered a team of experts to help teach this course alongside our own course instructors. That means you’ll meet a new instructor in each of the lessons on research methods who is an expert in their field—we hope you enjoy what they have in store for you!

All open-source articles on Qualitative Research

How to do a thematic analysis of user interviews.

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How to Visualize Your Qualitative User Research Results for Maximum Impact

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Contextual Interviews and How to Handle Them

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  • 11 mths ago

Ethnography

7 simple ways to get better results from ethnographic research.

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Semi-structured qualitative studies

Pros and cons of conducting user interviews.

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Workshops to Establish Empathy and Understanding from User Research Results

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How to Moderate User Interviews

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  • 4 years ago

Question Everything

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Adding Quality to Your Design Research with an SSQS Checklist

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  • 8 years ago

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How to write qualitative research questions.

11 min read Here’s how to write effective qualitative research questions for your projects, and why getting it right matters so much.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is a blanket term covering a wide range of research methods and theoretical framing approaches. The unifying factor in all these types of qualitative study is that they deal with data that cannot be counted. Typically this means things like people’s stories, feelings, opinions and emotions , and the meanings they ascribe to their experiences.

Qualitative study is one of two main categories of research, the other being quantitative research. Quantitative research deals with numerical data – that which can be counted and quantified, and which is mostly concerned with trends and patterns in large-scale datasets.

What are research questions?

Research questions are questions you are trying to answer with your research. To put it another way, your research question is the reason for your study, and the beginning point for your research design. There is normally only one research question per study, although if your project is very complex, you may have multiple research questions that are closely linked to one central question.

A good qualitative research question sums up your research objective. It’s a way of expressing the central question of your research, identifying your particular topic and the central issue you are examining.

Research questions are quite different from survey questions, questions used in focus groups or interview questions. A long list of questions is used in these types of study, as opposed to one central question. Additionally, interview or survey questions are asked of participants, whereas research questions are only for the researcher to maintain a clear understanding of the research design.

Research questions are used in both qualitative and quantitative research , although what makes a good research question might vary between the two.

In fact, the type of research questions you are asking can help you decide whether you need to take a quantitative or qualitative approach to your research project.

Discover the fundamentals of qualitative research

Quantitative vs. qualitative research questions

Writing research questions is very important in both qualitative and quantitative research, but the research questions that perform best in the two types of studies are quite different.

Quantitative research questions

Quantitative research questions usually relate to quantities, similarities and differences.

It might reflect the researchers’ interest in determining whether relationships between variables exist, and if so whether they are statistically significant. Or it may focus on establishing differences between things through comparison, and using statistical analysis to determine whether those differences are meaningful or due to chance.

  • How much? This kind of research question is one of the simplest. It focuses on quantifying something. For example:

How many Yoruba speakers are there in the state of Maine?

  • What is the connection?

This type of quantitative research question examines how one variable affects another.

For example:

How does a low level of sunlight affect the mood scores (1-10) of Antarctic explorers during winter?

  • What is the difference? Quantitative research questions in this category identify two categories and measure the difference between them using numerical data.

Do white cats stay cooler than tabby cats in hot weather?

If your research question fits into one of the above categories, you’re probably going to be doing a quantitative study.

Qualitative research questions

Qualitative research questions focus on exploring phenomena, meanings and experiences.

Unlike quantitative research, qualitative research isn’t about finding causal relationships between variables. So although qualitative research questions might touch on topics that involve one variable influencing another, or looking at the difference between things, finding and quantifying those relationships isn’t the primary objective.

In fact, you as a qualitative researcher might end up studying a very similar topic to your colleague who is doing a quantitative study, but your areas of focus will be quite different. Your research methods will also be different – they might include focus groups, ethnography studies, and other kinds of qualitative study.

A few example qualitative research questions:

  • What is it like being an Antarctic explorer during winter?
  • What are the experiences of Yoruba speakers in the USA?
  • How do white cat owners describe their pets?

Qualitative research question types

qualitative research research topics

Marshall and Rossman (1989) identified 4 qualitative research question types, each with its own typical research strategy and methods.

  • Exploratory questions

Exploratory questions are used when relatively little is known about the research topic. The process researchers follow when pursuing exploratory questions might involve interviewing participants, holding focus groups, or diving deep with a case study.

  • Explanatory questions

With explanatory questions, the research topic is approached with a view to understanding the causes that lie behind phenomena. However, unlike a quantitative project, the focus of explanatory questions is on qualitative analysis of multiple interconnected factors that have influenced a particular group or area, rather than a provable causal link between dependent and independent variables.

  • Descriptive questions

As the name suggests, descriptive questions aim to document and record what is happening. In answering descriptive questions , researchers might interact directly with participants with surveys or interviews, as well as using observational studies and ethnography studies that collect data on how participants interact with their wider environment.

  • Predictive questions

Predictive questions start from the phenomena of interest and investigate what ramifications it might have in the future. Answering predictive questions may involve looking back as well as forward, with content analysis, questionnaires and studies of non-verbal communication (kinesics).

Why are good qualitative research questions important?

We know research questions are very important. But what makes them so essential? (And is that question a qualitative or quantitative one?)

Getting your qualitative research questions right has a number of benefits.

  • It defines your qualitative research project Qualitative research questions definitively nail down the research population, the thing you’re examining, and what the nature of your answer will be.This means you can explain your research project to other people both inside and outside your business or organization. That could be critical when it comes to securing funding for your project, recruiting participants and members of your research team, and ultimately for publishing your results. It can also help you assess right the ethical considerations for your population of study.
  • It maintains focus Good qualitative research questions help researchers to stick to the area of focus as they carry out their research. Keeping the research question in mind will help them steer away from tangents during their research or while they are carrying out qualitative research interviews. This holds true whatever the qualitative methods are, whether it’s a focus group, survey, thematic analysis or other type of inquiry.That doesn’t mean the research project can’t morph and change during its execution – sometimes this is acceptable and even welcome – but having a research question helps demarcate the starting point for the research. It can be referred back to if the scope and focus of the project does change.
  • It helps make sure your outcomes are achievable

Because qualitative research questions help determine the kind of results you’re going to get, it helps make sure those results are achievable. By formulating good qualitative research questions in advance, you can make sure the things you want to know and the way you’re going to investigate them are grounded in practical reality. Otherwise, you may be at risk of taking on a research project that can’t be satisfactorily completed.

Developing good qualitative research questions

All researchers use research questions to define their parameters, keep their study on track and maintain focus on the research topic. This is especially important with qualitative questions, where there may be exploratory or inductive methods in use that introduce researchers to new and interesting areas of inquiry. Here are some tips for writing good qualitative research questions.

1. Keep it specific

Broader research questions are difficult to act on. They may also be open to interpretation, or leave some parameters undefined.

Strong example: How do Baby Boomers in the USA feel about their gender identity?

Weak example: Do people feel different about gender now?

2. Be original

Look for research questions that haven’t been widely addressed by others already.

Strong example: What are the effects of video calling on women’s experiences of work?

Weak example: Are women given less respect than men at work?

3. Make it research-worthy

Don’t ask a question that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or with a quick Google search.

Strong example: What do people like and dislike about living in a highly multi-lingual country?

Weak example: What languages are spoken in India?

4. Focus your question

Don’t roll multiple topics or questions into one. Qualitative data may involve multiple topics, but your qualitative questions should be focused.

Strong example: What is the experience of disabled children and their families when using social services?

Weak example: How can we improve social services for children affected by poverty and disability?

4. Focus on your own discipline, not someone else’s

Avoid asking questions that are for the politicians, police or others to address.

Strong example: What does it feel like to be the victim of a hate crime?

Weak example: How can hate crimes be prevented?

5. Ask something researchable

Big questions, questions about hypothetical events or questions that would require vastly more resources than you have access to are not useful starting points for qualitative studies. Qualitative words or subjective ideas that lack definition are also not helpful.

Strong example: How do perceptions of physical beauty vary between today’s youth and their parents’ generation?

Weak example: Which country has the most beautiful people in it?

Related resources

Qualitative research design 12 min read, primary vs secondary research 14 min read, business research methods 12 min read, qualitative research interviews 11 min read, market intelligence 10 min read, marketing insights 11 min read, ethnographic research 11 min read, request demo.

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Qualitative Methods in Health Care Research

Vishnu renjith.

School of Nursing and Midwifery, Royal College of Surgeons Ireland - Bahrain (RCSI Bahrain), Al Sayh Muharraq Governorate, Bahrain

Renjulal Yesodharan

1 Department of Mental Health Nursing, Manipal College of Nursing Manipal, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka, India

Judith A. Noronha

2 Department of OBG Nursing, Manipal College of Nursing Manipal, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka, India

Elissa Ladd

3 School of Nursing, MGH Institute of Health Professions, Boston, USA

Anice George

4 Department of Child Health Nursing, Manipal College of Nursing Manipal, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka, India

Healthcare research is a systematic inquiry intended to generate robust evidence about important issues in the fields of medicine and healthcare. Qualitative research has ample possibilities within the arena of healthcare research. This article aims to inform healthcare professionals regarding qualitative research, its significance, and applicability in the field of healthcare. A wide variety of phenomena that cannot be explained using the quantitative approach can be explored and conveyed using a qualitative method. The major types of qualitative research designs are narrative research, phenomenological research, grounded theory research, ethnographic research, historical research, and case study research. The greatest strength of the qualitative research approach lies in the richness and depth of the healthcare exploration and description it makes. In health research, these methods are considered as the most humanistic and person-centered way of discovering and uncovering thoughts and actions of human beings.

Introduction

Healthcare research is a systematic inquiry intended to generate trustworthy evidence about issues in the field of medicine and healthcare. The three principal approaches to health research are the quantitative, the qualitative, and the mixed methods approach. The quantitative research method uses data, which are measures of values and counts and are often described using statistical methods which in turn aids the researcher to draw inferences. Qualitative research incorporates the recording, interpreting, and analyzing of non-numeric data with an attempt to uncover the deeper meanings of human experiences and behaviors. Mixed methods research, the third methodological approach, involves collection and analysis of both qualitative and quantitative information with an objective to solve different but related questions, or at times the same questions.[ 1 , 2 ]

In healthcare, qualitative research is widely used to understand patterns of health behaviors, describe lived experiences, develop behavioral theories, explore healthcare needs, and design interventions.[ 1 , 2 , 3 ] Because of its ample applications in healthcare, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of health research studies undertaken using qualitative methodology.[ 4 , 5 ] This article discusses qualitative research methods, their significance, and applicability in the arena of healthcare.

Qualitative Research

Diverse academic and non-academic disciplines utilize qualitative research as a method of inquiry to understand human behavior and experiences.[ 6 , 7 ] According to Munhall, “Qualitative research involves broadly stated questions about human experiences and realities, studied through sustained contact with the individual in their natural environments and producing rich, descriptive data that will help us to understand those individual's experiences.”[ 8 ]

Significance of Qualitative Research

The qualitative method of inquiry examines the 'how' and 'why' of decision making, rather than the 'when,' 'what,' and 'where.'[ 7 ] Unlike quantitative methods, the objective of qualitative inquiry is to explore, narrate, and explain the phenomena and make sense of the complex reality. Health interventions, explanatory health models, and medical-social theories could be developed as an outcome of qualitative research.[ 9 ] Understanding the richness and complexity of human behavior is the crux of qualitative research.

Differences between Quantitative and Qualitative Research

The quantitative and qualitative forms of inquiry vary based on their underlying objectives. They are in no way opposed to each other; instead, these two methods are like two sides of a coin. The critical differences between quantitative and qualitative research are summarized in Table 1 .[ 1 , 10 , 11 ]

Differences between quantitative and qualitative research

Qualitative Research Questions and Purpose Statements

Qualitative questions are exploratory and are open-ended. A well-formulated study question forms the basis for developing a protocol, guides the selection of design, and data collection methods. Qualitative research questions generally involve two parts, a central question and related subquestions. The central question is directed towards the primary phenomenon under study, whereas the subquestions explore the subareas of focus. It is advised not to have more than five to seven subquestions. A commonly used framework for designing a qualitative research question is the 'PCO framework' wherein, P stands for the population under study, C stands for the context of exploration, and O stands for the outcome/s of interest.[ 12 ] The PCO framework guides researchers in crafting a focused study question.

Example: In the question, “What are the experiences of mothers on parenting children with Thalassemia?”, the population is “mothers of children with Thalassemia,” the context is “parenting children with Thalassemia,” and the outcome of interest is “experiences.”

The purpose statement specifies the broad focus of the study, identifies the approach, and provides direction for the overall goal of the study. The major components of a purpose statement include the central phenomenon under investigation, the study design and the population of interest. Qualitative research does not require a-priori hypothesis.[ 13 , 14 , 15 ]

Example: Borimnejad et al . undertook a qualitative research on the lived experiences of women suffering from vitiligo. The purpose of this study was, “to explore lived experiences of women suffering from vitiligo using a hermeneutic phenomenological approach.” [ 16 ]

Review of the Literature

In quantitative research, the researchers do an extensive review of scientific literature prior to the commencement of the study. However, in qualitative research, only a minimal literature search is conducted at the beginning of the study. This is to ensure that the researcher is not influenced by the existing understanding of the phenomenon under the study. The minimal literature review will help the researchers to avoid the conceptual pollution of the phenomenon being studied. Nonetheless, an extensive review of the literature is conducted after data collection and analysis.[ 15 ]

Reflexivity

Reflexivity refers to critical self-appraisal about one's own biases, values, preferences, and preconceptions about the phenomenon under investigation. Maintaining a reflexive diary/journal is a widely recognized way to foster reflexivity. According to Creswell, “Reflexivity increases the credibility of the study by enhancing more neutral interpretations.”[ 7 ]

Types of Qualitative Research Designs

The qualitative research approach encompasses a wide array of research designs. The words such as types, traditions, designs, strategies of inquiry, varieties, and methods are used interchangeably. The major types of qualitative research designs are narrative research, phenomenological research, grounded theory research, ethnographic research, historical research, and case study research.[ 1 , 7 , 10 ]

Narrative research

Narrative research focuses on exploring the life of an individual and is ideally suited to tell the stories of individual experiences.[ 17 ] The purpose of narrative research is to utilize 'story telling' as a method in communicating an individual's experience to a larger audience.[ 18 ] The roots of narrative inquiry extend to humanities including anthropology, literature, psychology, education, history, and sociology. Narrative research encompasses the study of individual experiences and learning the significance of those experiences. The data collection procedures include mainly interviews, field notes, letters, photographs, diaries, and documents collected from one or more individuals. Data analysis involves the analysis of the stories or experiences through “re-storying of stories” and developing themes usually in chronological order of events. Rolls and Payne argued that narrative research is a valuable approach in health care research, to gain deeper insight into patient's experiences.[ 19 ]

Example: Karlsson et al . undertook a narrative inquiry to “explore how people with Alzheimer's disease present their life story.” Data were collected from nine participants. They were asked to describe about their life experiences from childhood to adulthood, then to current life and their views about the future life. [ 20 ]

Phenomenological research

Phenomenology is a philosophical tradition developed by German philosopher Edmond Husserl. His student Martin Heidegger did further developments in this methodology. It defines the 'essence' of individual's experiences regarding a certain phenomenon.[ 1 ] The methodology has its origin from philosophy, psychology, and education. The purpose of qualitative research is to understand the people's everyday life experiences and reduce it into the central meaning or the 'essence of the experience'.[ 21 , 22 ] The unit of analysis of phenomenology is the individuals who have had similar experiences of the phenomenon. Interviews with individuals are mainly considered for the data collection, though, documents and observations are also useful. Data analysis includes identification of significant meaning elements, textural description (what was experienced), structural description (how was it experienced), and description of 'essence' of experience.[ 1 , 7 , 21 ] The phenomenological approach is further divided into descriptive and interpretive phenomenology. Descriptive phenomenology focuses on the understanding of the essence of experiences and is best suited in situations that need to describe the lived phenomenon. Hermeneutic phenomenology or Interpretive phenomenology moves beyond the description to uncover the meanings that are not explicitly evident. The researcher tries to interpret the phenomenon, based on their judgment rather than just describing it.[ 7 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 ]

Example: A phenomenological study conducted by Cornelio et al . aimed at describing the lived experiences of mothers in parenting children with leukemia. Data from ten mothers were collected using in-depth semi-structured interviews and were analyzed using Husserl's method of phenomenology. Themes such as “pivotal moment in life”, “the experience of being with a seriously ill child”, “having to keep distance with the relatives”, “overcoming the financial and social commitments”, “responding to challenges”, “experience of faith as being key to survival”, “health concerns of the present and future”, and “optimism” were derived. The researchers reported the essence of the study as “chronic illness such as leukemia in children results in a negative impact on the child and on the mother.” [ 25 ]

Grounded Theory Research

Grounded theory has its base in sociology and propagated by two sociologists, Barney Glaser, and Anselm Strauss.[ 26 ] The primary purpose of grounded theory is to discover or generate theory in the context of the social process being studied. The major difference between grounded theory and other approaches lies in its emphasis on theory generation and development. The name grounded theory comes from its ability to induce a theory grounded in the reality of study participants.[ 7 , 27 ] Data collection in grounded theory research involves recording interviews from many individuals until data saturation. Constant comparative analysis, theoretical sampling, theoretical coding, and theoretical saturation are unique features of grounded theory research.[ 26 , 27 , 28 ] Data analysis includes analyzing data through 'open coding,' 'axial coding,' and 'selective coding.'[ 1 , 7 ] Open coding is the first level of abstraction, and it refers to the creation of a broad initial range of categories, axial coding is the procedure of understanding connections between the open codes, whereas selective coding relates to the process of connecting the axial codes to formulate a theory.[ 1 , 7 ] Results of the grounded theory analysis are supplemented with a visual representation of major constructs usually in the form of flow charts or framework diagrams. Quotations from the participants are used in a supportive capacity to substantiate the findings. Strauss and Corbin highlights that “the value of the grounded theory lies not only in its ability to generate a theory but also to ground that theory in the data.”[ 27 ]

Example: Williams et al . conducted a grounded theory research to explore the nature of relationship between the sense of self and the eating disorders. Data were collected form 11 women with a lifetime history of Anorexia Nervosa and were analyzed using the grounded theory methodology. Analysis led to the development of a theoretical framework on the nature of the relationship between the self and Anorexia Nervosa. [ 29 ]

Ethnographic research

Ethnography has its base in anthropology, where the anthropologists used it for understanding the culture-specific knowledge and behaviors. In health sciences research, ethnography focuses on narrating and interpreting the health behaviors of a culture-sharing group. 'Culture-sharing group' in an ethnography represents any 'group of people who share common meanings, customs or experiences.' In health research, it could be a group of physicians working in rural care, a group of medical students, or it could be a group of patients who receive home-based rehabilitation. To understand the cultural patterns, researchers primarily observe the individuals or group of individuals for a prolonged period of time.[ 1 , 7 , 30 ] The scope of ethnography can be broad or narrow depending on the aim. The study of more general cultural groups is termed as macro-ethnography, whereas micro-ethnography focuses on more narrowly defined cultures. Ethnography is usually conducted in a single setting. Ethnographers collect data using a variety of methods such as observation, interviews, audio-video records, and document reviews. A written report includes a detailed description of the culture sharing group with emic and etic perspectives. When the researcher reports the views of the participants it is called emic perspectives and when the researcher reports his or her views about the culture, the term is called etic.[ 7 ]

Example: The aim of the ethnographic study by LeBaron et al . was to explore the barriers to opioid availability and cancer pain management in India. The researchers collected data from fifty-nine participants using in-depth semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and document review. The researchers identified significant barriers by open coding and thematic analysis of the formal interview. [ 31 ]

Historical research

Historical research is the “systematic collection, critical evaluation, and interpretation of historical evidence”.[ 1 ] The purpose of historical research is to gain insights from the past and involves interpreting past events in the light of the present. The data for historical research are usually collected from primary and secondary sources. The primary source mainly includes diaries, first hand information, and writings. The secondary sources are textbooks, newspapers, second or third-hand accounts of historical events and medical/legal documents. The data gathered from these various sources are synthesized and reported as biographical narratives or developmental perspectives in chronological order. The ideas are interpreted in terms of the historical context and significance. The written report describes 'what happened', 'how it happened', 'why it happened', and its significance and implications to current clinical practice.[ 1 , 10 ]

Example: Lubold (2019) analyzed the breastfeeding trends in three countries (Sweden, Ireland, and the United States) using a historical qualitative method. Through analysis of historical data, the researcher found that strong family policies, adherence to international recommendations and adoption of baby-friendly hospital initiative could greatly enhance the breastfeeding rates. [ 32 ]

Case study research

Case study research focuses on the description and in-depth analysis of the case(s) or issues illustrated by the case(s). The design has its origin from psychology, law, and medicine. Case studies are best suited for the understanding of case(s), thus reducing the unit of analysis into studying an event, a program, an activity or an illness. Observations, one to one interviews, artifacts, and documents are used for collecting the data, and the analysis is done through the description of the case. From this, themes and cross-case themes are derived. A written case study report includes a detailed description of one or more cases.[ 7 , 10 ]

Example: Perceptions of poststroke sexuality in a woman of childbearing age was explored using a qualitative case study approach by Beal and Millenbrunch. Semi structured interview was conducted with a 36- year mother of two children with a history of Acute ischemic stroke. The data were analyzed using an inductive approach. The authors concluded that “stroke during childbearing years may affect a woman's perception of herself as a sexual being and her ability to carry out gender roles”. [ 33 ]

Sampling in Qualitative Research

Qualitative researchers widely use non-probability sampling techniques such as purposive sampling, convenience sampling, quota sampling, snowball sampling, homogeneous sampling, maximum variation sampling, extreme (deviant) case sampling, typical case sampling, and intensity sampling. The selection of a sampling technique depends on the nature and needs of the study.[ 34 , 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 ] The four widely used sampling techniques are convenience sampling, purposive sampling, snowball sampling, and intensity sampling.

Convenience sampling

It is otherwise called accidental sampling, where the researchers collect data from the subjects who are selected based on accessibility, geographical proximity, ease, speed, and or low cost.[ 34 ] Convenience sampling offers a significant benefit of convenience but often accompanies the issues of sample representation.

Purposive sampling

Purposive or purposeful sampling is a widely used sampling technique.[ 35 ] It involves identifying a population based on already established sampling criteria and then selecting subjects who fulfill that criteria to increase the credibility. However, choosing information-rich cases is the key to determine the power and logic of purposive sampling in a qualitative study.[ 1 ]

Snowball sampling

The method is also known as 'chain referral sampling' or 'network sampling.' The sampling starts by having a few initial participants, and the researcher relies on these early participants to identify additional study participants. It is best adopted when the researcher wishes to study the stigmatized group, or in cases, where findings of participants are likely to be difficult by ordinary means. Respondent ridden sampling is an improvised version of snowball sampling used to find out the participant from a hard-to-find or hard-to-study population.[ 37 , 38 ]

Intensity sampling

The process of identifying information-rich cases that manifest the phenomenon of interest is referred to as intensity sampling. It requires prior information, and considerable judgment about the phenomenon of interest and the researcher should do some preliminary investigations to determine the nature of the variation. Intensity sampling will be done once the researcher identifies the variation across the cases (extreme, average and intense) and picks the intense cases from them.[ 40 ]

Deciding the Sample Size

A-priori sample size calculation is not undertaken in the case of qualitative research. Researchers collect the data from as many participants as possible until they reach the point of data saturation. Data saturation or the point of redundancy is the stage where the researcher no longer sees or hears any new information. Data saturation gives the idea that the researcher has captured all possible information about the phenomenon of interest. Since no further information is being uncovered as redundancy is achieved, at this point the data collection can be stopped. The objective here is to get an overall picture of the chronicle of the phenomenon under the study rather than generalization.[ 1 , 7 , 41 ]

Data Collection in Qualitative Research

The various strategies used for data collection in qualitative research includes in-depth interviews (individual or group), focus group discussions (FGDs), participant observation, narrative life history, document analysis, audio materials, videos or video footage, text analysis, and simple observation. Among all these, the three popular methods are the FGDs, one to one in-depth interviews and the participant observation.

FGDs are useful in eliciting data from a group of individuals. They are normally built around a specific topic and are considered as the best approach to gather data on an entire range of responses to a topic.[ 42 Group size in an FGD ranges from 6 to 12. Depending upon the nature of participants, FGDs could be homogeneous or heterogeneous.[ 1 , 14 ] One to one in-depth interviews are best suited to obtain individuals' life histories, lived experiences, perceptions, and views, particularly while exporting topics of sensitive nature. In-depth interviews can be structured, unstructured, or semi-structured. However, semi-structured interviews are widely used in qualitative research. Participant observations are suitable for gathering data regarding naturally occurring behaviors.[ 1 ]

Data Analysis in Qualitative Research

Various strategies are employed by researchers to analyze data in qualitative research. Data analytic strategies differ according to the type of inquiry. A general content analysis approach is described herewith. Data analysis begins by transcription of the interview data. The researcher carefully reads data and gets a sense of the whole. Once the researcher is familiarized with the data, the researcher strives to identify small meaning units called the 'codes.' The codes are then grouped based on their shared concepts to form the primary categories. Based on the relationship between the primary categories, they are then clustered into secondary categories. The next step involves the identification of themes and interpretation to make meaning out of data. In the results section of the manuscript, the researcher describes the key findings/themes that emerged. The themes can be supported by participants' quotes. The analytical framework used should be explained in sufficient detail, and the analytic framework must be well referenced. The study findings are usually represented in a schematic form for better conceptualization.[ 1 , 7 ] Even though the overall analytical process remains the same across different qualitative designs, each design such as phenomenology, ethnography, and grounded theory has design specific analytical procedures, the details of which are out of the scope of this article.

Computer-Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software (CAQDAS)

Until recently, qualitative analysis was done either manually or with the help of a spreadsheet application. Currently, there are various software programs available which aid researchers to manage qualitative data. CAQDAS is basically data management tools and cannot analyze the qualitative data as it lacks the ability to think, reflect, and conceptualize. Nonetheless, CAQDAS helps researchers to manage, shape, and make sense of unstructured information. Open Code, MAXQDA, NVivo, Atlas.ti, and Hyper Research are some of the widely used qualitative data analysis software.[ 14 , 43 ]

Reporting Guidelines

Consolidated Criteria for Reporting Qualitative Research (COREQ) is the widely used reporting guideline for qualitative research. This 32-item checklist assists researchers in reporting all the major aspects related to the study. The three major domains of COREQ are the 'research team and reflexivity', 'study design', and 'analysis and findings'.[ 44 , 45 ]

Critical Appraisal of Qualitative Research

Various scales are available to critical appraisal of qualitative research. The widely used one is the Critical Appraisal Skills Program (CASP) Qualitative Checklist developed by CASP network, UK. This 10-item checklist evaluates the quality of the study under areas such as aims, methodology, research design, ethical considerations, data collection, data analysis, and findings.[ 46 ]

Ethical Issues in Qualitative Research

A qualitative study must be undertaken by grounding it in the principles of bioethics such as beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice. Protecting the participants is of utmost importance, and the greatest care has to be taken while collecting data from a vulnerable research population. The researcher must respect individuals, families, and communities and must make sure that the participants are not identifiable by their quotations that the researchers include when publishing the data. Consent for audio/video recordings must be obtained. Approval to be in FGDs must be obtained from the participants. Researchers must ensure the confidentiality and anonymity of the transcripts/audio-video records/photographs/other data collected as a part of the study. The researchers must confirm their role as advocates and proceed in the best interest of all participants.[ 42 , 47 , 48 ]

Rigor in Qualitative Research

The demonstration of rigor or quality in the conduct of the study is essential for every research method. However, the criteria used to evaluate the rigor of quantitative studies are not be appropriate for qualitative methods. Lincoln and Guba (1985) first outlined the criteria for evaluating the qualitative research often referred to as “standards of trustworthiness of qualitative research”.[ 49 ] The four components of the criteria are credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability.

Credibility refers to confidence in the 'truth value' of the data and its interpretation. It is used to establish that the findings are true, credible and believable. Credibility is similar to the internal validity in quantitative research.[ 1 , 50 , 51 ] The second criterion to establish the trustworthiness of the qualitative research is transferability, Transferability refers to the degree to which the qualitative results are applicability to other settings, population or contexts. This is analogous to the external validity in quantitative research.[ 1 , 50 , 51 ] Lincoln and Guba recommend authors provide enough details so that the users will be able to evaluate the applicability of data in other contexts.[ 49 ] The criterion of dependability refers to the assumption of repeatability or replicability of the study findings and is similar to that of reliability in quantitative research. The dependability question is 'Whether the study findings be repeated of the study is replicated with the same (similar) cohort of participants, data coders, and context?'[ 1 , 50 , 51 ] Confirmability, the fourth criteria is analogous to the objectivity of the study and refers the degree to which the study findings could be confirmed or corroborated by others. To ensure confirmability the data should directly reflect the participants' experiences and not the bias, motivations, or imaginations of the inquirer.[ 1 , 50 , 51 ] Qualitative researchers should ensure that the study is conducted with enough rigor and should report the measures undertaken to enhance the trustworthiness of the study.

Conclusions

Qualitative research studies are being widely acknowledged and recognized in health care practice. This overview illustrates various qualitative methods and shows how these methods can be used to generate evidence that informs clinical practice. Qualitative research helps to understand the patterns of health behaviors, describe illness experiences, design health interventions, and develop healthcare theories. The ultimate strength of the qualitative research approach lies in the richness of the data and the descriptions and depth of exploration it makes. Hence, qualitative methods are considered as the most humanistic and person-centered way of discovering and uncovering thoughts and actions of human beings.

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CRO Guide   >  Chapter 3.1

Qualitative Research: Definition, Methodology, Limitation & Examples

Qualitative research is a method focused on understanding human behavior and experiences through non-numerical data. Examples of qualitative research include:

  • One-on-one interviews,
  • Focus groups, Ethnographic research,
  • Case studies,
  • Record keeping,
  • Qualitative observations

In this article, we’ll provide tips and tricks on how to use qualitative research to better understand your audience through real world examples and improve your ROI. We’ll also learn the difference between qualitative and quantitative data.

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Marketers often seek to understand their customers deeply. Qualitative research methods such as face-to-face interviews, focus groups, and qualitative observations can provide valuable insights into your products, your market, and your customers’ opinions and motivations. Understanding these nuances can significantly enhance marketing strategies and overall customer satisfaction.

What is Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is a market research method that focuses on obtaining data through open-ended and conversational communication. This method focuses on the “why” rather than the “what” people think about you. Thus, qualitative research seeks to uncover the underlying motivations, attitudes, and beliefs that drive people’s actions. 

Let’s say you have an online shop catering to a general audience. You do a demographic analysis and you find out that most of your customers are male. Naturally, you will want to find out why women are not buying from you. And that’s what qualitative research will help you find out.

In the case of your online shop, qualitative research would involve reaching out to female non-customers through methods such as in-depth interviews or focus groups. These interactions provide a platform for women to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns regarding your products or brand. Through qualitative analysis, you can uncover valuable insights into factors such as product preferences, user experience, brand perception, and barriers to purchase.

Types of Qualitative Research Methods

Qualitative research methods are designed in a manner that helps reveal the behavior and perception of a target audience regarding a particular topic.

The most frequently used qualitative analysis methods are one-on-one interviews, focus groups, ethnographic research, case study research, record keeping, and qualitative observation.

1. One-on-one interviews

Conducting one-on-one interviews is one of the most common qualitative research methods. One of the advantages of this method is that it provides a great opportunity to gather precise data about what people think and their motivations.

Spending time talking to customers not only helps marketers understand who their clients are, but also helps with customer care: clients love hearing from brands. This strengthens the relationship between a brand and its clients and paves the way for customer testimonials.

  • A company might conduct interviews to understand why a product failed to meet sales expectations.
  • A researcher might use interviews to gather personal stories about experiences with healthcare.

These interviews can be performed face-to-face or on the phone and usually last between half an hour to over two hours. 

When a one-on-one interview is conducted face-to-face, it also gives the marketer the opportunity to read the body language of the respondent and match the responses.

2. Focus groups

Focus groups gather a small number of people to discuss and provide feedback on a particular subject. The ideal size of a focus group is usually between five and eight participants. The size of focus groups should reflect the participants’ familiarity with the topic. For less important topics or when participants have little experience, a group of 10 can be effective. For more critical topics or when participants are more knowledgeable, a smaller group of five to six is preferable for deeper discussions.

The main goal of a focus group is to find answers to the “why”, “what”, and “how” questions. This method is highly effective in exploring people’s feelings and ideas in a social setting, where group dynamics can bring out insights that might not emerge in one-on-one situations.

  • A focus group could be used to test reactions to a new product concept.
  • Marketers might use focus groups to see how different demographic groups react to an advertising campaign.

One advantage that focus groups have is that the marketer doesn’t necessarily have to interact with the group in person. Nowadays focus groups can be sent as online qualitative surveys on various devices.

Focus groups are an expensive option compared to the other qualitative research methods, which is why they are typically used to explain complex processes.

3. Ethnographic research

Ethnographic research is the most in-depth observational method that studies individuals in their naturally occurring environment.

This method aims at understanding the cultures, challenges, motivations, and settings that occur.

  • A study of workplace culture within a tech startup.
  • Observational research in a remote village to understand local traditions.

Ethnographic research requires the marketer to adapt to the target audiences’ environments (a different organization, a different city, or even a remote location), which is why geographical constraints can be an issue while collecting data.

This type of research can last from a few days to a few years. It’s challenging and time-consuming and solely depends on the expertise of the marketer to be able to analyze, observe, and infer the data.

4. Case study research

The case study method has grown into a valuable qualitative research method. This type of research method is usually used in education or social sciences. It involves a comprehensive examination of a single instance or event, providing detailed insights into complex issues in real-life contexts.  

  • Analyzing a single school’s innovative teaching method.
  • A detailed study of a patient’s medical treatment over several years.

Case study research may seem difficult to operate, but it’s actually one of the simplest ways of conducting research as it involves a deep dive and thorough understanding of the data collection methods and inferring the data.

5. Record keeping

Record keeping is similar to going to the library: you go over books or any other reference material to collect relevant data. This method uses already existing reliable documents and similar sources of information as a data source.

  • Historical research using old newspapers and letters.
  • A study on policy changes over the years by examining government records.

This method is useful for constructing a historical context around a research topic or verifying other findings with documented evidence.

6. Qualitative observation

Qualitative observation is a method that uses subjective methodologies to gather systematic information or data. This method deals with the five major sensory organs and their functioning, sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.

  • Sight : Observing the way customers visually interact with product displays in a store to understand their browsing behaviors and preferences.
  • Smell : Noting reactions of consumers to different scents in a fragrance shop to study the impact of olfactory elements on product preference.
  • Touch : Watching how individuals interact with different materials in a clothing store to assess the importance of texture in fabric selection.
  • Taste : Evaluating reactions of participants in a taste test to identify flavor profiles that appeal to different demographic groups.
  • Hearing : Documenting responses to changes in background music within a retail environment to determine its effect on shopping behavior and mood.

Below we are also providing real-life examples of qualitative research that demonstrate practical applications across various contexts:

Qualitative Research Real World Examples

Let’s explore some examples of how qualitative research can be applied in different contexts.

1. Online grocery shop with a predominantly male audience

Method used: one-on-one interviews.

Let’s go back to one of the previous examples. You have an online grocery shop. By nature, it addresses a general audience, but after you do a demographic analysis you find out that most of your customers are male.

One good method to determine why women are not buying from you is to hold one-on-one interviews with potential customers in the category.

Interviewing a sample of potential female customers should reveal why they don’t find your store appealing. The reasons could range from not stocking enough products for women to perhaps the store’s emphasis on heavy-duty tools and automotive products, for example. These insights can guide adjustments in inventory and marketing strategies.

2. Software company launching a new product

Method used: focus groups.

Focus groups are great for establishing product-market fit.

Let’s assume you are a software company that wants to launch a new product and you hold a focus group with 12 people. Although getting their feedback regarding users’ experience with the product is a good thing, this sample is too small to define how the entire market will react to your product.

So what you can do instead is holding multiple focus groups in 20 different geographic regions. Each region should be hosting a group of 12 for each market segment; you can even segment your audience based on age. This would be a better way to establish credibility in the feedback you receive.

3. Alan Pushkin’s “God’s Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School”

Method used: ethnographic research.

Moving from a fictional example to a real-life one, let’s analyze Alan Peshkin’s 1986 book “God’s Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School”.

Peshkin studied the culture of Bethany Baptist Academy by interviewing the students, parents, teachers, and members of the community alike, and spending eighteen months observing them to provide a comprehensive and in-depth analysis of Christian schooling as an alternative to public education.

The study highlights the school’s unified purpose, rigorous academic environment, and strong community support while also pointing out its lack of cultural diversity and openness to differing viewpoints. These insights are crucial for understanding how such educational settings operate and what they offer to students.

Even after discovering all this, Peshkin still presented the school in a positive light and stated that public schools have much to learn from such schools.

Peshkin’s in-depth research represents a qualitative study that uses observations and unstructured interviews, without any assumptions or hypotheses. He utilizes descriptive or non-quantifiable data on Bethany Baptist Academy specifically, without attempting to generalize the findings to other Christian schools.

4. Understanding buyers’ trends

Method used: record keeping.

Another way marketers can use quality research is to understand buyers’ trends. To do this, marketers need to look at historical data for both their company and their industry and identify where buyers are purchasing items in higher volumes.

For example, electronics distributors know that the holiday season is a peak market for sales while life insurance agents find that spring and summer wedding months are good seasons for targeting new clients.

5. Determining products/services missing from the market

Conducting your own research isn’t always necessary. If there are significant breakthroughs in your industry, you can use industry data and adapt it to your marketing needs.

The influx of hacking and hijacking of cloud-based information has made Internet security a topic of many industry reports lately. A software company could use these reports to better understand the problems its clients are facing.

As a result, the company can provide solutions prospects already know they need.

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Qualitative Research Approaches

Once the marketer has decided that their research questions will provide data that is qualitative in nature, the next step is to choose the appropriate qualitative approach.

The approach chosen will take into account the purpose of the research, the role of the researcher, the data collected, the method of data analysis , and how the results will be presented. The most common approaches include:

  • Narrative : This method focuses on individual life stories to understand personal experiences and journeys. It examines how people structure their stories and the themes within them to explore human existence. For example, a narrative study might look at cancer survivors to understand their resilience and coping strategies.
  • Phenomenology : attempts to understand or explain life experiences or phenomena; It aims to reveal the depth of human consciousness and perception, such as by studying the daily lives of those with chronic illnesses.
  • Grounded theory : investigates the process, action, or interaction with the goal of developing a theory “grounded” in observations and empirical data. 
  • Ethnography : describes and interprets an ethnic, cultural, or social group;
  • Case study : examines episodic events in a definable framework, develops in-depth analyses of single or multiple cases, and generally explains “how”. An example might be studying a community health program to evaluate its success and impact.

How to Analyze Qualitative Data

Analyzing qualitative data involves interpreting non-numerical data to uncover patterns, themes, and deeper insights. This process is typically more subjective and requires a systematic approach to ensure reliability and validity. 

1. Data Collection

Ensure that your data collection methods (e.g., interviews, focus groups, observations) are well-documented and comprehensive. This step is crucial because the quality and depth of the data collected will significantly influence the analysis.

2. Data Preparation

Once collected, the data needs to be organized. Transcribe audio and video recordings, and gather all notes and documents. Ensure that all data is anonymized to protect participant confidentiality where necessary.

3. Familiarization

Immerse yourself in the data by reading through the materials multiple times. This helps you get a general sense of the information and begin identifying patterns or recurring themes.

Develop a coding system to tag data with labels that summarize and account for each piece of information. Codes can be words, phrases, or acronyms that represent how these segments relate to your research questions.

  • Descriptive Coding : Summarize the primary topic of the data.
  • In Vivo Coding : Use language and terms used by the participants themselves.
  • Process Coding : Use gerunds (“-ing” words) to label the processes at play.
  • Emotion Coding : Identify and record the emotions conveyed or experienced.

5. Thematic Development

Group codes into themes that represent larger patterns in the data. These themes should relate directly to the research questions and form a coherent narrative about the findings.

6. Interpreting the Data

Interpret the data by constructing a logical narrative. This involves piecing together the themes to explain larger insights about the data. Link the results back to your research objectives and existing literature to bolster your interpretations.

7. Validation

Check the reliability and validity of your findings by reviewing if the interpretations are supported by the data. This may involve revisiting the data multiple times or discussing the findings with colleagues or participants for validation.

8. Reporting

Finally, present the findings in a clear and organized manner. Use direct quotes and detailed descriptions to illustrate the themes and insights. The report should communicate the narrative you’ve built from your data, clearly linking your findings to your research questions.

Limitations of qualitative research

The disadvantages of qualitative research are quite unique. The techniques of the data collector and their own unique observations can alter the information in subtle ways. That being said, these are the qualitative research’s limitations:

1. It’s a time-consuming process

The main drawback of qualitative study is that the process is time-consuming. Another problem is that the interpretations are limited. Personal experience and knowledge influence observations and conclusions.

Thus, qualitative research might take several weeks or months. Also, since this process delves into personal interaction for data collection, discussions often tend to deviate from the main issue to be studied.

2. You can’t verify the results of qualitative research

Because qualitative research is open-ended, participants have more control over the content of the data collected. So the marketer is not able to verify the results objectively against the scenarios stated by the respondents. For example, in a focus group discussing a new product, participants might express their feelings about the design and functionality. However, these opinions are influenced by individual tastes and experiences, making it difficult to ascertain a universally applicable conclusion from these discussions.

3. It’s a labor-intensive approach

Qualitative research requires a labor-intensive analysis process such as categorization, recording, etc. Similarly, qualitative research requires well-experienced marketers to obtain the needed data from a group of respondents.

4. It’s difficult to investigate causality

Qualitative research requires thoughtful planning to ensure the obtained results are accurate. There is no way to analyze qualitative data mathematically. This type of research is based more on opinion and judgment rather than results. Because all qualitative studies are unique they are difficult to replicate.

5. Qualitative research is not statistically representative

Because qualitative research is a perspective-based method of research, the responses given are not measured.

Comparisons can be made and this can lead toward duplication, but for the most part, quantitative data is required for circumstances that need statistical representation and that is not part of the qualitative research process.

While doing a qualitative study, it’s important to cross-reference the data obtained with the quantitative data. By continuously surveying prospects and customers marketers can build a stronger database of useful information.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research

Qualitative and quantitative research side by side in a table

Image source

Quantitative and qualitative research are two distinct methodologies used in the field of market research, each offering unique insights and approaches to understanding consumer behavior and preferences.

As we already defined, qualitative analysis seeks to explore the deeper meanings, perceptions, and motivations behind human behavior through non-numerical data. On the other hand, quantitative research focuses on collecting and analyzing numerical data to identify patterns, trends, and statistical relationships.  

Let’s explore their key differences: 

Nature of Data:

  • Quantitative research : Involves numerical data that can be measured and analyzed statistically.
  • Qualitative research : Focuses on non-numerical data, such as words, images, and observations, to capture subjective experiences and meanings.

Research Questions:

  • Quantitative research : Typically addresses questions related to “how many,” “how much,” or “to what extent,” aiming to quantify relationships and patterns.
  • Qualitative research: Explores questions related to “why” and “how,” aiming to understand the underlying motivations, beliefs, and perceptions of individuals.

Data Collection Methods:

  • Quantitative research : Relies on structured surveys, experiments, or observations with predefined variables and measures.
  • Qualitative research : Utilizes open-ended interviews, focus groups, participant observations, and textual analysis to gather rich, contextually nuanced data.

Analysis Techniques:

  • Quantitative research: Involves statistical analysis to identify correlations, associations, or differences between variables.
  • Qualitative research: Employs thematic analysis, coding, and interpretation to uncover patterns, themes, and insights within qualitative data.

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  • Published: 16 May 2024

Integrating qualitative research within a clinical trials unit: developing strategies and understanding their implementation in contexts

  • Jeremy Segrott   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-6215-0870 1 ,
  • Sue Channon 2 ,
  • Amy Lloyd 4 ,
  • Eleni Glarou 2 , 3 ,
  • Josie Henley 5 ,
  • Jacqueline Hughes 2 ,
  • Nina Jacob 2 ,
  • Sarah Milosevic 2 ,
  • Yvonne Moriarty 2 ,
  • Bethan Pell 6 ,
  • Mike Robling 2 ,
  • Heather Strange 2 ,
  • Julia Townson 2 ,
  • Qualitative Research Group &
  • Lucy Brookes-Howell 2  

Trials volume  25 , Article number:  323 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

351 Accesses

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Background/aims

The value of using qualitative methods within clinical trials is widely recognised. How qualitative research is integrated within trials units to achieve this is less clear. This paper describes the process through which qualitative research has been integrated within Cardiff University’s Centre for Trials Research (CTR) in Wales, UK. We highlight facilitators of, and challenges to, integration.

We held group discussions on the work of the Qualitative Research Group (QRG) within CTR. The content of these discussions, materials for a presentation in CTR, and documents relating to the development of the QRG were interpreted at a workshop attended by group members. Normalisation Process Theory (NPT) was used to structure analysis. A writing group prepared a document for input from members of CTR, forming the basis of this paper.

Actions to integrate qualitative research comprised: its inclusion in Centre strategies; formation of a QRG with dedicated funding/roles; embedding of qualitative research within operating systems; capacity building/training; monitoring opportunities to include qualitative methods in studies; maximising the quality of qualitative research and developing methodological innovation. Facilitators of these actions included: the influence of the broader methodological landscape within trial/study design and its promotion of the value of qualitative research; and close physical proximity of CTR qualitative staff/students allowing sharing of methodological approaches. Introduction of innovative qualitative methods generated interest among other staff groups. Challenges included: pressure to under-resource qualitative components of research, preference for a statistical stance historically in some research areas and funding structures, and difficulties faced by qualitative researchers carving out individual academic profiles when working across trials/studies.

Conclusions

Given that CTUs are pivotal to the design and conduct of RCTs and related study types across multiple disciplines, integrating qualitative research into trials units is crucial if its contribution is to be fully realised. We have made explicit one trials unit’s experience of embedding qualitative research and present this to open dialogue on ways to operationalise and optimise qualitative research in trials. NPT provides a valuable framework with which to theorise these processes, including the importance of sense-making and legitimisation when introducing new practices within organisations.

Peer Review reports

The value of using qualitative methods within randomised control trials (RCTs) is widely recognised [ 1 , 2 , 3 ]. Qualitative research generates important evidence on factors affecting trial recruitment/retention [ 4 ] and implementation, aiding interpretation of quantitative data [ 5 ]. Though RCTs have traditionally been viewed as sitting within a positivist paradigm, recent methodological innovations have developed new trial designs that draw explicitly on both quantitative and qualitative methods. For instance, in the field of complex public health interventions, realist RCTs seek to understand the mechanisms through which interventions generate hypothesised impacts, and how interactions across different implementation contexts form part of these mechanisms. Proponents of realist RCTs—which integrate experimental and realist paradigms—highlight the importance of using quantitative and qualitative methods to fully realise these aims and to generate an understanding of intervention mechanisms and how context shapes them [ 6 ].

A need for guidance on how to conduct good quality qualitative research is being addressed, particularly in relation to feasibility studies for RCTs [ 7 ] and process evaluations embedded within trials of complex interventions [ 5 ]. There is also guidance on the conduct of qualitative research within trials at different points in the research cycle, including development, conduct and reporting [ 8 , 9 ].

A high proportion of trials are based within or involve clinical trials units (CTUs). In the UK the UKCRC Registered CTU Network describes them as:

… specialist units which have been set up with a specific remit to design, conduct, analyse and publish clinical trials and other well-designed studies. They have the capability to provide specialist expert statistical, epidemiological, and other methodological advice and coordination to undertake successful clinical trials. In addition, most CTUs will have expertise in the coordination of trials involving investigational medicinal products which must be conducted in compliance with the UK Regulations governing the conduct of clinical trials resulting from the EU Directive for Clinical Trials.

Thus, CTUs provide the specialist methodological expertise needed for the conduct of trials, and in the case of trials of investigational medicinal products, their involvement may be mandated to ensure compliance with relevant regulations. As the definition above suggests, CTUs also conduct and support other types of study apart from RCTs, providing a range of methodological and subject-based expertise.

However, despite their central role in the conduct and design of trials, (and other evaluation designs) little has been written about how CTUs have integrated qualitative work within their organisation at a time when such methods are, as stated above, now recognised as an important aspect of RCTs and evaluation studies more generally. This is a significant gap, since integration at the organisational level arguably shapes how qualitative research is integrated within individual studies, and thus it is valuable to understand how CTUs have approached the task. There are different ways of involving qualitative work in trials units, such as partnering with other departments (e.g. social science) or employing qualitative researchers directly. Qualitative research can be imagined and configured in different ways—as a method that generates data to inform future trial and intervention design, as an embedded component within an RCT or other evaluation type, or as a parallel strand of research focusing on lived experiences of illness, for instance. Understanding how trials units have integrated qualitative research is valuable, as it can shed light on which strategies show promise, and in which contexts, and how qualitative research is positioned within the field of trials research, foregrounding the value of qualitative research. However, although much has been written about its use within trials, few accounts exist of how trials units have integrated qualitative research within their systems and structures.

This paper discusses the process of embedding qualitative research within the work of one CTU—Cardiff University’s Centre for Trials Research (CTR). It highlights facilitators of this process and identifies challenges to integration. We use the Normalisation Process Theory (NPT) as a framework to structure our experience and approach. The key gap addressed by this paper is the implementation of strategies to integrate qualitative research (a relatively newly adopted set of practices and processes) within CTU systems and structures. We acknowledge from the outset that there are multiple ways of approaching this task. What follows therefore is not a set of recommendations for a preferred or best way to integrate qualitative research, as this will comprise diverse actions according to specific contexts. Rather, we examine the processes through which integration occurred in our own setting and highlight the potential value of these insights for others engaged in the work of promoting qualitative research within trials units.

Background to the integration of qualitative research within CTR

The CTR was formed in 2015 [ 10 ]. It brought together three existing trials units at Cardiff University: the South East Wales Trials Unit, the Wales Cancer Trials Unit, and the Haematology Clinical Trials Unit. From its inception, the CTR had a stated aim of developing a programme of qualitative research and integrating it within trials and other studies. In the sections below, we map these approaches onto the framework offered by Normalisation Process Theory to understand the processes through which they helped achieve embedding and integration of qualitative research.

CTR’s aims (including those relating to the development of qualitative research) were included within its strategy documents and communicated to others through infrastructure funding applications, annual reports and its website. A Qualitative Research Group (QRG), which had previously existed within the South East Wales Trials Unit, with dedicated funding for methodological specialists and group lead academics, was a key mechanism through which the development of a qualitative portfolio was put into action. Integration of qualitative research within Centre systems and processes occurred through the inclusion of qualitative research in study adoption processes and representation on committees. The CTR’s study portfolio provided a basis to track qualitative methods in new and existing studies, identify opportunities to embed qualitative methods within recently adopted studies (at the funding application stage) and to manage staff resources. Capacity building and training were an important focus of the QRG’s work, including training courses, mentoring, creation of an academic network open to university staff and practitioners working in the field of healthcare, presentations at CTR staff meetings and securing of PhD studentships. Standard operating procedures and methodological guidance on the design and conduct of qualitative research (e.g. templates for developing analysis plans) aimed to create a shared understanding of how to undertake high-quality research, and a means to monitor the implementation of rigorous approaches. As the QRG expanded its expertise it sought to develop innovative approaches, including the use of visual [ 11 ] and ethnographic methods [ 12 ].

Understanding implementation—Normalisation Process Theory (NPT)

Normalisation Process Theory (NPT) provides a model with which to understand the implementation of new sets of practices and their normalisation within organisational settings. The term ‘normalisation’ refers to how new practices become routinised (part of the everyday work of an organisation) through embedding and integration [ 13 , 14 ]. NPT defines implementation as ‘the social organisation of work’ and is concerned with the social processes that take place as new practices are introduced. Embedding involves ‘making practices routine elements of everyday life’ within an organisation. Integration takes the form of ‘sustaining embedded practices in social contexts’, and how these processes lead to the practices becoming (or not becoming) ‘normal and routine’ [ 14 ]. NPT is concerned with the factors which promote or ‘inhibit’ attempts to embed and integrate the operationalisation of new practices [ 13 , 14 , 15 ].

Embedding new practices is therefore achieved through implementation—which takes the form of interactions in specific contexts. Implementation is operationalised through four ‘generative mechanisms’— coherence , cognitive participation , collective action and reflexive monitoring [ 14 ]. Each mechanism is characterised by components comprising immediate and organisational work, with actions of individuals and organisations (or groups of individuals) interdependent. The mechanisms operate partly through forms of investment (i.e. meaning, commitment, effort, and comprehension) [ 14 ].

Coherence refers to how individuals/groups make sense of, and give meaning to, new practices. Sense-making concerns the coherence of a practice—whether it ‘holds together’, and its differentiation from existing activities [ 15 ]. Communal and individual specification involve understanding new practices and their potential benefits for oneself or an organisation. Individuals consider what new practices mean for them in terms of tasks and responsibilities ( internalisation ) [ 14 ].

NPT frames the second mechanism, cognitive participation , as the building of a ‘community of practice’. For a new practice to be initiated, individuals and groups within an organisation must commit to it [ 14 , 15 ]. Cognitive participation occurs through enrolment —how people relate to the new practice; legitimation —the belief that it is right for them to be involved; and activation —defining which actions are necessary to sustain the practice and their involvement [ 14 ]. Making the new practices work may require changes to roles (new responsibilities, altered procedures) and reconfiguring how colleagues work together (changed relationships).

Third, Collective Action refers to ‘the operational work that people do to enact a set of practices’ [ 14 ]. Individuals engage with the new practices ( interactional workability ) reshaping how members of an organisation interact with each other, through creation of new roles and expectations ( relational interaction ) [ 15 ]. Skill set workability concerns how the work of implementing a new set of practices is distributed and the necessary roles and skillsets defined [ 14 ]. Contextual integration draws attention to the incorporation of a practice within social contexts, and the potential for aspects of these contexts, such as systems and procedures, to be modified as a result [ 15 ].

Reflexive monitoring is the final implementation mechanism. Collective and individual appraisal evaluate the value of a set of practices, which depends on the collection of information—formally and informally ( systematisation ). Appraisal may lead to reconfiguration in which procedures of the practice are redefined or reshaped [ 14 , 15 ].

We sought to map the following: (1) the strategies used to embed qualitative research within the Centre, (2) key facilitators, and (3) barriers to their implementation. Through focused group discussions during the monthly meetings of the CTR QRG and in discussion with the CTR senior management team throughout 2019–2020 we identified nine types of documents (22 individual documents in total) produced within the CTR which had relevant information about the integration of qualitative research within its work (Table  1 ). The QRG had an ‘open door’ policy to membership and welcomed all staff/students with an interest in qualitative research. It included researchers who were employed specifically to undertake qualitative research and other staff with a range of study roles, including trial managers, statisticians, and data managers. There was also diversity in terms of career stage, including PhD students, mid-career researchers and members of the Centre’s Executive team. Membership was therefore largely self-selected, and comprised of individuals with a role related to, or an interest in, embedding qualitative research within trials. However, the group brought together diverse methodological perspectives and was not solely comprised of methodological ‘champions’ whose job it was to promote the development of qualitative research within the centre. Thus whilst the group (and by extension, the authors of this paper) had a shared appreciation of the value of qualitative research within a trials centre, they also brought varied methodological perspectives and ways of engaging with it.

All members of the QRG ( n  = 26) were invited to take part in a face-to-face, day-long workshop in February 2019 on ‘How to optimise and operationalise qualitative research in trials: reflections on CTR structure’. The workshop was attended by 12 members of staff and PhD students, including members of the QRG and the CTR’s senior management team. Recruitment to the workshop was therefore inclusive, and to some extent opportunistic, but all members of the QRG were able to contribute to discussions during regular monthly group meetings and the drafting of the current paper.

The aim of the workshop was to bring together information from the documents in Table  1 to generate discussion around the key strategies (and their component activities) that had been adopted to integrate qualitative research into CTR, as well as barriers to, and facilitators of, their implementation. The agenda for the workshop involved four key areas: development and history of the CTR model; mapping the current model within CTR; discussing the structure of other CTUs; and exploring the advantages and disadvantages of the CTR model.

During the workshop, we discussed the use of NPT to conceptualise how qualitative research had been embedded within CTR’s systems and practices. The group produced spider diagrams to map strategies and actions on to the four key domains (or ‘generative mechanisms’ of NPT) summarised above, to aid the understanding of how they had functioned, and the utility of NPT as a framework. This is summarised in Table  2 .

Detailed notes were made during the workshop. A core writing group then used these notes and the documents in Table  1 to develop a draft of the current paper. This was circulated to all members of the CTR QRG ( n  = 26) and stored within a central repository accessible to them to allow involvement and incorporate the views of those who were not able to attend the workshop. This draft was again presented for comments in the monthly CTR QRG meeting in February 2021 attended by n  = 10. The Standards for QUality Improvement Reporting Excellence 2.0 (SQUIRE) guidelines were used to inform the structure and content of the paper (see supplementary material) [ 16 ].

In the following sections, we describe the strategies CTR adopted to integrate qualitative research. These are mapped against NPT’s four generative mechanisms to explore the processes through which the strategies promoted integration, and facilitators of and barriers to their implementation. A summary of the strategies and their functioning in terms of the generative mechanisms is provided in Table  2 .

Coherence—making sense of qualitative research

In CTR, many of the actions taken to build a portfolio of qualitative research were aimed at enabling colleagues, and external actors, to make sense of this set of methodologies. Centre-level strategies and grant applications for infrastructure funding highlighted the value of qualitative research, the added benefits it would bring, and positioned it as a legitimate set of practices alongside existing methods. For example, a 2014 application for renewal of trials unit infrastructure funding stated:

We are currently in the process of undertaking […] restructuring for our qualitative research team and are planning similar for trial management next year. The aim of this restructuring is to establish greater hierarchical management and opportunities for staff development and also provide a structure that can accommodate continuing growth.

Within the CTR, various forms of communication on the development of qualitative research were designed to enable staff and students to make sense of it, and to think through its potential value for them, and ways in which they might engage with it. These included presentations at staff meetings, informal meetings between project teams and the qualitative group lead, and the visibility of qualitative research on the public-facing Centre website and Centre committees and systems. For instance, qualitative methods were included (and framed as a distinct set of practices) within study adoption forms and committee agendas. Information for colleagues described how qualitative methods could be incorporated within funding applications for RCTs and other evaluation studies to generate new insights into questions research teams were already keen to answer, such as influences on intervention implementation fidelity. Where externally based chief investigators approached the Centre to be involved in new grant applications, the existence of the qualitative team and group lead enabled the inclusion of qualitative research to be actively promoted at an early stage, and such opportunities were highlighted in the Centre’s brochure for new collaborators. Monthly qualitative research network meetings—advertised across CTR and to external research collaborators, were also designed to create a shared understanding of qualitative research methods and their utility within trials and other study types (e.g. intervention development, feasibility studies, and observational studies). Training events (discussed in more detail below) also aided sense-making.

Several factors facilitated the promotion of qualitative research as a distinctive and valuable entity. Among these was the influence of the broader methodological landscape within trial design which was promoting the value of qualitative research, such as guidance on the evaluation of complex interventions by the Medical Research Council [ 17 ], and the growing emphasis placed on process evaluations within trials (with qualitative methods important in understanding participant experience and influences on implementation) [ 5 ]. The attention given to lived experience (both through process evaluations and the move to embed public involvement in trials) helped to frame qualitative research within the Centre as something that was appropriate, legitimate, and of value. Recognition by research funders of the value of qualitative research within studies was also helpful in normalising and legitimising its adoption within grant applications.

The inclusion of qualitative methods within influential methodological guidance helped CTR researchers to develop a ‘shared language’ around these methods, and a way that a common understanding of the role of qualitative research could be generated. One barrier to such sense-making work was the varying extent to which staff and teams had existing knowledge or experience of qualitative research. This varied across methodological and subject groups within the Centre and reflected the history of the individual trials units which had merged to form the Centre.

Cognitive participation—legitimising qualitative research

Senior CTR leaders promoted the value and legitimacy of qualitative research. Its inclusion in centre strategies, infrastructure funding applications, and in public-facing materials (e.g. website, investigator brochures), signalled that it was appropriate for individuals to conduct qualitative research within their roles, or to support others in doing so. Legitimisation also took place through informal channels, such as senior leadership support for qualitative research methods in staff meetings and participation in QRG seminars. Continued development of the QRG (with dedicated infrastructure funding) provided a visible identity and equivalence with other methodological groups (e.g. trial managers, statisticians).

Staff were asked to engage with qualitative research in two main ways. First, there was an expansion in the number of staff for whom qualitative research formed part of their formal role and responsibilities. One of the three trials units that merged to form CTR brought with it a qualitative team comprising methodological specialists and a group lead. CTR continued the expansion of this group with the creation of new roles and an enlarged nucleus of researchers for whom qualitative research was the sole focus of their work. In part, this was linked to the successful award of projects that included a large qualitative component, and that were coordinated by CTR (see Table  3 which describes the PUMA study).

Members of the QRG were encouraged to develop their own research ideas and to gain experience as principal investigators, and group seminars were used to explore new ideas and provide peer support. This was communicated through line management, appraisal, and informal peer interaction. Boundaries were not strictly demarcated (i.e. staff located outside the qualitative team were already using qualitative methods), but the new team became a central focus for developing a growing programme of work.

Second, individuals and studies were called upon to engage in new ways with qualitative research, and with the qualitative team. A key goal for the Centre was that groups developing new research ideas should give more consideration in general to the potential value and inclusion of qualitative research within their funding applications. Specifically, they were asked to do this by thinking about qualitative research at an early point in their application’s development (rather than ‘bolting it on’ after other elements had been designed) and to draw upon the expertise and input of the qualitative team. An example was the inclusion of questions on qualitative methods within the Centre’s study adoption form and representation from the qualitative team at the committee which reviewed new adoption requests. Where adoption requests indicated the inclusion of qualitative methods, colleagues were encouraged to liaise with the qualitative team, facilitating the integration of its expertise from an early stage. Qualitative seminars offered an informal and supportive space in which researchers could share initial ideas and refine their methodological approach. The benefits of this included the provision of sufficient time for methodological specialists to be involved in the design of the proposed qualitative component and ensuring adequate costings had been drawn up. At study adoption group meetings, scrutiny of new proposals included consideration of whether new research proposals might be strengthened through the use of qualitative methods where these had not initially been included. Meetings of the QRG—which reviewed the Centre’s portfolio of new studies and gathered intelligence on new ideas—also helped to identify, early on, opportunities to integrate qualitative methods. Communication across teams was useful in identifying new research ideas and embedding qualitative researchers within emerging study development groups.

Actions to promote greater use of qualitative methods in funding applications fed through into a growing number of studies with a qualitative component. This helped to increase the visibility and legitimacy of qualitative methods within the Centre. For example, the PUMA study [ 12 ], which brought together a large multidisciplinary team to develop and evaluate a Paediatric early warning system, drew heavily on qualitative methods, with the qualitative research located within the QRG. The project introduced an extensive network of collaborators and clinical colleagues to qualitative methods and how they could be used during intervention development and the generation of case studies. Further information about the PUMA study is provided in Table  3 .

Increasing the legitimacy of qualitative work across an extensive network of staff, students and collaborators was a complex process. Set within the continuing dominance of quantitative methods with clinical trials, there were variations in the extent to which clinicians and other collaborators embraced the value of qualitative methods. Research funding schemes, which often continued to emphasise the quantitative element of randomised controlled trials, inevitably fed through into the focus of new research proposals. Staff and external collaborators were sometimes uncertain about the added value that qualitative methods would bring to their trials. Across the CTR there were variations in the speed at which qualitative research methods gained legitimacy, partly based on disciplinary traditions and their influences. For instance, population health trials, often located within non-health settings such as schools or community settings, frequently involved collaboration with social scientists who brought with them experience in qualitative methods. Methodological guidance in this field, such as MRC guidance on process evaluations, highlighted the value of qualitative methods and alternatives to the positivist paradigm, such as the value of realist RCTs. In other, more clinical areas, positivist paradigms had greater dominance. Established practices and methodological traditions across different funders also influenced the ease of obtaining funding to include qualitative research within studies. For drugs trials (CTIMPs), the influence of regulatory frameworks on study design, data collection and the allocation of staff resources may have played a role. Over time, teams gained repeated experience of embedding qualitative research (and researchers) within their work and took this learning with them to subsequent studies. For example, the senior clinician quoted within the PUMA case study (Table  3 below) described how they had gained an appreciation of the rigour of qualitative research and an understanding of its language. Through these repeated interactions, embedding of qualitative research within studies started to become the norm rather than the exception.

Collective action—operationalising qualitative research

Collective action concerns the operationalisation of new practices within organisations—the allocation and management of the work, how individuals interact with each other, and the work itself. In CTR the formation of a Qualitative Research Group helped to allocate and organise the work of building a portfolio of studies. Researchers across the Centre were called upon to interact with qualitative research in new ways. Presentations at staff meetings and the inclusion of qualitative research methods in portfolio study adoption forms were examples of this ( interactive workability ). It was operationalised by encouraging study teams to liaise with the qualitative research lead. Development of standard operating procedures, templates for costing qualitative research and methodological guidance (e.g. on analysis plans) also helped encourage researchers to interact with these methods in new ways. For some qualitative researchers who had been trained in the social sciences, working within a trials unit meant that they needed to interact in new and sometimes unfamiliar ways with standard operating procedures, risk assessments, and other trial-based systems. Thus, training needs and capacity-building efforts were multidirectional.

Whereas there had been a tendency for qualitative research to be ‘bolted on’ to proposals for RCTs, the systems described above were designed to embed thinking about the value and design of the qualitative component from the outset. They were also intended to integrate members of the qualitative team with trial teams from an early stage to promote effective integration of qualitative methods within larger trials and build relationships over time.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), formal and informal training, and interaction between the qualitative team and other researchers increased the relational workability of qualitative methods within the Centre—the confidence individuals felt in including these methods within their studies, and their accountability for doing so. For instance, study adoption forms prompted researchers to interact routinely with the qualitative team at an early stage, whilst guidance on costing grants provided clear expectations about the resources needed to deliver a proposed set of qualitative data collection.

Formation of the Qualitative Research Group—comprised of methodological specialists, created new roles and skillsets ( skill set workability ). Research teams were encouraged to draw on these when writing funding applications for projects that included a qualitative component. Capacity-building initiatives were used to increase the number of researchers with the skills needed to undertake qualitative research, and for these individuals to develop their expertise over time. This was achieved through formal training courses, academic seminars, mentoring from experienced colleagues, and informal knowledge exchange. Links with external collaborators and centres engaged in building qualitative research supported these efforts. Within the Centre, the co-location of qualitative researchers with other methodological and trial teams facilitated knowledge exchange and building of collaborative relationships, whilst grouping of the qualitative team within a dedicated office space supported a collective identity and opportunities for informal peer support.

Some aspects of the context in which qualitative research was being developed created challenges to operationalisation. Dependence on project grants to fund qualitative methodologists meant that there was a continuing need to write further grant applications whilst limiting the amount of time available to do so. Similarly, researchers within the team whose role was funded largely by specific research projects could sometimes find it hard to create sufficient time to develop their personal methodological interests. However, the cultivation of a methodologically varied portfolio of work enabled members of the team to build significant expertise in different approaches (e.g. ethnography, discourse analysis) that connected individual studies.

Reflexive monitoring—evaluating the impact of qualitative research

Inclusion of questions/fields relating to qualitative research within the Centre’s study portfolio database was a key way in which information was collected ( systematisation ). It captured numbers of funding applications and funded studies, research design, and income generation. Alongside this database, a qualitative resource planner spreadsheet was used to link individual members of the qualitative team with projects and facilitate resource planning, further reinforcing the core responsibilities and roles of qualitative researchers within CTR. As with all staff in the Centre, members of the qualitative team were placed on ongoing rather than fixed-term contracts, reflecting their core role within CTR. Planning and strategy meetings used the database and resource planner to assess the integration of qualitative research within Centre research, identify opportunities for increasing involvement, and manage staff recruitment and sustainability of researcher posts. Academic meetings and day-to-day interaction fulfilled informal appraisal of the development of the group, and its position within the Centre. Individual appraisal was also important, with members of the qualitative team given opportunities to shape their role, reflect on progress, identify training needs, and further develop their skillset, particularly through line management systems.

These forms of systematisation and appraisal were used to reconfigure the development of qualitative research and its integration within the Centre. For example, group strategies considered how to achieve long-term integration of qualitative research from its initial embedding through further promoting the belief that it formed a core part of the Centre’s business. The visibility and legitimacy of qualitative research were promoted through initiatives such as greater prominence on the Centre’s website. Ongoing review of the qualitative portfolio and discussion at academic meetings enabled the identification of areas where increased capacity would be helpful, both for qualitative staff, and more broadly within the Centre. This prompted the qualitative group to develop an introductory course to qualitative methods open to all Centre staff and PhD students, aimed at increasing understanding and awareness. As the qualitative team built its expertise and experience it also sought to develop new and innovative approaches to conducting qualitative research. This included the use of visual and diary-based methods [ 11 ] and the adoption of ethnography to evaluate system-level clinical interventions [ 12 ]. Restrictions on conventional face-to-face qualitative data collection due to the COVID-19 pandemic prompted rapid adoption of virtual/online methods for interviews, observation, and use of new internet platforms such as Padlet—a form of digital note board.

In this paper, we have described the work undertaken by one CTU to integrate qualitative research within its studies and organisational culture. The parallel efforts of many trials units to achieve these goals arguably come at an opportune time. The traditional designs of RCTs have been challenged and re-imagined by the increasing influence of realist evaluation [ 6 , 18 ] and the widespread acceptance that trials need to understand implementation and intervention theory as well as assess outcomes [ 17 ]. Hence the widespread adoption of embedded mixed methods process evaluations within RCTs. These broad shifts in methodological orthodoxies, the production of high-profile methodological guidance, and the expectations of research funders all create fertile ground for the continued expansion of qualitative methods within trials units. However, whilst much has been written about the importance of developing qualitative research and the possible approaches to integrating qualitative and quantitative methods within studies, much less has been published on how to operationalise this within trials units. Filling this lacuna is important. Our paper highlights how the integration of a new set of practices within an organisation can become embedded as part of its ‘normal’ everyday work whilst also shaping the practices being integrated. In the case of CTR, it could be argued that the integration of qualitative research helped shape how this work was done (e.g. systems to assess progress and innovation).

In our trials unit, the presence of a dedicated research group of methodological specialists was a key action that helped realise the development of a portfolio of qualitative research and was perhaps the most visible evidence of a commitment to do so. However, our experience demonstrates that to fully realise the goal of developing qualitative research, much work focuses on the interaction between this ‘new’ set of methods and the organisation into which it is introduced. Whilst the team of methodological specialists was tasked with, and ‘able’ to do the work, the ‘work’ itself needed to be integrated and embedded within the existing system. Thus, alongside the creation of a team and methodological capacity, promoting the legitimacy of qualitative research was important to communicate to others that it was both a distinctive and different entity, yet similar and equivalent to more established groups and practices (e.g. trial management, statistics, data management). The framing of qualitative research within strategies, the messages given out by senior leaders (formally and informally) and the general visibility of qualitative research within the system all helped to achieve this.

Normalisation Process Theory draws our attention to the concepts of embedding (making a new practice routine, normal within an organisation) and integration —the long-term sustaining of these processes. An important process through which embedding took place in our centre concerned the creation of messages and systems that called upon individuals and research teams to interact with qualitative research. Research teams were encouraged to think about qualitative research and consider its potential value for their studies. Critically, they were asked to do so at specific points, and in particular ways. Early consideration of qualitative methods to maximise and optimise their inclusion within studies was emphasised, with timely input from the qualitative team. Study adoption systems, centre-level processes for managing financial and human resources, creation of a qualitative resource planner, and awareness raising among staff, helped to reinforce this. These processes of embedding and integration were complex and they varied in intensity and speed across different areas of the Centre’s work. In part this depended on existing research traditions, the extent of prior experience of working with qualitative researchers and methods, and the priorities of subject areas and funders. Centre-wide systems, sometimes linked to CTR’s operation as a CTU, also helped to legitimise and embed qualitative research, lending it equivalence with other research activity. For example, like all CTUs, CTR was required to conform with the principles of Good Clinical Practice, necessitating the creation of a quality management system, operationalised through standard operating procedures for all areas of its work. Qualitative research was included, and became embedded, within these systems, with SOPs produced to guide activities such as qualitative analysis.

NPT provides a helpful way of understanding how trials units might integrate qualitative research within their work. It highlights how new practices interact with existing organisational systems and the work needed to promote effective interaction. That is, alongside the creation of a team or programme of qualitative research, much of the work concerns how members of an organisation understand it, engage with it, and create systems to sustain it. Embedding a new set of practices may be just as important as the quality or characteristics of the practices themselves. High-quality qualitative research is of little value if it is not recognised and drawn upon within new studies for instance. NPT also offers a helpful lens with which to understand how integration and embedding occur, and the mechanisms through which they operate. For example, promoting the legitimacy of a new set of practices, or creating systems that embed it, can help sustain these practices by creating an organisational ambition and encouraging (or requiring) individuals to interact with them in certain ways, redefining their roles accordingly. NPT highlights the ways in which integration of new practices involves bi-directional exchanges with the organisation’s existing practices, with each having the potential to re-shape the other as interaction takes place. For instance, in CTR, qualitative researchers needed to integrate and apply their methods within the quality management and other systems of a CTU, such as the formalisation of key processes within standard operating procedures, something less likely to occur outside trials units. Equally, project teams (including those led by externally based chief investigators) increased the integration of qualitative methods within their overall study design, providing opportunities for new insights on intervention theory, implementation and the experiences of practitioners and participants.

We note two aspects of the normalisation processes within CTR that are slightly less well conceptualised by NPT. The first concerns the emphasis within coherence on identifying the distinctiveness of new practices, and how they differ from existing activities. Whilst differentiation was an important aspect of the integration of qualitative research in CTR, such integration could be seen as operating partly through processes of de-differentiation, or at least equivalence. That is, part of the integration of qualitative research was to see it as similar in terms of rigour, coherence, and importance to other forms of research within the Centre. To be viewed as similar, or at least comparable to existing practices, was to be legitimised.

Second, whilst NPT focuses mainly on the interaction between a new set of practices and the organisational context into which it is introduced, our own experience of introducing qualitative research into a trials unit was shaped by broader organisational and methodological contexts. For example, the increasing emphasis placed upon understanding implementation processes and the experiences of research participants in the field of clinical trials (e.g. by funders), created an environment conducive to the development of qualitative research methods within our Centre. Attempts to integrate qualitative research within studies were also cross-organisational, given that many of the studies managed within the CTR drew together multi-institutional teams. This provided important opportunities to integrate qualitative research within a portfolio of studies that extended beyond CTR and build a network of collaborators who increasingly included qualitative methods within their funding proposals. The work of growing and integrating qualitative research within a trials unit is an ongoing one in which ever-shifting macro-level influences can help or hinder, and where the organisations within which we work are never static in terms of barriers and facilitators.

The importance of utilising qualitative methods within RCTs is now widely recognised. Increased emphasis on the evaluation of complex interventions, the influence of realist methods directing greater attention to complexity and the widespread adoption of mixed methods process evaluations are key drivers of this shift. The inclusion of qualitative methods within individual trials is important and previous research has explored approaches to their incorporation and some of the challenges encountered. Our paper highlights that the integration of qualitative methods at the organisational level of the CTU can shape how they are taken up by individual trials. Within CTR, it can be argued that qualitative research achieved high levels of integration, as conceptualised by Normalisation Process Theory. Thus, qualitative research became recognised as a coherent and valuable set of practices, secured legitimisation as an appropriate focus of individual and organisational activity and benefitted from forms of collective action which operationalised these organisational processes. Crucially, the routinisation of qualitative research appeared to be sustained, something which NPT suggests helps define integration (as opposed to initial embedding). However, our analysis suggested that the degree of integration varied by trial area. This variation reflected a complex mix of factors including disciplinary traditions, methodological guidance, existing (un)familiarity with qualitative research, and the influence of regulatory frameworks for certain clinical trials.

NPT provides a valuable framework with which to understand how these processes of embedding and integration occur. Our use of NPT draws attention to the importance of sense-making and legitimisation as important steps in introducing a new set of practices within the work of an organisation. Integration also depends, across each mechanism of NPT, on the building of effective relationships, which allow individuals and teams to work together in new ways. By reflecting on our experiences and the decisions taken within CTR we have made explicit one such process for embedding qualitative research within a trials unit, whilst acknowledging that approaches may differ across trials units. Mindful of this fact, and the focus of the current paper on one trials unit’s experience, we do not propose a set of recommendations for others who are working to achieve similar goals. Rather, we offer three overarching reflections (framed by NPT) which may act as a useful starting point for trials units (and other infrastructures) seeking to promote the adoption of qualitative research.

First, whilst research organisations such as trials units are highly heterogenous, processes of embedding and integration, which we have foregrounded in this paper, are likely to be important across different contexts in sustaining the use of qualitative research. Second, developing a plan for the integration of qualitative research will benefit from mapping out the characteristics of the extant system. For example, it is valuable to know how familiar staff are with qualitative research and any variations across teams within an organisation. Thirdly, NPT frames integration as a process of implementation which operates through key generative mechanisms— coherence , cognitive participation , collective action and reflexive monitoring . These mechanisms can help guide understanding of which actions help achieve embedding and integration. Importantly, they span multiple aspects of how organisations, and the individuals within them, work. The ways in which people make sense of a new set of practices ( coherence ), their commitment towards it ( cognitive participation ), how it is operationalised ( collective action ) and the evaluation of its introduction ( reflexive monitoring ) are all important. Thus, for example, qualitative research, even when well organised and operationalised within an organisation, is unlikely to be sustained if appreciation of its value is limited, or people are not committed to it.

We present our experience of engaging with the processes described above to open dialogue with other trials units on ways to operationalise and optimise qualitative research in trials. Understanding how best to integrate qualitative research within these settings may help to fully realise the significant contribution which it makes the design and conduct of trials.

Availability of data and materials

Some documents cited in this paper are either freely available from the Centre for Trials Research website or can be requested from the author for correspondence.

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Acknowledgements

Members of the Centre for Trials Research (CTR) Qualitative Research Group were collaborating authors: C Drew (Senior Research Fellow—Senior Trial Manager, Brain Health and Mental Wellbeing Division), D Gillespie (Director, Infection, Inflammation and Immunity Trials, Principal Research Fellow), R Hale (now Research Associate, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University), J Latchem-Hastings (now Lecturer and Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Healthcare Sciences, Cardiff University), R Milton (Research Associate—Trial Manager), B Pell (now PhD student, DECIPHer Centre, Cardiff University), H Prout (Research Associate—Qualitative), V Shepherd (Senior Research Fellow), K Smallman (Research Associate), H Stanton (Research Associate—Senior Data Manager). Thanks are due to Kerry Hood and Aimee Grant for their involvement in developing processes and systems for qualitative research within CTR.

No specific grant was received to support the writing of this paper.

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JS contributed to the design of the work and interpretation of data and was responsible for leading the drafting and revision of the paper. SC contributed to the design of the work, the acquisition of data and the drafting and revision of the paper. AL contributed to the design of the work, the acquisition of data and the drafting and revision of the paper. EG contributed to a critical review of the manuscript and provided additional relevant references. JH provided feedback on initial drafts of the paper and contributed to subsequent revisions. JHu provided feedback on initial drafts of the paper and contributed to subsequent revisions. NG provided feedback on initial drafts of the paper and contributed to subsequent revisions. SM was involved in the acquisition and analysis of data and provided a critical review of the manuscript. YM was involved in the acquisition and analysis of data and provided a critical review of the manuscript. MR was involved in the interpretation of data and critical review and revision of the paper. HS contributed to the conception and design of the work, the acquisition and analysis of data, and the revision of the manuscript. JT provided feedback on initial drafts of the paper and contributed to subsequent revisions. LB-H made a substantial contribution to the design and conception of the work, led the acquisition and analysis of data, and contributed to the drafting and revision of the paper.

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Segrott, J., Channon, S., Lloyd, A. et al. Integrating qualitative research within a clinical trials unit: developing strategies and understanding their implementation in contexts. Trials 25 , 323 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-024-08124-7

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