What Is qualitative data collection method?

Qualitative data collection is vital to any research project, delivering the in-depth insights that can inform decision making for businesses, healthcare organisations and for any other form of project.

However, it is also a form of research where expert knowledge is essential to ensure the right questions are asked, the right methods used and the right participants questioned.

Qualitative research lives and dies by the nature of the qualitative data collection.

In this post, award-winning UK market research agency Acumen answer key questions relating to qualitative data collection.

Why Collect Qualitative Data?

Qualitative data captures what cannot simply be recorded as numbers – that being the remit of quantitative data.

To use a very basic example, a car manufacturer might have data that 60% of drivers like their new engine, 30% don’t and 10% are ambivalent.

That data is of use, but it doesn’t provide any more in-depth reasoning.

What opinions are voiced, for those who dislike it what are the commonalities? Are the factors that lead to negative feedback easy to fix, are they things the manufacturer feels they should focus on?

There is a wealth of understanding to be unlocked beneath the simple headline figure.

Qualitative data draws out opinions and thoughts that are expressed as language and opinion and not as a simple numerical response or ‘yes’ or ‘no’ style response.

The Benefits of Qualitative Data Research

Why should projects consider obtaining and analysing qualitative data – afterall, surely quantitative data is easier to collect and purely based on facts and the grouping of responses.

The following benefits exist.

In depth analysis

You will not get in-depth analysis with quantitative research. You can find patterns and things that demand further investigation, but you will not know why people act as they do.

Qualitative data is all about probing and looking for true insight, it looks for reasons and behaviours.

Insight into actual customers and users

With qualitative data you find out who customers and users are and what their true feelings are in relation to any product our service.

A simple yes no type question might ask if someone found a product useful, or easy to use. But only by watching them, observing or interviewing can you really then find out how they used it.

Which elements did they engage with, what were there frustrations?

If carried out at point of sale, what led to the purchase and why was it chosen over other options?

It Allows Theories to Be Tested

New services and products can be trialled and rich data recorded.

This can help shape future development and ensure roll out in iterations, all backed by in-depth data research.

Taking the time to enable high class qualitative research helps organisations approach the future with more confidence as they can have the data to show which options are worth pursuing as priority.

How To Acquire Qualitative Data

Research agencies use a variety of approaches to acquire qualitative data and often research will require a combination of methods.

Common approaches include:


A one-to-one interview is an obvious and superb way to draw out insight from an individual.

However, this relies on the quality of the person undertaking the interview and their ability to draw out useful responses. They must fully understand the brief and stay focussed rather than going down unhelpful tangents. While interviews can be open ended and allowed to flow, this still has to be within the framework of the research project.

The role is similar to that of a probing journalist.

Of course, it is also essential that good candidates are selected to be interviewed, those who are able to vocalise opinions and have the relevant experience – for instance are a user of the product a company is keen for feedback on.

Fly on The Wall Observation

Whereas an interview probes and is led t a large extent by the interviewer, a fly on the wall approach simply observes what someone or a group does.

This could be how they use a website, or how they interact with a product. If we imagine the first version of smart speakers such as Alexa, Amazon would have learnt a huge amount by simply telling people roughly what it was and then watching how they used it.

Some uses would have been surprising, other aspects they would have imagined being popular would have barely been used.

You also get to see all the little frustrations and how people find round about ways to achieve aims. Often, elements that might seem obvious in the design stage are confusing to actual users. We have all used websites that must have made sense to those making them but are confusing to us poor users. Maybe some fly on the wall observation of users would have helped…

Case Studies

Case studies use a variety of methods to create an in-depth picture of an individual or group and how they interact with the product or service.

The case study uses a variety of approaches on this selected group – for instance employing both fly on the wall techniques and also interviews.

If case studies are selected with skill then it is possible to gain truly in-depth analysis relating to a key type of user or customer.

Case studies can also help build personas, these representations of actual users and customers.

Focus Groups

Many readers will be familiar with the concept of the focus group – a group, typically six to 10 people – who debate and contribute as prompted by the leader of the session.

Skill is required to run these to ensure everyone has the chance to contribute and that certain people do not dominate proceedings. The benefit of a focus group should be that it draws out discussion and chains of thoughts within the group – when done badly it can be more like several one-to-one interviews happening at the same time.

The Six Types of Qualitative Research

In a recent blog post, we looked in depth at the six forms of data gathering. Please read it to gain a more in-depth understanding in this area.

Analysing Qualitative Data

The analysis of qualitative data can be more complex than other forms of research as what you have collected is unlikely to fall into a neat pile of ‘yes’ ‘no’ typer responses.

Instead, there is a wealth of information and observation, this may be in the form of notes, recordings and written observations.

Clearly, not every observation is equal, a degree of weighting must be applied to ascertain the insights that are truly useful.

Two main approaches are deductive and inductive.

Deductive is used when the researcher has an idea as to the responses they will receive and the questions they ask and responses fit neatly into this template. For this approach to work, the researcher must fully understand the brief and be skilled in sourcing research data so that it fits within their framework.

Inductive is more freeform, where the research data is gathered without a clear pattern or any real preconceptions as to what might be gathered. This is not to say inductive is less valid, it could be used for a different stage of a project, finding information at an early stage without preconceptions shaping the project.

Whatever the approach, the same basics will apply that data has to be properly recorded, stored properly and organised in a way that makes it easy to query. This enables further insights to be drawn out as the data can be repeatedly referred to as a means to analyse new questions.

Many modern research agencies including a data analysis team within their qualitative research unit – this is the approach we take at Acumen, ensuring that data is stored in a way that makes it easy to query at any stage.

About Acumen

Our large qualitative research agency team are on hand to help with all your research queries. We’ve got years of experience working with big brands, large agencies and boutique market research companies.

Our award-winning research team has been recognised throughout our industry, with a reputation for lateral thinking and problem solving that seeks to answer the questions at the heart of your brief.

We provide a tailored approach which begins from our earliest conversations and continues with your dedicated project manager who will keep you updated throughout the research process.

We’re happy to discuss any research methodology and will provide transparent and practical advice on the feasibility of your project. Some of the more common types of qualitative market research services we regularly provide are:

  • Focus groups
  • Interviews
  • Workshops
  • In-home research
  • Online communities
  • Accompanied shops
  • Customer and stakeholder events
  • Recruitment from client lists