Skip to Main Content

Qualitative research


There are several different methods that you can use when collecting data from qualitative research.

These are listed below with some example book titles available from Student and Library Services

Note these are multidisciplinary but there may be other books that consider in detail from your own subject area (e.g. education, nursing, business or psychology etc.)

Search Discovery for more books :


This is a method of data collection that uses participants' responses to a researchers' questions. The aim is to get at the true thoughts, feelings, behaviours, motivations, and experiences of an individual.

They can be semi-structured or structured. Semi-structured interviews are more fluid and changeable in the order and content of the questions than structured interviews.  


  • Interviews allow the researcher to collect in-depth and detailed information.
  • Can gain valuable insights.
  • Good for getting information on priorities, ideas and opinions.
  • Can be flexible, allowing for developing lines of enquiry.


  • The data collected is based on what people say - this may not really reflect the truth.
  • Recording may lead to inhibitions from the participant.
  • The interviewer's self presentation, attitude, or the way that the questions are worded can bias subjects’ answers.
  • Data analysis can be time consuming.
  • If interviewees are geographical dispersed then costs can be high.
  • Can be intrusive and invades privacy.

Focus Groups

This is an interview on a specific pre-determined topic but with a group. It is facilitated by a moderator (usually the researcher). The interaction between individuals is considered an important part of the data to be collected.


  • Can collect a large amount of data quickly.
  • The session has a focus.
  • The dynamics of the group are considered.


  • One person could dominate the discussion and that could have a effect on the groups interaction and the data collected.
  • A participant may be reluctant to contribute to the discussion.
  • Important to establish trust within the group.


This strategy undertakes a description of events or behaviours in a chosen social setting from observing what is happening in a real-life situation. It attempts to examine the bigger picture and context. It is direct, and can be overt or covert.

The observations can be:

Systematic:- this is structured and looks at interaction in a setting with the observer being apart from the group. Researcher's often use a schedule to achieve some consistency between them in their observations. So it can be objective and factual and can gather quantitative data.

Participatory:- this is used to investigate lifestyles, cultures and beliefs of a group. The observer will participate in the daily life of the group they are studying, very often over a lengthy period of time. It therefore tends to produce qualitative data and looks more deeply into the meanings behind actions.



  • It reports what people actual do, rather than what they say they do.
  • The observations can be objective  (especially if using a observation schedule).
  • It can collect lots of data quickly.
  • With participant observation the researcher can gain deep insights.


  • Different researchers' perceptions can vary for the same situation. This could be due to the background and experience each researcher has brought to the situation.
  • The researcher may disrupt or have an effect on the 'naturalness' of the situation they are researching (Participant observation tries to avoid this).
  • Systematic observation focuses on what happened but not necessarily why.
  • Participant observation may lead to ethical issues, can demand a big commitment and could be hazardous.


Researchers can collect data from textual sources (e.g. written texts such as books or reports and also digitally from web-sites, blogs and social media). They have been created for many reasons but not solely for the purpose of the research. These can contain a wealth of information for the researcher.


  • Access to some documents can be relatively easy (especially if web-based) and can be cost-effective.
  • No observer or interviewer effect. As they generally pre-exist any research, there is no effect of being studied as would happen with a person or group.
  • The documents provide a permanent record and evidence of behaviour that can be verified by others.


  • Some documents may be restricted or hard to access.
  • There maybe issues of credibility and authenticity (especially web-based documents).
  • It may infringe on someone's privacy if something was originally created for private consumption.

Audio-Visual materials

Visual images and audio provide a valuable resource for research. They can include still images such as photographs, drawings, advertisements even graffiti also moving images such as videos and films and audio-recordings. They can also encompass research with artefacts, clothing, buildings etc.

Unlike textual documents they may have been generated specifically for the research ('created' images by the researcher or participants) or they may have already existed ('found' images).


  • They can show a representation of some reality, e.g. as a symbol with deeper meanings.
  • Used alongside other techniques they can add a useful perspective or stimulus.


  • There are certain situations where photography, filming or recording may not be acceptable.
  • Some people may feel threatened or uncomfortable with being photographed, filmed or recorded.
  • Training would be needed on the use of equipment.
  • Ownership (copyright) of images needs to be established and gaining approval for their use is needed.