What makes a good qualitative research question?

Qualitative market research questions are most effective for those looking to carry out one-to-one or focus group-style interviews to understand how your target demographic thinks and feels; and why they make certain choices. The key qualities of a good qualitative research question are:

  1. Being able to discover problems and opportunities from respondents
  2. Open-ended in nature
  3. Easy to understand and digest with no need for clarification

For many qualitative market researchers, agreeing on a question to ask an individual or focus group marks the beginning point of any piece of research. Poorly constructed qualitative research questions can affect the outcome of a study, with unclear responses resulting in a considerable waste of resources.

A good example of a qualitative research method would be unstructured interviews. This is because these generate qualitative data through the use of open questions allowing a respondent to talk at length, choosing their own words. This helps the researcher develop a real sense of a person’s understanding of a situation.

Remember that qualitative data isn’t limited to words or text. Photographs, videos, and even sound recordings can be considered qualitative data.

So let’s take a look at the components of a well-constructed qualitative research question that you can adopt for your own market research:

Choose an effective purpose statement

It’s important to set out the core objective or intent of your qualitative research from the outset. A single sentence purpose statement should define a roadmap for the overall study. The use of qualitative words such as ‘discover’, ‘understand’ and ‘explore’ help to set the tone of the question and demonstrate your desire to delve deeper.

However, qualitative can change over the course of a study because this type of research is a reflexive process. A researcher adapts their approach based on participants words and actions. As the researcher gains information from participants, the focus of the inquiry may shift.

Qualitative research questions often contain words like lived experience, personal experience, understanding, meaning, and stories.

Qualitative research questions can change and evolve as the researcher conducts the study.

Good types of qualitative wording for research questions

Include the following types of qualitative words to engineer the type of responses you’re looking for from interviewees:

  • How
  • What
  • Generate
  • Identify
  • Describe
  • Meaning
  • Outline
  • Experience

Words to avoid for qualitative research questions

The following types of words should not be included within a qualitative research question to avoid possible ambiguity for respondents:

  • Relate
  • Impact
  • Effect
  • Cause
  • Influence
  • Compare
  • Contrast

Examples of effective qualitative research questions

Poor example

Good example

Is the customer service good at your favourite café or coffee shop?

Reason: As a rule of thumb, qualitative research questions should never be able to be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

What do you like most about your favourite café or coffee shop? 

Reason: You could discover that the quality of customer service is more important than the location for café patrons when it comes to determining which coffee shop is their favourite.

How much time do you listen to rock music a week?

Reason: This would be a much more suitable quantitative research question, as it enables you to collect data en-masse. However, from a qualitative viewpoint, the data could not be used to create a judgment or perception as the data is just factual information.

Why do you prefer listening to rock music more than other music genres?

Reason: This is a considerably more subjective question; the results of which could potentially lead to you forming the basis of a more credible argument.

What is the meaning of life?

Reason: This type of question is far too broad and lacking in focus to be used as the basis of any type of research study.

Could you describe the most important factors in your life?

Reason: Again, this is question is much more subjective, giving the respondent the opportunity to provide a more reasoned, personal response that can form the basis of a credible argument.

Keep in mind that the Business & IP Centre can help you increase your knowledge of specific market sectors. We have wide-ranging data sources ready for you to use on-site to better understand everything from key legislation affecting your industry and emerging technologies through to potential opportunities created by economic, cultural or social changes. Our workshop ‘Introduction to using the Business & IP Centre’ equips you with all the tools you need to carry out free market research and browse national and international property databases.

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