Qualitative methods for market research. The subject.

After providing in the previous two posts a brief definition of both terms “qualitative method” and “market research“, we are in a position to clarify what Qualitative methods of market research subject is about (see about for further details on this blog). The main objective of the subject is learning how to collect text (and images) information systematically in order to understand the relation between buyers and sellers of a specific product or service that occurs or might occur in the future in a part of the worldMore specifically, the subject will aim the managing of the below qualitative research techniques (as well as its respective emerging online variant)

  1. In-depth Interviews
  2. Narratives
  3. Focus groups
  4. Verbal data
  5. Participant observation and ethnography
  6. Visual data: photography, film and video

Furthermore, a number of secondary objectives must be pointed out. Apart from the collection of information itself, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of the research process as a whole. In other words, you as researcher may manage the above techniques but it would be pointless if you are not aware of a number of steps that all researchers must bear in mind when developing a research project and that forms what is called “research process”. This process, that will be addressed in future posts, goes from the mere formulation of the research question to the final presentation of the results.

Finally, ethics of research, origin and history of market research as well a brief theoretical approaches overview complement the secondary objectives of this subject.

Below you can find the main references taken to the production of the material for the subject´s content.

Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited.

Gummesson, E. (1999). Qualitative methods in management research. Sage Publications, Incorporated.

Ibáñez, J. (1979). Más allá de la sociología: El Grupo de Discusión: teoría y crítica. Siglo XXI de España Editores.

Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

Martínez, P., & Rodríguez, P. M. (2008). Cualitativa-mente. ESIC Editorial.

Mella, O. (1998). Naturaleza y orientaciones teórico-metodológicas de la investigación cualitativa. Santiago: CIDE, 51.

Silverman, D. (2011). Interpreting qualitative data. Sage Publications Limited.

Qualitative evaluation of research proposals. Part 1

Apart from a more quantitative evaluation of the research proposals in the previous post What is the most common weakness in formulating a research proposal in this and in the next post you will find a more qualitative examination divided into the next points:

1. Lack of connection with theory.

2. Writing style

3. Person used

4. Clarity, structure and content of the research proposal background.

5. Interconnection between different parts of the proposal (background, research question and objectives)

This post will focus the first point, lack of connection with theory.

As you can appreciate in the quantitative analysis, being linked to theory is likely the most common weakness. But what does being linked to theory mean? It means that your research will not be “alone in the Universe”, that your research will be part of other researchers´ work that has contributed to a major understanding of the reality being studied. In other words, and using the metaphor of a puzzle, you must be able to find a gap to be cover by your “puzzle part”, i.e. by your research.

Unless you are entering an undiscovered cave? (which I do not think is your case taking into account your topic research) #criticallyreviewofliterature will provide you with previous works on your topic. To be more concrete, at this initial stage, you do not even need a very deep review. What you actually need is a so called “preliminary review”. In other words, you must perform a superficial search in some directory, like Google scholar, under the appropriate “keywords”. Actually, among the 11 steps required to do a successfull review of literature, finding keywords is likely the most important.

Have you already identified your keywords?

Are you “resources” or “feeling” researcher? #understandingresearchphilosophies

As researcher you are creating new knowledge. But, what is or not knowledge for you? Two main views may be adopted.

(1) The researcher who concerns on numbers and countable elements: “resources” researcher

(2) The researcher who concerns more with the feelings and attitudes of the people involved in the organization studied: “feeling” researcher

1. “Resources” researchers

The first ones are more akin to the position of the natural scientist, and for them, the reality is represented by objects that are considered to be “real”, “touchable” and “visible”, such as computers, trucks and machines. Actually, “resources” researcher´s data are presented in the form of a table of statistical data. E.g. estimated personal computers users:

Estimated personal computers users
Country Computers
USA 223,810,000
Japan 69,200,000
China 52,990,000
Germany 45,000,000
Uk 35,890,000
France 35,000,000
South Korea 26,201,000
Canada 22,390,000
Italy 21,486,000
Brazil 19,350,000

Apart from resources, the existence of such sophisticate research methods as survey, allow researchers measure also opinions and attitudes. Imaging your research aims to measure the labor satisfaction in a manufacturing company. You may perform a survey and ask such questions as below:

“Are you very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, very dissatisfied within the company?

  1. Very satisfied
  2. Somewhat satisfied
  3. Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
  4. Somewhat dissatisfied
  5. Very dissatisfied

As such, the results might be represented as below:

Level of satisfaction %
Very satisfied 40
Somewhat satisfied 35
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 20
Somewhat dissatisfied 4
Very dissatisfied 1


These “resources” researchers would argue that this kind of data is less open to bias and therefore more objective. They think that the object studied by the “feeling” researchers cannot be seen, measured and modified like computers, trucks and machines.

As well as nature scientist, “resources” researchers also aim that the end product can be law-like generalizations, similar to those produced by physical and natural scientist. In our example of workers satisfaction, another question of the survey questionnaire might be:

Which department do you belong to?

  1. Manufacturing department
  2. Marketing department
  3. Accounting department
  4. Logistic department

Obtaining as a result the below table and being able to make law-like generalization as: “Employed satisfaction is 20% higher among manufacturing department workers than in the rest of the department”


Manufacturing department Marketing department Accounting department Logistic department
Very satisfied 80 58 62 59
Somewhat satisfied 10 12 8 9
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 5 3 2 7
Somewhat dissatisfied 3 5 3 2
Very dissatisfied 2 2 5 1

2. “Feeling” researchers

But, does this data presented in statistical tables deserve more authority than those presented in a narrative by a “feeling” researcher? You may be critical of “resources” researchers view and argue that the social world of business and management is far too complex to be understood just by numbers.

“Feeling” researchers advocates that it is necessary for the researcher to understand differences between humans in our role as social actors. Before further explanations of what is a social actor, watch the below video.

This video, emphasize the importance of the context, i.e. how important is where we are to the way we behave. Many of the people passing by the famous violinist would have paid more than 100$ for attending one of his concerts, but in this precise context, not even stopped to listen to him.

At the same way, you as students might be making jokes and laughing if you were outside or in a party, but as you have been tough that in a class you are supposed to behave, you don’t make jokes. Because there is something called social norms: being in silence, raise your hands when I ask you for, say good afternoon when entering in classroom, just example of social norms that are not written anywhere but all of us know.

Following this social norms we become in social actors, and play different roles depending on the context.

What are the implications for your own research? Coming back to the example given previously about the satisfaction in a manufacturing company, you, as “resources” researcher might be content with the result and might not want to go further. However, as “feeling” researchers you might prefer to go further and try to study more closely the feelings of the workers, as well as their beliefs, values, concerns. For this reason you perform a number of in-depth interviews. After recording the interviews, listening carefully and analyzing the information, you will unlikely to represent it by statistic tables, but you will be able to perform a narrative as the one given below:

Most of the interviewed sustain that they are satisfied, but mainly thanks to the “good salaries” (Joe). But the truth is that many of them feel quite unsatisfied in terms of development, because the tasks they do are “quite boring” (Peter). On top of that, some of them think that they are satisfied with the job, but in a long term they would prefer to leave the company for doing something “more challenging” (Mary)”…

A “resources” researcher would think that this is not objective, because you analysis is affected by the context and the answer given by the worker may be biased. On top of that, the number of interviews is not enough and it is not representative of the total number of the workers.

The truth is that a “feeling” researcher do not highly focus on “representativity” and “objectivity” as “resources” researchers do, but they gain, by contrast, major deepness in their analysis and major ability to identify the smallest details of worker satisfaction.

If you are more “resources” researcher, you will likely embrace what is called the positivism, whereas if you are more “feeling” researcher, you will likely embrace interpretivism. (There are also another philosophical position called realism that will not be address here and which essence is that what the senses show us as reality is the truth. You can find more details here)

The metaphor of iceber illustrate very well the difference between both philosophies. In case of perfoming a research on a company culture, a positivist (“resources” researcher”) will aim to understant the visible part of the iceber, which corresponds with goal technology, structure, policies and proceedures, products/services and financial resources, among other, or what is called formal aspects of the organization. By contrast, a interpretativist (“feeling” researcher) will aim to undertand such questions as beliefs, attitudes and values, among others, or what is called “informal aspects of the organization.

Within this post it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one research philosophy is “better” than another. This would miss the point. They are “better” at doing different things. When doing a research on labour satisfaction, adopting both philosophies is as possible as applying, provided that you own enough resources and skills, both a survey and in-dept interviews. For example, taking advantage of the information obtain by mean the in-depth interviews you will be able to formulate more focused questions and obtain more specific data. Coming back o our previous example, once you know that the satisfaction depends not only in salary but also in expectation and in oing interesting task, your survey questionaire could include apart from the general question on satisfaction, another kind of question as: “how satisfied are you in terms of personal development”, “…and in terms of salary…”

Finally, after reading this post you still think that choosing between one position and other is somewhat urealistic in practice, perhaps you should consider read this other post on pragmatism.


Camino, J. R. (2011). Cómo escribir y publicar una tesis doctoral ESIC Editorial.

Gene Weingarten (April 8, 2007). Pearls Before Breakfast. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com

Lewis, P., Saunders, M. N. K., & Thornhill, A. (2009). Research methods for business students Pearson.

Stanley N. Herman (1970) Cultural Iceber. TRW Systems Group. Retrieved from http://sandylearningblog.wordpress.com

Related articles

Integrating your research’s idea within its discipline

Try to classify your research idea first into its discipline (Management or related ones), then its branch (let´s say human resources) and finally the precise aspect or sub-branch in which you are interested. Let´s say recruitment. This process was termed as “working up and narrowing down” by Jankowicz (2005:34-6) The Russian dolls illustrate it very well. Every doll is supposed to fit into the following bigger one as well as your idea into a more general area of knowledge. In this metaphor your idea is going to be the smallest one.

This process is crucial for three different reasons:

1. As a way to find a research idea. Perhaps you don´t have even any research idea, but at least you know that you have more preference for, let´s say economic discipline, so that you start reading some general journal on economics. Among all branches you identify within economics you find microeconomic the most interesting and, more specifically, unemployment. Your idea of research could well be “Unemployment in Europe”, here your idea goes!

2. To take a clear direction. The “russian doll process” or “working up and narrowing down” may be reversed. It is, from the most specific one to the most general. Imaging that you have clear you research idea. For example, and continuing with the previous example, imaging that you have clear that you want to research on “Unemployment in Europe” but you haven´t even think over which branch or discipline it drops into. So you must try to identify the immediate more general brach in which unemployment is included. As you can see in the material provided unemployment fits into microeconomic and more generally into economic, which is one of the branch of management science. This process is crucial if you want your research to take a clear direction and, on top of that, to make easier the literature revision and data collection. Searching literature using the keyword “unemployment” in Google, finding relevant information is going to be as difficult as looking for a needle in a haystack. But if you identify the discipline, in our example, economic, you may do a more effective search in a journal dealing with this specific branch, for example European Economic Review. Once in the journal, you can find interesting articles and papers searching by the keyword “unemployment”.

Activity “organizing research ideas by Management branches and sub-branches” by Ester

3. To match your idea with your career goals or the field you are more interested. Finally, integrating your research idea will help you to visualize whether it matches you career goals. In other words, if you want to focus your career in the management branch of finance, you should consider find a research idea that belongs to this branch (see What is a good research) Among other reasons, making a research according to your career, will contribute greatly to your specialization, which is a more and more important factor when looking for job today. And for sure, having a publication on your field of especialty will make you different among any other candidate in a recruitment process, specially when it is published in a recognised journal.


Becker, H. S. (2007). Writing for social scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article University of Chicago Press.

Camino, J. R. (2011). Cómo escribir y publicar una tesis doctoral ESIC Editorial.

Lewis, P., Saunders, M. N. K., & Thornhill, A. (2009). Research methods for business students Pearson.

How to come up with a research idea

Below you will find a number of questions that may help you when generating research ideas:

1º What are your strengths and interest?. Think in previous subjects throughout your graduate. Is there any subject in which your grades have pointed out? Which one have you enjoyed most? Have you ever performed a remarkable work on a specific discipline or academic area?

2º Have you checked previous years research titles? Get inspired by previous years works. Ask your professor or supervisor for them.

3º Have you discussed your ideas with somebody? Remember how “post-it office” product was invented. The interaction with workmates was a key point. Get rid of your fears and shame and talk friends and classmates. It will be helpful to shape your idea and make it feasible. On top of that, in today´s social network society there are many professional and academic networks where you will find people willing to test your ideas.

4º Have you done a preliminary literature search? After discussing with mates, professor or in forum, you might also be suggested relevant literature. You can also have a look to some of the practitioner or academic journals such as the ones you can find in the right-side column. Look up possible books or reports in your library database. Review articles are of special interest for you since they usually contain a considered review of the state of knowledge in a particular area and suggestions of further research needs. One of them could be undertaken by you. On the other hand, books might not be up to date but by contrast offer a good overview of research that has been undertaken so far.

5º Are you up to date with media? Keeping up to date with items in the news can be a very rich source of ideas

Examples of research topics used for the second week activity in order to distinguish between applied and basic research

Brainstorming and relevance trees. It is best brainstorming with a group of people, although you can do it on your own. According to Moody (1988), you should first define your problem or sort of idea you are interested in and subsequently, ask for suggestions, relating to the problem.


Integrating your research´s idea within its discipline

10 essentials for a good research proposal

4 crucial things to bear in mind before undertaking your own research project

How to turn your research idea into a research question

How to write my research objectives


Reference list

Becker, H. S. (2007). Writing for social scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article University of Chicago Press.

Camino, J. R. (2011). Cómo escribir y publicar una tesis doctoralESIC Editorial.

Castells, M. (1996). The rise of the network society (Vol. 1, No. 996, pp. 1-25). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Moody, Paul E. Decision making: Proven methods for better decisions. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983.

Saunders, M. N., Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2011). Research Methods For Business Students, 5/e. Pearson Education India.

How to write a good research proposal

1º Does it meet your institution requirements? Be sure of identifying your institution´s assessment criteria. You might develop a great research in the eyes of some journal or different institution, but if you really want to graduate or obtain a good grade, following your supervisor requirement might be crucial. For instance, some of them could emphasize the need of major theory framework, while others a more pragmatic approach. Though in many cases, the decision lies on the own students.

2º Is it linked to theory? In future posts we will emphasize the importance of linking your research to theory. So far, just take into account that regardless you are thinking of a more low-theoretical relevance research, a minimum theory makes the difference, but mainly because will allow you to meet the requirement that derives from the next question.

3º Does it provide fresh insights into the topic? In other words, to what extent your research provides new knowledge into your research topic. For this reason, having knowledge of the existing theory is crucial to know in what you may contribute.

4º Is the topic clearly stated? The research question and objectives must be formulated clearly, explaining, at the same time, which exactly insights your research contribute in.

5º Does it match you career goals? Doing your own research is doubtless a great opportunity to develop your particular area of interest, academic branch or industry sector or, in case you don´t even have it, a chance to find it.

6º Are you fascinated with it? A topic in which you are just vaguely interested will be an obstacle to do your best. What are your discipline or branch of interest?, what about your personal interests? What make you happy? (see also)

7º Is doable in the available time? Assure that your project is doable within the time provided by your instructor.

8º Is realistic in financial terms? As student, and unless you are provided with a considerable amount of funds, such methods as telephone survey are unaffordable while others like interviews or secondary data might be more appropriate.

9º Do you own the skills to do it? Or would you be able to acquire such skills in the time allowed by the course of study? It is desirable that you develop as many skills as you can throughout the course. However, be aware that some skills like those related to languages or very sophisticated software could be out of your capability in a short term.

10º Do you have access to data? It is likely to be the reason that makes many researchers reformulates some of the research objective throughout the research process. Not always the information required exists or has public access. Try to make a previous assessment of the access to data when formulating your research topic.


Becker, H. S. (2007). Writing for social scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article University of Chicago Press.

Camino, J. R. (2011). Cómo escribir y publicar una tesis doctoral ESIC Editorial.

Lewis, P., Saunders, M. N. K., & Thornhill, A. (2009). Research methods for business students Pearson.