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 Digital 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 Research 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?

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 Digital 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.

Get Faster Answers to Qualitative Research Questions with Similarweb Today

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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qualitative research questions examples psychology

Qualitative Research Questions: Gain Powerful Insights + 25 Examples

We review the basics of qualitative research questions, including their key components, how to craft them effectively, & 25 example questions.

Einstein was many things—a physicist, a philosopher, and, undoubtedly, a mastermind. He also had an incredible way with words. His quote, "Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted," is particularly poignant when it comes to research. 

Some inquiries call for a quantitative approach, for counting and measuring data in order to arrive at general conclusions. Other investigations, like qualitative research, rely on deep exploration and understanding of individual cases in order to develop a greater understanding of the whole. That’s what we’re going to focus on today.

Qualitative research questions focus on the "how" and "why" of things, rather than the "what". They ask about people's experiences and perceptions , and can be used to explore a wide range of topics.

The following article will discuss the basics of qualitative research questions, including their key components, and how to craft them effectively. You'll also find 25 examples of effective qualitative research questions you can use as inspiration for your own studies.

Let’s get started!

What are qualitative research questions, and when are they used?

When researchers set out to conduct a study on a certain topic, their research is chiefly directed by an overarching question . This question provides focus for the study and helps determine what kind of data will be collected.

By starting with a question, we gain parameters and objectives for our line of research. What are we studying? For what purpose? How will we know when we’ve achieved our goals?

Of course, some of these questions can be described as quantitative in nature. When a research question is quantitative, it usually seeks to measure or calculate something in a systematic way.

For example:

  • How many people in our town use the library?
  • What is the average income of families in our city?
  • How much does the average person weigh?

Other research questions, however—and the ones we will be focusing on in this article—are qualitative in nature. Qualitative research questions are open-ended and seek to explore a given topic in-depth.

According to the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry , “Qualitative research aims to address questions concerned with developing an understanding of the meaning and experience dimensions of humans’ lives and social worlds.”

This type of research can be used to gain a better understanding of people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences by “addressing questions beyond ‘what works’, towards ‘what works for whom when, how and why, and focusing on intervention improvement rather than accreditation,” states one paper in Neurological Research and Practice .

Qualitative questions often produce rich data that can help researchers develop hypotheses for further quantitative study.

  • What are people’s thoughts on the new library?
  • How does it feel to be a first-generation student at our school?
  • How do people feel about the changes taking place in our town?

As stated by a paper in Human Reproduction , “...‘qualitative’ methods are used to answer questions about experience, meaning, and perspective, most often from the standpoint of the participant. These data are usually not amenable to counting or measuring.”

Both quantitative and qualitative questions have their uses; in fact, they often complement each other. A well-designed research study will include a mix of both types of questions in order to gain a fuller understanding of the topic at hand.

If you would like to recruit unlimited participants for qualitative research for free and only pay for the interview you conduct, try using Respondent  today. 

Crafting qualitative research questions for powerful insights

Now that we have a basic understanding of what qualitative research questions are and when they are used, let’s take a look at how you can begin crafting your own.

According to a study in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, there is a certain process researchers should follow when crafting their questions, which we’ll explore in more depth.

1. Beginning the process 

Start with a point of interest or curiosity, and pose a draft question or ‘self-question’. What do you want to know about the topic at hand? What is your specific curiosity? You may find it helpful to begin by writing several questions.

For example, if you’re interested in understanding how your customer base feels about a recent change to your product, you might ask: 

  • What made you decide to try the new product?
  • How do you feel about the change?
  • What do you think of the new design/functionality?
  • What benefits do you see in the change?

2. Create one overarching, guiding question 

At this point, narrow down the draft questions into one specific question. “Sometimes, these broader research questions are not stated as questions, but rather as goals for the study.”

As an example of this, you might narrow down these three questions: 

into the following question: 

  • What are our customers’ thoughts on the recent change to our product?

3. Theoretical framing 

As you read the relevant literature and apply theory to your research, the question should be altered to achieve better outcomes. Experts agree that pursuing a qualitative line of inquiry should open up the possibility for questioning your original theories and altering the conceptual framework with which the research began.

If we continue with the current example, it’s possible you may uncover new data that informs your research and changes your question. For instance, you may discover that customers’ feelings about the change are not just a reaction to the change itself, but also to how it was implemented. In this case, your question would need to reflect this new information: 

  • How did customers react to the process of the change, as well as the change itself?

4. Ethical considerations 

A study in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education stresses that ethics are “a central issue when a researcher proposes to study the lives of others, especially marginalized populations.” Consider how your question or inquiry will affect the people it relates to—their lives and their safety. Shape your question to avoid physical, emotional, or mental upset for the focus group.

In analyzing your question from this perspective, if you feel that it may cause harm, you should consider changing the question or ending your research project. Perhaps you’ve discovered that your question encourages harmful or invasive questioning, in which case you should reformulate it.

5. Writing the question 

The actual process of writing the question comes only after considering the above points. The purpose of crafting your research questions is to delve into what your study is specifically about” Remember that qualitative research questions are not trying to find the cause of an effect, but rather to explore the effect itself.

Your questions should be clear, concise, and understandable to those outside of your field. In addition, they should generate rich data. The questions you choose will also depend on the type of research you are conducting: 

  • If you’re doing a phenomenological study, your questions might be open-ended, in order to allow participants to share their experiences in their own words.
  • If you’re doing a grounded-theory study, your questions might be focused on generating a list of categories or themes.
  • If you’re doing ethnography, your questions might be about understanding the culture you’re studying.

Whenyou have well-written questions, it is much easier to develop your research design and collect data that accurately reflects your inquiry.

In writing your questions, it may help you to refer to this simple flowchart process for constructing questions:

qualitative research questions examples psychology

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25 examples of expertly crafted qualitative research questions

It's easy enough to cover the theory of writing a qualitative research question, but sometimes it's best if you can see the process in practice. In this section, we'll list 25 examples of B2B and B2C-related qualitative questions.

Let's begin with five questions. We'll show you the question, explain why it's considered qualitative, and then give you an example of how it can be used in research.

1. What is the customer's perception of our company's brand?

Qualitative research questions are often open-ended and invite respondents to share their thoughts and feelings on a subject. This question is qualitative because it seeks customer feedback on the company's brand. 

This question can be used in research to understand how customers feel about the company's branding, what they like and don't like about it, and whether they would recommend it to others.

2. Why do customers buy our product?

This question is also qualitative because it seeks to understand the customer's motivations for purchasing a product. It can be used in research to identify the reasons  customers buy a certain product, what needs or desires the product fulfills for them, and how they feel about the purchase after using the product.

3. How do our customers interact with our products?

Again, this question is qualitative because it seeks to understand customer behavior. In this case, it can be used in research to see how customers use the product, how they interact with it, and what emotions or thoughts the product evokes in them.

4. What are our customers' biggest frustrations with our products?

By seeking to understand customer frustrations, this question is qualitative and can provide valuable insights. It can be used in research to help identify areas in which the company needs to make improvements with its products.

5. How do our customers feel about our customer service?

Rather than asking why customers like or dislike something, this question asks how they feel. This qualitative question can provide insights into customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a company. 

This type of question can be used in research to understand what customers think of the company's customer service and whether they feel it meets their needs.

20 more examples to refer to when writing your question

Now that you’re aware of what makes certain questions qualitative, let's move into 20 more examples of qualitative research questions:

  • How do your customers react when updates are made to your app interface?
  • How do customers feel when they complete their purchase through your ecommerce site?
  • What are your customers' main frustrations with your service?
  • How do people feel about the quality of your products compared to those of your competitors?
  • What motivates customers to refer their friends and family members to your product or service?
  • What are the main benefits your customers receive from using your product or service?
  • How do people feel when they finish a purchase on your website?
  • What are the main motivations behind customer loyalty to your brand?
  • How does your app make people feel emotionally?
  • For younger generations using your app, how does it make them feel about themselves?
  • What reputation do people associate with your brand?
  • How inclusive do people find your app?
  • In what ways are your customers' experiences unique to them?
  • What are the main areas of improvement your customers would like to see in your product or service?
  • How do people feel about their interactions with your tech team?
  • What are the top five reasons people use your online marketplace?
  • How does using your app make people feel in terms of connectedness?
  • What emotions do people experience when they're using your product or service?
  • Aside from the features of your product, what else about it attracts customers?
  • How does your company culture make people feel?

As you can see, these kinds of questions are completely open-ended. In a way, they allow the research and discoveries made along the way to direct the research. The questions are merely a starting point from which to explore.

This video offers tips on how to write good qualitative research questions, produced by Qualitative Research Expert, Kimberly Baker.

Wrap-up: crafting your own qualitative research questions.

Over the course of this article, we've explored what qualitative research questions are, why they matter, and how they should be written. Hopefully you now have a clear understanding of how to craft your own.

Remember, qualitative research questions should always be designed to explore a certain experience or phenomena in-depth, in order to generate powerful insights. As you write your questions, be sure to keep the following in mind:

  • Are you being inclusive of all relevant perspectives?
  • Are your questions specific enough to generate clear answers?
  • Will your questions allow for an in-depth exploration of the topic at hand?
  • Do the questions reflect your research goals and objectives?

If you can answer "yes" to all of the questions above, and you've followed the tips for writing qualitative research questions we shared in this article, then you're well on your way to crafting powerful queries that will yield valuable insights.

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Asking the right questions in the right way is the key to research success. That’s true for not just the discussion guide but for every step of a research project. Following are 100+ questions that will take you from defining your research objective through  screening and participant discussions.

Fill out the form below to access free e-book! 

Recommend Resources:

  • How to Recruit Participants for Qualitative Research
  • The Best UX Research Tools of 2022
  • 10 Smart Tips for Conducting Better User Interviews
  • 50 Powerful Questions You Should Ask In Your Next User Interview
  • How To Find Participants For User Research: 13 Ways To Make It Happen
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  • User Testing Recruitment: 10 Smart Tips To Find Participants Fast
  • Qualitative Research Questions: Gain Powerful Insights + 25
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Qualitative & Quantitative Research Support

  • Boot Camp This link opens in a new window
  • Research Process Flow Chart
  • Research Alignment This link opens in a new window
  • Step 1: Seek Out Evidence
  • Step 2: Explain
  • Step 3: The Big Picture
  • Step 4: Own It
  • Step 5: Illustrate
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • Literature Review This link opens in a new window
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  • Dissertation and Data Analysis Group Sessions
  • How to Synthesize and Analyze
  • Synthesis and Analysis Practice
  • Synthesis and Analysis Group Sessions
  • NVivo Group and Study Sessions
  • Using Qualtrics
  • Statistical Analysis Group sessions
  • Quantitative Research Questions

Qualitative Research Questions

  • Dissertation to Journal Article This link opens in a new window
  • International Journal of Online Graduate Education (IJOGE) This link opens in a new window
  • Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning (JRIT&L) This link opens in a new window

Question Mark in Red circle

What’s in a Qualitative Research Question?

Qualitative research questions are driven by the need for the study. Ideally, research questions are formulated as a result of the problem and purpose, which leads to the identification of the methodology. When a qualitative methodology is chosen, research questions should be exploratory and focused on the actual phenomenon under study.

From the Dissertation Center, Chapter 1: Research Question Overview , there are several considerations when forming a qualitative research question. Qualitative research questions should

Below is an example of a qualitative phenomenological design. Note the use of the term “lived experience” in the central research question. This aligns with phenomenological design.

RQ1: “ What are the lived experiences of followers of mid-level managers in the financial services sector regarding their well-being on the job?”

If the researcher wants to focus on aspects of the theory used to support the study or dive deeper into aspects of the central RQ, sub-questions might be used. The following sub-questions could be formulated to seek further insight:

RQ1a.   “How do followers perceive the quality and adequacy of the leader-follower exchanges between themselves and their novice leaders?”

RQ1b.  “Under what conditions do leader-member exchanges affect a follower’s own level of well-being?”

Qualitative research questions also display the desire to explore or describe phenomena. Qualitative research seeks the lived experience, the personal experiences, the understandings, the meanings, and the stories associated with the concepts present in our studies.

We want to ensure our research questions are answerable and that we are not making assumptions about our sample. View the questions below:

How do healthcare providers perceive income inequality when providing care to poor patients?

In Example A, we see that there is no specificity of location or geographic areas. This could lead to findings that are varied, and the researcher may not find a clear pattern. Additionally, the question implies the focus is on “income inequality” when the actual focus is on the provision of care. The term “poor patients” can also be offensive, and most providers will not want to seem insensitive and may perceive income inequality as a challenge (of course!).

How do primary care nurses in outreach clinics describe providing quality care to residents of low-income urban neighborhoods?

In Example B, we see that there is greater specificity in the type of care provider. There is also a shift in language so that the focus is on how the individuals describe what they think about, experience, and navigate providing quality care.

Other Qualitative Research Question Examples

Vague : What are the strategies used by healthcare personnel to assist injured patients?

Try this : What is the experience of emergency room personnel in treating patients with a self-inflicted household injury?

The first question is general and vague. While in the same topic area, the second question is more precise and gives the reader a specific target population and a focus on the phenomenon they would have experienced. This question could be in line with a phenomenological study as we are seeking their experience or a case study as the ER personnel are a bounded entity.

Unclear : How do students experience progressing to college?

Try this : How do first-generation community members describe the aspects of their culture that promote aspiration to postsecondary education?

The first question does not have a focus on what progress is or what students are the focus. The second question provides a specific target population and provides the description to be provided by the participants. This question could be in line with a descriptive study.

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7.4 Qualitative Research

Learning objectives.

  • List several ways in which qualitative research differs from quantitative research in psychology.
  • Describe the strengths and weaknesses of qualitative research in psychology compared with quantitative research.
  • Give examples of qualitative research in psychology.

What Is Qualitative Research?

This book is primarily about quantitative research . Quantitative researchers typically start with a focused research question or hypothesis, collect a small amount of data from each of a large number of individuals, describe the resulting data using statistical techniques, and draw general conclusions about some large population. Although this is by far the most common approach to conducting empirical research in psychology, there is an important alternative called qualitative research. Qualitative research originated in the disciplines of anthropology and sociology but is now used to study many psychological topics as well. Qualitative researchers generally begin with a less focused research question, collect large amounts of relatively “unfiltered” data from a relatively small number of individuals, and describe their data using nonstatistical techniques. They are usually less concerned with drawing general conclusions about human behavior than with understanding in detail the experience of their research participants.

Consider, for example, a study by researcher Per Lindqvist and his colleagues, who wanted to learn how the families of teenage suicide victims cope with their loss (Lindqvist, Johansson, & Karlsson, 2008). They did not have a specific research question or hypothesis, such as, What percentage of family members join suicide support groups? Instead, they wanted to understand the variety of reactions that families had, with a focus on what it is like from their perspectives. To do this, they interviewed the families of 10 teenage suicide victims in their homes in rural Sweden. The interviews were relatively unstructured, beginning with a general request for the families to talk about the victim and ending with an invitation to talk about anything else that they wanted to tell the interviewer. One of the most important themes that emerged from these interviews was that even as life returned to “normal,” the families continued to struggle with the question of why their loved one committed suicide. This struggle appeared to be especially difficult for families in which the suicide was most unexpected.

The Purpose of Qualitative Research

Again, this book is primarily about quantitative research in psychology. The strength of quantitative research is its ability to provide precise answers to specific research questions and to draw general conclusions about human behavior. This is how we know that people have a strong tendency to obey authority figures, for example, or that female college students are not substantially more talkative than male college students. But while quantitative research is good at providing precise answers to specific research questions, it is not nearly as good at generating novel and interesting research questions. Likewise, while quantitative research is good at drawing general conclusions about human behavior, it is not nearly as good at providing detailed descriptions of the behavior of particular groups in particular situations. And it is not very good at all at communicating what it is actually like to be a member of a particular group in a particular situation.

But the relative weaknesses of quantitative research are the relative strengths of qualitative research. Qualitative research can help researchers to generate new and interesting research questions and hypotheses. The research of Lindqvist and colleagues, for example, suggests that there may be a general relationship between how unexpected a suicide is and how consumed the family is with trying to understand why the teen committed suicide. This relationship can now be explored using quantitative research. But it is unclear whether this question would have arisen at all without the researchers sitting down with the families and listening to what they themselves wanted to say about their experience. Qualitative research can also provide rich and detailed descriptions of human behavior in the real-world contexts in which it occurs. Among qualitative researchers, this is often referred to as “thick description” (Geertz, 1973). Similarly, qualitative research can convey a sense of what it is actually like to be a member of a particular group or in a particular situation—what qualitative researchers often refer to as the “lived experience” of the research participants. Lindqvist and colleagues, for example, describe how all the families spontaneously offered to show the interviewer the victim’s bedroom or the place where the suicide occurred—revealing the importance of these physical locations to the families. It seems unlikely that a quantitative study would have discovered this.

Data Collection and Analysis in Qualitative Research

As with correlational research, data collection approaches in qualitative research are quite varied and can involve naturalistic observation, archival data, artwork, and many other things. But one of the most common approaches, especially for psychological research, is to conduct interviews . Interviews in qualitative research tend to be unstructured—consisting of a small number of general questions or prompts that allow participants to talk about what is of interest to them. The researcher can follow up by asking more detailed questions about the topics that do come up. Such interviews can be lengthy and detailed, but they are usually conducted with a relatively small sample. This was essentially the approach used by Lindqvist and colleagues in their research on the families of suicide survivors. Small groups of people who participate together in interviews focused on a particular topic or issue are often referred to as focus groups . The interaction among participants in a focus group can sometimes bring out more information than can be learned in a one-on-one interview. The use of focus groups has become a standard technique in business and industry among those who want to understand consumer tastes and preferences. The content of all focus group interviews is usually recorded and transcribed to facilitate later analyses.

Another approach to data collection in qualitative research is participant observation. In participant observation , researchers become active participants in the group or situation they are studying. The data they collect can include interviews (usually unstructured), their own notes based on their observations and interactions, documents, photographs, and other artifacts. The basic rationale for participant observation is that there may be important information that is only accessible to, or can be interpreted only by, someone who is an active participant in the group or situation. An example of participant observation comes from a study by sociologist Amy Wilkins (published in Social Psychology Quarterly ) on a college-based religious organization that emphasized how happy its members were (Wilkins, 2008). Wilkins spent 12 months attending and participating in the group’s meetings and social events, and she interviewed several group members. In her study, Wilkins identified several ways in which the group “enforced” happiness—for example, by continually talking about happiness, discouraging the expression of negative emotions, and using happiness as a way to distinguish themselves from other groups.

Data Analysis in Quantitative Research

Although quantitative and qualitative research generally differ along several important dimensions (e.g., the specificity of the research question, the type of data collected), it is the method of data analysis that distinguishes them more clearly than anything else. To illustrate this idea, imagine a team of researchers that conducts a series of unstructured interviews with recovering alcoholics to learn about the role of their religious faith in their recovery. Although this sounds like qualitative research, imagine further that once they collect the data, they code the data in terms of how often each participant mentions God (or a “higher power”), and they then use descriptive and inferential statistics to find out whether those who mention God more often are more successful in abstaining from alcohol. Now it sounds like quantitative research. In other words, the quantitative-qualitative distinction depends more on what researchers do with the data they have collected than with why or how they collected the data.

But what does qualitative data analysis look like? Just as there are many ways to collect data in qualitative research, there are many ways to analyze data. Here we focus on one general approach called grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). This approach was developed within the field of sociology in the 1960s and has gradually gained popularity in psychology. Remember that in quantitative research, it is typical for the researcher to start with a theory, derive a hypothesis from that theory, and then collect data to test that specific hypothesis. In qualitative research using grounded theory, researchers start with the data and develop a theory or an interpretation that is “grounded in” those data. They do this in stages. First, they identify ideas that are repeated throughout the data. Then they organize these ideas into a smaller number of broader themes. Finally, they write a theoretical narrative —an interpretation—of the data in terms of the themes that they have identified. This theoretical narrative focuses on the subjective experience of the participants and is usually supported by many direct quotations from the participants themselves.

As an example, consider a study by researchers Laura Abrams and Laura Curran, who used the grounded theory approach to study the experience of postpartum depression symptoms among low-income mothers (Abrams & Curran, 2009). Their data were the result of unstructured interviews with 19 participants. Table 7.1 “Themes and Repeating Ideas in a Study of Postpartum Depression Among Low-Income Mothers” shows the five broad themes the researchers identified and the more specific repeating ideas that made up each of those themes. In their research report, they provide numerous quotations from their participants, such as this one from “Destiny:”

Well, just recently my apartment was broken into and the fact that his Medicaid for some reason was cancelled so a lot of things was happening within the last two weeks all at one time. So that in itself I don’t want to say almost drove me mad but it put me in a funk.…Like I really was depressed. (p. 357)

Their theoretical narrative focused on the participants’ experience of their symptoms not as an abstract “affective disorder” but as closely tied to the daily struggle of raising children alone under often difficult circumstances.

Table 7.1 Themes and Repeating Ideas in a Study of Postpartum Depression Among Low-Income Mothers

The Quantitative-Qualitative “Debate”

Given their differences, it may come as no surprise that quantitative and qualitative research in psychology and related fields do not coexist in complete harmony. Some quantitative researchers criticize qualitative methods on the grounds that they lack objectivity, are difficult to evaluate in terms of reliability and validity, and do not allow generalization to people or situations other than those actually studied. At the same time, some qualitative researchers criticize quantitative methods on the grounds that they overlook the richness of human behavior and experience and instead answer simple questions about easily quantifiable variables.

In general, however, qualitative researchers are well aware of the issues of objectivity, reliability, validity, and generalizability. In fact, they have developed a number of frameworks for addressing these issues (which are beyond the scope of our discussion). And in general, quantitative researchers are well aware of the issue of oversimplification. They do not believe that all human behavior and experience can be adequately described in terms of a small number of variables and the statistical relationships among them. Instead, they use simplification as a strategy for uncovering general principles of human behavior.

Many researchers from both the quantitative and qualitative camps now agree that the two approaches can and should be combined into what has come to be called mixed-methods research (Todd, Nerlich, McKeown, & Clarke, 2004). (In fact, the studies by Lindqvist and colleagues and by Abrams and Curran both combined quantitative and qualitative approaches.) One approach to combining quantitative and qualitative research is to use qualitative research for hypothesis generation and quantitative research for hypothesis testing. Again, while a qualitative study might suggest that families who experience an unexpected suicide have more difficulty resolving the question of why, a well-designed quantitative study could test a hypothesis by measuring these specific variables for a large sample. A second approach to combining quantitative and qualitative research is referred to as triangulation . The idea is to use both quantitative and qualitative methods simultaneously to study the same general questions and to compare the results. If the results of the quantitative and qualitative methods converge on the same general conclusion, they reinforce and enrich each other. If the results diverge, then they suggest an interesting new question: Why do the results diverge and how can they be reconciled?

Key Takeaways

  • Qualitative research is an important alternative to quantitative research in psychology. It generally involves asking broader research questions, collecting more detailed data (e.g., interviews), and using nonstatistical analyses.
  • Many researchers conceptualize quantitative and qualitative research as complementary and advocate combining them. For example, qualitative research can be used to generate hypotheses and quantitative research to test them.
  • Discussion: What are some ways in which a qualitative study of girls who play youth baseball would be likely to differ from a quantitative study on the same topic?

Abrams, L. S., & Curran, L. (2009). “And you’re telling me not to stress?” A grounded theory study of postpartum depression symptoms among low-income mothers. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 33 , 351–362.

Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures . New York, NY: Basic Books.

Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research . Chicago, IL: Aldine.

Lindqvist, P., Johansson, L., & Karlsson, U. (2008). In the aftermath of teenage suicide: A qualitative study of the psychosocial consequences for the surviving family members. BMC Psychiatry, 8 , 26. Retrieved from http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-244X/8/26 .

Todd, Z., Nerlich, B., McKeown, S., & Clarke, D. D. (2004) Mixing methods in psychology: The integration of qualitative and quantitative methods in theory and practice . London, UK: Psychology Press.

Wilkins, A. (2008). “Happier than Non-Christians”: Collective emotions and symbolic boundaries among evangelical Christians. Social Psychology Quarterly, 71 , 281–301.

Research Methods in Psychology Copyright © 2016 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

6.4 Qualitative Research

Learning objectives.

  • List several ways in which qualitative research differs from quantitative research in psychology.
  • Describe the strengths and weaknesses of qualitative research in psychology compared with quantitative research.
  • Give examples of qualitative research in psychology.

What Is Qualitative Research?

This textbook is primarily about  quantitative research,  in part because most studies conducted in psychology are quantitative in nature . Quantitative researchers typically start with a focused research question or hypothesis, collect a small amount of data from a large number of individuals, describe the resulting data using statistical techniques, and draw general conclusions about some large population. Although this method is by far the most common approach to conducting empirical research in psychology, there is an important alternative called qualitative research. Qualitative research originated in the disciplines of anthropology and sociology but is now used to study psychological topics as well. Qualitative researchers generally begin with a less focused research question, collect large amounts of relatively “unfiltered” data from a relatively small number of individuals, and describe their data using nonstatistical techniques. They are usually less concerned with drawing general conclusions about human behavior than with understanding in detail the  experience  of their research participants.

Consider, for example, a study by researcher Per Lindqvist and his colleagues, who wanted to learn how the families of teenage suicide victims cope with their loss (Lindqvist, Johansson, & Karlsson, 2008) [1] . They did not have a specific research question or hypothesis, such as, What percentage of family members join suicide support groups? Instead, they wanted to understand the variety of reactions that families had, with a focus on what it is like from  their  perspectives. To address this question, they interviewed the families of 10 teenage suicide victims in their homes in rural Sweden. The interviews were relatively unstructured, beginning with a general request for the families to talk about the victim and ending with an invitation to talk about anything else that they wanted to tell the interviewer. One of the most important themes that emerged from these interviews was that even as life returned to “normal,” the families continued to struggle with the question of why their loved one committed suicide. This struggle appeared to be especially difficult for families in which the suicide was most unexpected.

The Purpose of Qualitative Research

Again, this textbook is primarily about quantitative research in psychology. The strength of quantitative research is its ability to provide precise answers to specific research questions and to draw general conclusions about human behavior. This method is how we know that people have a strong tendency to obey authority figures, for example, and that female undergraduate students are not substantially more talkative than male undergraduate students. But while quantitative research is good at providing precise answers to specific research questions, it is not nearly as good at  generating  novel and interesting research questions. Likewise, while quantitative research is good at drawing general conclusions about human behavior, it is not nearly as good at providing detailed descriptions of the behavior of particular groups in particular situations. And quantitative research is not very good at all at communicating what it is actually like to be a member of a particular group in a particular situation.

But the relative weaknesses of quantitative research are the relative strengths of qualitative research. Qualitative research can help researchers to generate new and interesting research questions and hypotheses. The research of Lindqvist and colleagues, for example, suggests that there may be a general relationship between how unexpected a suicide is and how consumed the family is with trying to understand why the teen committed suicide. This relationship can now be explored using quantitative research. But it is unclear whether this question would have arisen at all without the researchers sitting down with the families and listening to what they themselves wanted to say about their experience. Qualitative research can also provide rich and detailed descriptions of human behavior in the real-world contexts in which it occurs. Among qualitative researchers, this depth is often referred to as “thick description” (Geertz, 1973) [2] . Similarly, qualitative research can convey a sense of what it is actually like to be a member of a particular group or in a particular situation—what qualitative researchers often refer to as the “lived experience” of the research participants. Lindqvist and colleagues, for example, describe how all the families spontaneously offered to show the interviewer the victim’s bedroom or the place where the suicide occurred—revealing the importance of these physical locations to the families. It seems unlikely that a quantitative study would have discovered this detail.

Data Collection and Analysis in Qualitative Research

Data collection approaches in qualitative research are quite varied and can involve naturalistic observation, participant observation, archival data, artwork, and many other things. But one of the most common approaches, especially for psychological research, is to conduct  interviews . Interviews in qualitative research can be unstructured—consisting of a small number of general questions or prompts that allow participants to talk about what is of interest to them—or structured, where there is a strict script that the interviewer does not deviate from. Most interviews are in between the two and are called semi-structured interviews, where the researcher has a few consistent questions and can follow up by asking more detailed questions about the topics that come up. Such interviews can be lengthy and detailed, but they are usually conducted with a relatively small sample. The unstructured interview was the approach used by Lindqvist and colleagues in their research on the families of suicide victims because the researchers were aware that how much was disclosed about such a sensitive topic should be led by the families, not by the researchers. Small groups of people who participate together in interviews focused on a particular topic or issue are often referred to as 

Focus groups are also used in qualitative research. Focus groups are small groups of people who participate together in interviews focused on a particular topic or issue . The interaction among participants in a focus group can sometimes bring out more information than can be learned in a one-on-one interview. The use of focus groups has become a standard technique in business and industry among those who want to understand consumer tastes and preferences. The content of all focus group interviews is usually recorded and transcribed to facilitate later analyses. However, we know from social psychology that group dynamics are often at play in any group, including focus groups, and it is useful to be aware of those possibilities.

Data Analysis in Quantitative Research

Although quantitative and qualitative research generally differ along several important dimensions (e.g., the specificity of the research question, the type of data collected), it is the method of data  analysis  that distinguishes them more clearly than anything else. To illustrate this idea, imagine a team of researchers that conducts a series of unstructured interviews with recovering alcoholics to learn about the role of their religious faith in their recovery. Although this project sounds like qualitative research, imagine further that once they collect the data, they code the data in terms of how often each participant mentions God (or a “higher power”), and they then use descriptive and inferential statistics to find out whether those who mention God more often are more successful in abstaining from alcohol. Now it sounds like quantitative research. In other words, the quantitative-qualitative distinction depends more on what researchers  do  with the data they have collected than with why or how they collected the data. 

But what does qualitative data analysis look like? Just as there are many ways to collect data in qualitative research, there are many ways to analyze data. Here we focus on one general approach called  grounded theory  (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) [3] . This approach was developed within the field of sociology in the 1960s and has gradually gained popularity in psychology. Remember that in quantitative research, it is typical for the researcher to start with a theory, derive a hypothesis from that theory, and then collect data to test that specific hypothesis. In qualitative research using grounded theory, researchers start with the data and develop a theory or an interpretation that is “grounded in” those data. They do this analysis in stages. First, they identify ideas that are repeated throughout the data. Then they organize these ideas into a smaller number of broader themes. Finally, they write a  theoretical narrative —an interpretation—of the data in terms of the themes that they have identified. This theoretical narrative focuses on the subjective experience of the participants and is usually supported by many direct quotations from the participants themselves.

As an example, consider a study by researchers Laura Abrams and Laura Curran, who used the grounded theory approach to study the experience of postpartum depression symptoms among low-income mothers (Abrams & Curran, 2009) [4] . Their data were the result of unstructured interviews with 19 participants.  Table 6.4  shows the five broad themes the researchers identified and the more specific repeating ideas that made up each of those themes. In their research report, they provide numerous quotations from their participants, such as this one from “Destiny:”

Well, just recently my apartment was broken into and the fact that his Medicaid for some reason was cancelled so a lot of things was happening within the last two weeks all at one time. So that in itself I don’t want to say almost drove me mad but it put me in a funk.…Like I really was depressed. (p. 357)

Their theoretical narrative focused on the participants’ experience of their symptoms, not as an abstract “affective disorder” but as closely tied to the daily struggle of raising children alone under often difficult circumstances.

The Quantitative-Qualitative “Debate”

Given their differences, it may come as no surprise that quantitative and qualitative research in psychology and related fields do not coexist in complete harmony. Some quantitative researchers criticize qualitative methods on the grounds that they lack objectivity, are difficult to evaluate in terms of reliability and validity, and do not allow generalization to people or situations other than those actually studied. At the same time, some qualitative researchers criticize quantitative methods on the grounds that they overlook the richness of human behavior and experience and instead answer simple questions about easily quantifiable variables.

In general, however, qualitative researchers are well aware of the issues of objectivity, reliability, validity, and generalizability. In fact, they have developed a number of frameworks for addressing these issues (which are beyond the scope of our discussion). And in general, quantitative researchers are well aware of the issue of oversimplification. They do not believe that all human behavior and experience can be adequately described in terms of a small number of variables and the statistical relationships among them. Instead, they use simplification as a strategy for uncovering general principles of human behavior.

Many researchers from both the quantitative and qualitative camps now agree that the two approaches can and should be combined into what has come to be called  mixed-methods research  (Todd, Nerlich, McKeown, & Clarke, 2004) [5] . (In fact, the studies by Lindqvist and colleagues and by Abrams and Curran both combined quantitative and qualitative approaches.) One approach to combining quantitative and qualitative research is to use qualitative research for hypothesis generation and quantitative research for hypothesis testing. Again, while a qualitative study might suggest that families who experience an unexpected suicide have more difficulty resolving the question of why, a well-designed quantitative study could test a hypothesis by measuring these specific variables for a large sample. A second approach to combining quantitative and qualitative research is referred to as  triangulation . The idea is to use both quantitative and qualitative methods simultaneously to study the same general questions and to compare the results. If the results of the quantitative and qualitative methods converge on the same general conclusion, they reinforce and enrich each other. If the results diverge, then they suggest an interesting new question: Why do the results diverge and how can they be reconciled?

Using qualitative research can often help clarify quantitative results in triangulation. Trenor, Yu, Waight, Zerda, and Sha (2008) [6] investigated the experience of female engineering students at a university. In the first phase, female engineering students were asked to complete a survey, where they rated a number of their perceptions, including their sense of belonging.  Their results were compared across the student ethnicities, and statistically, the various ethnic groups showed no differences in their ratings of their sense of belonging.  One might look at that result and conclude that ethnicity does not have anything to do with one’s sense of belonging.  However, in the second phase, the authors also conducted interviews with the students, and in those interviews, many minority students reported how the diversity of cultures at the university enhanced their sense of belonging. Without the qualitative component, we might have drawn the wrong conclusion about the quantitative results.

This example shows how qualitative and quantitative research work together to help us understand human behavior. Some researchers have characterized quantitative research as best for identifying behaviors or the phenomenon whereas qualitative research is best for understanding meaning or identifying the mechanism. However, Bryman (2012) [7] argues for breaking down the divide between these arbitrarily different ways of investigating the same questions.

Key Takeaways

  • Qualitative research is an important alternative to quantitative research in psychology. It generally involves asking broader research questions, collecting more detailed data (e.g., interviews), and using nonstatistical analyses.
  • Many researchers conceptualize quantitative and qualitative research as complementary and advocate combining them. For example, qualitative research can be used to generate hypotheses and quantitative research to test them.

Discussion: What are some ways in which a qualitative study of girls who play youth baseball would be likely to differ from a quantitative study on the same topic? How would the data differ by interviewing girls one-on-one rather than conducting focus groups or surveys?

  • Lindqvist, P., Johansson, L., & Karlsson, U. (2008). In the aftermath of teenage suicide: A qualitative study of the psychosocial consequences for the surviving family members. BMC Psychiatry, 8 , 26. Retrieved from http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-244X/8/26 ↵
  • Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures . New York, NY: Basic Books. ↵
  • Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research . Chicago, IL: Aldine. ↵
  • Abrams, L. S., & Curran, L. (2009). “And you’re telling me not to stress?” A grounded theory study of postpartum depression symptoms among low-income mothers. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 33 , 351–362. ↵
  • Todd, Z., Nerlich, B., McKeown, S., & Clarke, D. D. (2004) Mixing methods in psychology: The integration of qualitative and quantitative methods in theory and practice . London, UK: Psychology Press. ↵
  • Trenor, J.M., Yu, S.L., Waight, C.L., Zerda. K.S & Sha T.-L. (2008). The relations of ethnicity to female engineering students’ educational experiences and college and career plans in an ethnically diverse learning environment. Journal of Engineering Education, 97 (4), 449-465. ↵
  • Bryman, A. (2012). Social Research Methods , 4th ed. Oxford: OUP. ↵

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Chapter 7: Nonexperimental Research

Qualitative Research

Learning Objectives

  • List several ways in which qualitative research differs from quantitative research in psychology.
  • Describe the strengths and weaknesses of qualitative research in psychology compared with quantitative research.
  • Give examples of qualitative research in psychology.

What Is Qualitative Research?

This textbook is primarily about  quantitative research . Quantitative researchers typically start with a focused research question or hypothesis, collect a small amount of data from each of a large number of individuals, describe the resulting data using statistical techniques, and draw general conclusions about some large population. Although this method is by far the most common approach to conducting empirical research in psychology, there is an important alternative called qualitative research. Qualitative research originated in the disciplines of anthropology and sociology but is now used to study many psychological topics as well. Qualitative researchers generally begin with a less focused research question, collect large amounts of relatively “unfiltered” data from a relatively small number of individuals, and describe their data using nonstatistical techniques. They are usually less concerned with drawing general conclusions about human behaviour than with understanding in detail the  experience  of their research participants.

Consider, for example, a study by researcher Per Lindqvist and his colleagues, who wanted to learn how the families of teenage suicide victims cope with their loss (Lindqvist, Johansson, & Karlsson, 2008) [1] . They did not have a specific research question or hypothesis, such as, What percentage of family members join suicide support groups? Instead, they wanted to understand the variety of reactions that families had, with a focus on what it is like from  their  perspectives. To address this question, they interviewed the families of 10 teenage suicide victims in their homes in rural Sweden. The interviews were relatively unstructured, beginning with a general request for the families to talk about the victim and ending with an invitation to talk about anything else that they wanted to tell the interviewer. One of the most important themes that emerged from these interviews was that even as life returned to “normal,” the families continued to struggle with the question of why their loved one committed suicide. This struggle appeared to be especially difficult for families in which the suicide was most unexpected.

The Purpose of Qualitative Research

Again, this textbook is primarily about quantitative research in psychology. The strength of quantitative research is its ability to provide precise answers to specific research questions and to draw general conclusions about human behaviour. This method is how we know that people have a strong tendency to obey authority figures, for example, or that female undergraduate students are not substantially more talkative than male undergraduate students. But while quantitative research is good at providing precise answers to specific research questions, it is not nearly as good at  generating  novel and interesting research questions. Likewise, while quantitative research is good at drawing general conclusions about human behaviour, it is not nearly as good at providing detailed descriptions of the behaviour of particular groups in particular situations. And it is not very good at all at communicating what it is actually like to be a member of a particular group in a particular situation.

But the relative weaknesses of quantitative research are the relative strengths of qualitative research. Qualitative research can help researchers to generate new and interesting research questions and hypotheses. The research of Lindqvist and colleagues, for example, suggests that there may be a general relationship between how unexpected a suicide is and how consumed the family is with trying to understand why the teen committed suicide. This relationship can now be explored using quantitative research. But it is unclear whether this question would have arisen at all without the researchers sitting down with the families and listening to what they themselves wanted to say about their experience. Qualitative research can also provide rich and detailed descriptions of human behaviour in the real-world contexts in which it occurs. Among qualitative researchers, this depth is often referred to as “thick description” (Geertz, 1973) [2] . Similarly, qualitative research can convey a sense of what it is actually like to be a member of a particular group or in a particular situation—what qualitative researchers often refer to as the “lived experience” of the research participants. Lindqvist and colleagues, for example, describe how all the families spontaneously offered to show the interviewer the victim’s bedroom or the place where the suicide occurred—revealing the importance of these physical locations to the families. It seems unlikely that a quantitative study would have discovered this detail.

Data Collection and Analysis in Qualitative Research

As with correlational research, data collection approaches in qualitative research are quite varied and can involve naturalistic observation, archival data, artwork, and many other things. But one of the most common approaches, especially for psychological research, is to conduct  interviews . Interviews in qualitative research can be unstructured—consisting of a small number of general questions or prompts that allow participants to talk about what is of interest to them–or structured, where there is a strict script that the interviewer does not deviate from. Most interviews are in between the two and are called semi-structured interviews, where the researcher has a few consistent questions and can follow up by asking more detailed questions about the topics that do come up. Such interviews can be lengthy and detailed, but they are usually conducted with a relatively small sample. The unstructured interview was the approach used by Lindqvist and colleagues in their research on the families of suicide survivors because the researchers were aware that how much was disclosed about such a sensitive topic should be led by the families not by the researchers. Small groups of people who participate together in interviews focused on a particular topic or issue are often referred to as  focus groups . The interaction among participants in a focus group can sometimes bring out more information than can be learned in a one-on-one interview. The use of focus groups has become a standard technique in business and industry among those who want to understand consumer tastes and preferences. The content of all focus group interviews is usually recorded and transcribed to facilitate later analyses. However, we know from social psychology that group dynamics are often at play in any group, including focus groups, and it is useful to be aware of those possibilities.

Another approach to data collection in qualitative research is participant observation. In  participant observation , researchers become active participants in the group or situation they are studying. The data they collect can include interviews (usually unstructured), their own notes based on their observations and interactions, documents, photographs, and other artifacts. The basic rationale for participant observation is that there may be important information that is only accessible to, or can be interpreted only by, someone who is an active participant in the group or situation. An example of participant observation comes from a study by sociologist Amy Wilkins (published in  Social Psychology Quarterly ) on a university-based religious organization that emphasized how happy its members were (Wilkins, 2008) [3] . Wilkins spent 12 months attending and participating in the group’s meetings and social events, and she interviewed several group members. In her study, Wilkins identified several ways in which the group “enforced” happiness—for example, by continually talking about happiness, discouraging the expression of negative emotions, and using happiness as a way to distinguish themselves from other groups.

Data Analysis in Quantitative Research

Although quantitative and qualitative research generally differ along several important dimensions (e.g., the specificity of the research question, the type of data collected), it is the method of data  analysis  that distinguishes them more clearly than anything else. To illustrate this idea, imagine a team of researchers that conducts a series of unstructured interviews with recovering alcoholics to learn about the role of their religious faith in their recovery. Although this project sounds like qualitative research, imagine further that once they collect the data, they code the data in terms of how often each participant mentions God (or a “higher power”), and they then use descriptive and inferential statistics to find out whether those who mention God more often are more successful in abstaining from alcohol. Now it sounds like quantitative research. In other words, the quantitative-qualitative distinction depends more on what researchers  do  with the data they have collected than with why or how they collected the data.

But what does qualitative data analysis look like? Just as there are many ways to collect data in qualitative research, there are many ways to analyze data. Here we focus on one general approach called  grounded theory  (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) [4] . This approach was developed within the field of sociology in the 1960s and has gradually gained popularity in psychology. Remember that in quantitative research, it is typical for the researcher to start with a theory, derive a hypothesis from that theory, and then collect data to test that specific hypothesis. In qualitative research using grounded theory, researchers start with the data and develop a theory or an interpretation that is “grounded in” those data. They do this analysis in stages. First, they identify ideas that are repeated throughout the data. Then they organize these ideas into a smaller number of broader themes. Finally, they write a  theoretical narrative —an interpretation—of the data in terms of the themes that they have identified. This theoretical narrative focuses on the subjective experience of the participants and is usually supported by many direct quotations from the participants themselves.

As an example, consider a study by researchers Laura Abrams and Laura Curran, who used the grounded theory approach to study the experience of postpartum depression symptoms among low-income mothers (Abrams & Curran, 2009) [5] . Their data were the result of unstructured interviews with 19 participants.  Table 7.1  shows the five broad themes the researchers identified and the more specific repeating ideas that made up each of those themes. In their research report, they provide numerous quotations from their participants, such as this one from “Destiny:”

Well, just recently my apartment was broken into and the fact that his Medicaid for some reason was cancelled so a lot of things was happening within the last two weeks all at one time. So that in itself I don’t want to say almost drove me mad but it put me in a funk.…Like I really was depressed. (p. 357)

Their theoretical narrative focused on the participants’ experience of their symptoms not as an abstract “affective disorder” but as closely tied to the daily struggle of raising children alone under often difficult circumstances.

The Quantitative-Qualitative “Debate”

Given their differences, it may come as no surprise that quantitative and qualitative research in psychology and related fields do not coexist in complete harmony. Some quantitative researchers criticize qualitative methods on the grounds that they lack objectivity, are difficult to evaluate in terms of reliability and validity, and do not allow generalization to people or situations other than those actually studied. At the same time, some qualitative researchers criticize quantitative methods on the grounds that they overlook the richness of human behaviour and experience and instead answer simple questions about easily quantifiable variables.

In general, however, qualitative researchers are well aware of the issues of objectivity, reliability, validity, and generalizability. In fact, they have developed a number of frameworks for addressing these issues (which are beyond the scope of our discussion). And in general, quantitative researchers are well aware of the issue of oversimplification. They do not believe that all human behaviour and experience can be adequately described in terms of a small number of variables and the statistical relationships among them. Instead, they use simplification as a strategy for uncovering general principles of human behaviour.

Many researchers from both the quantitative and qualitative camps now agree that the two approaches can and should be combined into what has come to be called  mixed-methods research  (Todd, Nerlich, McKeown, & Clarke, 2004) [6] . (In fact, the studies by Lindqvist and colleagues and by Abrams and Curran both combined quantitative and qualitative approaches.) One approach to combining quantitative and qualitative research is to use qualitative research for hypothesis generation and quantitative research for hypothesis testing. Again, while a qualitative study might suggest that families who experience an unexpected suicide have more difficulty resolving the question of why, a well-designed quantitative study could test a hypothesis by measuring these specific variables for a large sample. A second approach to combining quantitative and qualitative research is referred to as  triangulation . The idea is to use both quantitative and qualitative methods simultaneously to study the same general questions and to compare the results. If the results of the quantitative and qualitative methods converge on the same general conclusion, they reinforce and enrich each other. If the results diverge, then they suggest an interesting new question: Why do the results diverge and how can they be reconciled?

Using qualitative research can often help clarify quantitative results in triangulation. Trenor, Yu, Waight, Zerda, and Sha (2008) [7] investigated the experience of female engineering students at university. In the first phase, female engineering students were asked to complete a survey, where they rated a number of their perceptions, including their sense of belonging.  Their results were compared by the student ethnicities, and statistically, the various ethnic groups showed no differences in their ratings of sense of belonging.  One might look at that result and conclude that ethnicity does not have anything to do with sense of belonging.  However, in the second phase, the authors also conducted interviews with the students, and in those interviews, many minority students reported how the diversity of cultures at the university enhanced their sense of belonging. Without the qualitative component, we might have drawn the wrong conclusion about the quantitative results.

This example shows how qualitative and quantitative research work together to help us understand human behaviour. Some researchers have characterized quantitative research as best for identifying behaviours or the phenomenon whereas qualitative research is best for understanding meaning or identifying the mechanism. However, Bryman (2012) [8] argues for breaking down the divide between these arbitrarily different ways of investigating the same questions.

Key Takeaways

  • Qualitative research is an important alternative to quantitative research in psychology. It generally involves asking broader research questions, collecting more detailed data (e.g., interviews), and using nonstatistical analyses.
  • Many researchers conceptualize quantitative and qualitative research as complementary and advocate combining them. For example, qualitative research can be used to generate hypotheses and quantitative research to test them.
  • Discussion: What are some ways in which a qualitative study of girls who play youth baseball would be likely to differ from a quantitative study on the same topic? What kind of different data would be generated by interviewing girls one-on-one rather than conducting focus groups?
  • Lindqvist, P., Johansson, L., & Karlsson, U. (2008). In the aftermath of teenage suicide: A qualitative study of the psychosocial consequences for the surviving family members. BMC Psychiatry, 8 , 26. Retrieved from http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-244X/8/26 ↵
  • Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures . New York, NY: Basic Books. ↵
  • Wilkins, A. (2008). “Happier than Non-Christians”: Collective emotions and symbolic boundaries among evangelical Christians. Social Psychology Quarterly, 71 , 281–301. ↵
  • Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research . Chicago, IL: Aldine. ↵
  • Abrams, L. S., & Curran, L. (2009). “And you’re telling me not to stress?” A grounded theory study of postpartum depression symptoms among low-income mothers. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 33 , 351–362. ↵
  • Todd, Z., Nerlich, B., McKeown, S., & Clarke, D. D. (2004) Mixing methods in psychology: The integration of qualitative and quantitative methods in theory and practice . London, UK: Psychology Press. ↵
  • Trenor, J.M., Yu, S.L., Waight, C.L., Zerda. K.S & Sha T.-L. (2008). The relations of ethnicity to female engineering students’ educational experiences and college and career plans in an ethnically diverse learning environment. Journal of Engineering Education, 97 (4), 449-465. ↵
  • Bryman, A. (2012). Social Research Methods , 4th ed. Oxford: OUP. ↵

Research in which data is gathered from a large number of individuals and described using a statistical technique.

A way to collect qualitative data consisting of both general questions and more detailed questions.

Small groups of people who participate together in interviews focused on a particular topic or issue.

Researchers become active participants in the group or situation they are studying.

Researchers start with the data and develop a theory or interpretation that is “grounded in” the data.

An interpretation of the data in terms of the themes identified through qualitative research.

The combination of quantitative and qualitative research.

Using both quantitative and qualitative methods simultaneously to study the same general questions and to compare the results.

Research Methods in Psychology - 2nd Canadian Edition by Paul C. Price, Rajiv Jhangiani, & I-Chant A. Chiang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Systematic Review

  • Library Help
  • What is a Systematic Review (SR)?
  • Steps of a Systematic Review
  • Framing a Research Question
  • Developing a Search Strategy
  • Searching the Literature
  • Managing the Process
  • Meta-analysis
  • Publishing your Systematic Review

Developing a Research Question

_______________________________________________________________________

Watch the 4 min. video on how to frame a research question with PICO.

___ ______ ______________________________________________________________

Frameworks for research questions

Further reading:

Methley, A. M., Campbell, S., Chew-Graham, C., McNally, R., & Cheraghi-Sohi, S. (2014). PICO, PICOS and SPIDER: A comparison study of specificity and sensitivity in three search tools for qualitative systematic reviews.   BMC Health Services Research, 14 (1), 579.

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APA: Qualitative Research in Psychology

In this course you will learn about the foundations of qualitative inquiry—and how it differs from quantitative research. You will gain practice in common qualitative traditions—like phenomenology and ethnography—and some of the methods they use, such as interviewing. You will gain the competence, confidence, and “know-how” to begin planning your very own qualitative study of a topic in psychology.

Qualitative Research in Psychology

There is one session available:

Qualitative research in psychology, about this course.

In our daily lives, many of us ask questions of ourselves and about others. Some of these questions, born of simple curiosity, resemble elements of qualitative research. For instance, what will I wear today—and what motives, both overt and hidden to the world, will guide those choices? Or, why does my neighbor seem particularly downtrodden today when he’s normally happy? Or, for what reasons is my favorite charitable organization having difficulty recruiting new members this year, especially when the factors surrounding recruitment haven’t changed? These, and other questions, may arise from our observations and our experiences of the world in which we live. As you will learn in this course, these questions become qualitative research projects when the right methods and analytical processes are learned and applied.

Through qualitative research, we are able to explore—through methods like interviews and observations—various facets of individuals’ lived experiences. Qualitative research in psychology arises from historical and cross-disciplinary foundations, as well as from dynamic philosophical underpinnings. We will focus on the past and present of qualitative inquiry, with grounding in contemporary examples across a variety of psychology fields. Through tools, illustrations, and self-assessments, you will learn some of the basics of qualitative research while examining your own research predilections and experiences. We hope you will emerge with an understanding of, and appreciation for, how qualitative inquiry adds depth, character, and nuance to our understanding of humans’ individual and collective experiences.

Qualitative research usually involves naturalistic inquiry. This means that we explore human experiences of the real world as they’re living it, or as it was lived. Qualitative inquiry invites inquiry into everyday living experiences. Through an array of qualitative traditions and their associated methods, we can investigate beliefs, biases, behaviors, routines, roles, cultures, and other facets of the human experience. Here, you will learn about the foundations of qualitative inquiry—and how it differs from quantitative research, yet in complementary ways. Relatedly, you will gain practice in common qualitative traditions—like phenomenology and ethnography—and some of the methods they use, such as interviewing. We hope you will gain the competence, confidence, and “know-how” to begin planning your own qualitative study of a topic in psychology.

At a glance

  • Institution: APA
  • Subject: Social Sciences
  • Level: Intermediate

High school reading level

Exposure to university-level courses or course materials

  • Language: English
  • Video Transcript: English

What you'll learn

  • Describe the philosophical and interpretive foundations of qualitative research.
  • Differentiate qualitative claims, methods, and analyses from quantitative claims, methods, and analyses.
  • Explore, identify, and evaluate core qualitative traditions (phenomenology, narrative inquiry, constructivist grounded theory, ethnographic inquiry, and case study).
  • Distinguish common methods (e.g., interviewing, focus groups) and analytical techniques (qualitative data analysis) used within and across core qualitative traditions.
  • Begin thinking about your own qualitative study of a topic in psychology.

What is Qualitative Research?

Introduction to Qualitative Research

Qualitative Studies in Psychology

Standards of Rigor in Qualitative Research

Interviewing Methods

Phenomenology

Narrative Inquiry

Constructivist Grounded Theory

Conducting Interviews

Observational Methods

Observation

Ethnography

Case Studies

Qualitative Data Analysis

Read-Throughs and Coding

Interpreting and Representing

Ways to take this course

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8.4 Qualitative research questions

Learning objectives.

  • List the key terms associated with qualitative research questions
  • Distinguish between qualitative and quantitative research questions

Qualitative research questions differ from quantitative research questions. Qualitative research questions seek to explore or describe phenomena, not provide a neat nomothetic explanation, so they are often more general and vaguely worded. They may include only one concept, though many include more than one. Instead of asking how one variable causes changes in another, we are instead trying to understand the experiences , understandings , and meanings that people have about the concepts in our research question.

Let’s work through an example from our last section. In Table 8.1, a student asked, “What is the relationship between sexual orientation or gender identity and homelessness for late adolescents in foster care?” In this question, it is pretty clear that the student believes that adolescents in foster care who identify as LGBTQ may be at greater risk for homelessness. This is a nomothetic causal relationship—LGBTQ status causes homelessness.

two people thinking about each other with the word empathy above

However, what if the student were less interested in predicting homelessness based on LGBTQ status and more interested in understanding the stories of LGBTQ foster care youth that may be at risk for homelessness? In that case, the researcher would be building an idiographic causal explanation. The youths whom the researcher interviews may share stories of how their foster families, caseworkers, and others treated them. They may share stories about how they thought of their own sexuality or gender identity and how it changed over time. They may have different ideas about what it means to transition out of foster care.

Qualitative questions usually look different than quantitative questions because they search for idiographic causal relationships. Table 8.3 below takes the final research questions from Table 8.1 and adapts them for qualitative research. The guidelines for research questions previously described in this chapter still apply, but there are some new elements to qualitative research questions that are not present in quantitative questions. First, qualitative research questions often ask about lived experience, personal experience, understanding, meaning, and stories. These keywords indicate that you will be using qualitative methods. Second, qualitative research questions may be more general and less specific. Instead of asking how one concept causes another, we are asking about how people understand or feel about a concept. They may also contain only one variable, rather than asking about relationships between multiple variables.

Qualitative research questions have one final feature that distinguishes them from quantitative research questions. They can change over the course of a study. Qualitative research is a reflexive process, one in which the researcher adapts their approach based on what participants say and do. The researcher must constantly evaluate whether their question is important and relevant to the participants. As the researcher gains information from participants, it is normal for the focus of the inquiry to shift.

For example, a qualitative researcher may want to study how a new truancy rule impacts youth at risk of expulsion. However, after interviewing some of the youth in their community, a researcher might find that the rule is actually irrelevant to their behavior and thoughts. Instead, their participants will direct the discussion to their frustration with the school administrators or their family’s economic insecurity. This is a natural part of qualitative research, and it is normal for research questions and hypothesis to evolve based on the information gleaned from participants.

Key Takeaways

  • 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.

Image attributions

Empathy by  Sean MacEntee   CC-BY-2.0

Scientific Inquiry in Social Work Copyright © 2018 by Matthew DeCarlo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Research Question Examples 🧑🏻‍🏫

25+ Practical Examples & Ideas To Help You Get Started 

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | October 2023

A well-crafted research question (or set of questions) sets the stage for a robust study and meaningful insights.  But, if you’re new to research, it’s not always clear what exactly constitutes a good research question. In this post, we’ll provide you with clear examples of quality research questions across various disciplines, so that you can approach your research project with confidence!

Research Question Examples

  • Psychology research questions
  • Business research questions
  • Education research questions
  • Healthcare research questions
  • Computer science research questions

Examples: Psychology

Let’s start by looking at some examples of research questions that you might encounter within the discipline of psychology.

How does sleep quality affect academic performance in university students?

This question is specific to a population (university students) and looks at a direct relationship between sleep and academic performance, both of which are quantifiable and measurable variables.

What factors contribute to the onset of anxiety disorders in adolescents?

The question narrows down the age group and focuses on identifying multiple contributing factors. There are various ways in which it could be approached from a methodological standpoint, including both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Do mindfulness techniques improve emotional well-being?

This is a focused research question aiming to evaluate the effectiveness of a specific intervention.

How does early childhood trauma impact adult relationships?

This research question targets a clear cause-and-effect relationship over a long timescale, making it focused but comprehensive.

Is there a correlation between screen time and depression in teenagers?

This research question focuses on an in-demand current issue and a specific demographic, allowing for a focused investigation. The key variables are clearly stated within the question and can be measured and analysed (i.e., high feasibility).

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Examples: Business/Management

Next, let’s look at some examples of well-articulated research questions within the business and management realm.

How do leadership styles impact employee retention?

This is an example of a strong research question because it directly looks at the effect of one variable (leadership styles) on another (employee retention), allowing from a strongly aligned methodological approach.

What role does corporate social responsibility play in consumer choice?

Current and precise, this research question can reveal how social concerns are influencing buying behaviour by way of a qualitative exploration.

Does remote work increase or decrease productivity in tech companies?

Focused on a particular industry and a hot topic, this research question could yield timely, actionable insights that would have high practical value in the real world.

How do economic downturns affect small businesses in the homebuilding industry?

Vital for policy-making, this highly specific research question aims to uncover the challenges faced by small businesses within a certain industry.

Which employee benefits have the greatest impact on job satisfaction?

By being straightforward and specific, answering this research question could provide tangible insights to employers.

Examples: Education

Next, let’s look at some potential research questions within the education, training and development domain.

How does class size affect students’ academic performance in primary schools?

This example research question targets two clearly defined variables, which can be measured and analysed relatively easily.

Do online courses result in better retention of material than traditional courses?

Timely, specific and focused, answering this research question can help inform educational policy and personal choices about learning formats.

What impact do US public school lunches have on student health?

Targeting a specific, well-defined context, the research could lead to direct changes in public health policies.

To what degree does parental involvement improve academic outcomes in secondary education in the Midwest?

This research question focuses on a specific context (secondary education in the Midwest) and has clearly defined constructs.

What are the negative effects of standardised tests on student learning within Oklahoma primary schools?

This research question has a clear focus (negative outcomes) and is narrowed into a very specific context.

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Examples: Healthcare

Shifting to a different field, let’s look at some examples of research questions within the healthcare space.

What are the most effective treatments for chronic back pain amongst UK senior males?

Specific and solution-oriented, this research question focuses on clear variables and a well-defined context (senior males within the UK).

How do different healthcare policies affect patient satisfaction in public hospitals in South Africa?

This question is has clearly defined variables and is narrowly focused in terms of context.

Which factors contribute to obesity rates in urban areas within California?

This question is focused yet broad, aiming to reveal several contributing factors for targeted interventions.

Does telemedicine provide the same perceived quality of care as in-person visits for diabetes patients?

Ideal for a qualitative study, this research question explores a single construct (perceived quality of care) within a well-defined sample (diabetes patients).

Which lifestyle factors have the greatest affect on the risk of heart disease?

This research question aims to uncover modifiable factors, offering preventive health recommendations.

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Examples: Computer Science

Last but certainly not least, let’s look at a few examples of research questions within the computer science world.

What are the perceived risks of cloud-based storage systems?

Highly relevant in our digital age, this research question would align well with a qualitative interview approach to better understand what users feel the key risks of cloud storage are.

Which factors affect the energy efficiency of data centres in Ohio?

With a clear focus, this research question lays a firm foundation for a quantitative study.

How do TikTok algorithms impact user behaviour amongst new graduates?

While this research question is more open-ended, it could form the basis for a qualitative investigation.

What are the perceived risk and benefits of open-source software software within the web design industry?

Practical and straightforward, the results could guide both developers and end-users in their choices.

Remember, these are just examples…

In this post, we’ve tried to provide a wide range of research question examples to help you get a feel for what research questions look like in practice. That said, it’s important to remember that these are just examples and don’t necessarily equate to good research topics . If you’re still trying to find a topic, check out our topic megalist for inspiration.

qualitative research questions examples psychology

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This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project. 

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A Practical Guide to Writing Quantitative and Qualitative Research Questions and Hypotheses in Scholarly Articles

Edward barroga.

1 Department of General Education, Graduate School of Nursing Science, St. Luke’s International University, Tokyo, Japan.

Glafera Janet Matanguihan

2 Department of Biological Sciences, Messiah University, Mechanicsburg, PA, USA.

The development of research questions and the subsequent hypotheses are prerequisites to defining the main research purpose and specific objectives of a study. Consequently, these objectives determine the study design and research outcome. The development of research questions is a process based on knowledge of current trends, cutting-edge studies, and technological advances in the research field. Excellent research questions are focused and require a comprehensive literature search and in-depth understanding of the problem being investigated. Initially, research questions may be written as descriptive questions which could be developed into inferential questions. These questions must be specific and concise to provide a clear foundation for developing hypotheses. Hypotheses are more formal predictions about the research outcomes. These specify the possible results that may or may not be expected regarding the relationship between groups. Thus, research questions and hypotheses clarify the main purpose and specific objectives of the study, which in turn dictate the design of the study, its direction, and outcome. Studies developed from good research questions and hypotheses will have trustworthy outcomes with wide-ranging social and health implications.

INTRODUCTION

Scientific research is usually initiated by posing evidenced-based research questions which are then explicitly restated as hypotheses. 1 , 2 The hypotheses provide directions to guide the study, solutions, explanations, and expected results. 3 , 4 Both research questions and hypotheses are essentially formulated based on conventional theories and real-world processes, which allow the inception of novel studies and the ethical testing of ideas. 5 , 6

It is crucial to have knowledge of both quantitative and qualitative research 2 as both types of research involve writing research questions and hypotheses. 7 However, these crucial elements of research are sometimes overlooked; if not overlooked, then framed without the forethought and meticulous attention it needs. Planning and careful consideration are needed when developing quantitative or qualitative research, particularly when conceptualizing research questions and hypotheses. 4

There is a continuing need to support researchers in the creation of innovative research questions and hypotheses, as well as for journal articles that carefully review these elements. 1 When research questions and hypotheses are not carefully thought of, unethical studies and poor outcomes usually ensue. Carefully formulated research questions and hypotheses define well-founded objectives, which in turn determine the appropriate design, course, and outcome of the study. This article then aims to discuss in detail the various aspects of crafting research questions and hypotheses, with the goal of guiding researchers as they develop their own. Examples from the authors and peer-reviewed scientific articles in the healthcare field are provided to illustrate key points.

DEFINITIONS AND RELATIONSHIP OF RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND HYPOTHESES

A research question is what a study aims to answer after data analysis and interpretation. The answer is written in length in the discussion section of the paper. Thus, the research question gives a preview of the different parts and variables of the study meant to address the problem posed in the research question. 1 An excellent research question clarifies the research writing while facilitating understanding of the research topic, objective, scope, and limitations of the study. 5

On the other hand, a research hypothesis is an educated statement of an expected outcome. This statement is based on background research and current knowledge. 8 , 9 The research hypothesis makes a specific prediction about a new phenomenon 10 or a formal statement on the expected relationship between an independent variable and a dependent variable. 3 , 11 It provides a tentative answer to the research question to be tested or explored. 4

Hypotheses employ reasoning to predict a theory-based outcome. 10 These can also be developed from theories by focusing on components of theories that have not yet been observed. 10 The validity of hypotheses is often based on the testability of the prediction made in a reproducible experiment. 8

Conversely, hypotheses can also be rephrased as research questions. Several hypotheses based on existing theories and knowledge may be needed to answer a research question. Developing ethical research questions and hypotheses creates a research design that has logical relationships among variables. These relationships serve as a solid foundation for the conduct of the study. 4 , 11 Haphazardly constructed research questions can result in poorly formulated hypotheses and improper study designs, leading to unreliable results. Thus, the formulations of relevant research questions and verifiable hypotheses are crucial when beginning research. 12

CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND HYPOTHESES

Excellent research questions are specific and focused. These integrate collective data and observations to confirm or refute the subsequent hypotheses. Well-constructed hypotheses are based on previous reports and verify the research context. These are realistic, in-depth, sufficiently complex, and reproducible. More importantly, these hypotheses can be addressed and tested. 13

There are several characteristics of well-developed hypotheses. Good hypotheses are 1) empirically testable 7 , 10 , 11 , 13 ; 2) backed by preliminary evidence 9 ; 3) testable by ethical research 7 , 9 ; 4) based on original ideas 9 ; 5) have evidenced-based logical reasoning 10 ; and 6) can be predicted. 11 Good hypotheses can infer ethical and positive implications, indicating the presence of a relationship or effect relevant to the research theme. 7 , 11 These are initially developed from a general theory and branch into specific hypotheses by deductive reasoning. In the absence of a theory to base the hypotheses, inductive reasoning based on specific observations or findings form more general hypotheses. 10

TYPES OF RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND HYPOTHESES

Research questions and hypotheses are developed according to the type of research, which can be broadly classified into quantitative and qualitative research. We provide a summary of the types of research questions and hypotheses under quantitative and qualitative research categories in Table 1 .

Research questions in quantitative research

In quantitative research, research questions inquire about the relationships among variables being investigated and are usually framed at the start of the study. These are precise and typically linked to the subject population, dependent and independent variables, and research design. 1 Research questions may also attempt to describe the behavior of a population in relation to one or more variables, or describe the characteristics of variables to be measured ( descriptive research questions ). 1 , 5 , 14 These questions may also aim to discover differences between groups within the context of an outcome variable ( comparative research questions ), 1 , 5 , 14 or elucidate trends and interactions among variables ( relationship research questions ). 1 , 5 We provide examples of descriptive, comparative, and relationship research questions in quantitative research in Table 2 .

Hypotheses in quantitative research

In quantitative research, hypotheses predict the expected relationships among variables. 15 Relationships among variables that can be predicted include 1) between a single dependent variable and a single independent variable ( simple hypothesis ) or 2) between two or more independent and dependent variables ( complex hypothesis ). 4 , 11 Hypotheses may also specify the expected direction to be followed and imply an intellectual commitment to a particular outcome ( directional hypothesis ) 4 . On the other hand, hypotheses may not predict the exact direction and are used in the absence of a theory, or when findings contradict previous studies ( non-directional hypothesis ). 4 In addition, hypotheses can 1) define interdependency between variables ( associative hypothesis ), 4 2) propose an effect on the dependent variable from manipulation of the independent variable ( causal hypothesis ), 4 3) state a negative relationship between two variables ( null hypothesis ), 4 , 11 , 15 4) replace the working hypothesis if rejected ( alternative hypothesis ), 15 explain the relationship of phenomena to possibly generate a theory ( working hypothesis ), 11 5) involve quantifiable variables that can be tested statistically ( statistical hypothesis ), 11 6) or express a relationship whose interlinks can be verified logically ( logical hypothesis ). 11 We provide examples of simple, complex, directional, non-directional, associative, causal, null, alternative, working, statistical, and logical hypotheses in quantitative research, as well as the definition of quantitative hypothesis-testing research in Table 3 .

Research questions in qualitative research

Unlike research questions in quantitative research, research questions in qualitative research are usually continuously reviewed and reformulated. The central question and associated subquestions are stated more than the hypotheses. 15 The central question broadly explores a complex set of factors surrounding the central phenomenon, aiming to present the varied perspectives of participants. 15

There are varied goals for which qualitative research questions are developed. These questions can function in several ways, such as to 1) identify and describe existing conditions ( contextual research question s); 2) describe a phenomenon ( descriptive research questions ); 3) assess the effectiveness of existing methods, protocols, theories, or procedures ( evaluation research questions ); 4) examine a phenomenon or analyze the reasons or relationships between subjects or phenomena ( explanatory research questions ); or 5) focus on unknown aspects of a particular topic ( exploratory research questions ). 5 In addition, some qualitative research questions provide new ideas for the development of theories and actions ( generative research questions ) or advance specific ideologies of a position ( ideological research questions ). 1 Other qualitative research questions may build on a body of existing literature and become working guidelines ( ethnographic research questions ). Research questions may also be broadly stated without specific reference to the existing literature or a typology of questions ( phenomenological research questions ), may be directed towards generating a theory of some process ( grounded theory questions ), or may address a description of the case and the emerging themes ( qualitative case study questions ). 15 We provide examples of contextual, descriptive, evaluation, explanatory, exploratory, generative, ideological, ethnographic, phenomenological, grounded theory, and qualitative case study research questions in qualitative research in Table 4 , and the definition of qualitative hypothesis-generating research in Table 5 .

Qualitative studies usually pose at least one central research question and several subquestions starting with How or What . These research questions use exploratory verbs such as explore or describe . These also focus on one central phenomenon of interest, and may mention the participants and research site. 15

Hypotheses in qualitative research

Hypotheses in qualitative research are stated in the form of a clear statement concerning the problem to be investigated. Unlike in quantitative research where hypotheses are usually developed to be tested, qualitative research can lead to both hypothesis-testing and hypothesis-generating outcomes. 2 When studies require both quantitative and qualitative research questions, this suggests an integrative process between both research methods wherein a single mixed-methods research question can be developed. 1

FRAMEWORKS FOR DEVELOPING RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND HYPOTHESES

Research questions followed by hypotheses should be developed before the start of the study. 1 , 12 , 14 It is crucial to develop feasible research questions on a topic that is interesting to both the researcher and the scientific community. This can be achieved by a meticulous review of previous and current studies to establish a novel topic. Specific areas are subsequently focused on to generate ethical research questions. The relevance of the research questions is evaluated in terms of clarity of the resulting data, specificity of the methodology, objectivity of the outcome, depth of the research, and impact of the study. 1 , 5 These aspects constitute the FINER criteria (i.e., Feasible, Interesting, Novel, Ethical, and Relevant). 1 Clarity and effectiveness are achieved if research questions meet the FINER criteria. In addition to the FINER criteria, Ratan et al. described focus, complexity, novelty, feasibility, and measurability for evaluating the effectiveness of research questions. 14

The PICOT and PEO frameworks are also used when developing research questions. 1 The following elements are addressed in these frameworks, PICOT: P-population/patients/problem, I-intervention or indicator being studied, C-comparison group, O-outcome of interest, and T-timeframe of the study; PEO: P-population being studied, E-exposure to preexisting conditions, and O-outcome of interest. 1 Research questions are also considered good if these meet the “FINERMAPS” framework: Feasible, Interesting, Novel, Ethical, Relevant, Manageable, Appropriate, Potential value/publishable, and Systematic. 14

As we indicated earlier, research questions and hypotheses that are not carefully formulated result in unethical studies or poor outcomes. To illustrate this, we provide some examples of ambiguous research question and hypotheses that result in unclear and weak research objectives in quantitative research ( Table 6 ) 16 and qualitative research ( Table 7 ) 17 , and how to transform these ambiguous research question(s) and hypothesis(es) into clear and good statements.

a These statements were composed for comparison and illustrative purposes only.

b These statements are direct quotes from Higashihara and Horiuchi. 16

a This statement is a direct quote from Shimoda et al. 17

The other statements were composed for comparison and illustrative purposes only.

CONSTRUCTING RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND HYPOTHESES

To construct effective research questions and hypotheses, it is very important to 1) clarify the background and 2) identify the research problem at the outset of the research, within a specific timeframe. 9 Then, 3) review or conduct preliminary research to collect all available knowledge about the possible research questions by studying theories and previous studies. 18 Afterwards, 4) construct research questions to investigate the research problem. Identify variables to be accessed from the research questions 4 and make operational definitions of constructs from the research problem and questions. Thereafter, 5) construct specific deductive or inductive predictions in the form of hypotheses. 4 Finally, 6) state the study aims . This general flow for constructing effective research questions and hypotheses prior to conducting research is shown in Fig. 1 .

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Research questions are used more frequently in qualitative research than objectives or hypotheses. 3 These questions seek to discover, understand, explore or describe experiences by asking “What” or “How.” The questions are open-ended to elicit a description rather than to relate variables or compare groups. The questions are continually reviewed, reformulated, and changed during the qualitative study. 3 Research questions are also used more frequently in survey projects than hypotheses in experiments in quantitative research to compare variables and their relationships.

Hypotheses are constructed based on the variables identified and as an if-then statement, following the template, ‘If a specific action is taken, then a certain outcome is expected.’ At this stage, some ideas regarding expectations from the research to be conducted must be drawn. 18 Then, the variables to be manipulated (independent) and influenced (dependent) are defined. 4 Thereafter, the hypothesis is stated and refined, and reproducible data tailored to the hypothesis are identified, collected, and analyzed. 4 The hypotheses must be testable and specific, 18 and should describe the variables and their relationships, the specific group being studied, and the predicted research outcome. 18 Hypotheses construction involves a testable proposition to be deduced from theory, and independent and dependent variables to be separated and measured separately. 3 Therefore, good hypotheses must be based on good research questions constructed at the start of a study or trial. 12

In summary, research questions are constructed after establishing the background of the study. Hypotheses are then developed based on the research questions. Thus, it is crucial to have excellent research questions to generate superior hypotheses. In turn, these would determine the research objectives and the design of the study, and ultimately, the outcome of the research. 12 Algorithms for building research questions and hypotheses are shown in Fig. 2 for quantitative research and in Fig. 3 for qualitative research.

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EXAMPLES OF RESEARCH QUESTIONS FROM PUBLISHED ARTICLES

  • EXAMPLE 1. Descriptive research question (quantitative research)
  • - Presents research variables to be assessed (distinct phenotypes and subphenotypes)
  • “BACKGROUND: Since COVID-19 was identified, its clinical and biological heterogeneity has been recognized. Identifying COVID-19 phenotypes might help guide basic, clinical, and translational research efforts.
  • RESEARCH QUESTION: Does the clinical spectrum of patients with COVID-19 contain distinct phenotypes and subphenotypes? ” 19
  • EXAMPLE 2. Relationship research question (quantitative research)
  • - Shows interactions between dependent variable (static postural control) and independent variable (peripheral visual field loss)
  • “Background: Integration of visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive sensations contributes to postural control. People with peripheral visual field loss have serious postural instability. However, the directional specificity of postural stability and sensory reweighting caused by gradual peripheral visual field loss remain unclear.
  • Research question: What are the effects of peripheral visual field loss on static postural control ?” 20
  • EXAMPLE 3. Comparative research question (quantitative research)
  • - Clarifies the difference among groups with an outcome variable (patients enrolled in COMPERA with moderate PH or severe PH in COPD) and another group without the outcome variable (patients with idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension (IPAH))
  • “BACKGROUND: Pulmonary hypertension (PH) in COPD is a poorly investigated clinical condition.
  • RESEARCH QUESTION: Which factors determine the outcome of PH in COPD?
  • STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: We analyzed the characteristics and outcome of patients enrolled in the Comparative, Prospective Registry of Newly Initiated Therapies for Pulmonary Hypertension (COMPERA) with moderate or severe PH in COPD as defined during the 6th PH World Symposium who received medical therapy for PH and compared them with patients with idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension (IPAH) .” 21
  • EXAMPLE 4. Exploratory research question (qualitative research)
  • - Explores areas that have not been fully investigated (perspectives of families and children who receive care in clinic-based child obesity treatment) to have a deeper understanding of the research problem
  • “Problem: Interventions for children with obesity lead to only modest improvements in BMI and long-term outcomes, and data are limited on the perspectives of families of children with obesity in clinic-based treatment. This scoping review seeks to answer the question: What is known about the perspectives of families and children who receive care in clinic-based child obesity treatment? This review aims to explore the scope of perspectives reported by families of children with obesity who have received individualized outpatient clinic-based obesity treatment.” 22
  • EXAMPLE 5. Relationship research question (quantitative research)
  • - Defines interactions between dependent variable (use of ankle strategies) and independent variable (changes in muscle tone)
  • “Background: To maintain an upright standing posture against external disturbances, the human body mainly employs two types of postural control strategies: “ankle strategy” and “hip strategy.” While it has been reported that the magnitude of the disturbance alters the use of postural control strategies, it has not been elucidated how the level of muscle tone, one of the crucial parameters of bodily function, determines the use of each strategy. We have previously confirmed using forward dynamics simulations of human musculoskeletal models that an increased muscle tone promotes the use of ankle strategies. The objective of the present study was to experimentally evaluate a hypothesis: an increased muscle tone promotes the use of ankle strategies. Research question: Do changes in the muscle tone affect the use of ankle strategies ?” 23

EXAMPLES OF HYPOTHESES IN PUBLISHED ARTICLES

  • EXAMPLE 1. Working hypothesis (quantitative research)
  • - A hypothesis that is initially accepted for further research to produce a feasible theory
  • “As fever may have benefit in shortening the duration of viral illness, it is plausible to hypothesize that the antipyretic efficacy of ibuprofen may be hindering the benefits of a fever response when taken during the early stages of COVID-19 illness .” 24
  • “In conclusion, it is plausible to hypothesize that the antipyretic efficacy of ibuprofen may be hindering the benefits of a fever response . The difference in perceived safety of these agents in COVID-19 illness could be related to the more potent efficacy to reduce fever with ibuprofen compared to acetaminophen. Compelling data on the benefit of fever warrant further research and review to determine when to treat or withhold ibuprofen for early stage fever for COVID-19 and other related viral illnesses .” 24
  • EXAMPLE 2. Exploratory hypothesis (qualitative research)
  • - Explores particular areas deeper to clarify subjective experience and develop a formal hypothesis potentially testable in a future quantitative approach
  • “We hypothesized that when thinking about a past experience of help-seeking, a self distancing prompt would cause increased help-seeking intentions and more favorable help-seeking outcome expectations .” 25
  • “Conclusion
  • Although a priori hypotheses were not supported, further research is warranted as results indicate the potential for using self-distancing approaches to increasing help-seeking among some people with depressive symptomatology.” 25
  • EXAMPLE 3. Hypothesis-generating research to establish a framework for hypothesis testing (qualitative research)
  • “We hypothesize that compassionate care is beneficial for patients (better outcomes), healthcare systems and payers (lower costs), and healthcare providers (lower burnout). ” 26
  • Compassionomics is the branch of knowledge and scientific study of the effects of compassionate healthcare. Our main hypotheses are that compassionate healthcare is beneficial for (1) patients, by improving clinical outcomes, (2) healthcare systems and payers, by supporting financial sustainability, and (3) HCPs, by lowering burnout and promoting resilience and well-being. The purpose of this paper is to establish a scientific framework for testing the hypotheses above . If these hypotheses are confirmed through rigorous research, compassionomics will belong in the science of evidence-based medicine, with major implications for all healthcare domains.” 26
  • EXAMPLE 4. Statistical hypothesis (quantitative research)
  • - An assumption is made about the relationship among several population characteristics ( gender differences in sociodemographic and clinical characteristics of adults with ADHD ). Validity is tested by statistical experiment or analysis ( chi-square test, Students t-test, and logistic regression analysis)
  • “Our research investigated gender differences in sociodemographic and clinical characteristics of adults with ADHD in a Japanese clinical sample. Due to unique Japanese cultural ideals and expectations of women's behavior that are in opposition to ADHD symptoms, we hypothesized that women with ADHD experience more difficulties and present more dysfunctions than men . We tested the following hypotheses: first, women with ADHD have more comorbidities than men with ADHD; second, women with ADHD experience more social hardships than men, such as having less full-time employment and being more likely to be divorced.” 27
  • “Statistical Analysis
  • ( text omitted ) Between-gender comparisons were made using the chi-squared test for categorical variables and Students t-test for continuous variables…( text omitted ). A logistic regression analysis was performed for employment status, marital status, and comorbidity to evaluate the independent effects of gender on these dependent variables.” 27

EXAMPLES OF HYPOTHESIS AS WRITTEN IN PUBLISHED ARTICLES IN RELATION TO OTHER PARTS

  • EXAMPLE 1. Background, hypotheses, and aims are provided
  • “Pregnant women need skilled care during pregnancy and childbirth, but that skilled care is often delayed in some countries …( text omitted ). The focused antenatal care (FANC) model of WHO recommends that nurses provide information or counseling to all pregnant women …( text omitted ). Job aids are visual support materials that provide the right kind of information using graphics and words in a simple and yet effective manner. When nurses are not highly trained or have many work details to attend to, these job aids can serve as a content reminder for the nurses and can be used for educating their patients (Jennings, Yebadokpo, Affo, & Agbogbe, 2010) ( text omitted ). Importantly, additional evidence is needed to confirm how job aids can further improve the quality of ANC counseling by health workers in maternal care …( text omitted )” 28
  • “ This has led us to hypothesize that the quality of ANC counseling would be better if supported by job aids. Consequently, a better quality of ANC counseling is expected to produce higher levels of awareness concerning the danger signs of pregnancy and a more favorable impression of the caring behavior of nurses .” 28
  • “This study aimed to examine the differences in the responses of pregnant women to a job aid-supported intervention during ANC visit in terms of 1) their understanding of the danger signs of pregnancy and 2) their impression of the caring behaviors of nurses to pregnant women in rural Tanzania.” 28
  • EXAMPLE 2. Background, hypotheses, and aims are provided
  • “We conducted a two-arm randomized controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate and compare changes in salivary cortisol and oxytocin levels of first-time pregnant women between experimental and control groups. The women in the experimental group touched and held an infant for 30 min (experimental intervention protocol), whereas those in the control group watched a DVD movie of an infant (control intervention protocol). The primary outcome was salivary cortisol level and the secondary outcome was salivary oxytocin level.” 29
  • “ We hypothesize that at 30 min after touching and holding an infant, the salivary cortisol level will significantly decrease and the salivary oxytocin level will increase in the experimental group compared with the control group .” 29
  • EXAMPLE 3. Background, aim, and hypothesis are provided
  • “In countries where the maternal mortality ratio remains high, antenatal education to increase Birth Preparedness and Complication Readiness (BPCR) is considered one of the top priorities [1]. BPCR includes birth plans during the antenatal period, such as the birthplace, birth attendant, transportation, health facility for complications, expenses, and birth materials, as well as family coordination to achieve such birth plans. In Tanzania, although increasing, only about half of all pregnant women attend an antenatal clinic more than four times [4]. Moreover, the information provided during antenatal care (ANC) is insufficient. In the resource-poor settings, antenatal group education is a potential approach because of the limited time for individual counseling at antenatal clinics.” 30
  • “This study aimed to evaluate an antenatal group education program among pregnant women and their families with respect to birth-preparedness and maternal and infant outcomes in rural villages of Tanzania.” 30
  • “ The study hypothesis was if Tanzanian pregnant women and their families received a family-oriented antenatal group education, they would (1) have a higher level of BPCR, (2) attend antenatal clinic four or more times, (3) give birth in a health facility, (4) have less complications of women at birth, and (5) have less complications and deaths of infants than those who did not receive the education .” 30

Research questions and hypotheses are crucial components to any type of research, whether quantitative or qualitative. These questions should be developed at the very beginning of the study. Excellent research questions lead to superior hypotheses, which, like a compass, set the direction of research, and can often determine the successful conduct of the study. Many research studies have floundered because the development of research questions and subsequent hypotheses was not given the thought and meticulous attention needed. The development of research questions and hypotheses is an iterative process based on extensive knowledge of the literature and insightful grasp of the knowledge gap. Focused, concise, and specific research questions provide a strong foundation for constructing hypotheses which serve as formal predictions about the research outcomes. Research questions and hypotheses are crucial elements of research that should not be overlooked. They should be carefully thought of and constructed when planning research. This avoids unethical studies and poor outcomes by defining well-founded objectives that determine the design, course, and outcome of the study.

Disclosure: The authors have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.

Author Contributions:

  • Conceptualization: Barroga E, Matanguihan GJ.
  • Methodology: Barroga E, Matanguihan GJ.
  • Writing - original draft: Barroga E, Matanguihan GJ.
  • Writing - review & editing: Barroga E, Matanguihan GJ.

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  • Writing Strong Research Questions | Criteria & Examples

Writing Strong Research Questions | Criteria & Examples

Published on October 26, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on August 15, 2023.

A research question pinpoints exactly what you want to find out in your work. A good research question is essential to guide your research paper , dissertation , or thesis .

All research questions should be:

  • Focused on a single problem or issue
  • Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources
  • Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints
  • Specific enough to answer thoroughly
  • Complex enough to develop the answer over the space of a paper or thesis
  • Relevant to your field of study and/or society more broadly

Writing Strong Research Questions

Table of contents

How to write a research question, what makes a strong research question, using sub-questions to strengthen your main research question, research questions quiz, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about research questions.

You can follow these steps to develop a strong research question:

  • Choose your topic
  • Do some preliminary reading about the current state of the field
  • Narrow your focus to a specific niche
  • Identify the research problem that you will address

The way you frame your question depends on what your research aims to achieve. The table below shows some examples of how you might formulate questions for different purposes.

Using your research problem to develop your research question

Note that while most research questions can be answered with various types of research , the way you frame your question should help determine your choices.

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Research questions anchor your whole project, so it’s important to spend some time refining them. The criteria below can help you evaluate the strength of your research question.

Focused and researchable

Feasible and specific, complex and arguable, relevant and original.

Chances are that your main research question likely can’t be answered all at once. That’s why sub-questions are important: they allow you to answer your main question in a step-by-step manner.

Good sub-questions should be:

  • Less complex than the main question
  • Focused only on 1 type of research
  • Presented in a logical order

Here are a few examples of descriptive and framing questions:

  • Descriptive: According to current government arguments, how should a European bank tax be implemented?
  • Descriptive: Which countries have a bank tax/levy on financial transactions?
  • Framing: How should a bank tax/levy on financial transactions look at a European level?

Keep in mind that sub-questions are by no means mandatory. They should only be asked if you need the findings to answer your main question. If your main question is simple enough to stand on its own, it’s okay to skip the sub-question part. As a rule of thumb, the more complex your subject, the more sub-questions you’ll need.

Try to limit yourself to 4 or 5 sub-questions, maximum. If you feel you need more than this, it may be indication that your main research question is not sufficiently specific. In this case, it’s is better to revisit your problem statement and try to tighten your main question up.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Methodology

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

The way you present your research problem in your introduction varies depending on the nature of your research paper . A research paper that presents a sustained argument will usually encapsulate this argument in a thesis statement .

A research paper designed to present the results of empirical research tends to present a research question that it seeks to answer. It may also include a hypothesis —a prediction that will be confirmed or disproved by your research.

As you cannot possibly read every source related to your topic, it’s important to evaluate sources to assess their relevance. Use preliminary evaluation to determine whether a source is worth examining in more depth.

This involves:

  • Reading abstracts , prefaces, introductions , and conclusions
  • Looking at the table of contents to determine the scope of the work
  • Consulting the index for key terms or the names of important scholars

A research hypothesis is your proposed answer to your research question. The research hypothesis usually includes an explanation (“ x affects y because …”).

A statistical hypothesis, on the other hand, is a mathematical statement about a population parameter. Statistical hypotheses always come in pairs: the null and alternative hypotheses . In a well-designed study , the statistical hypotheses correspond logically to the research hypothesis.

Writing Strong Research Questions

Formulating a main research question can be a difficult task. Overall, your question should contribute to solving the problem that you have defined in your problem statement .

However, it should also fulfill criteria in three main areas:

  • Researchability
  • Feasibility and specificity
  • Relevance and originality

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Qualitative vs Quantitative Research Methods & Data Analysis

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What is the difference between quantitative and qualitative?

The main difference between quantitative and qualitative research is the type of data they collect and analyze.

Quantitative research collects numerical data and analyzes it using statistical methods. The aim is to produce objective, empirical data that can be measured and expressed in numerical terms. Quantitative research is often used to test hypotheses, identify patterns, and make predictions.

Qualitative research, on the other hand, collects non-numerical data such as words, images, and sounds. The focus is on exploring subjective experiences, opinions, and attitudes, often through observation and interviews.

Qualitative research aims to produce rich and detailed descriptions of the phenomenon being studied, and to uncover new insights and meanings.

Quantitative data is information about quantities, and therefore numbers, and qualitative data is descriptive, and regards phenomenon which can be observed but not measured, such as language.

What Is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is the process of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting non-numerical data, such as language. Qualitative research can be used to understand how an individual subjectively perceives and gives meaning to their social reality.

Qualitative data is non-numerical data, such as text, video, photographs, or audio recordings. This type of data can be collected using diary accounts or in-depth interviews and analyzed using grounded theory or thematic analysis.

Qualitative research is multimethod in focus, involving an interpretive, naturalistic approach to its subject matter. This means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them. Denzin and Lincoln (1994, p. 2)

Interest in qualitative data came about as the result of the dissatisfaction of some psychologists (e.g., Carl Rogers) with the scientific study of psychologists such as behaviorists (e.g., Skinner ).

Since psychologists study people, the traditional approach to science is not seen as an appropriate way of carrying out research since it fails to capture the totality of human experience and the essence of being human.  Exploring participants’ experiences is known as a phenomenological approach (re: Humanism ).

The aim of qualitative research is to understand the social reality of individuals, groups, and cultures as nearly as possible as its participants feel it or live it. Thus, people and groups are studied in their natural setting.

Research following a qualitative approach is exploratory and seeks to explain ‘how’ and ‘why’ a particular phenomenon, or behavior, operates as it does in a particular context. It can be used to generate hypotheses and theories from the data.

Qualitative Methods

There are different types of qualitative research methods, including diary accounts, in-depth interviews , documents, focus groups, case study research , and ethnography.

The results of qualitative methods provide a deep understanding of how people perceive their social realities and in consequence, how they act within the social world.

The researcher has several methods for collecting empirical materials, ranging from the interview to direct observation, to the analysis of artifacts, documents, and cultural records, to the use of visual materials or personal experience. Denzin and Lincoln (1994, p. 14)

Here are some examples of qualitative data:

Interview transcripts : Verbatim records of what participants said during an interview or focus group. They allow researchers to identify common themes and patterns, and draw conclusions based on the data. Interview transcripts can also be useful in providing direct quotes and examples to support research findings.

Observations : The researcher typically takes detailed notes on what they observe, including any contextual information, nonverbal cues, or other relevant details. The resulting observational data can be analyzed to gain insights into social phenomena, such as human behavior, social interactions, and cultural practices.

Unstructured interviews : generate qualitative data through the use of open questions.  This allows the respondent to talk in some depth, choosing their own words.  This helps the researcher develop a real sense of a person’s understanding of a situation.

Diaries or journals : Written accounts of personal experiences or reflections.

Notice that qualitative data could be much more than just words or text. Photographs, videos, sound recordings, and so on, can be considered qualitative data. Visual data can be used to understand behaviors, environments, and social interactions.

Qualitative Data Analysis

Qualitative research is endlessly creative and interpretive. The researcher does not just leave the field with mountains of empirical data and then easily write up his or her findings.

Qualitative interpretations are constructed, and various techniques can be used to make sense of the data, such as content analysis, grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006), or discourse analysis.

For example, thematic analysis is a qualitative approach that involves identifying implicit or explicit ideas within the data. Themes will often emerge once the data has been coded.

RESEARCH THEMATICANALYSISMETHOD

Key Features

  • Events can be understood adequately only if they are seen in context. Therefore, a qualitative researcher immerses her/himself in the field, in natural surroundings. The contexts of inquiry are not contrived; they are natural. Nothing is predefined or taken for granted.
  • Qualitative researchers want those who are studied to speak for themselves, to provide their perspectives in words and other actions. Therefore, qualitative research is an interactive process in which the persons studied teach the researcher about their lives.
  • The qualitative researcher is an integral part of the data; without the active participation of the researcher, no data exists.
  • The study’s design evolves during the research and can be adjusted or changed as it progresses. For the qualitative researcher, there is no single reality. It is subjective and exists only in reference to the observer.
  • The theory is data-driven and emerges as part of the research process, evolving from the data as they are collected.

Limitations of Qualitative Research

  • Because of the time and costs involved, qualitative designs do not generally draw samples from large-scale data sets.
  • The problem of adequate validity or reliability is a major criticism. Because of the subjective nature of qualitative data and its origin in single contexts, it is difficult to apply conventional standards of reliability and validity. For example, because of the central role played by the researcher in the generation of data, it is not possible to replicate qualitative studies.
  • Also, contexts, situations, events, conditions, and interactions cannot be replicated to any extent, nor can generalizations be made to a wider context than the one studied with confidence.
  • The time required for data collection, analysis, and interpretation is lengthy. Analysis of qualitative data is difficult, and expert knowledge of an area is necessary to interpret qualitative data. Great care must be taken when doing so, for example, looking for mental illness symptoms.

Advantages of Qualitative Research

  • Because of close researcher involvement, the researcher gains an insider’s view of the field. This allows the researcher to find issues that are often missed (such as subtleties and complexities) by the scientific, more positivistic inquiries.
  • Qualitative descriptions can be important in suggesting possible relationships, causes, effects, and dynamic processes.
  • Qualitative analysis allows for ambiguities/contradictions in the data, which reflect social reality (Denscombe, 2010).
  • Qualitative research uses a descriptive, narrative style; this research might be of particular benefit to the practitioner as she or he could turn to qualitative reports to examine forms of knowledge that might otherwise be unavailable, thereby gaining new insight.

What Is Quantitative Research?

Quantitative research involves the process of objectively collecting and analyzing numerical data to describe, predict, or control variables of interest.

The goals of quantitative research are to test causal relationships between variables , make predictions, and generalize results to wider populations.

Quantitative researchers aim to establish general laws of behavior and phenomenon across different settings/contexts. Research is used to test a theory and ultimately support or reject it.

Quantitative Methods

Experiments typically yield quantitative data, as they are concerned with measuring things.  However, other research methods, such as controlled observations and questionnaires , can produce both quantitative information.

For example, a rating scale or closed questions on a questionnaire would generate quantitative data as these produce either numerical data or data that can be put into categories (e.g., “yes,” “no” answers).

Experimental methods limit how a research participant can react to and express appropriate social behavior.

Findings are, therefore, likely to be context-bound and simply a reflection of the assumptions that the researcher brings to the investigation.

There are numerous examples of quantitative data in psychological research, including mental health. Here are a few examples:

Another example is the Experience in Close Relationships Scale (ECR), a self-report questionnaire widely used to assess adult attachment styles .

The ECR provides quantitative data that can be used to assess attachment styles and predict relationship outcomes.

Neuroimaging data : Neuroimaging techniques, such as MRI and fMRI, provide quantitative data on brain structure and function.

This data can be analyzed to identify brain regions involved in specific mental processes or disorders.

For example, the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) is a clinician-administered questionnaire widely used to assess the severity of depressive symptoms in individuals.

The BDI consists of 21 questions, each scored on a scale of 0 to 3, with higher scores indicating more severe depressive symptoms. 

Quantitative Data Analysis

Statistics help us turn quantitative data into useful information to help with decision-making. We can use statistics to summarize our data, describing patterns, relationships, and connections. Statistics can be descriptive or inferential.

Descriptive statistics help us to summarize our data. In contrast, inferential statistics are used to identify statistically significant differences between groups of data (such as intervention and control groups in a randomized control study).

  • Quantitative researchers try to control extraneous variables by conducting their studies in the lab.
  • The research aims for objectivity (i.e., without bias) and is separated from the data.
  • The design of the study is determined before it begins.
  • For the quantitative researcher, the reality is objective, exists separately from the researcher, and can be seen by anyone.
  • Research is used to test a theory and ultimately support or reject it.

Limitations of Quantitative Research

  • Context: Quantitative experiments do not take place in natural settings. In addition, they do not allow participants to explain their choices or the meaning of the questions they may have for those participants (Carr, 1994).
  • Researcher expertise: Poor knowledge of the application of statistical analysis may negatively affect analysis and subsequent interpretation (Black, 1999).
  • Variability of data quantity: Large sample sizes are needed for more accurate analysis. Small-scale quantitative studies may be less reliable because of the low quantity of data (Denscombe, 2010). This also affects the ability to generalize study findings to wider populations.
  • Confirmation bias: The researcher might miss observing phenomena because of focus on theory or hypothesis testing rather than on the theory of hypothesis generation.

Advantages of Quantitative Research

  • Scientific objectivity: Quantitative data can be interpreted with statistical analysis, and since statistics are based on the principles of mathematics, the quantitative approach is viewed as scientifically objective and rational (Carr, 1994; Denscombe, 2010).
  • Useful for testing and validating already constructed theories.
  • Rapid analysis: Sophisticated software removes much of the need for prolonged data analysis, especially with large volumes of data involved (Antonius, 2003).
  • Replication: Quantitative data is based on measured values and can be checked by others because numerical data is less open to ambiguities of interpretation.
  • Hypotheses can also be tested because of statistical analysis (Antonius, 2003).

Antonius, R. (2003). Interpreting quantitative data with SPSS . Sage.

Black, T. R. (1999). Doing quantitative research in the social sciences: An integrated approach to research design, measurement and statistics . Sage.

Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology . Qualitative Research in Psychology , 3, 77–101.

Carr, L. T. (1994). The strengths and weaknesses of quantitative and qualitative research : what method for nursing? Journal of advanced nursing, 20(4) , 716-721.

Denscombe, M. (2010). The Good Research Guide: for small-scale social research. McGraw Hill.

Denzin, N., & Lincoln. Y. (1994). Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications Inc.

Glaser, B. G., Strauss, A. L., & Strutzel, E. (1968). The discovery of grounded theory; strategies for qualitative research. Nursing research, 17(4) , 364.

Minichiello, V. (1990). In-Depth Interviewing: Researching People. Longman Cheshire.

Punch, K. (1998). Introduction to Social Research: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches. London: Sage

Further Information

  • Designing qualitative research
  • Methods of data collection and analysis
  • Introduction to quantitative and qualitative research
  • Checklists for improving rigour in qualitative research: a case of the tail wagging the dog?
  • Qualitative research in health care: Analysing qualitative data
  • Qualitative data analysis: the framework approach
  • Using the framework method for the analysis of
  • Qualitative data in multi-disciplinary health research
  • Content Analysis
  • Grounded Theory
  • Thematic Analysis

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How to Write Awesome Qualitative Research Questions: Types & Examples

How to Write Awesome Qualitative Research Questions: Types & Examples

Unlike the statistical research methodologies, where the results can be extended to a wider population, qualitative research questions focus on in-depth reasoning and quality of results .

The qualitative research questions consider the “ why and how ” aspects of decision-making and don’t require any statistical tools in the analytical process, as done in the other statistical analysis. The qualitative analysis doesn’t require large random samples, it focuses on small and well-focused data sets, and the research methodology classifies data into patterns to conclude results.

Data can be in many forms, such as text, images, sounds, etc. The most crucial requirement for successful qualitative research is an in-depth understanding of the target subject.

However, the success of a qualitative survey stems from the qualitative research questions. Below, we discuss how to write a qualitative research question at length.

We also explore the various types of qualitative survey questions and the characteristics of good qualitative research questions.

How to Write Qualitative Research Questions

1. keep the questions as per the qualitative research approach.

Qualitative research focuses on describing and answering questions about contexts and participants, and serves the following three general purposes:

  • Examine the perspectives of participants towards events, practices, and beliefs
  • Explore complex research areas and understand specific phenomena and groups
  • A viable and alternative approach to survey questions that are not quantitative in nature

For example, take a look at some qualitative questions examples shown in the following image:

teachers-survey-for-students – 1

2. Focus on Quality, Not Numbers

As qualitative market research and surveys don’t focus on numbers, the question can have one or two sub-questions. There are no hypotheses or objectives, and the subquestions are written such that they narrow the focus of your qualitative research.

If you insist on having more than 2 subquestions, keep the number as low as possible, with 5 to 7 being the highest number of subquestions. 

Key considerations for writing research questions for qualitative research are as follows:

  • Relate the central question to the inquiry strategy
  • Begin with focus question words – “ How ” or “ What “
  • Keep the research focused on a single concept or phenomena
  • Avoid using words such as “ impact ” or “ effect ” and directional phrases
  • Try to evolve during the research and be open-ended without referencing the literature
  • Specify the research site and participants

For beginners, the pointers might be confusing. Hence, we are sharing a sample script to help you understand easier.

How to Write a Qualitative Research Question – Sample Script

(How or What) is the (“story of” research; “meaning of” phenomenon; “theory that explains”; “culture sharing pattern”; or “issue in the case of” your research) of (main research topic) for (participants) at (research site).

3. Keep The Questions as per the Type of Research

There are two types of qualitative questionnaires or research – Ontological and Epistemological.

Ontological research focuses on the “ what ” aspect of things, and assumptions are about the nature and form of that specific social reality.

Epistemological research focuses on the nature of knowledge as well as the ways of knowing and learning about the specific social reality.

Take a quick look at the following visual for a better understanding:

qualitative research questions examples psychology

So, if you are doing Ontological research, ensure that the questions focus on the “what” aspects of reality (the premise of your research), and opt for the nature of the knowledge for Epistemological research.

4. Create Qualitative Statements With Well-Defined Objectives

Ensure that your qualitative statements have a well-defined objective that you can easily communicate to the target audiences. Keep these statements in a single sentence form and make clear the purpose of conducting qualitative research right from the start.

This will definitely enhance the results, as respondents understand their contribution towards your research and mark qualitative responses.

It is important to outline the main topic of your research that can help respondents understand what they are getting into. Finally, choose qualitative terms that demonstrate quality and the entire sentiment behind your research purpose. Some common examples of qualitative terms are – understanding, describing, exploring, etc.

5. Adding Subquestions

If your main qualitative research question is tough to understand or has a complex structure, you must create sub-questions. Doing so would help your respondents understand the overall research objective in mind, and your research can be executed in a better manner.

For example, suppose your main question is – “What is the current state of illiteracy in your state?”

Then, you can create the following subquestions: 

  • How does illiteracy block progress in your state?
  • How would you best describe the feelings you have about illiteracy in your state?

For an even better understanding, you can see the various examples of qualitative research questions in the following image:

qualitative research questions examples psychology

Now that we know how to write qualitative questions for research or surveys, let us move on to explore their types.

Types of Qualitative Research Questions With Examples

Qualitative research is more focused on understanding a phenomenon or an event. So, it has open-ended questions that focus more on the experiences of a focus group instead of numbers or stats.

The qualitative survey questions primarily focus on a specific group of respondents that are participating in case studies, surveys, ethnography studies, etc.

Below, we share a list of qualitative research question types that you can refer to for your research and surveys.

1. One-on-One Questions

The one-on-one questions are asked to a single person and can be thought of as individual interviews that you can conduct online via phone and video chat as well.

The main aim of such questions is to ask your customers or people in the focus group a series of questions about their purchase motivations. These questions might also come with follow-ups, and if your customers respond with some interesting fact or detail, dig deeper and explore the findings as much as you want.

Some common examples include:

  • What makes you happy in regard to [your research topic]?
  • If I could make a wish of yours come true, what do you desire the most?
  • What do you still find hard to come to terms with?
  • Have you bought [your product] before?
  • If so, what was your initial motivation behind the purchase?

2. Exploratory Questions

These questions are designed to enhance your understanding of a particular topic. However, while asking exploratory questions, you must ensure that there are no preconceived notions or biases to it.

The more transparent and bias-free your questions are, the better and fair results you will get.

  • What is the effect of personal smart devices on today’s youth?
  • Do you feel that smart devices have positively or negatively impacted you?
  • How do your kids spend their weekends?
  • What do you do on a typical morning of a weekend?

3. Predictive Questions

The predictive questions are used for qualitative research that is focused on the future outcomes of an action or a series of actions. So, you will be using past information for predicting the reactions of respondents to hypothetical events that might or might not happen in the future.

These questions come in extremely handy for identifying the current brand expectations, pain points, and purchase motivation of your customers.

Some common predictive qualitative research questions are:

  • Are you more likely to buy a product when a celebrity promotes it?
  • Would you ever try a new product because one of your favorite celebs claims that it actually worked for them?
  • Would people in your neighborhood enjoy a park with rides and exercise options?
  • How often would you go to a park with your kids if it had free rides?

4. Interpretive Questions

These qualitative survey questions study people (focus groups) in their natural setting and try to understand how a particular group perceives shared experiences. Interpretive questions also explore how this group attributes meaning to different types of phenomena. The main aim of studies having these questions is to gather group feedback in terms of behavior and responses.

Some common qualitative research question examples include:

  • How do kids in a play-based program respond to the activity switches or changes?
  • How do you feel when your mother asks you to put away your toys and start an activity?
  • How do you attribute value to a good product or service?

5. Focus Groups

These questions are mostly asked in person to the customer or respondent groups. The in-person nature of these surveys or studies ensures that the group members get a safe and comfortable environment for exhibiting their thoughts and feelings about your brand and its offerings.

What makes such qualitative research questions amazing is that you get to see the verbal and non-verbal reactions of your customers. So, you can analyze the severity of an issue and understand the extent of customer happiness or satisfaction associated with your products.

Also, all the members in a focus group can take inspiration and nudges from the other members’ thoughts and statements to help you get even deeper insights.

Some common qualitative research questions examples for focus groups include:

  • How would you describe your ease of using our product?
  • How well do you think were you able to do this task before you started using our product?
  • What do you like about our promotional campaigns?
  • How well do you think our ads convey the meaning?

6. In-Home Videos

Taking video inputs from your customers in the natural setting they are most comfortable at can help you get an entirely different perspective. When your customers are at home, they don’t have to watch their mannerisms, posture, and even words while responding to your questions.

This is one of the major reasons Vogue’s 73 Questions Series is so popular among celebs as well as the viewers.

Such videos allow you to observe your customers or respondents in a natural and relaxed environment, and they feel free to put their responses forward. They can be more honest and give you a realistic view of their experiences.

Some sample qualitative research questions in this category include:

  • What was your first reaction when you used our product for the first time?
  • How well do you think our product performed compared to your expectations?
  • What was your worst experience with our product?
  • What made you switch to our brand?

7. Online Focus Groups

The online focus groups are just like the in-person focus groups, the only difference being that you ask for their responses online. The online focus groups are more cost-efficient than the in-person groups and help you get answers to your list of qualitative research questions in a time-efficient manner.

With the power of online sharing and multiple channels, you can also amplify your reach and gather opinions from more people.

You can also leverage social media and other public platforms by creating communities of respondents and starting a conversation. Once you have them started, you can simply observe the exchange of thoughts and gather massive amounts of interesting insights!

Some sample qualitative research questions for online focus groups include:

  • What do you like best about our product?
  • How familiar are you with this particular service or product we offer?
  • What are your concerns with our product?
  • What changes can we make to make our product better?

Now that we have covered the various types of qualitative survey questions, let us find out how to ensure the quality of these questions.

What Makes a Good Qualitative Research Question?

Below, we are sharing some characteristics of good qualitative research questions that you can keep in mind while creating a survey or study.

1. A Good Qualitative Survey Question Is Specific

Always keep your qualitative questions and statements specific, as generic questions are hard to answer.

For example, when you ask your customers – “ Why is your interest declining in our brand? ” they might not be able to give an exact answer. This is because there can be many reasons for it, and many customers won’t even know that their interest in your brand is declining.

So, reframe your question like – “ What changes can be made to our products to make them work better for you? ”

While framing a question, ask yourself:

  • Why are you asking this question?
  • Do you wish to target a specific demographic with this question?
  • Are you making assumptions about your customers while asking this question?
  • How well do you want to target your questions?

Specific questions are more targeted, more feasible, and easier to answer. Hence, steer clear of generic questions for successful qualitative research.

2. The Question Must Have a Clear Purpose

When you have a clear understanding of the real reasons behind asking a particular question, you opt for the best words. So, always start by developing a clear understanding of your purpose.

Suppose you are a manager, and of late, you have been feeling that employees in the design department are not performing as per the set KPIs. You wish to conduct an employee survey.

Now, you need to be clear about your aim of doing so, such as:

  • Do you wish to learn whether your employees are happy or not?
  • Do you wish to know what ails the departmental performance and productivity?
  • Are you looking for ways to make your workplace more engaging?
  • Are you looking for ways to boost morale and fuel employee motivation?

Only when you have a clear understanding of your intent or survey purpose, can you create a good qualitative research question that results in qualitative responses.

On the other hand, if you don’t have a clear-cut understanding, your research can go in the wrong direction.

3. Focus on a Single Phenomenon

To make your qualitative research questions well-defined, focus on a single phenomenon or idea. This requires a clear focus on your part as well.

When you focus on a broad range of phenomena, the customer response wavers and can get into multiple directions, some of which might not even be relevant to your research.

For example, instead of asking – “ What are some ways to boost our customer engagement? ” you can ask – “ What do you like better – celeb features or influencer videos to learn more about our products? ”

In the second question, you are giving two direct options to your customers, and they are going to respond in favor of one.

Thus, your qualitative response set is well-defined and aligned as per your expectations. On the other hand, if you are asking the first question, some customers might not even understand the term “ customer engagement ,” let alone make suggestions about the same.

4. Define Sample Size and Setting for Your Question

Even before you get started with the question, you must define the sample size and set for your research question for qualitative research.

For example, if you are looking forward to getting more teenagers to buy your animation series products, you need to specify the exact sample size you are looking at – pre-teens, 13 to 16-year-olds, or late teens.

Once you have defined the sample, you can begin with the setting.

For example, in this case, if you pick the late teens, you can ask questions about international animation topics and regional animation topics.

With well-defined samples and settings for your qualitative research, you can create focused and targeted questions that result in highly refined responses.

5. Make Sure the Question Is Feasible

As the entire aim of a qualitative study is to identify the understanding and real-life experiential knowledge of your customers, you have to create feasible questions.

For example, if you ask your customers (late teens), “ How many years of membership do you want to get? “, they are simply going to be left clueless. Another poor and non-feasible question can be – “ Do you wish to use our animation products for your kids when they reach your age? “.

Such questions leave your customers and respondents confused, and they are not able to respond properly.

So, it is important to make sure that your questions are feasible, such as:

  • Do you wish to opt for the 1-year membership plan we are offering?
  • How likely are you to recommend us to your friends?

These questions have a short time frame and target the current circle of your target audience.

Survey Maker: A Powerful Tool to Always Ask the Right Qualitative Research Questions

Watch: How to Create a Survey Using ProProfs Survey Maker

By now, you might have realized that creating a list of qualitative research questions manually is a daunting task. You have to keep a number of things in your mind, and it is highly probable to run out of ideas while framing qualitative survey questions.

However, if you invest in smart survey makers, such as ProProfs Survey Maker, you will be able to create multiple types of surveys within minutes.

Using this survey maker, you can create forms, NPS surveys , tests, quizzes, and even assessments.

You can also use it for polls, sidebar surveys, and in-app surveys. Offering more than 100 templates, and more than 1,000,000 ready-to-use examples of phenomenological research questions, the software will make your job a cakewalk!

Empowered with the right tools and the pro tips shared here, you can always conduct excellent research studies and get amazing insights that drive results.

Jared Cornell

About the author

Jared cornell.

Jared is a customer support expert. He has been published in CrazyEgg , Foundr , and CXL . As a customer support executive at ProProfs, he has been instrumental in developing a complete customer support system that more than doubled customer satisfaction. You can connect and engage with Jared on Twitter , Facebook , and LinkedIn .

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50+ Topics of Psychology Research

How to Find Psychology Research Topics for Your Student Paper

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

qualitative research questions examples psychology

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

qualitative research questions examples psychology

Are you searching for a great topic for your psychology paper ? Sometimes it seems like coming up with topics of psychology research is more challenging than the actual research and writing. Fortunately, there are plenty of great places to find inspiration and the following list contains just a few ideas to help get you started.

Finding a solid topic is one of the most important steps when writing any type of paper. It can be particularly important when you are writing a psychology research paper or essay. Psychology is such a broad topic, so you want to find a topic that allows you to adequately cover the subject without becoming overwhelmed with information.

In some cases, such as in a general psychology class, you might have the option to select any topic from within psychology's broad reach. Other instances, such as in an  abnormal psychology  course, might require you to write your paper on a specific subject such as a psychological disorder.

As you begin your search for a topic for your psychology paper, it is first important to consider the guidelines established by your instructor.

Topics of Psychology Research Within Specific Branches

The key to selecting a good topic for your psychology paper is to select something that is narrow enough to allow you to really focus on the subject, but not so narrow that it is difficult to find sources or information to write about.

One approach is to narrow your focus down to a subject within a specific branch of psychology. For example, you might start by deciding that you want to write a paper on some sort of social psychology topic. Next, you might narrow your focus down to how persuasion can be used to influence behavior.

Other social psychology topics you might consider include:

  • Prejudice and discrimination (i.e., homophobia, sexism, racism)
  • Social cognition
  • Person perception
  • Social control and cults
  • Persuasion , propaganda, and marketing
  • Attraction, romance, and love
  • Nonverbal communication
  • Prosocial behavior

Psychology Research Topics Involving a Disorder or Type of Therapy

Exploring a psychological disorder or a specific treatment modality can also be a good topic for a psychology paper. Some potential abnormal psychology topics include specific psychological disorders or particular treatment modalities, including:

  • Eating disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Profile a  type of therapy  (i.e., cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, psychoanalytic therapy)

Topics of Psychology Research Related to Human Cognition

Some of the possible topics you might explore in this area include thinking, language, intelligence, and decision-making. Other ideas might include:

  • False memories
  • Speech disorders
  • Problem-solving

Topics of Psychology Research Related to Human Development

In this area, you might opt to focus on issues pertinent to  early childhood  such as language development, social learning, or childhood attachment or you might instead opt to concentrate on issues that affect older adults such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Some other topics you might consider include:

  • Language acquisition
  • Media violence and children
  • Learning disabilities
  • Gender roles
  • Child abuse
  • Prenatal development
  • Parenting styles
  • Aspects of the aging process

Do a Critique of Publications Involving Psychology Research Topics

One option is to consider writing a critique paper of a published psychology book or academic journal article. For example, you might write a critical analysis of Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams or you might evaluate a more recent book such as Philip Zimbardo's  The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil .

Professional and academic journals are also great places to find materials for a critique paper. Browse through the collection at your university library to find titles devoted to the subject that you are most interested in, then look through recent articles until you find one that grabs your attention.

Topics of Psychology Research Related to Famous Experiments

There have been many fascinating and groundbreaking experiments throughout the history of psychology, providing ample material for students looking for an interesting term paper topic. In your paper, you might choose to summarize the experiment, analyze the ethics of the research, or evaluate the implications of the study. Possible experiments that you might consider include:

  • The Milgram Obedience Experiment
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • The Little Albert Experiment
  • Pavlov's Conditioning Experiments
  • The Asch Conformity Experiment
  • Harlow's Rhesus Monkey Experiments

Topics of Psychology Research About Historical Figures

One of the simplest ways to find a great topic is to choose an interesting person in the  history of psychology  and write a paper about them. Your paper might focus on many different elements of the individual's life, such as their biography, professional history, theories, or influence on psychology.

While this type of paper may be historical in nature, there is no need for this assignment to be dry or boring. Psychology is full of fascinating figures rife with intriguing stories and anecdotes. Consider such famous individuals as Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, Harry Harlow, or one of the many other  eminent psychologists .

Psychology Research Topics About a Specific Career

​Another possible topic, depending on the course in which you are enrolled, is to write about specific career paths within the  field of psychology . This type of paper is especially appropriate if you are exploring different subtopics or considering which area interests you the most.

In your paper, you might opt to explore the typical duties of a psychologist, how much people working in these fields typically earn, and the different employment options that are available.

Topics of Psychology Research Involving Case Studies

One potentially interesting idea is to write a  psychology case study  of a particular individual or group of people. In this type of paper, you will provide an in-depth analysis of your subject, including a thorough biography.

Generally, you will also assess the person, often using a major psychological theory such as  Piaget's stages of cognitive development  or  Erikson's eight-stage theory of human development . It is also important to note that your paper doesn't necessarily have to be about someone you know personally.

In fact, many professors encourage students to write case studies on historical figures or fictional characters from books, television programs, or films.

Psychology Research Topics Involving Literature Reviews

Another possibility that would work well for a number of psychology courses is to do a literature review of a specific topic within psychology. A literature review involves finding a variety of sources on a particular subject, then summarizing and reporting on what these sources have to say about the topic.

Literature reviews are generally found in the  introduction  of journal articles and other  psychology papers , but this type of analysis also works well for a full-scale psychology term paper.

Topics of Psychology Research Based on Your Own Study or Experiment

Many psychology courses require students to design an actual psychological study or perform some type of experiment. In some cases, students simply devise the study and then imagine the possible results that might occur. In other situations, you may actually have the opportunity to collect data, analyze your findings, and write up your results.

Finding a topic for your study can be difficult, but there are plenty of great ways to come up with intriguing ideas. Start by considering your own interests as well as subjects you have studied in the past.

Online sources, newspaper articles, books , journal articles, and even your own class textbook are all great places to start searching for topics for your experiments and psychology term papers. Before you begin, learn more about  how to conduct a psychology experiment .

A Word From Verywell

After looking at this brief list of possible topics for psychology papers, it is easy to see that psychology is a very broad and diverse subject. While this variety makes it possible to find a topic that really catches your interest, it can sometimes make it very difficult for some students to select a good topic.

If you are still stumped by your assignment, ask your instructor for suggestions and consider a few from this list for inspiration.

  • Hockenbury, SE & Nolan, SA. Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers; 2014.
  • Santrock, JW. A Topical Approach to Lifespan Development. New York: McGraw-Hill Education; 2016.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Qualitative research question examples

qualitative research questions examples psychology

Qualitative research is a broad term that incorporates a wide variety of methods which aim to gather an in-depth understanding of the thoughts, experiences and actions of individuals. It includes studies on social phenomena which tend to be not as exact or precise as quantitative research results. Experiments for instance tend to have more control over variables than qualitative research, as this method is not as concerned with how many participants are involved as long as at least one person from each group being studied is represented. Because it doesn’t require large numbers of people or lengthy observation periods it can provide opportunities for those who might be unable to take part in surveys due to time constraints or lack of access (such as if they were bedridden).

Short answer:

It’s subjective data, qualitative research is a subjective by nature .

  • Research Questions – Definition, Examples, How to Write

research question examples

Research design, research problem, problem statement, dissertation topics.

Long answer:

Qualitative research is research that focuses on exploring and describing aspects of the world through an interpretive process to produce rich descriptions of social phenomena. It emphasizes words over numbers, “talk” over statistics, narrative stories rather than generalizability (researchers typically report how many people are in each interview or focus-group). The data gathered is open to interpretation by those involved because it’s qualitative — hence the qualitative research definition.

This sort of data has its place too though as there are subjects which can’t be easily counted processed mathematically which can only really be explored through personal experience by way of qualitative means. For example, human psychology may have many observable effects but also hard-to-replicate results which are difficult to put into numerical terms for analysis.

The important thing is it gives context though, information on the ‘why’ behind the numbers rather than ‘how many’. A survey question like “How happy are you?” can’t really be accurately answered by a number anyway but some qualitative responses would be “I’m very happy”, “I’m not very happy at all” or even something nonverbal that might indicate happiness in their reaction to the question — some kind of measurable reaction that indicates happiness.

Qualitative research can provide insight into this reaction, whereas quantitative research might not have room to explore these sorts of details because its focus is simply on gathering data through means such as surveys, interviews and experiments.

  • Read more – QUALITATIVE RESEARCH DESIGNS – UMSL

The process of developing qualitative research questions

To develop good qualitative research questions, the first thing to establish is what exactly it is you are trying to find out about. What are the key issues you would like to explore?

Then, whether or not your idea for a project is feasible in terms of time, resources and access.

You don’t want your study failing before it even begins because you haven’t thought things through enough beforehand.

For example, if you’re studying teenagers behaviour online then you need to think about how many teens there are in your area / country / world that can be involved before setting up an interview or focus-group.

Stating ‘I’m going to talk to everyone’ isn’t really sensible unless this sort of group represents all types of individuals equally well (which probably won’t be the case).

Qualitative Research Questions: the argument for a hybrid approach

There is a trend in conducting both quantitative and qualitative research to form a ‘hybrid’ project that will hopefully gain an understanding of the topic from all angles. This might involve gathering information through one or more methods, such as doing quantitative market research alongside talking to individuals — or vice versa. However there are merits in either case such as the following:

Quantitative research has objective data which can be measured by machines and analysed mathematically – so issues with sampling bias for example cannot impact your results. The numerical information you receive will still produce findings which can be interpreted into summaries and presented to stakeholders. You may even be able to draw correlations between two seemingly unrelated variables if this is your area of interest.

Qualitative research can give context to the overall picture which is important to understanding what’s really going on behind the numbers. It might reveal interesting insights you wouldn’t have thought about before, giving creative insight into how people are reacting to something.

You can take any two (or more) sets of data and combine them in different ways depending on your focus — for example, comparing quantitative findings with individual interview transcripts. This will help clarify areas that need further testing whether it concerns market research or sociological studies alike.

Doing both has its advantages but there are good times to use one or the other type of information gathering instead:

If you want an accurate idea about how many people feel about something then this is quantitative research territory. Think about it like this: if you’re trying to understand the viewership of a TV show then watching one episode or talking to its cast won’t give you an accurate picture of how many people are tuning in, so survey results would be more representative.

On the other hand…

If your aim is to see what these individuals think about it rather than how many, then qualitative research methods might be better for this sort of work. However, bear in mind that only talking to individuals can be time-consuming and costly depending on your location – but if their feedback is really important to you then it’s definitely worth doing!

When developing questions remember that both types should inform each other – but they aren’t mutually exclusive either. For example, if you’re interested to see how many people use a new form of technology then this is quantitative research (and would be better suited for survey findings).

However, if you want to know specifically why they use it and the emotional impact of technology on their lives then this might be about individual interviews instead since there’s no way to measure emotions… Quantitative data may help here though: perhaps through facial recognition software and other sensors. This could lead onto deeper conversations about what ICT means in certain contexts — e.g., social media usage – which would involve analysing qualitative texts.

Finally, when deciding whether to go down the quantitative or qualitative route in your findings, ask yourself who needs to know the results in the end… Will it be a government department, a charity or a multinational corporation?

Why not come up with some initial research questions that will help you narrow down what kind of outcome you’re looking to achieve from your project? Once this is established, choose the right data gathering techniques depending on their appropriateness for answering these questions. Remember too that working in groups might help make the decision easier since different people bring different experiences and at least one person may persuade everyone how helpful either type of research would be!

In a case of interest to counselors, researchers studied women who have been battered by their intimate partners and found that many of the women had never revealed the abuse they experienced to anyone. In this study, is a sample of 50 low income African American women from an urban setting in the Midwestern part of the United States with no children under three years old.

The first author conducted 24 semi-structured interviews for this research.

Use additional paper as necessary.

  • Discuss two (2) challenges you may face as a novice qualitative researcher assessing whether or not your participants met inclusion criteria.
  • Discuss one (1) ethical decision you made as a novice researcher during data collection and what you used to support your decision.
  • Discuss two (2) specific actions novice researchers may take to ensure they do not harm study participants.
  • Discuss one (1) strength of the sampling method used by Novak, et al.
  • How would this research have been different if a survey had been used instead of an interview? Provide at least three (3) examples to support your response.
  • If you were a novice researcher completing a qualitative study how would your previous experiences help you as a researcher? Be specific and provide at least two (2) examples.
  • If you were conducting the same study as Novak, et al., what ethical dilemmas, if any, might you face as novice researchers? Provide at least two (2) examples.
  • If you were a novice researcher conducting the same study as Novak, et al., what would you need to consider as you completed each research step? Provide at least three (3) examples to support your response.
  • Identify and define one (1) key term from the reading that is important for novice researchers to understand when completing a qualitative study.
  • Discuss three (3) themes and/or concepts presented by Novak, et al. that appear related but may not be directly linked.
  • Given your own experience or knowledge of counseling, discuss how this article may affect counselors who provide services to battered women over time and across various settings such as in shelters, survivor’s programs or private practice.

What is a research question?

A research question is the starting point of any research projects. A researcher needs to be specific and direct when formulating his/her research questions because the question will guide the construction of his/her hypothesis (which should not be confused with a theory).

What is a qualitative research question?

A qualitative research question is an open-ended, in-depth answer to one or more of the following issues:

  • What is the experience of these people like?
  • What do they think about this issue?
  • Why do they act in certain ways?
  • Why are their thoughts and actions different than my own?
  • What effect does this context have on people’s lives and has it changed any in recent times?

How to write a qualitative research question?

Qualitative research is used in the social sciences and humanities to explore people’s feelings, attitudes, behavior, practices and experiences of phenomena as they live or make meaning of them. Participants’ views are collected through semi-structured interviews , focus groups , oral histories , online forums , textual analysis etc., rather than through surveys .

While quantitative data is objective (i.e., not influenced by the researcher), qualitative data looks for meaning from subjective perspectives. In order to conduct a project that explores these different types of data collection procedures, you need to develop a good research question.

In general, there are two main types of questions: exploratory and explanatory . This distinction can be made at both the research approach level (e.g., case study vs. experimental research) and within specific types of investigations (e.g., grounded theory vs. ethnography ).

Exploratory questions aim to understand the problem or phenomena in more depth, while explanatory questions aim to find answers that will help you explain your results . This is an important difference because once you have collected data for your project, you will need to select a different type of statistical analysis for each question type: exploratory or explanatory.

Some examples of qualitative research questions are:

  • How do people make sense of their experiences?
  • What influences people’s actions online?
  • How does gender shape young individuals’ experiences?
  • Why some children prefer mathematics while others literature?

Examples of phenomenological research questions

Phenomenological research questions are used to explore the subjective perception of individuals, groups or events. It is an inquiry into how things are experienced and conceptualized by people themselves.

Examples of phenomenological research questions include:

  • What is the lived experience of being a successful single parent?
  • How does it feel to have your baby die during labor?
  • What is it like to be incarcerated in jail/prison?
  • What does becoming unemployed mean for you as an individual?

Phenomenological research questions are often identified with qualitative research but may also form part of interviews, self-assessment tools etc. Examples include:

  • Are you satisfied with your life nowadays? Why/Why not?
  • How happy where you last week on a scale from 1 to 10?
  • How does it feel to be arrested and be locked up in prison?
  • What was your first thought when you received the news of being fired?
  • When I ask about your experience, what comes to mind?

In a phenomenological study, participants’ experiences are investigated through qualitative interviews or observations.

Participants may also complete self-rating questionnaires/scales which assess their level of certain psychological states (e.g., depression). In a phenomenological research project, there is no right or wrong answer to your questions.

You simply try to capture how things appear from the perspective of those who experienced them.

Phenomena can only be meaningfully investigated by investigating those phenomena as they appeared within a particular context and perspective.

Phenomenology is an approach to psychological study which focuses on examining how people experience phenomena rather than the internal processes that occur during the experience.

How does phenomenology differ from other philosophical approaches?

The main difference between phenomenology and other philosophies is that phenomenologists try to describe people’s lived experiences as they are experienced by individuals, instead of trying to interpret these experiences or infer what has caused them. Phenomenological analysis includes making sense of your lived experience through themes, concepts and patterns. This type of analysis helps reveal how subjective meaning can be framed within one context (e.g., a particular setting) but not another (a different setting).

Researcher role in qualitative studies

While quantitative research involves creating objective measures that can be replicated and verified by others, qualitative research relies on subjective measures that cannot be reproduced the same way. This is because its main focus is exploring phenomena as they appear to certain individuals depending on cultural, personal and societal factors.

So, although researchers may have a very active role in collecting and analyzing information through interviews or observations (e.g., asking open-ended questions and taking many notes), this does not mean that their role is more important than participants’ views. On the contrary, their goal should be to create an environment of mutual interaction where each participant feels comfortable sharing his/her experiences without any influence from the researcher himself/herself.

Thematic analysis

In order for you to critically analyze your data, you may choose to use a qualitative approach known as thematic analysis. This approach is used when you want to systematically and objectively identify patterns in participants’ responses, usually by using computer programs. Your data can be textual (e.g., interview transcripts) or visual (e.g., photo essays ).

There are several steps involved in conducting a thematic analysis :

  • Identify recurring concepts/themes in your transcript data
  • Mark each theme with a code
  • Assign labels to each code
  • Find themes within codes
  • Create a thematic map

Qualitative research question help

Ask for help with qualitative research question – Hire a qualitative research design expert – Click here to post your questions.

Our statistics homework help experts are always ready to answer your questions. We have a team of expert statisticians who are available 24/7 to answer your queries related to research design, exploratory factor analysis or confirmatory factor analysis.

We hope this article has helped clarify some of your questions about qualitative vs quantitative methods in psychology research!

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Chapter 7: Nonexperimental Research

Qualitative research, learning objectives.

  • List several ways in which qualitative research differs from quantitative research in psychology.
  • Describe the strengths and weaknesses of qualitative research in psychology compared with quantitative research.
  • Give examples of qualitative research in psychology.

What Is Qualitative Research?

This textbook is primarily about  quantitative research . Quantitative researchers typically start with a focused research question or hypothesis, collect a small amount of data from each of a large number of individuals, describe the resulting data using statistical techniques, and draw general conclusions about some large population. Although this method is by far the most common approach to conducting empirical research in psychology, there is an important alternative called qualitative research. Qualitative research originated in the disciplines of anthropology and sociology but is now used to study many psychological topics as well. Qualitative researchers generally begin with a less focused research question, collect large amounts of relatively “unfiltered” data from a relatively small number of individuals, and describe their data using nonstatistical techniques. They are usually less concerned with drawing general conclusions about human behaviour than with understanding in detail the  experience  of their research participants.

Consider, for example, a study by researcher Per Lindqvist and his colleagues, who wanted to learn how the families of teenage suicide victims cope with their loss (Lindqvist, Johansson, & Karlsson, 2008) [1] . They did not have a specific research question or hypothesis, such as, What percentage of family members join suicide support groups? Instead, they wanted to understand the variety of reactions that families had, with a focus on what it is like from  their  perspectives. To address this question, they interviewed the families of 10 teenage suicide victims in their homes in rural Sweden. The interviews were relatively unstructured, beginning with a general request for the families to talk about the victim and ending with an invitation to talk about anything else that they wanted to tell the interviewer. One of the most important themes that emerged from these interviews was that even as life returned to “normal,” the families continued to struggle with the question of why their loved one committed suicide. This struggle appeared to be especially difficult for families in which the suicide was most unexpected.

The Purpose of Qualitative Research

Again, this textbook is primarily about quantitative research in psychology. The strength of quantitative research is its ability to provide precise answers to specific research questions and to draw general conclusions about human behaviour. This method is how we know that people have a strong tendency to obey authority figures, for example, or that female undergraduate students are not substantially more talkative than male undergraduate students. But while quantitative research is good at providing precise answers to specific research questions, it is not nearly as good at  generating  novel and interesting research questions. Likewise, while quantitative research is good at drawing general conclusions about human behaviour, it is not nearly as good at providing detailed descriptions of the behaviour of particular groups in particular situations. And it is not very good at all at communicating what it is actually like to be a member of a particular group in a particular situation.

But the relative weaknesses of quantitative research are the relative strengths of qualitative research. Qualitative research can help researchers to generate new and interesting research questions and hypotheses. The research of Lindqvist and colleagues, for example, suggests that there may be a general relationship between how unexpected a suicide is and how consumed the family is with trying to understand why the teen committed suicide. This relationship can now be explored using quantitative research. But it is unclear whether this question would have arisen at all without the researchers sitting down with the families and listening to what they themselves wanted to say about their experience. Qualitative research can also provide rich and detailed descriptions of human behaviour in the real-world contexts in which it occurs. Among qualitative researchers, this depth is often referred to as “thick description” (Geertz, 1973) [2] . Similarly, qualitative research can convey a sense of what it is actually like to be a member of a particular group or in a particular situation—what qualitative researchers often refer to as the “lived experience” of the research participants. Lindqvist and colleagues, for example, describe how all the families spontaneously offered to show the interviewer the victim’s bedroom or the place where the suicide occurred—revealing the importance of these physical locations to the families. It seems unlikely that a quantitative study would have discovered this detail.

Data Collection and Analysis in Qualitative Research

As with correlational research, data collection approaches in qualitative research are quite varied and can involve naturalistic observation, archival data, artwork, and many other things. But one of the most common approaches, especially for psychological research, is to conduct  interviews . Interviews in qualitative research can be unstructured—consisting of a small number of general questions or prompts that allow participants to talk about what is of interest to them–or structured, where there is a strict script that the interviewer does not deviate from. Most interviews are in between the two and are called semi-structured interviews, where the researcher has a few consistent questions and can follow up by asking more detailed questions about the topics that do come up. Such interviews can be lengthy and detailed, but they are usually conducted with a relatively small sample. The unstructured interview was the approach used by Lindqvist and colleagues in their research on the families of suicide survivors because the researchers were aware that how much was disclosed about such a sensitive topic should be led by the families not by the researchers. Small groups of people who participate together in interviews focused on a particular topic or issue are often referred to as  focus groups . The interaction among participants in a focus group can sometimes bring out more information than can be learned in a one-on-one interview. The use of focus groups has become a standard technique in business and industry among those who want to understand consumer tastes and preferences. The content of all focus group interviews is usually recorded and transcribed to facilitate later analyses. However, we know from social psychology that group dynamics are often at play in any group, including focus groups, and it is useful to be aware of those possibilities.

Another approach to data collection in qualitative research is participant observation. In  participant observation , researchers become active participants in the group or situation they are studying. The data they collect can include interviews (usually unstructured), their own notes based on their observations and interactions, documents, photographs, and other artifacts. The basic rationale for participant observation is that there may be important information that is only accessible to, or can be interpreted only by, someone who is an active participant in the group or situation. An example of participant observation comes from a study by sociologist Amy Wilkins (published in  Social Psychology Quarterly ) on a university-based religious organization that emphasized how happy its members were (Wilkins, 2008) [3] . Wilkins spent 12 months attending and participating in the group’s meetings and social events, and she interviewed several group members. In her study, Wilkins identified several ways in which the group “enforced” happiness—for example, by continually talking about happiness, discouraging the expression of negative emotions, and using happiness as a way to distinguish themselves from other groups.

Data Analysis in Quantitative Research

Although quantitative and qualitative research generally differ along several important dimensions (e.g., the specificity of the research question, the type of data collected), it is the method of data  analysis  that distinguishes them more clearly than anything else. To illustrate this idea, imagine a team of researchers that conducts a series of unstructured interviews with recovering alcoholics to learn about the role of their religious faith in their recovery. Although this project sounds like qualitative research, imagine further that once they collect the data, they code the data in terms of how often each participant mentions God (or a “higher power”), and they then use descriptive and inferential statistics to find out whether those who mention God more often are more successful in abstaining from alcohol. Now it sounds like quantitative research. In other words, the quantitative-qualitative distinction depends more on what researchers  do  with the data they have collected than with why or how they collected the data.

But what does qualitative data analysis look like? Just as there are many ways to collect data in qualitative research, there are many ways to analyze data. Here we focus on one general approach called  grounded theory  (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) [4] . This approach was developed within the field of sociology in the 1960s and has gradually gained popularity in psychology. Remember that in quantitative research, it is typical for the researcher to start with a theory, derive a hypothesis from that theory, and then collect data to test that specific hypothesis. In qualitative research using grounded theory, researchers start with the data and develop a theory or an interpretation that is “grounded in” those data. They do this analysis in stages. First, they identify ideas that are repeated throughout the data. Then they organize these ideas into a smaller number of broader themes. Finally, they write a  theoretical narrative —an interpretation—of the data in terms of the themes that they have identified. This theoretical narrative focuses on the subjective experience of the participants and is usually supported by many direct quotations from the participants themselves.

As an example, consider a study by researchers Laura Abrams and Laura Curran, who used the grounded theory approach to study the experience of postpartum depression symptoms among low-income mothers (Abrams & Curran, 2009) [5] . Their data were the result of unstructured interviews with 19 participants.  Table 7.1  shows the five broad themes the researchers identified and the more specific repeating ideas that made up each of those themes. In their research report, they provide numerous quotations from their participants, such as this one from “Destiny:”

Well, just recently my apartment was broken into and the fact that his Medicaid for some reason was cancelled so a lot of things was happening within the last two weeks all at one time. So that in itself I don’t want to say almost drove me mad but it put me in a funk.…Like I really was depressed. (p. 357)

Their theoretical narrative focused on the participants’ experience of their symptoms not as an abstract “affective disorder” but as closely tied to the daily struggle of raising children alone under often difficult circumstances.

The Quantitative-Qualitative “Debate”

Given their differences, it may come as no surprise that quantitative and qualitative research in psychology and related fields do not coexist in complete harmony. Some quantitative researchers criticize qualitative methods on the grounds that they lack objectivity, are difficult to evaluate in terms of reliability and validity, and do not allow generalization to people or situations other than those actually studied. At the same time, some qualitative researchers criticize quantitative methods on the grounds that they overlook the richness of human behaviour and experience and instead answer simple questions about easily quantifiable variables.

In general, however, qualitative researchers are well aware of the issues of objectivity, reliability, validity, and generalizability. In fact, they have developed a number of frameworks for addressing these issues (which are beyond the scope of our discussion). And in general, quantitative researchers are well aware of the issue of oversimplification. They do not believe that all human behaviour and experience can be adequately described in terms of a small number of variables and the statistical relationships among them. Instead, they use simplification as a strategy for uncovering general principles of human behaviour.

Many researchers from both the quantitative and qualitative camps now agree that the two approaches can and should be combined into what has come to be called  mixed-methods research  (Todd, Nerlich, McKeown, & Clarke, 2004) [6] . (In fact, the studies by Lindqvist and colleagues and by Abrams and Curran both combined quantitative and qualitative approaches.) One approach to combining quantitative and qualitative research is to use qualitative research for hypothesis generation and quantitative research for hypothesis testing. Again, while a qualitative study might suggest that families who experience an unexpected suicide have more difficulty resolving the question of why, a well-designed quantitative study could test a hypothesis by measuring these specific variables for a large sample. A second approach to combining quantitative and qualitative research is referred to as  triangulation . The idea is to use both quantitative and qualitative methods simultaneously to study the same general questions and to compare the results. If the results of the quantitative and qualitative methods converge on the same general conclusion, they reinforce and enrich each other. If the results diverge, then they suggest an interesting new question: Why do the results diverge and how can they be reconciled?

Using qualitative research can often help clarify quantitative results in triangulation. Trenor, Yu, Waight, Zerda, and Sha (2008) [7] investigated the experience of female engineering students at university. In the first phase, female engineering students were asked to complete a survey, where they rated a number of their perceptions, including their sense of belonging.  Their results were compared by the student ethnicities, and statistically, the various ethnic groups showed no differences in their ratings of sense of belonging.  One might look at that result and conclude that ethnicity does not have anything to do with sense of belonging.  However, in the second phase, the authors also conducted interviews with the students, and in those interviews, many minority students reported how the diversity of cultures at the university enhanced their sense of belonging. Without the qualitative component, we might have drawn the wrong conclusion about the quantitative results.

This example shows how qualitative and quantitative research work together to help us understand human behaviour. Some researchers have characterized quantitative research as best for identifying behaviours or the phenomenon whereas qualitative research is best for understanding meaning or identifying the mechanism. However, Bryman (2012) [8] argues for breaking down the divide between these arbitrarily different ways of investigating the same questions.

Key Takeaways

  • Qualitative research is an important alternative to quantitative research in psychology. It generally involves asking broader research questions, collecting more detailed data (e.g., interviews), and using nonstatistical analyses.
  • Many researchers conceptualize quantitative and qualitative research as complementary and advocate combining them. For example, qualitative research can be used to generate hypotheses and quantitative research to test them.
  • Discussion: What are some ways in which a qualitative study of girls who play youth baseball would be likely to differ from a quantitative study on the same topic? What kind of different data would be generated by interviewing girls one-on-one rather than conducting focus groups?
  • Lindqvist, P., Johansson, L., & Karlsson, U. (2008). In the aftermath of teenage suicide: A qualitative study of the psychosocial consequences for the surviving family members. BMC Psychiatry, 8 , 26. Retrieved from http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-244X/8/26 ↵
  • Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures . New York, NY: Basic Books. ↵
  • Wilkins, A. (2008). “Happier than Non-Christians”: Collective emotions and symbolic boundaries among evangelical Christians. Social Psychology Quarterly, 71 , 281–301. ↵
  • Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research . Chicago, IL: Aldine. ↵
  • Abrams, L. S., & Curran, L. (2009). “And you’re telling me not to stress?” A grounded theory study of postpartum depression symptoms among low-income mothers. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 33 , 351–362. ↵
  • Todd, Z., Nerlich, B., McKeown, S., & Clarke, D. D. (2004) Mixing methods in psychology: The integration of qualitative and quantitative methods in theory and practice . London, UK: Psychology Press. ↵
  • Trenor, J.M., Yu, S.L., Waight, C.L., Zerda. K.S & Sha T.-L. (2008). The relations of ethnicity to female engineering students’ educational experiences and college and career plans in an ethnically diverse learning environment. Journal of Engineering Education, 97 (4), 449-465. ↵
  • Bryman, A. (2012). Social Research Methods , 4th ed. Oxford: OUP. ↵
  • Research Methods in Psychology. Authored by : Paul C. Price, Rajiv S. Jhangiani, and I-Chant A. Chiang. Provided by : BCCampus. Located at : https://opentextbc.ca/researchmethods/ . License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

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COMMENTS

  1. 83 Qualitative Research Questions & Examples

    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.

  2. Qualitative Research Questions: Gain Powerful Insights + 25 Examples

    How will we know when we've achieved our goals? Of course, some of these questions can be described as quantitative in nature. When a research question is quantitative, it usually seeks to measure or calculate something in a systematic way. For example: How many people in our town use the library? What is the average income of families in our city?

  3. Qualitative Psychology Sample articles

    February 2015. by Erin E. Toolis and Phillip L. Hammack. Lifetime Activism, Marginality, and Psychology: Narratives of Lifelong Feminist Activists Committed to Social Change (PDF, 93KB) August 2014. by Anjali Dutt and Shelly Grabe. Qualitative Inquiry in the History of Psychology (PDF, 82KB) February 2014. by Frederick J. Wertz.

  4. Qualitative Research Questions

    Example A: How do healthcare providers perceive income inequality when providing care to poor patients? In Example A, we see that there is no specificity of location or geographic areas. This could lead to findings that are varied, and the researcher may not find a clear pattern.

  5. What Is Qualitative Research?

    Qualitative research methods. 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 ...

  6. 7.4 Qualitative Research

    It seems unlikely that a quantitative study would have discovered this. Data Collection and Analysis in Qualitative Research As with correlational research, data collection approaches in qualitative research are quite varied and can involve naturalistic observation, archival data, artwork, and many other things.

  7. 6.4 Qualitative Research

    Give examples of qualitative research in psychology. What Is Qualitative Research? This textbook is primarily about quantitative research, in part because most studies conducted in psychology are quantitative in nature.

  8. Qualitative Research

    Give examples of qualitative research in psychology. What Is Qualitative Research? This textbook is primarily about quantitative research .

  9. Framing a Research Question

    The process for developing a research question. There are many ways of framing questions depending on the topic, discipline, or type of questions. ... In M. A. Forester (Ed.), Doing Qualitative Research in Psychology: A Practical Guide (pp. 39-52). London, Sage. Psychology, qualitative: CIMO: ... Qualitative health research, 22(10), 1435-1443 ...

  10. APA: Qualitative Research in Psychology

    As you will learn in this course, these questions become qualitative research projects when the right methods and analytical processes are learned and applied. ... We will focus on the past and present of qualitative inquiry, with grounding in contemporary examples across a variety of psychology fields. Through tools, illustrations, and self ...

  11. 8.4 Qualitative research questions

    First, qualitative research questions often ask about lived experience, personal experience, understanding, meaning, and stories. These keywords indicate that you will be using qualitative methods. Second, qualitative research questions may be more general and less specific. Instead of asking how one concept causes another, we are asking about ...

  12. Characteristics of Qualitative Research

    Qualitative research can be used to: (i) gain deep contextual understandings of the subjective social reality of individuals and (ii) to answer questions about experience and meaning from the participant's perspective (Hammarberg et al., 2016).

  13. 10 Research Question Examples to Guide your Research Project

    10 Research Question Examples to Guide your Research Project Published on October 30, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on October 19, 2023. The research question is one of the most important parts of your research paper, thesis or dissertation. It's important to spend some time assessing and refining your question before you get started.

  14. Research Question Examples ‍

    Do mindfulness techniques improve emotional well-being? This is a focused research question aiming to evaluate the effectiveness of a specific intervention. How does early childhood trauma impact adult relationships? This research question targets a clear cause-and-effect relationship over a long timescale, making it focused but comprehensive.

  15. A Practical Guide to Writing Quantitative and Qualitative Research

    INTRODUCTION. Scientific research is usually initiated by posing evidenced-based research questions which are then explicitly restated as hypotheses.1,2 The hypotheses provide directions to guide the study, solutions, explanations, and expected results.3,4 Both research questions and hypotheses are essentially formulated based on conventional theories and real-world processes, which allow the ...

  16. Writing Strong Research Questions

    A good research question is essential to guide your research paper, dissertation, or thesis. All research questions should be: Focused on a single problem or issue. Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources. Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints. Specific enough to answer thoroughly.

  17. Qualitative Psychology

    The mission of the journal Qualitative Psychology® is to provide a forum for innovative methodological, theoretical, and empirical work that advances qualitative inquiry in psychology. The journal publishes articles that underscore the distinctive contributions that qualitative research can make to the advancement of psychological knowledge.

  18. Planning Qualitative Research: Design and Decision Making for New

    Ultimately, the choice depends on the research question. The research question dictates the appropriate qualitative approach, from which point the researcher knows the possible types of data that can be collected and how to analyze the data. We intend that Tables 2 and 3 demonstrate two things. First, there are many ways to approach a ...

  19. Qualitative vs Quantitative Research: What's the Difference?

    Examples Quantitative Data Analysis Key Features Limitations of Quantitative Research Advantages of Quantitative Research What is the difference between quantitative and qualitative? The main difference between quantitative and qualitative research is the type of data they collect and analyze.

  20. How to Write Awesome Qualitative Research Questions: Types & Examples

    Relate the central question to the inquiry strategy. Begin with focus question words - " How " or " What ". Keep the research focused on a single concept or phenomena. Avoid using words such as " impact " or " effect " and directional phrases. Try to evolve during the research and be open-ended without referencing the literature.

  21. 50+ Topics of Psychology Research for Your Student Paper

    Psychology Research Topics Involving a Disorder or Type of Therapy Exploring a psychological disorder or a specific treatment modality can also be a good topic for a psychology paper. Some potential abnormal psychology topics include specific psychological disorders or particular treatment modalities, including: Eating disorders

  22. A Step-by-Step Process of Thematic Analysis to Develop a Conceptual

    A step-by-step systematic thematic analysis process has been introduced, which can be used in qualitative research to develop a conceptual model on the basis of the research findings. The embeddedness of a step-by-step thematic analysis process is another feature that distinguishes inductive thematic analysis from Braun and Clarke's (2006 ...

  23. Qualitative research question examples

    Short answer: It's subjective data, qualitative research is a subjective by nature. You Might Be Interested In Problem Statement Research Design Research Problem research question examples Research Proposal Outline & Example Research Questions - Definition, Examples, How to Write Long answer:

  24. Qualitative Research

    Qualitative research can help researchers to generate new and interesting research questions and hypotheses. The research of Lindqvist and colleagues, for example, suggests that there may be a general relationship between how unexpected a suicide is and how consumed the family is with trying to understand why the teen committed suicide.