Qualitative research is exploratory, which seeks to understand a phenomenon. It seeks to develop an understanding of people’s fundamental reasons, opinions, and attitudes. Qualitative research also seeks to identify trends and patterns in thoughts and opinions. Qualitative data is descriptive in contrast to numerical data for quantitative research. There are different approaches to use for collecting qualitative data. The methods vary across unstructured or semi-structured techniques. Generally, the tools used for this purpose encompass the following.

  • Focus Groups (Group Discussions)
  • Individual Interviews
  • Surveys and questionnaires
  • Participation/Observations (Ethnographic Method)
  • Case Studies
  • Literature Review and Archival Research

This article will discuss different approaches to use to collect qualitative data. It will also shed light on the peculiar nature of the qualitative data collection approach. Let’s discuss it in detail.

What is the purpose of collecting qualitative data?

Before delving into details about different approaches to collecting qualitative data, let’s first discuss its purpose. This type of data allows the researcher to probe deeper into the research problem. It allows developing a comprehensive perspective about a phenomenon. It seeks to measure intangible factors such as experiences, opinions, motivations and attitudes. It seeks to describe the process and construct a context for the specific phenomenon.

Data collection for qualitative research is opposite to the quantitative data collection technique. It is more open and informal. The researcher has more flexibility in collecting qualitative data. The researcher utilizes an investigative approach to answer “why” and “how” processes occur. For example, how do people respond to change, or why are people reluctant to change? This approach relies heavily on interviews, discussions, case studies and literature reviews, especially when writing a PhD dissertation.


In a nutshell, the approaches to collecting qualitative data are the following.

  • To gain an in-depth understanding of a phenomenon or a process
  • Evaluate and measure intangible factors of the relevant research problem
  • Utilizes informal, unstructured or semi-structured techniques for data collection
  • Curious in nature
  • Chooses a small group of suitable respondents for sampling
  • Open-ended questions and the results are long reports
  • Captures detailed information subject to further exploration and interpretation
  • Descriptive and conceptual
  • Have broad indicators


Let’s discuss the different approaches to use for collecting qualitative data.

Focus Groups (Group Discussions)

Group discussion is the most utilized approach for collecting qualitative data. The focus group consists typically of 8-10 people. But, the group size may vary depending upon the researcher’s needs. A researcher engages the group members in a discussion about the topic or specific issue. The researcher takes notes of the ongoing discussion while respondents agree or disagree with each other.

The Focus Group Discussion approach in collecting qualitative data seeks to achieve the following objectives.


  • To assess the perception of the group about the selected topic
  • Researchers analyze the thoughts, opinions and ideas expressed during discussions
  • To identify similarities and differences of opinion of respondents on the chosen topic
  • Participants selected for discussion must be relevant to the chosen topic to gain valuable insights. For example, if the topic is to assess the opinions of a minority community on the electoral process. The researcher will select the group from the minority community.

One-on-One Interviews

An individual interview is the most common approach for collecting qualitative data. The researcher engages in a face-to-face discussion with an individual to discuss a specific issue. The researcher poses the interview questions to obtain the interviewee’s perspective about the chosen topic. It is a practical approach for researchers to gather more personalized information. It allows the researcher to gain a detailed context on the relevant research problem.

In essence, the interview approach in collecting qualitative data seeks to gauge the following things.

  • To gain an understanding of the individual’s beliefs
  • Gain an insight into the individual’s values and opinions on the chosen subject matter
  • To assess the feelings and experiences of the interviewee on the selected topic

Surveys and Questionnaires

The open-ended survey is the most frequent approach used in collecting qualitative data. The researcher develops open-ended questions about the relevant topic, and the participants can respond freely at length. The answers to these questions are descriptive and have no restrictions. The researcher can utilize paper surveys from a chosen population sample or online surveys via Google Forms. Both of these methods effectively collect a large amount of data on an issue. An online survey is the most effective approach for collecting qualitative data. It is cost-effective and allows has a broader reach. In contrast to interviews, it is less biased since the respondents register their answers without the supervision of the interviewer.

Participation/Observations (Ethnographic Method)

Participation and observation is an ethnographic approach to use for collecting qualitative data. This approach is helpful for field research. The researcher partakes in the natural settings of the chosen community or a group of people to understand their dynamics. It is most useful for sociological or anthropological research. The researcher makes observations of the subjects in their routine life and takes notes. The researcher can also record the subjects via audio or video. It is also helpful in making a documentary.

Collecting qualitative data through observation and participation intends to achieve the following objectives.

  • To gain insights on behavioural patterns, attitudes, and emotions of the selected community for the chosen topic.
  • To understand cultures, their way of life, thinking patterns and worldview in a natural setting.

Case Studies

Another approach in collecting qualitative data for qualitative research is through case studies. Case studies provide valuable insights and detailed information about a specific phenomenon. It explores a particular process or aspect through various sources and provides context to the research problem. The researcher approaches case studies from multiple lenses to understand various aspects of a specific phenomenon.

Literature Review and Archival Research

The most recurrent approach in collecting qualitative data for the secondary research is a literature review. Literature review enables the researcher to understand the relevant topic in light of existing knowledge. The researcher examines books, journals, electronic sources, reports, national archives, and government documents for that purpose.

The Literature Review approach seeks to achieve the following objectives.

  • To obtain background knowledge and context for the relevant research problem.
  • Identify gaps in the literature and justify the reasons for conducting the research.
  • Develop questions and hypotheses to conduct primary research


Approaches for collecting qualitative data vary as per the researcher’s needs and objectives. Qualitative research seeks to develop a comprehensive understanding of a particular phenomenon. It is detail-oriented and exploratory. The approaches mentioned above help collect qualitative data. After reading this article, we hope you will have an in-depth understanding of qualitative data collection techniques.