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Advantages and disadvantages of qualitative research

Advantages and disadvantages of qualitative research

This article aims to examine some of the advantages and disadvantages of qualitative research method. Qualitative research is often used by researchers to explore a wide variety of topics. In fact, spending on it amounts to 12% of the total market research in the United States (Statista, 2020).

Definition of qualitative research

According to Wilson (2012) cited in BBP Learning Media (2013) qualitative research is undertaken using an unstructured research approach with a small number of carefully selected individuals to produce non-quantifiable insights into behaviour, motivation, and attitudes.

According to Ritchie and Lewis (2003) qualitative research is a naturalistic, interpretative approach concerned with understanding the meanings that people attach to actions, decisions, beliefs, values and the like within their social world, and understanding the mental mapping process that respondents use to make sense of and interpret the world around them.

Qualitative research is often used to answer how and ‘why’ questions rather than who, what, and when questions. It focuses more on exploring why people behave in certain ways than on counting their numbers.

Advantages of qualitative research

Qualitative research does not provide research participants with questions having specific answers. Rather, it allows them to be themselves by expressing their thoughts and views freely without any pre-set constraints. Therefore, the possibility of receiving authentic answers is high in this type of research.

Qualitative studies generate information based on the research participants’ thoughts, ideas, and past experiences which are indeed more trustworthy and accurate. The participants can take enough time to think and address the questions appropriately instead of ticking boxes.

Focus groups and interviews are common tools used in qualitative research as the sample size is often smaller to accommodate in-depth questioning. Qualitative research is also claimed to be exploratory because researchers do not have preconceived and imaginative ideas of what the study will deliver.

Qualitative researchers can amend questions based on the reactions and responses they receive from the respondents. This allows them to understand the respondents’ views of the world better and deeper.

Qualitative data collection tools such as semi-structured and unstructured interviews allow the researchers to ask any questions around the subject matter which they feel is relevant or had not thought before.

Sample size is small in qualitative research as well. For example, size of a focus group is usually five to eight participants. Likewise, 10 respondents are often good for interviews.

Disadvantages of qualitative research

Many people criticise qualitative research because of the subjective nature. Therefore, an extra caution must be applied by researchers to ensure that data is collected and analysed very professionally.

The quality of qualitative data depends on the quality of the researchers. Researchers need to have industry experience and good interviewing skills to ask follow-up questions. They also need to bond well with the participants to ensure the accuracy of the data. Therefore, if the researchers do not have industry experience or interviewing skills, they may not be able to derive good responses from the participants.

Collecting qualitative data is time-consuming. If each interview lasts between one and two hours, a maximum of three or four per day is often all that is possible (BPP Learning Media, 20).

Some questions may be uncomfortable for participants to answer in a face-to-face session, and therefore, they may not provide answers representative of their true feelings.

We hope the article ‘Advantages and disadvantages of qualitative research’ has been a helpful read. You may like reading ‘Quantitative vs qualitative research’. Other relevant articles are:

Differences between deductive and inductive approaches to research

Advantages and disadvantages of convenience sampling

Advantages and disadvantages of focus groups

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Last update: 06 May 2021


BPP Learning Media (2013) Marketing intelligence and planning, 3rd edition, London: BPP Learning Media

Ritchie, J. and Lewis, J. (2003), Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers, London: Sage

Statista (2020) Market research spend in the U.S. by research method 2019, available at: (accessed 04 May 2021)

Author: M Rahman

M Rahman writes extensively online and offline with an emphasis on business management, marketing, and tourism. He is a lecturer in Management and Marketing. He holds an MSc in Tourism & Hospitality from the University of Sunderland. Also, graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University with a BA in Business & Management Studies and completed a DTLLS (Diploma in Teaching in the Life-Long Learning Sector) from London South Bank University.

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