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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, 2022).


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.


Qualitative research is a research method that focuses on understanding the subjective experience of individuals. Unlike quantitative research, which relies on statistical analysis and mathematical models, it emphasizes on the richness and complexity of human behavior and social interactions. It is often used in the social sciences, such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, and education.


One of the key features of qualitative research is that it is based on the researcher’s interpretation of the data. This means that different researchers may interpret the same data in different ways. Qualitative research is also characterized by its use of open-ended questions, which allow participants to provide detailed and nuanced responses.


Advantages of qualitative research


Authentic answers

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.


In-depth questioning

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.


Smaller sample size

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


Subjective nature

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.


Suitability of the researchers

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).


Uncomfortable questions

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.


Data collection techniques in qualitative research

Qualitative research involves collecting data through a variety of techniques, including interviews, focus groups, observation, oral history/life stories, and document analysis (University of New Castle, 2023).


In-depth interviews are one of the most common data collection techniques in qualitative research, and they involve one-on-one conversations between the researcher and the participant. Focus groups, on the other hand, involve group discussions among participants who share similar characteristics or experiences.


Observation is another important data collection technique, which involves observing and recording the behavior of individuals or groups in natural settings. Document analysis involves reviewing and analysing existing documents, such as historical records, government reports, or social media posts. Finally, oral history is where participants tell memories of experiences to the researcher (University of New Castle, 2023).


Analyzing qualitative data

Qualitative data analysis involves identifying patterns and themes within the data. It is often conducted through a process of coding and categorisation. Researchers read through the data and identify key concepts or themes, which they then organise into categories or codes.


Once the data has been coded and categorised, researchers look for patterns and connections between the different categories. Ultimately, the goal of qualitative data analysis is to develop a rich and nuanced understanding of the research question.


Real-world applications of qualitative research

Qualitative research has many real-world applications, particularly in fields such as healthcare, education, and social work. For example, it can be used to explore the perspectives of teachers and students in the classroom, or to investigate the social factors that contribute to poverty and inequality.


Qualitative research can also be used to inform policy and practice. For example, it can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of social programs or to develop new interventions to address social problems.


Summary of advantages and disadvantages of qualitative research

To sum up, qualitative research is a powerful tool for understanding complex social phenomena that cannot be measured through quantitative methods. It allows researchers to obtain detailed data that can provide a deep understanding of human behavior and social interactions. However, it also has several disadvantages, including its time-consuming and labor-intensive nature, and its potential for researcher bias.


Despite these challenges, qualitative research has many real-world applications and can be used to inform policy and practice in a variety of fields. By using it, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of the subjective experiences of individuals and communities.


We hope the article ‘Advantages and disadvantages of qualitative research’ has been a helpful read. Please share the article link on social media to support our work. 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


Last update:  14 March 2023


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 (2022) Market research spend in the U.S. by research method, available at: (accessed 14 March 2023)

University of New Castle (2023) Research methods, available at: (accessed 14 March 2023)

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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