Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches

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1 October 2015

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Qualitative Research Design


            Qualitative research design is an approach used in research by researchers and scientists to study the behaviour and habits of human beings in the society. According to Flick, (2009 p. 17) the research design is used in various fields such as health, social sciences, business and other social sciences to study different behaviours. In health, qualitative research may be used to study issues on health awareness, availability of health facility, and access to primary, secondary, and tertiary healthcare services. The data obtained is then used as the basis for health improvement recommendations.

            Consequently, the qualitative research design can be applied in business to study the problems affecting business and how solutions can be modelled to improve performance of the industry. According to Saunders et al., (2012 p. 6) business research is a systematic research aimed at studying problems and solutions to business.

            From the fact that business is a wide field, the design is also adapted in specific disciplines of business such as product design, marketing, advertisement, human resource, and studying new business opportunities. For example, in product design, the designers may want to obtain data about the existing products based on consumers’ feedback and use the information to improve or design new product using interviews, focus groups or ethnographic studies. Similarly, the same approach can be used in market research to establish the demand of certain products and the product penetration in the market. The researcher prepares questions to be used in either interviews or focus group. The information obtained from the interviews is then analysed to understand the demand of a given product in the market.

            Example of qualitative research for product designer may include: product designers may want to study the gap in the market for a certain product for them to introduce new product that meet consumers’ tastes and preference. The designer may opt to interview several people in the targeted area and ask questions that may give information about the gap in the existing products. For example, they may obtain information about a detergent that does not work effectively to remove stains and thus design a new product that would meet consumers taste and preferences. Hence, qualitative research design forms the most efficient tool to obtain the data required to make the decision.

            The design is also used as a lead for quantitative design. The viability of hypothesis is tested through the qualitative design and then proved using the quantitative design through mathematical analysis. Hence, the design is very important for preliminary studies where the researcher may want to gather information about the topic before embarking on detailed quantitative research.

            According to Siegel & Olshansky, (2012 p. 53) there are several approaches used to obtain the data in qualitative design, which include:

  1. Interviews
  2. Focus groups
  3. Ethnographic research

            The interviews and the focus groups will be studied in details in the rest of the paper through critical evaluation and analysis to understand the application and how their cons can be improved in order to improve qualitative research design.


            Interviews involve questions and answer session between the researcher and the participants (DiCicco‐Bloom, & Crabtree, 2006 p. 317). The researcher or the interviewer asks the questions while the participant responds to them based on his experience or the knowledge about the questions. The interviewer guides the respond throughout the interview until all the questions are answered comprehensively. The interview may involve individuals or groups. According to Seidman, (2013 p. 113) interviews can be carried out through various methods such as; face-to-face interactions, telephone or electronic devices such as internet-enabled computer.

            There are different types of interviews depending on how they are carried or how the interview questions are structured. The paper will elaborate, evaluate and analysed four forms of interviews namely:

  1. Structured interview
  2. Semi-structured interviews
  3. Unstructured interviews and
  4. Iinformal interviews

Types of interviews

            The types of interviews are discussed based on Creswell, (2014 p. 189) explanations.

Structured interviews

            They are the main tool of research when the researcher has well understanding of the research topic. This is because the researcher is able to formulate all the possible research questions and get as much information from the participants as possible. The researcher may be interested in proving a theory or previous studies. Hence, interview is based on the literature reviewed or observations related to the topic during less structured interviews. The interview is developed using topic specific and close-ended questions. This is from the fact that the researcher has well understanding of the topic and scope and thus limits the information that he or she should obtain from the participants. Although the researcher is able to obtain information that is specific to his or her study, it may be hard for the respondent to answer all the questions well since he may be limited to answers. In addition, lack of knowledge about a certain question may result in incomplete interviews.

Semi-Structured interviews

            The interview is used when the researcher has limited time, respondent availability is not guaranteed, and thus different people conduct the interview in the field at the same time. The interview has well explained instructions to guide the interviewers in order to provide accurate and qualitative data in addition to trainings meant for understanding the topic. The interviews are preceded by informal interviews and observations in order to help the researcher to understand the topic in order to develop the semi-structured interview. The interview questions are mainly open ended and thus the respondent has the freedom to answer the questions in his own understanding and experience. The interview becomes interesting when the respondent understands the topic and thus he or she may give as much information as possible. The additional information can be noted in a notebook to support the data during presentation.

Unstructured interviews

            They are carried out when the researchers lack enough understanding on the topic and hence have allowance for additional information from the respondent. The researcher tries to gets as much information from the respondent as possible in order for him or her to build on the existing information. The questions are open ended and the researcher has no influence on the respondents’ answers. However, the researcher has a clear understanding of the research setting.

Informal interviews

            The method is commonly used for social research and or during the early set up of the study. In this type of interview, the researcher aim is to obtain as much information from participants as possible. This is because the topic is poorly understood and there is little literature on the topic and thus information can only be obtained from primary sources to build on the existing information. Most informative interview approach are carried out for studies that are based on experience, interests, or a given culture that is not researched and so the researcher uses observations to develop more understand of the inquiry and develop a rapport. Like the structured, the interview questions are open ended as the respondent’s information is crucial towards development of the study.

Pros of the interviews

Accurate data

            According to Seidman, (2013 p. 1oo) interviews give more accurate data than other data collection methods. The researcher explains to the respondents some questions that might be difficult of him or her and thus end up getting the required information. In addition, the researcher explore the topic or questions using probe that enables him or her to get more information and details, which results in more accurate data. That is, the researcher has a chance to clarify and explain some questions that the interviewee my lack the knowledge and understanding thus getting the intended information.

            The interview provides a rich data with details and insights about the topic. The respondent describes his or her own understanding on the topic with the help of the researcher. In addition, the researcher can create a favourable environment for the interview thus resulting in general and sensitive information that is important to the study compared to other methods of data collection such as questionnaires and focus group. For example, in focus group, the interactions of a number of respondents at the same time may hinder discussion of sensitive information due to lack of confidentiality. However, interview between the researcher and respondent only creates a favourable environment to give all types of information.


            There is direct response from the interviewee and the feedback. This ensures that the information sought is obtained and in case of disparity. In addition, the researcher ensures that the information is obtained from the intended person. In other types of methods such as questionnaires, information may be obtained from unintended person.


            Interviews can be carried out at the same time with observations to gain more understanding and information on the topic. Unlike other methods used in research, interviews allow researcher to make observations that may be important source of information. In addition, the research may compare the information from the respondents and what he or she observes and inquire for clarity when disparity is noticed.

Building Rapport

            Close interactions between the researcher and interviewee creates a more relaxed environment, which results to the respondent answering questions based on his or her experience rather than giving direct answers to the topic. The researcher then use the information obtained from the researcher to build a rapport with topic. The researcher may explore additional information from the respondent that may help to develop more understanding on the topic


            Interviews are conducted at any time, locations, or based on the circumstances of the individual,. Thus, they are the most convenient method of data collection. For example, the researcher can conduct interviews in residential areas, trading areas, farming locations and any other place that may be convenient to the respondent.

Cons of interviews

            Time-consuming: the process of scheduling, conducting, and analysing the interviews consumes a lot of time (Zikmund, 2013 p. 150). The process of visiting the respondents and carrying the interview face-to-face can be tedious and time consuming. Since huge data is obtained from interview, it becomes tedious to enter the data and a lot of time is consumed. Therefore, it is important to have a data entry and analysis plan before data collection.


            The interviews are costly because they require the interviewers to be trained, the schedules to visit respondents to be prepared and the actual interview process. They require physical participation of respondent and the researcher.


            The physical appearance of the interviewee may affect the attitude of the respondent and thus giving biased information that may affect the accuracy of the data. Other factors that may results in biased information include the respondents’: voice tone and opinion, gender and race, inadequate note taking. Biasness affects the main purpose of the study, which may produce contradicting data from the existing one. This can mislead future studies that may rely on the data.


            The flexibility of the interviews may result in inconsistence data during interactions due to variation in interview setting such as changing environment. For example- interruption of interviews by passersby or other factors such as rain can make the respondent to lose track and give inconsistence information

Focus groups

            Focus group involves collection of data through semi-structured interview from a group of respondents who are identified based on diverse but related characteristics to form a diverse group that represent the actual population. The interview is moderated by a group leader and involves discussion of a specific topic. Fiske and Merton introduced the method during their studies that were based on audience participants (Sprenkle & Piercy, 2005 p. 87)

Pros of focus group

Developing research topic

            Focus group give information to the researcher about a given subject, which help him or her to develop the topic and build rapport. The aim of the focus group is to obtain as much information as possible that is necessary for the study and thus it is a common method for preliminary study.

Time saving

            Large amount of data from a big population can be obtained within the shortest time possible (Hesse-Biber, & Leavy, 2011 p. 164). Data is collected from groups of respondents at the same time. This is in contrary to interviews where the questions are asked to a single respondent for a given time and it may take a lot of time to cover a given number of respondents as opposed to focus groups.

Accurate data:

            The discussion involves the consensus among the group members. In case of diverse information, members agree on given information that giving accurate and homogeneous data The data is also specific on the researchers’ topic.


            Huge data can be summarized using group consensus and thus data entry and analysis is cheap and time saving as opposed to interviews where huge amount is obtained from very large number of respondents


            Just like interviews, the researcher can get additional data from the participants’ behaviour, feelings and thought about the topic. In addition, focus group helps to generate information for a study that could have unobservable features.

Cons of focus group


            The moderator of the group or the researcher makes the final judgment and interpretation of the discussion. Subjective judgment and poor interpretation has high risk of introducing personal businesses in the discussion and thus biased data. The participants may tend to follow the initial opinions thus resulting in biased results

Risk of incomplete and inaccurate data

            The planning, scheduling and contacting participants may be costly and involving and thus poor management may result to incomplete study that may affect the quality of data collected.

Sensitive information

            It is not a good method for addressing sensitive issues. This is because people may feel uneasy sharing sensitive information among their friends or enemies that might be in the group, which may have a negative contributory factor to the quality of data obtained.

Addressing the interview cons

Time consuming

            The use of alternative means of communication such as telephone and computer can decrease the time spent in scheduling and visiting the respondents. Therefore, avoiding face-to-face interviews can help to save time and making the method more economical. Time that could be spent to travel to respondent and carry physical interview is minimised. Planning should also be done prior to the study in order to avoid time wasting during the actual study.


            Activities such as data entry and analysis can be carried along with the interviews to ensure that no additional cost that is incurred during independent data entry. Minimised travelling through phone interviews would cut down on cost.


            Presentable physical appearance should be encouraged. The physical appearance of the interviewer that would not have influence on respondents should be emphasized during training. Interviewers should be discouraged from making subjective judgments that would affect the interactions.


            The interview should be conducted in a neutral environment that has no effect on information delivery. The researcher should spend a considerable good amount of time in looking for a natural setting for the interview conducive for the respondents (Merriam, & Merriam, 2009 p. 17). For example, interviews in closed rooms may have minimal interference, thus maintain consistence information delivery, and thus maintain high quality data.

Addressing focus group cons


            In order to avoid biasness, the moderator of the focus group should be well trained about making subjective judgment and interpretations. Good relationship between respondents and the researcher promotes mutual understanding that contributes to accurate interpretations of the information (Marshall, & Rossman, 2011 p. 101). The moderator should not be an active part of the study and should be limited to the information on the expected result of the study.

Risk of incomplete and inaccurate data:

            Proper management should be done prior to the study so that all the scheduling and contacting of the participants is made in time. This will ensure that the participants are aware of the scope of the study and their roles and thus the study will be complete successfully. When participants are well-prepared psychologically, they become patient and go through the whole process thus giving complete data.

Sensitive information

            The moderator should inform the participants about the confidentiality of the information shared in the focus group and create a friendly environment. This will give the participants confidence and freedom to share all the information that they may have including the sensitive one and thus the quality of the data will not be compromised. Participants may feel that some issues belong to the community and that it should not be addressed to a stranger. The researcher may also involve people from the communities to help them moderate the discussion and thus creating favourable environment for discussing sensitive information that is vital to the final data.


Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.

DiCicco‐Bloom, B., & Crabtree, B. F. 2006. The qualitative research interview.Medical education, 40(4), 314-321.

Flick, U. 2009. An introduction to qualitative research. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Hesse-Biber, S. N., & Leavy, P. (2011). The practice of qualitative research. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (2011). Designing qualitative research. Los Angeles: Sage.

Merriam, S. B., & Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. 2012. Research methods for business students. Pearson

Seidman, I. 2013. Interviewing as qualitative research: A guide for researchers in education and the social sciences. New York: Teachers College Press

Siegel, J. S., & Olshansky, S. J. 2012. The demography and epidemiology of human health and aging. Dordrecht: Springer.

Sprenkle, D. H., & Piercy, F. P. 2005. Research methods in family therapy. New York: Guilford Press.

Zikmund, W. G. 2013. Business research methods. Mason, OH: South-Western.

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Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. (1 October 2015). Retrieved from

"Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches" StudyScroll, 1 October 2015,

StudyScroll. (2015). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 3 October, 2022]

"Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches" StudyScroll, Oct 1, 2015. Accessed Oct 3, 2022.

"Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches" StudyScroll, Oct 1, 2015.

"Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches" StudyScroll, 1-Oct-2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 3-Oct-2022]

StudyScroll. (2015). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 3-Oct-2022]

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