Qualitative Data Collection

Data Collection Methods: Qualitative Data Collection



Qualitative data collection methods are, by nature, exploratory.  They help businesses gain insight into the underlying reasons and motivations behind certain occurrences. Since these methods of collecting data cannot be quantified, they involve open-ended questions, are often interactive, in-depth, and require comparisons to other similar findings to establish that broader patterns exist.

Due to the level of detail and large amounts of information collected, analyzing data in qualitative methods can be extremely time-consuming. By decreasing the sample size or number of respondents, HR can make the best use of time resources when analyzing responses.

Common qualitative data collection methods include:

Face-to-Face Personal Interviews

Some managers may prefer one-on-one interactions with participants because they allow managers to gather detailed descriptions of the participants’ feelings, thoughts, and perceptions.

Interviews may be formal, structured, unstructured, or conversational. The questions asked are often unplanned and spontaneous, which makes this method convenient when companies need honest feedback from employees or customers.

Like any other method, face-to-face interviews have shortcomings. For instance, there may be language, cultural, and geographical barriers between the interviewer and the interviewee. Also, the interviewer may not be skilled enough to elicit the required responses.


Qualitative data surveys may come in the form of paper surveys, online surveys, or questionnaires comprised of short, open-ended questions. Open-ended questions allow respondents to provide detailed answers. Questionnaires are ideal for collecting data from large sample sizes. They also come in handy when companies need detailed responses from stakeholders and customers about a given product or process. Online questionnaires are more commonly used than paper forms because they are faster to administer and simplify the process of tracking, storing, analyzing, and reporting the information gathered. They are also usually more cost-effective than paper surveys. The main limitation of qualitative survey responses is the amount of time required to comb through them and extrapolate meaningful information that can be broadly applied and made actionable.


In this method of data collection, researchers participate on a personal level by closely observing a small group of participants. They immerse themselves among respondents, observe their behavior, and take notes. These notes are based on the observer’s feelings, thoughts, and sensations, so they are inherently subjective (Nelson, 2018). Aside from note-taking, observers may use other means of documentation, such as video and audio recording and photography.

The individual cases studied may also provide meaning and context for the more quantitative data collected through observation and other methods. For example, a time and attendance system might contain data showing large amounts of overtime being clocked in a certain department. HR can see that there is more overtime this month, but without interviewing the manager and observing the workforce, HR might not be able to determine why there is more overtime this month. In this case, HR needs both the quantitative and qualitative data to complete the analysis and make recommendations.

Case Studies

In this method, data is gathered by carrying out an in-depth analysis of a “case study” or a representative individual, strategic business unit (SBU), or company. One of the benefits of this method is that it can be used for both simple and complex subjects. However, the strength of the case study data collection method is in its ability to use other data collection methods and capture more variables than when a single method is used.