Qualitative Data Collection Methods

Qualitative data collection methods are exploratory in nature and are mainly concerned with gaining insights and understanding on underlying reasons and motivations. Qualitative data is a linguistic or visual material. Qualitative data collection methods emerged after it became evident that traditional quantitative data collection methods were unable to express human feelings and emotions.

Monette et al (2010)[1] credit qualitative methods with the acknowledgement of abstraction and generalisation. Polonsky and Waller (2011)[2] categorize vision, images, forms and structures in various media, as well as, spoken and printed word and recorded sound into qualitative data collection methods.

Qualitative data collection methods are used in order to examine the following phenomenon:

  • Human feelings and experiences
  • Meanings and relationships
  • Social norms and cultural practices.

It is noted that “qualitative methods are often regarded as providing rich data about real life people and situations and being more able to make sense of behaviour and to understand behaviour within its wider context. However, qualitative research is often criticised for lacking generalizability, being too reliant on the subjective interpretations by researchers and being incapable of replication by other researchers.”[3]

Popular qualitative data collection methods used in business studies include interviews, focus groups, observation and action research. Moreover, grounded theory and document analysis can be also used as data collection method in qualitative studies.  The main sources and procedures associated with the most popular qualitative methods are presented on Table 1 below as proposed by Yamagata-Lynch (2010)[4]:

Methodology Sources Procedure
Document analysis Reports, newsletters, publications Read all materials and documented and descriptive statistics related to the research issue
Interviews Primary participants

Secondary participants

Tape recorded semi-structured interviews, then transcribed the interviews for the participants to review
Observations Observed participants’ interactions Took notes and videotaped the observations
Exit interviews 


Primary participants

Secondary participants

Presented findings to participants during individual or group interview sessions
Focus groups Primary participants

Secondary participants

Videotape focus group sessions


Table 1 Sources and procedures associated with qualitative data collection


Table 2 below illustrates strength and weaknesses associated with qualitative research and data collection methods

Strenghts Weaknesses
Low constraints of tradition or method

Grounded hypotheses

Non-normative focus



Poor internal reliability

Weak decisiveness

Poor generalizability

Rarely integrated

Seems easy

Table 2 Strengths and weaknesses associated with qualitative data collection methods and qualitative research[5]


My e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Dissertation in Business Studies: a step by step approach contains a detailed, yet simple explanation of qualitative data collecton methods. The e-book explains all stages of the research process starting from the selection of the research area to writing personal reflection. Important elements of dissertations such as research philosophy, research approach, research design, methods of data collection and data analysis are explained in simple words.

John Dudovskiy


Qualitative Data Collection Methods


[1] Monette, D.R., Gullivan, T.J. & DeJong, C.R. (2010) “Applied Social Research: A Tool for the Human Resources” Cengage Learning

[2] Polonsky, M.J. & Waller, D.S. (2011) “Designing and Managing a Research Project: A Business Student’s Guide” 2nd edition, SAGE

[3] Vaus, D. (2002) “Surveys in Social Research” Taylor and Francis, p.5

[4] Yamagata-Lynch, L.C. (2010) “Activity Systems Analysis Methods: Understanding Complex Learning Environments” Springer Publications

[5] Source: Albery, I. & Munafo, M. (2008) “Key Concepts in Health Psychology” SAGE Publications