Strengths, Weaknesses and Limitations of the Qualitative Research in Business-Related Studies

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In the sphere of business research and analysis, qualitative research is one of the most effective and widely spread means of getting information. It is extremely popular in the business related studies and investigations, since its methods are able to provide the most valid and necessary information and data for market research and business analysis.  The present paper provides the discussion of the qualitative research, its major methods, limitations, strengths and weaknesses and relation of this method to the business related studies and investigations.

Qualitative research

Qualitative research is created to disclose a target audience’s behavior and the perceptions, motives and reasons that drive it with reference to particular topics or issues. This type of research uses thorough studies of people, organized in small groups in order to guide and support the design and offering of hypotheses (Denzin and Lincoln, 2013). The results, received in the process of qualitative research have more descriptive rather than predictive nature (Denzin and Lincoln, 2013).

This type of research was named qualitative, since it is not based on the substandard results unlike the quantitative one (Denzin and Lincoln, 2013). Qualitative research is based on other principles of obtaining deep motivation of the participants and detailed information on the subject of research. Qualitative methods involve collection of information in a free form. They focus not on statistical measurements, but rely on understanding, explanation and interpretation of empirical data, sources of the formation of hypotheses and productive ideas (Yin, 2014). Qualitative research is characterized by the use of projective and stimulating techniques, which are widely used to help the researcher in disclosing the motives, attitudes, preferences, values, and degree of respondents' satisfaction with certain products or brands, in case the research is being conducted in business related studies (Yin, 2014). According to Silverman (2013), the task of qualitative research methods is to obtain exploration data, rather than provide a quantitative distribution of opinions. In the process of qualitative methods implementation, numbers and statistical data are not considered, while explanations are used to interpret concepts and hypothesis (Silverman, 2013). The data obtained by qualitative methods are not subject to quantitative analysis.

Major methods of qualitative research

Buchanan and Bryman (2010) assert that the task of qualitative research methods is to obtain exploration data, rather than a quantitative distribution of opinions. In qualitative methods, words, rather than numbers, are used to explain and interpret concepts. The data obtained by qualitative methods are not subject to quantitative analysis. Simply speaking, qualitative research aims at answering the following questions:  "what", "how" and "why". The methods of qualitative research are helpful, when it is necessary to obtain information on a poorly studied problem and the major topic and leading questions and hypothesis are not properly set (Buchanan and Bryman, 2010).

Direct observation

This method is one of the most popular, in particular in the sphere of business-related studies and researches. Through the use of direct observation, a researcher studies people or participants without interfering into their activities and influencing their choice (Hesapсi Sanaktekin, 2009). As usual, this type of research is unknown to people, who are under investigation. In general practice, direct observations are conducted in the public places, when participants do not undergo violations of their privacy. This is the major reason of the use of this method in business related studies, when behavior of consumers should be investigated with the aim to know their preferences and choice. Direct observation is the subject to a research goal with clearly formulated tasks; carefully planned monitoring with proper recording of data and ability to check obtained information for validity and sustainability (Hesapсi Sanaktekin, 2009).

In-depth interview

This method of qualitative research is also very productive, because it provides the necessary information through the direct interview with the participants. Although, direct observation is also effective in retrieving data without interfering into privacy, in-depth interviews give the opportunity to ask questions and get direct answers (Rubin & Rubin, 2005). Researchers conduct in-depth interviews through speaking with participants in the one-on-one settings (Rubin & Rubin, 2005). It is recommended to prepare for the interview and create predetermined list of questions and topics for discussion. However, the peculiarity of this method, unlike the observation one, is that the researcher can let the conversation develop in a way that the participant wants. The similarity of this method with direct observation is that both can be guided by participants. The direct observation is totally relied on participants, while in-depth interview can be also guided into the direction, desired by the participants. With the help of in-depth interviews, it becomes possible for the interviewer to establish trusting relationship with respondents, giving the opportunity to obtain unique information, which is virtually impossible to obtain with the help of other methods. Unlike direct observation that is useful for identifying tastes and preferences of participants, in-depth interview provides more specificity (Kvale, 2009). Using in-depth interviews, it is possible to identify the needs and motivations that underlie the behavior of consumers, obtain data on consumer strategies and the principles of their choice, mechanisms that shape decision-making, methods for overcoming challenges, consumer’s expectations and values (Kvale, 2009). This information is possible to obtain with the help of direct observation, but it is difficult to support it with facts that can be retrieved only in the process of in-depth interview.

Focus group

Focus group is another popular method of qualitative research. This method is widely used in the process of business-related studies as an effective way of getting the data about the choice of product, perception of business idea and verification of hypothesis correctness (Kreuger, 1988). In a focus group, a small group of participants is engaged into a conversation created and composed to generate and retrieve data relevant to the basic research question. In relation to business research, focus groups may involve business analysis, consumers or representatives of other groups, who may have influence on the process of doing business (Kreuger,1988). Focus groups can comprise from 5 to 15 participants. In social studies, these groups are often used to observe an event or trend that occurs within a community. In the business researches, this method is widely used to conduct market research. Compared to the method of observation, focus group is comparatively economical and able to quickly yield the results. Morgan and Spanish (2004) assert that has much in common with the interviewing, but its limitations are significant, compared to the latter. First, the materials are prepared intuitively in most situations; the work of an ordinary interviewer is much easier, as the discussion may occur spontaneously (Morgan and Spanish, 2004). Secondly, the greatest difficulty is the selection of participants for the discussion. Unlike the interview, conducted face to face, focus groups may consist of people, who can influence each other; therefore, answers of the participants are not always sincere and independent.  Comparing focus groups with the direct observation method, the latter is more time-consuming, however, provides more opportunities to get data, retrieved independently, since participants are observed in their usual and conventional settings and their choice and behavior are free from the influence of external factors (Gummesson, 2005). 

Strengths, weaknesses and usefulness of qualitative research in the business-related studies

Qualitative research is officially recognized the most effective means of getting data and information for studies in the sphere of business and market research. This type of research gives opportunity to provide information about the choice, preferences and factors, influencing consumers’ choice and support of a particular business idea. One of the basic strengths and usefulness of qualitative research in business related studies is information about the inclinations, motivations, values, and moods of consumers. Qualitative methods provide a deeper understanding of the processes occurring in the mind of the consumers, help identify patterns and habits of consumption, provide the chance to determine the cause of reaction to a particular product, its packaging and promotional materials.

One more critical advantage of the qualitative research in the business-related studies is the opportunity to get information for development of new products, since the data, retrieved in the course of research allow understanding the necessity to create a niche for a new product in the market under investigation; evaluating the component of the brand (product, packaging, name); identifying the relationship to new products or product concepts  and refining positioning strategies of a business in the market (Wilson, 2011).

Cost effectiveness belongs to the set of strengths of the qualitative research. This method of research does not require considerable financial investments, because there is no need to organize setting and conditions for research and observations in order to retrieve the required data (Wilson, 2011). Moreover, qualitative research relies on descriptive facts, rather than on precise data, expressed in percentage and calculations, so this process is less time-consuming.

Although, this method has demonstrated its high effectiveness and productivity in the process of business-related studies, it has some limitations. The first and foremost one is high level of dependency of the results on the process organization and preparation. For instance, observation method requires the choice of proper place, able to accommodate sufficient amount of people in order to get enough data (Wilson, 2011). Processing of results is sometimes hindered by the necessity to intervene specialists from other areas, including psychology, medicine or sociology.  Most methods of qualitative research are based on the application of approaches developed by psychologists, so the implementation of these methods is limited, because data collection should be carried out by a highly qualified specialist in marketing in cooperation with professionals in the sphere of psychology.

In addition to other limitations considered in the frames of business studies, opinions of consumers, retrieved in the process of focus group or interview methods, do not always correspond to the views of all target audience of business. The next limitation of this research type is subjectivity of data processing. Interviews and focus groups discussions are grounded on the personal preferences and answers, so process of data is conducted subjectively far from objectivity. The latter is very important in business, focused on target audience, consisting of people with different tastes and values. 

Reference List

Buchanan, D. and Bryman, A. 2010. The Sage handbook of organizational Research methods. London: SAGE

Denzin, N. and Lincoln, Y. 2013. The Landscape of Qualitative research. 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

Gummesson, E. 2005 "Qualitative research in marketing: Road-map for a wilderness of complexity and unpredictability", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 39, No. 3/4, pp.309 – 327

Hesapсi Sanaktekin, O. 2009 "Projective Techniques for Social Sciences and Business Research", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 26, No. 3, pp.223 – 223

Wilson, J. 2011. Essentials of Business Research. A guide to doing your project. 2nd edition. London: SAGE

Kreuger R.A. 1988. Focus groups: a practical guide for applied research. London: Sage.

Kvale, S. (2009). Interviews. 2nd

edition. London: Sage

Morgan D.L. and Spanish M.T. 2004. “Focus groups: a new tool for qualitative research”, Qualitative Sociology, Vol. 7, pp. 253-7

Rubin, H., & Rubin, I. (2005). Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Silverman, D. 2013. Doing Qualitative research. 4th Edition. London: SAGE

Yin, R. 2014. Case study research: Design and Methods, 5th edition. London: SAGE

January 19, 2024
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