Qualitative research methods in business research focus on the “why” factors that influence consumer behavior. This is a big change from normal quantitative research, which relies on hard data and statistics to draw conclusions. Qualitative research analyzes unstructured information to help business owners make informed decisions about everything from policy changes to communication. Some of the more structured forms of qualitative research include focus groups, open-ended surveys, in-depth interviews, case studies and content analysis. To use qualitative research methods in business research, the company must first decide what it wishes to learn from the research and choose a research model accordingly.

Design the research approach to use for the qualitative study. Use the following guidelines to create an effective qualitative study. Define the purpose of the study in terms of the decisions that need to be made with the results and/or the aspect of the business you need to analyze. Consider the intended audience for the results of the study. For example, investors need different information than managers. Identify the type of information needed to make the necessary decisions defined earlier and to make the desired impact on the intended audience. Identify where the information will be gathered. Possible sources include employees, customers, management or similar groups. Identify possible forms of qualitative data collection based on the factors discussed above and the deadline for obtaining the information. In addition to the common forms mentioned in the introduction, qualitative research also includes the analysis of customer reviews, media clips and reports. Create the materials for the chosen research method as determined by the factors discussed in the previous step. For example, an open-ended survey requires the creation of the survey questions and the format in which the survey will be administered. This may be in a traditional paper format or an online format, depending on the intended source of the information.

Conduct the qualitative research.

Execute the chosen method with the target group for the source of the information. For example, provide a feedback form to each customer who buys a product, or administer the survey to the workers in a specific department. Gather the data and analyze the results. Revisit the research design created in the first step to help organize the data collected. Reviewing the goals and intended audience for the research design is the key to analysis. Read through the data to identify recurring themes such as strengths, weaknesses and suggestions. Organize the data according to the themes identified. Identify any causal relationships, patterns or associations. For example, customers who bought widget B came from the same ZIP code or everyone who attended the weekend seminar expressed doubts about the company’s goals.

Interpret the data based on the results of the analysis.

Put the results of the analysis in perspective whenever possible. This may include describing the program or product’s strengths and weaknesses or comparing the actual results to any predicted outcomes. The perspective depends largely on the factors discussed during the research design phase. Draw conclusions and make recommendations based on the information provided by the research. This includes suggestions for improving a product or a process and the current state of company goals, if applicable. Reference the conclusions and recommendations with specific information from the data analysis wherever possible. For example, the presentation materials for the weekend seminar need to be revised to explain the company goals more clearly, because everyone who attended the last seminar expressed serious concern about the direction of the company.

Report the data.

The intended audience identified during the research design phase determines how the data must be reported. Internal reports for upper-level management use different language than a document seeking external funding, for example. Allow employees to review the report and its conclusions. Create action plans based on the conclusions drawn in the report. These action plans will attempt to correct any weaknesses or flaws exposed by the results of the qualitative research. Create a presentation that discusses the report and the resulting action plans for potential investors and management teams. Outline the exact process used to create the research results for duplication at a later date. Conducting the same study will provide major insights regarding the effectiveness of the action plans.