Qualitative data-collection methods

Data collection is an important tool for understanding the behavior and motivations of your audience. It helps you gather intel on the kinds of products, services, and initiatives they’d like to see. Good data also makes it easier for you to identify ways to improve the experience they have with your organization at every touchpoint. 

There are two main kinds of data collection — qualitative data collection and quantitative data collection. We’re going to focus on qualitative data-collection methods here. 

Pro Tip

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What’s the difference between qualitative and quantitative data?

Quantitative data is numerical data that can be ranked, categorized, and measured — like the number of customers who spent over $50 last year, the gross or net profit for a specific time period, or the number of subscribers who converted into buyers from an email marketing campaign. 

This kind of data answers closed-ended questions, such as “how many” or “how much,” and you can collect it through surveys, polls, and questionnaires.

Qualitative data is descriptive rather than numerical, and it looks for context — it’s about people’s perceptions. You gather it to understand the reasons and motivations that drive certain behavior. For example, qualitative data can reveal people’s feelings and opinions about your organization, and you can use it to determine why customers buy your products (or don’t)

Quantitative data can tell you about your market share, the demographics of your customers, and how often they buy your products or use your services. Basically, qualitative data can give you the story behind the story. One way to gather this data is through open-ended surveys and questionnaires, but let’s look at a few more.

Qualitative data-collection methods

One-on-one interviews

Interviews are one of the most common qualitative data-collection methods, and they’re a great approach when you need to gather highly personalized information. Informal, conversational interviews are ideal for open-ended questions that allow you to gain rich, detailed context.

Open-ended surveys and questionnaires 

Open-ended surveys and questionnaires allow participants to answer freely at length, rather than choosing from a set number of responses. For example, you might ask an open-ended question like “Why don’t you eat ABC brand pizza?” 

You would then provide space for people to answer narratively, rather than simply giving them a specific selection of responses to choose from — like “I’m a vegan,” “It’s too expensive,” or “I don’t like pizza.” 

Focus groups

Focus groups are similar to interviews, except that you conduct them in a group format. You might use a focus group when one-on-one interviews are too difficult or time-consuming to schedule.  

They’re also helpful when you need to gather data on a specific group of people. For example, if you want to get feedback on a new marketing campaign from a number of demographically similar people in your target market or allow people to share their views on a new product, focus groups are a good way to go.


Observation is a method in which a data collector observes subjects in the course of their regular routines, takes detailed field notes, and/or records subjects via video or audio. 

Case studies

In the case study method, you analyze a combination of multiple qualitative data sources to draw inferences and come to conclusions. 

When should you use qualitative vs quantitative data-collection methods?

The truth is, to get the best results, you need to rely on both quantitative and qualitative data-collection methods. You get deeper insights when you use a combination of the two.  

Qualitative research offers context and nuance, and it can help you develop a fuller understanding of the complexities of human behavior related to your organization’s products or services. It’s data wrapped in a rich contextual story. 

That said, qualitative data research can take a lot of time to collect and analyze, and it can sometimes result in biased conclusions. That’s why you should pair it with quantitative data collection to get the best, most accurate information.

For businesses and organizations that want to improve their marketing and outreach game, qualitative data research methods can help 

  • Determine obstacles to purchasing your company’s products or using your company’s services 
  • Gain insights into how clients and customers perceive your brand
  • Identify areas for improvement across the entire brand discovery and buying cycle
  • Pinpoint where your messaging may be muddled or confusing
  • Discover in-demand product features to implement
  • Understand how your brand compares to others in the market
  • Gauge marketing campaign performance
  • Identify how your website, apps, and other online assets are performing

Jotform is a great resource for creating the kind of open-ended surveys and questionnaires that you need for qualitative data collection.  And you can use Jotform for quantitative data collection as well. Whatever your data-collection needs, Jotform can help with a wide range of surveys and questionnaires.

This article is originally published on Aug 02, 2021, and updated on Oct 11, 2022.
Kimberly Houston is a conversion-focused marketing copywriter. She loves helping established creative service providers attract and convert their ideal clients with personality-driven web and email copy, so they can stand out online, and get more business, bookings, and sales.

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