User research relies on valuable insight that comes from high-quality respondents. Here are a few quick tips to help you get to your desired...
Qualitative Research Questions: Gain Powerful Insights + 25 Examples
We review the basics of qualitative research questions, including their key components, how to craft them effectively, & 25 example questions.
Einstein was many things—a physicist, a philosopher, and, undoubtedly, a mastermind. He also had an incredible way with words. His quote, "Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted," is particularly poignant when it comes to research.
Some inquiries call for a quantitative approach, for counting and measuring data in order to arrive at general conclusions. Other investigations, like qualitative research, rely on deep exploration and understanding of individual cases in order to develop a greater understanding of the whole. That’s what we’re going to focus on today.
Qualitative research questions focus on the "how" and "why" of things, rather than the "what". They ask about people's experiences and perceptions, and can be used to explore a wide range of topics.
The following article will discuss the basics of qualitative research questions, including their key components, and how to craft them effectively. You'll also find 25 examples of effective qualitative research questions you can use as inspiration for your own studies.
Let’s get started!
What are qualitative research questions, and when are they used?
When researchers set out to conduct a study on a certain topic, their research is chiefly directed by an overarching question. This question provides focus for the study and helps determine what kind of data will be collected.
By starting with a question, we gain parameters and objectives for our line of research. What are we studying? For what purpose? How will we know when we’ve achieved our goals?
Of course, some of these questions can be described as quantitative in nature. When a research question is quantitative, it usually seeks to measure or calculate something in a systematic way.
- How many people in our town use the library?
- What is the average income of families in our city?
- How much does the average person weigh?
Other research questions, however—and the ones we will be focusing on in this article—are qualitative in nature. Qualitative research questions are open-ended and seek to explore a given topic in-depth.
According to the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, “Qualitative research aims to address questions concerned with developing an understanding of the meaning and experience dimensions of humans’ lives and social worlds.”
This type of research can be used to gain a better understanding of people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences by “addressing questions beyond ‘what works’, towards ‘what works for whom when, how and why, and focusing on intervention improvement rather than accreditation,” states one paper in Neurological Research and Practice.
Qualitative questions often produce rich data that can help researchers develop hypotheses for further quantitative study.
- What are people’s thoughts on the new library?
- How does it feel to be a first-generation student at our school?
- How do people feel about the changes taking place in our town?
As stated by a paper in Human Reproduction, “...‘qualitative’ methods are used to answer questions about experience, meaning, and perspective, most often from the standpoint of the participant. These data are usually not amenable to counting or measuring.”
Both quantitative and qualitative questions have their uses; in fact, they often complement each other. A well-designed research study will include a mix of both types of questions in order to gain a fuller understanding of the topic at hand.
Crafting qualitative research questions for powerful insights
Now that we have a basic understanding of what qualitative research questions are and when they are used, let’s take a look at how you can begin crafting your own.
According to a study in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, there is a certain process researchers should follow when crafting their questions, which we’ll explore in more depth.
1. Beginning the process
Start with a point of interest or curiosity, and pose a draft question or ‘self-question’. What do you want to know about the topic at hand? What is your specific curiosity? You may find it helpful to begin by writing several questions.
For example, if you’re interested in understanding how your customer base feels about a recent change to your product, you might ask:
- What made you decide to try the new product?
- How do you feel about the change?
- What do you think of the new design/functionality?
- What benefits do you see in the change?
2. Create one overarching, guiding question
At this point, narrow down the draft questions into one specific question. “Sometimes, these broader research questions are not stated as questions, but rather as goals for the study.”
As an example of this, you might narrow down these three questions:
- What made you decide to try the new product?
- How do you feel about the change?
- What do you think of the new design/functionality?
into the following question:
- What are our customers’ thoughts on the recent change to our product?
3. Theoretical framing
As you read the relevant literature and apply theory to your research, the question should be altered to achieve better outcomes. Experts agree that pursuing a qualitative line of inquiry should open up the possibility for questioning your original theories and altering the conceptual framework with which the research began.
If we continue with the current example, it’s possible you may uncover new data that informs your research and changes your question. For instance, you may discover that customers’ feelings about the change are not just a reaction to the change itself, but also to how it was implemented. In this case, your question would need to reflect this new information:
- How did customers react to the process of the change, as well as the change itself?
4. Ethical considerations
A study in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education stresses that ethics are “a central issue when a researcher proposes to study the lives of others, especially marginalized populations.” Consider how your question or inquiry will affect the people it relates to—their lives and their safety. Shape your question to avoid physical, emotional, or mental upset for the focus group.
In analyzing your question from this perspective, if you feel that it may cause harm, you should consider changing the question or ending your research project. Perhaps you’ve discovered that your question encourages harmful or invasive questioning, in which case you should reformulate it.
5. Writing the question
The actual process of writing the question comes only after considering the above points. The purpose of crafting your research questions is to delve into what your study is specifically about” Remember that qualitative research questions are not trying to find the cause of an effect, but rather to explore the effect itself.
Your questions should be clear, concise, and understandable to those outside of your field. In addition, they should generate rich data. The questions you choose will also depend on the type of research you are conducting:
- If you’re doing a phenomenological study, your questions might be open-ended, in order to allow participants to share their experiences in their own words.
- If you’re doing a grounded-theory study, your questions might be focused on generating a list of categories or themes.
- If you’re doing ethnography, your questions might be about understanding the culture you’re studying.
Whenyou have well-written questions, it is much easier to develop your research design and collect data that accurately reflects your inquiry.
In writing your questions, it may help you to refer to this simple flowchart process for constructing questions:
25 examples of expertly crafted qualitative research questions
It's easy enough to cover the theory of writing a qualitative research question, but sometimes it's best if you can see the process in practice. In this section, we'll list 25 examples of B2B and B2C-related qualitative questions.
Let's begin with five questions. We'll show you the question, explain why it's considered qualitative, and then give you an example of how it can be used in research.
1. What is the customer's perception of our company's brand?
Qualitative research questions are often open-ended and invite respondents to share their thoughts and feelings on a subject. This question is qualitative because it seeks customer feedback on the company's brand.
This question can be used in research to understand how customers feel about the company's branding, what they like and don't like about it, and whether they would recommend it to others.
2. Why do customers buy our product?
This question is also qualitative because it seeks to understand the customer's motivations for purchasing a product. It can be used in research to identify the reasons customers buy a certain product, what needs or desires the product fulfills for them, and how they feel about the purchase after using the product.
3. How do our customers interact with our products?
Again, this question is qualitative because it seeks to understand customer behavior. In this case, it can be used in research to see how customers use the product, how they interact with it, and what emotions or thoughts the product evokes in them.
4. What are our customers' biggest frustrations with our products?
By seeking to understand customer frustrations, this question is qualitative and can provide valuable insights. It can be used in research to help identify areas in which the company needs to make improvements with its products.
5. How do our customers feel about our customer service?
Rather than asking why customers like or dislike something, this question asks how they feel. This qualitative question can provide insights into customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a company.
This type of question can be used in research to understand what customers think of the company's customer service and whether they feel it meets their needs.
20 more examples to refer to when writing your question
Now that you’re aware of what makes certain questions qualitative, let's move into 20 more examples of qualitative research questions:
- How do your customers react when updates are made to your app interface?
- How do customers feel when they complete their purchase through your ecommerce site?
- What are your customers' main frustrations with your service?
- How do people feel about the quality of your products compared to those of your competitors?
- What motivates customers to refer their friends and family members to your product or service?
- What are the main benefits your customers receive from using your product or service?
- How do people feel when they finish a purchase on your website?
- What are the main motivations behind customer loyalty to your brand?
- How does your app make people feel emotionally?
- For younger generations using your app, how does it make them feel about themselves?
- What reputation do people associate with your brand?
- How inclusive do people find your app?
- In what ways are your customers' experiences unique to them?
- What are the main areas of improvement your customers would like to see in your product or service?
- How do people feel about their interactions with your tech team?
- What are the top five reasons people use your online marketplace?
- How does using your app make people feel in terms of connectedness?
- What emotions do people experience when they're using your product or service?
- Aside from the features of your product, what else about it attracts customers?
- How does your company culture make people feel?
As you can see, these kinds of questions are completely open-ended. In a way, they allow the research and discoveries made along the way to direct the research. The questions are merely a starting point from which to explore.
Wrap-up: crafting your own qualitative research questions
Over the course of this article, we've explored what qualitative research questions are, why they matter, and how they should be written. Hopefully you now have a clear understanding of how to craft your own.
Remember, qualitative research questions should always be designed to explore a certain experience or phenomena in-depth, in order to generate powerful insights. As you write your questions, be sure to keep the following in mind:
- Are you being inclusive of all relevant perspectives?
- Are your questions specific enough to generate clear answers?
- Will your questions allow for an in-depth exploration of the topic at hand?
- Do the questions reflect your research goals and objectives?
If you can answer "yes" to all of the questions above, and you've followed the tips for writing qualitative research questions we shared in this article, then you're well on your way to crafting powerful queries that will yield valuable insights.
- How to Recruit Participants for Qualitative Research
- The Best UX Research Tools of 2022
- 10 Smart Tips for Conducting Better User Interviews
- 50 Powerful Questions You Should Ask In Your Next User Interview
- How To Present Your User Research Findings
- How to Minimize Bias During Interviews