Qualitative Research Methods: How Many Methods Are There Really

Many people do not realize how many different types of qualitative research methods are out there

Many people do not realize how many different types of qualitative research methods are out there. If you do a simple Google search asking about qualitative method types you will get websites that say, “5 Types of Qualitative Methods”, “Six Types of Qualitative Research”, “10 Types of Qualitative Research Methods & Examples”, but which number is correct?? 

Historically, there are six different qualitative methods that are utilized in market research. They are: ethnography, grounded theory, narrative, case study, phenomenology, and historical research. All six of the qualitative research methods use a variety of methods to complete the research, typically observations, individual interviews, and focus groups, separately or in combination. 

Why are these approaches used in market research? What are the distinguishing differences? 

Ethnography research is considered the most common type of research method. Typically, the researcher uses unstructured interviews and observations as their data collection method. The researcher works directly in the environment of the client or organization where they observe the culture. The researcher is examining social behaviors, social interactions, and perceptions within the culture. The culture typically includes individual staff, teams, groups, organizations, and communities. 

Grounded Theory research focuses on the experience of the individual who is actually experiencing the observable event. This type of research observes the individual in their natural environment. A larger sample size, roughly 30 participants, is needed for individual interviews in order for this type of research to create or discover a new theory. This theory works best when minimal information is known about the observable event.  

Case Study research focuses on a singular event (i.e., a single incident, a single organization, a single individual). Case studies utilize one-on-one individual interviews as their main methodology. Typically this type of research is used when there is little known about a topic or little known about the population being studied. Case Studies consider different factors that interact with each other and utilize in-depth research questions. 

Phenomenology research focuses on the group experience for a specific population (i.e., teenagers with substance use issues). Individual interviews, observation, and researching and reading articles and documents are main tools for phenomenology research. The researcher explores the participant and their first-hand experience with something. (i.e., policies, rules, or safety in organizations.) In phenomenology research it’s imperative that the researcher removes their own feelings from the equation. 

Narrative research is one step beyond a phenomenological approach, going deeper in the individual interviews and document analysis. Typically the interviews are conducted longitudinally and take anywhere from days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years. This type of research is most often used in creating buyer personas and to complete this type of research you are best served using a Customer Journey Mapping document.

Here is how mapping works.


Historical research focuses on historical evidence. The problem must be specific. 

Data is systematically collected and then evaluated. Past events are examined to make conclusions about the future. The goal of historical research is to learn from past failures and successes but it is limited by the fact that you can only rely on data that already exists.