You’re in your first few years as a researcher and you think – those quallies look like they have it pretty good.  They travel more than your average quant researcher, they seem to have fun toys to play with (play doh, collages, projective techniques), and sometimes they’re even able to come into work late!

Well, here are my tips for those considering making the transition into specialising in qualitative research…

  • Read widely and know what is going on in the world – it is important to be able to place things in context.  Why are people reacting to this idea like that?  Is it because of a new law that has been passed, or something that has been highlighted on a news program recently – nothing occurs in isolation, so you need to be aware of the wider context of people’s feedback.
  • Cultivate curiosity. Researchers come from a variety of different academic and professional backgrounds, the one thing that brings us together is our curiosity. If you’re not interested in why people do what they do, then it will just get boring!!
  • Become a voyeur.  You will watch countless groups.  You SHOULD watch countless groups before you go in and start moderating them yourself.  These days, I wish I could go and watch more groups as they are the absolute best learning tool for any aspiring or experienced qualitative researcher.  See how different moderators handle different issues, explore different moderation styles (which style will work for you?), how they manage difficult participants.  Watching groups is a vital part of training to become a moderator.
  • Learn to take good notes.  Well, if you’re watching these groups, you might as well be useful!
  • Don’t ignore the numbers!  I think it is important that researchers don’t specialise too early. I think in the first few years of your career, it is important to be exposed to / work on / learn both qualitative and quantitative studies (and other techniques – social media monitoring for example). Then you’ll have the knowledge to hear a client’s research problem and understand what techniques (qual or quant) will best answer this issue.
  • Expect long hours.  There is no way to get around this.  As qualitative researchers, we need to see people when people are free to see us.  That means out of office hours.  Qualitative is never going to be a 9-5 job – there will be evenings, there will be weekends.  It will be hard for you to commit to a regular out of hours course or class – cause odds on, if you book into a Yoga class on Wednesday – for the next 8 weeks, clients will only want groups on a Wednesday.
  • Never think you know it all.  This is central to my philosophy on life, but if you go into a project thinking you already know the answers, it’s likely that you will only get those answers when you ask.  Always look for differences, never think you know everything.
  • Learn to love all people.  ‘Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can’.  In this job you will no doubt come up against people who are frustrating, uncommunicative, inarticulate, or those who are not picking up what you’re putting down (to put it nicely) – you will meet people who have views widely different to your own and people who do things you think are weird and wonderful.  It is really important to have unconditional positive regard for the people who have been kind enough to let you into their homes or lives and give of their time to share their thoughts or experiences.  Never judge, always be open – never make someone feel bad for participating in your research.  It’s harder than it sounds, but vitally important.


There are so many more tips I could add!  All and all this is a great job for those who find people interesting and enjoy figuring out puzzles and making sense of things – Restoring order from chaos!

I’d love to hear what your tips are for being a qualitative researcher or a researcher in general too, so please share them in the comments below.


Have a great week!

10 thoughts on “So you want to be a qualitative researcher?

  1. In my experience, qual research can lose credibilty in the report writing. Read good reports and see how people use quotations to illustrate the analysis – and don’t just flood the report with juicy quotes. Show how you reach your conclusions and show how rigorous qual analysis is. We don’t just listen to a few people and quote them! I honestly believe this is almost as important as the research itself.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. Solid, strategic analysis is key. Not just telling people what you find, but uncovering what it means! Quotes should illustrate the point, not BE the point!

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