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Qualitative methods are probably the most underestimated methods in the analytics discipline. The reason behind this is rather simple, with the buzzwords that AI, and machine learning have turned into, qualitative methods receive far less attention. It also seems that hard facts and numbers appeal more which makes the real goal of analytics, understanding, to go missing.

Qualitative methods are especially better than quantitative methods in creating an understanding of a phenomenon. On top of that, qualitative methods are often less costly. Just imagine you are a new employee in the sales department and you want to understand the reasons that make the customers buy your product, so that you can advertise it better. You could go for hours through the statistics of the previous years and eventually find out that the customers buy unique products (quantitative) – or you could have a short chat with the most experienced sales person in your company, Jeff. Jeff would tell you right away what you spent hours to find in the company’s statistics which is the fact that customers want unique products. What is even more important for you, Jeff will also give you a reason for your findings. Simple as it is, customers want to be understood and identified with the product that they use (qualitative). Now it is your turn to guess which approach would lead to more success in the above mentioned context?

Unlike its counterpart, qualitative methods are less concerned about generalizability or predictability, instead they offer a way to understand the meanings, values, and deeper causal mechanisms with the result of making sense of the data. Qualitative methods are mostly explorative. They are applied in cases that there is not a clear idea what the problem is or what might have caused it. Qualitative methods help develop theories, ideas, or hypothesis. Furthermore, qualitative methods can complement machine learning, for instance in the process of feature selection, or statistics, in cases when you want to understand the meaning behind the numbers. To be stressed is the fact that qualitative methods are often used in combination with quantitative methods in forms of mixed methods.

In this blog, I will introduce you to the most common qualitative methods. Apart from the analysis of interviews and focus groups, qualitative methods have much more to offer, to mention here are discourse analysis, iconography, coding, qualitative content analysis or narrative analysis. You will also learn more about mixed-methods approaches and how you can apply all these methods in an economic and business context.