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GuidesResearch methodsHow to conduct qualitative data analysis

How to conduct qualitative data analysis

Last updated

21 February 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Tanya Williams

When it comes to organizational growth, data is an invaluable resource. Compared to a few decades ago, companies now have numerous data sources. However, drawing valuable insight from vast data sets takes time and effort.

This is where qualitative data analysis comes into play. It helps organizations identify and understand the underlying patterns and meanings of data. As a result, numerous fields, including research, customer experience, user experience design, and product design, use qualitative data analysis.

By understanding the underlying meanings and patterns in qualitative data, you can gain valuable insights that can help your business grow.

Read on to learn more about qualitative data analysis, appropriate methods, and how to do qualitative data analysis.

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What is qualitative data analysis?

Qualitative data analysis is a research method that helps identify relevant themes and patterns in data sets. 

It involves organizing, coding, and interpreting data to understand how it connects to its subject. Such subjects may be people, products, or behaviors. Qualitative research approaches are generally used to explore questions that call for an explanation of why or how something happens.

Importance of qualitative data

Qualitative data analysis can yield valuable insights often missed by quantitative approaches. Qualitative research generally provides an in-depth understanding of a person's motivations, beliefs, and behaviors. 

It can help you better understand how people perceive their experiences and the environment around them. This is because qualitative research focuses on exploring a person's beliefs, values, and actual behaviors, not just responses to multiple choice questions.

Through qualitative analysis, you can uncover underlying meanings in data sets that are not easily captured by numbers. It focuses on the "why" behind decisions, providing organizations with an understanding of consumer behavior that helps inform decision-making.

Qualitative data examples

You can find qualitative data in a range of sources, including:

  • Text: Transcripts from interviews, open-ended survey questions, newspaper articles, etc.

  • Audio recordings: Podcasts, audio diaries, etc. 

  • Video recordings: Instructional videos, film footage, etc. 

  • Images: Photographs, illustrations, etc. 

  • Documents: Memos, reports, legal documents, etc.

Qualitative data analysis methods

There are different methods of performing qualitative data analysis. These include content analysis, narrative analysis, discourse analysis, and thematic analysis. Let's take a look at each of these in more detail:

1. Content analysis

Content analysis is a research method used to identify and categorize information in data sets. It involves examining the text for "themes" or patterns that emerge from the data set. 

This method is often used when studying large volumes of textual material, such as newspaper articles, survey responses, and blog posts.

2. Narrative analysis

You can use narrative analysis to identify, analyze, and interpret narrative elements in data sets. This method focuses on the stories or experiences of subjects within the data set. 

Narrative analysis is often used when studying communication between people or groups, such as interviews or focus groups.

3. Discourse analysis

Discourse analysis is a research method used to interpret data sets by examining the language (how it's used and what it means) structure, and context in conversations between people. The objective is to understand how different social groups use language and what they mean.

This method is also often used when studying communication between people or groups, such as interviews or focus groups.

4. Thematic analysis

You can use thematic analysis to identify and interpret patterns in data sets. Thematic analysis involves breaking down the data set into smaller "themes" or categories and analyzing the relationship between them. 

This method is also often used when studying large volumes of textual material, such as newspaper articles, survey responses, and blog posts.

How to do qualitative data analysis

An organization's in-depth understanding of the internal and external business environment is essential for growth. Qualitative data analysis provides tools to make sense of otherwise random and meaningless data.

But in the age of big data, it's not just about gathering and analyzing data. You must determine the right data to collect and the appropriate collection channels to get maximum value. And more importantly, you must have clarity about what you're researching and why.

For instance, if your objective is to understand how customers perceive your brand, the approach will differ from what you'd do if your objective was to discover customer sentiment about a particular product.

So, before you begin qualitative data analysis, set out the objectives. These objectives will help you determine how to conduct the process and the data to focus on.

Understandably, performing qualitative data analysis may be intimidating, as the process is complex. However, you'll get the insight you need with the right approach.

Here are the steps you should follow:

Step 1: Gather your qualitative data and conduct research

Gathering the data you need for analysis is the first step. Your approach here should be guided by the objectives you set. Make sure to document your data collection process and sources.

Depending on your objectives, you can use different data collection methods.

1. Traditional methods of collecting data

With technology advancing, there are new and faster methods of collecting data, such as text analytics. However, traditional methods like surveys and focus groups are still relevant and very effective for qualitative data analysis.

This is why many organizations still rely on traditional methods to collect data for qualitative analysis. Such methods include:

  • Surveys: allow you to collect data from large numbers of people and include open-ended questions to gather detailed feedback 

  • Focus groups: great for collecting data from small groups of people in a controlled environment,  allowing for discussion in groups which can provide opportunities for people to share opinions and build on ideas and feedback together

  • Interviews: allow you to collect detailed information  from individuals or key informants about topics and/or behaviors being studied

2. Leverage existing qualitative data

Sometimes, you don't need to collect new data. You can leverage existing qualitative data already in your organization's public domain. With numerous contact points with customers, you can access tons of solicited and unsolicited customer feedback.

You can access such data from support ticketing systems, emails, chatbots, and other sources. Analyzing such data can give you insights into customer sentiment, CX gaps, and other information that can help you understand your customers better.

Data from such sources is incredible because not only does it provide a lot of information, but it's easily accessible. Instead of wasting time and resources on creating new research studies or focus groups every time you have a question about your customers, simply review data you already have. It will most likely hold the answers you're seeking.

3. Untapped qualitative data channels

Data that is relevant to your research can be found in unexpected places.

For example, if you're looking for customer sentiment regarding a product, you may want to check out comments on YouTube or Reddit. If you're researching consumer behavior, look at reviews of your product on Amazon or Yelp.

These unexpected channels can offer insights that traditional methods cannot provide. Qualitative data in these places is usually unstructured and difficult to analyze, but they are invaluable, unsolicited sources of intelligence.

Step 2: Connect & organize all your qualitative data

After collecting the data, you need to ensure it's in a suitable format for analysis. Qualitative data is usually unstructured and scattered across different channels, so sorting them into usable chunks can be time-consuming. 

To make it easier to summarize, draw insight, and make decisions from collected data, it has to be easily accessible.

Some of the methods you can use to organize and make your data more accessible include:

1. Organize data manually

This method involves the use of spreadsheets to organize quantitative feedback. While organizations and departments used this method to analyze data separately, it's inefficient.

This approach can be very cumbersome, time-consuming, and does not allow you to gain insights at scale. It also requires a significant effort to ensure data accuracy. 

2. Organize data using qualitative data analysis software

Technology has made it easier to organize qualitative data. Qualitative analysis software helps you to organize quickly and analyze large volumes of qualitative data visually. Such tools allow you to create different categories for the responses and even generate sentiment scores for each response to draw insights from the data.

Qualitative data analysis software also makes it easier to share insights with the rest of your team by creating visual dashboards and reports. With qualitative data analysis software, you can save time and effort while deriving more accurate insights from your data. 

3. Use feedback repositories

Feedback repositories are online databases where you can store customer feedback. They make accessing and analyzing qualitative data easier across different channels, as they provide a platform that consolidates all your data into one place.

These platforms also facilitate collaboration, making it easy for teams to collaborate on research projects and gain insights. With feedback repositories, everyone can access the same data, analyze it, and share insights for further discussion.

Using qualitative data analysis software, feedback repositories, and manual methods to organize your qualitative data can help you make sense of your collected feedback. It also makes it easier to identify trends in customer behavior and draw meaningful insights from the data. This is an important step in the qualitative data analysis process. 

Step 3: Coding your qualitative data

The next stage of qualitative data analysis is coding. This involves assigning codes to each response you have collected for easy analysis and categorization.

Codes are short descriptions or labels used to identify common themes and topics in each response. For example, you can assign codes such as "Product Quality" or "Customer Service" to customer feedback to categorize them.

Coding qualitative data helps you categorize and organize the responses into different areas of interest, making them easier to analyze. It also makes it possible to identify patterns and trends in customer behavior and allows you to draw meaningful insights from the data.

In order to code your qualitative data, you need to define a set of codes that represent the different topics discussed in the responses. After that, you can assign these codes to each response. This will help you organize them into categories to do further analysis.

Step 4: Analyze your data and find meaningful insights

Once you have coded your qualitative data, the next step is to analyze it. Qualitative data analysis involves looking for patterns and trends in customer behavior and drawing meaningful insights from the data. 

You can use qualitative data analysis tools to help you with this process. These tools use different methods, such as content analysis, narrative analysis, and thematic analysis, to help you identify key themes in the responses.

Qualitative data analysis tools can help you make sense of large amounts of data and gain insights that are not immediately obvious. With qualitative data analysis software, you can save time and effort while deriving more accurate insights from your data. 

Step 5: Report on your data and tell the story

Once you have analyzed your qualitative data, the next step is to report on it. Qualitative data analysis reports provide a way to convey the insights you have gained from your data in an easily understandable format. 

These reports can be used for internal presentations or to inform stakeholders about customer feedback and research findings. Qualitative data analysis software also provides ready-made templates for creating these reports, making it easy to present your findings professionally.

Which qualitative data analysis method should you choose?

When it comes to qualitative data analysis, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Different methods are suitable for different kinds of customer feedback and research projects. 

Content analysis and thematic analysis are suitable for customer feedback and surveys, while narrative analysis can be used to analyze stories and narratives in customer feedback. Qualitative data analysis software can help you decide which method is right for your project.

Advantages of qualitative data

Qualitative data analysis provides insights into customer behaviors, opinions, and experiences that quantitative analysis cannot obtain. Qualitative data can help you understand customer motivations, identify areas of improvement, and gain a deeper understanding of customer feedback. 

Disadvantages of qualitative data

One major limitation of qualitative data analysis is that it does not provide statistically significant results. This is because the samples used to collect data are not representative of the population.  

As such, measuring the accuracy of qualitative data analysis and drawing quantitative conclusions from it is difficult. Qualitative data also tends to be more subjective, as it focuses on individual opinions rather than hard facts. 

How Dovetail can help you

Qualitative data analysis is a powerful tool for gaining insights into customer experiences and behaviors. It can help identify areas of improvement, uncover customer motivations, and provide a deeper understanding of customer feedback.

Dovetail helps you quickly uncover meaningful insights from customer feedback. Our qualitative data analysis tools make it easy to analyze customer feedback, identify key themes, and create compelling reports to share with your stakeholders.

Try Dovetail and unlock the power of your qualitative data.


What are qualitative analysis tools?

Qualitative analysis tools are software programs that help analyze customer feedback and open-ended survey responses. These tools use different qualitative data analysis methods such as content analysis, narrative analysis, and thematic analysis to help identify key themes in customer responses.

What are the 3 main components of qualitative data analysis?

The three main types of qualitative data analysis are content analysis, narrative analysis, and thematic analysis. Content analysis involves looking for keywords and phrases frequently appearing in customer feedback.

In contrast, narrative analysis is used to analyze stories and narratives, and thematic analysis is used to group responses with common themes and topics. Qualitative data analysis software can help you choose the right method for your project.

What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative data analysis?

The main difference between qualitative and quantitative data analysis is that qualitative data analysis focuses on understanding customer behavior, opinions, and experiences to get at the 'why' and 'how,' whereas quantitative data analysis is concerned with measuring numerical results and statistics.

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