Best Methods For Collecting Qualitative Data

With over 328 million terabytes of data generated daily, there’s almost no limit to the amount of information out there, waiting to be collected, wrangled, and probed to answer nearly any question you can imagine. Despite the vast amounts of data available, it all falls into one of two categories: quantitative or qualitative.

If you want to collect data — whether to drive business insights, better understand a challenge, or simply satisfy your curiosity — you need to know the best methods to collect qualitative data and quantitative data. While both types are valuable, the strategies you’ll use to collect them are different.

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Quantitative vs. Qualitative Data

learn about qualitative data

Before we go into the data collection methods, let’s clarify the differences between qualitative and quantitative data.

Quantitative data

Quantitative data can be measured and expressed in numbers. This data type is based on observations, measurements, or computations and can be analyzed using mathematical or statistical techniques.

Quantitative data is the data you probably think of when you hear the word “data.” It’s all about the numbers — how many, how long, how heavy. Anything that can be counted is quantitative data, including age, height, weight, temperature, income, test scores, and more.

If you want to know how many people are visiting your website or how many widgets you sold last year, you’ll use quantitative data. A good rule of thumb is that if you can answer a question with a number, it’s quantitative data.

You can analyze quantitative data using various statistical techniques, including descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, regression analysis, and hypothesis testing. Quantitative data is frequently used in economics, finance, science, engineering, and social sciences to make informed conclusions based on empirical evidence.

Qualitative data

Sometimes you want to go beyond the numbers to gather insights from people’s experiences. You need qualitative data. This type of data is descriptive. How do your customers feel about their interactions with you? What’s their favorite feature of your new product? With qualitative data, you get a narrative rather than isolated numbers and can learn about people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors in specific situations.

You can collect qualitative data through open-ended questions, focus groups, interviews, and observations. Online reviews are a great example of qualitative data.

You’ll also analyze qualitative data differently. Instead of using statistical software to analyze the data and derive numerical summaries and relationships between variables, you’ll code it and analyze the themes you reveal.

Coding involves systematically categorizing different data segments into categories that reflect the participants’ underlying concepts or ideas. You may need to read through transcripts or notes from interviews or observations, highlighting or underlining key phrases or concepts and then organizing them into categories. You can use software programs like NVivo or Atlas.ti to expedite this step.

Once you’ve segmented the data into categories, patterns or themes will start to stand out and reflect broader conceptual categories. After multiple rounds of coding and refining, a coherent and meaningful set of themes will emerge from the data. Once you’ve identified them, you can write up your findings in a narrative or descriptive format, often using participant quotes to illustrate key points.

An Overview of Quantitative and Qualitative Data Collection Methods

overview to collect quality data

Data collection methods for qualitative and quantitative research are markedly different. Quantitative data collection methods are highly structured, using standardized instruments to collect data systematically. These methods typically involve surveys, questionnaires, or experiments, which seek to collect numerical data that can be analyzed statistically.

You can use quantitative methods to establish causal relationships between variables, such as in randomized controlled trials and experimental studies. By collecting data in a uniform manner, quantitative methods make it easier to compare and analyze data across different participants or groups.

Qualitative data collection generally uses more open-ended approaches. The primary difference between qualitative and quantitative data collection methods is the amount of direct contact with participants. After all, you can’t gather data about how people use a product in unintended ways using numbers. You need to hear directly from them about their experiences, which usually involves talking to people directly.

Some examples of data collection methods in qualitative research include interviews, focus groups, or direct observation. For instance, if you wanted to collect data about how people use a local park, you might visit the park and write down what you see people doing. These methods are much more time and labor-intensive than their quantitative counterparts.

Types of Qualitative Data Collection Methods

types of qualitative data collection

Qualitative data usually gives better, more actionable insights if you’re studying data to find insights about your customers. Quantitative data may tell you your latest product is a flop, but qualitative data will tell you why and what you can do about it. When you’re ready to collect qualitative data, you can use several methods.


One-on-one interviews can be one of the best methods for collecting qualitative data. You can sit down with customers and ask about their experience using your product. They can tell you what they like, what they don’t, features they wish the product had, features that are useless, and more.

Unfortunately, the interviewing method has some significant drawbacks that severely limit its effectiveness, primarily how long it takes to interview someone.

You need a lot of data to extract useful trends and patterns. Any one person (or several people) could be an outlier. Every bestseller — whether a book, movie, car, or other product — has its detractors.

Outliers limit the usefulness of your data. You could be interviewing the one person who loves something about your product that everyone else hates. So to draw useful conclusions from interviews, you’d need to do many of them. For most businesses, that’s not a viable option.

There are a few other problems with interviews as a method of qualitative data collection:

  • People may be reluctant to give honest feedback to interviewers, particularly if it’s negative.
  • People are often unwilling to participate in interviews, and those who do may differ statistically from those who don’t — which can affect the usefulness of your data.
  • Conducting interviews is expensive.

Focus groups

Focus groups are basically group interviews, so they have many of the same benefits and drawbacks. Like interviews, focus groups can provide a rich source of narrative data. Additionally, having a group of people can help you elicit more detailed and nuanced responses than you can get with a one-on-one interview.

Although a bit more efficient than interviews, focus groups are still expensive and time-consuming. They also have the same limited generalizability.


Directly observing people can give you detailed information about their behaviors and attitudes during their interactions. It’s more objective than many other types of data collection since it doesn’t rely on self-reporting. It also provides a social and environmental context you can’t get when people are isolated from their natural environment.

However, like interviews and focus groups, observation takes a lot of money and time. Observation can also lead to the Hawthorne effect, which is when people change their behavior because they’re being observed. This can taint your data and reduce its usefulness.

Secondary data collection

Secondary qualitative data collection methods involve examining existing data sources to conduct research. Using existing data sources eliminates much of the expense and hassle of primary data collection methods. You don’t have to convince people to participate in interviews or spend time and money conducting them.

The internet and the era of big data have revolutionized secondary data collection. With the rise of review sites, chat rooms, forums, blogs, and social media platforms, people are sharing their thoughts, opinions, and beliefs in public every day. If you know the right questions to ask and the right places to find the data you need, you can find the answer to almost any question.

This type of passive data collection is a boon for businesses that want to gain valuable insight from data analysis but don’t have the time or the budget to invest in primary data collection. The sheer mass of daily data generation provides an almost limitless pool of information for analysis.

Technological advances in software and automation have made secondary data collection fast and easy. Whereas researchers once had to trek down to the local library to examine microfiche, now you can launch a web scraper directly from your browser and have the information you want in minutes.

Benefits of Collecting Qualitative Data Via the Internet

qualitative data from internet

While it may not be as academic as archival research or historical analysis, collecting secondary data via the internet often yields information that’s far more valuable to modern businesses. You can get up-to-the-minute data for product research, customer sentiment, brand recognition, and many other business uses. Some of the benefits of collecting data from the internet include the following.

Increased access to information

The internet provides instant access to a deep well of information on almost any topic. From official websites maintained by authoritative institutions to personal blogs, you can find sources for any data you can imagine.

Easy searchability

You can quickly find data using a standard internet search or advanced features like filters and Boolean operators to refine your searches. It only takes a few minutes to learn advanced techniques that professional researchers use to locate targeted data.

Wide range of sources

The internet lets you collect data from a wide range of sources. You can access sentiment from social media platforms, blogs, review sites, comment sections from articles, and other news sources. For example, you can set up automated alerts that notify you whenever your brand is mentioned.

Reduced cost

Collecting data from the internet is much cheaper than any other method used for qualitative data collection. While you may need to invest in tools like web scrapers and proxies, it’s far more affordable than primary data collection methods.

Time efficiency

While collecting data manually can be slow, even with the internet, automating the process with web scraping can significantly speed up the process. You’ll be able to scrape data in minutes that would take weeks or months to collect manually.

Multiple use cases

Whether you want to know which color your target audience likes best, what product you should roll out next, or if using Gen Z slang attracts or alienates your customers, you can find the answer by collecting internet data. There’s no question so profound or so frivolous that you can’t find a rich pool of data for it somewhere on the internet.

Some of the most common business use cases for secondary data analysis include:

  • Competitor analysis
  • Market research
  • Lead generation
  • Brand monitoring
  • Content creation ideas
  • Customer support
  • Emerging trends

Steps To Analyzing Qualitative Data

steps to check qualitative data

You’ll need to follow a structured approach to collecting and analyzing qualitative data to extract the most value.

Clarify your research objectives

Before you do anything else, you need to know what your goal is. What do you want to find out from your data? Do you want to do market research for a new product or analyze customer sentiment about a social issue? You’ll get lost in the ocean of internet data without a clearly defined goal.

Identify sources

Although the internet is a vast and rich source of almost every type of data, it’s also full of wrong, misleading, and irrelevant data. There are troll farms and bot factories that exist solely to generate bad data and misinformation. You want to make sure you’re getting your data from reliable sources so that you can draw reliable conclusions from it.

In computer science, the phrase “garbage in, garbage out” means that poor-quality input will result in poor-quality output. Your research is only as good as your data.

However, that doesn’t mean all your data must come from serious academic sources. Scraping online review sites can give you a lot of information about popular product features. Following a relevant hashtag on social media can provide insight into how your ideal customer feels about the latest trend.

Think about where your ideal customer hangs out on the internet. Do they participate in social media? Follow certain blogs? Submit reviews to an online store? The places your ideal customer frequents are good starting points for collecting data.

Collect data

Once you’ve identified a good source of the data you need, you can start collecting it. You can do this manually by visiting websites and keeping a spreadsheet, but why would you? You can automate the process using a web scraper and get the data you need in minutes.

Web scraping can be a bit technical, so we’ll go into more detail in the next section. But briefly, a software script — or bot — searches through a website’s structure to extract the data you need and export it to a usable format, such as a CSV or JSON file.

Clean and organize data

Once you have your data in a usable format, you’ll need to clean it up by removing bad data, such as erroneous, inaccurate, or duplicate information. You’ll also need to process it for analysis using data processing tools such as Excel or Python.

Analyze the data

You’ll use techniques such as text mining or machine learning to analyze qualitative data. Identify keywords, phrases, or sentiments that correlate with the themes you’re investigating.

Categorize your data based on themes to identify key areas related to your topic. Once you have categorized your data, you can identify trends and patterns that will tell you what you want to know.

Share your results

After you’ve analyzed your data and mined it for insights, you’ll want to share your conclusions with stakeholders and others in your company who can benefit from it. You can use data visualization tools such as Tableau or stick with the data visualization tools in your spreadsheet software.

How To Scrape Qualitative Data

how to scraping qualitative data

Scraping data is by far the most efficient and cost-effective way to collect qualitative data for research. Web scrapers are widely available at various price points. If you want to start slow and simple, you can go with a basic Chrome browser extension. But if you want to put your technical chops to the test or are looking for customized solutions, it’s easy enough to build one yourself, even with limited coding skills.

Using a web scraper

You’ll need to tell your web scraper what data you want. You can do this by visiting your target website and locating an example of the data you want to collect. Find the website’s HTML structure by inspecting the source code. While this sounds complicated, it’s pretty straightforward. Your browser will have a way to access a website’s source code. For instance, the shortcut on Google Chrome is “Ctrl + U.”

Locate the data and its associated HTML attribute. That’s the instructions you’ll give your web scraper to tell it where to find your data. Once it identifies the data you want, it’ll extract and export it into a file where you can clean, organize, and analyze it. Start slow and small, and you’ll learn as you go.

Using proxies

In addition to a web scraper, you’ll need proxies. A proxy serves as an intermediary between your computer and the internet and hides your real IP address from the websites you’re visiting. A web scraper is a bot, and most websites don’t like bots — which is understandable. Some unethical people use them for nefarious purposes, and they can negatively affect a website’s performance. Websites often have anti-bot software that automatically detects bots and blocks their IP addresses, shutting them down.

One of the ways a website can tell an actual visitor from a bot is by how fast it sends requests. Because bots are so much faster than humans, they can send thousands of requests before a human can send one. If a website detects requests coming from an IP address at inhuman speeds, it blocks the IP address to shut down the bot.

Proxies make your scraper appear more human. If you use a rotating pool of proxies, like those available from Rayobyte, every request is sent with a different IP address — allowing your web scraper to escape detection.

However, there are some steps you should take to make sure you’re scraping ethically, including:

  • Scrape during nonpeak hours
  • Slow down your scraper so that it won’t overwhelm servers
  • Don’t collect data you don’t need
  • Use an API if there’s one available and it has the data you need

Choosing a Proxy Provider

how to choose proxy to collect qualitative data

Because proxies are so important for collecting qualitative data, choosing the right proxy provider is important. While there are free proxies available on the internet, there are serious risks associated with those. They expose you to cybersecurity risks and perform poorly because they’re so overloaded.

Rayobyte wants to be your data partner, not just your provider, and help you achieve all of your data-related goals. We set the industry standard for ethical proxy use. Our residential, ISP, mobile, and data center proxies are the best and fastest available on the market.

You’ll get 24/7 live customer support, a large proxy pool, and a 99.9% uptime guarantee for ultimate ban reduction. Reach out today to learn more.

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Next Steps in Qualitative Data Collection

next steps to collect qualitative data

Qualitative data is more challenging to collect and analyze than quantitative data, but it can often provide deeper and more meaningful insights that can help your business succeed. Choosing the right data sources and using a web scraper and proxies to extract data will be much cheaper and more efficient than using traditional methods to collect qualitative data.

If you’re willing to put in the effort to collect and analyze it, you’ll be rewarded with information that can give you a competitive edge in today’s uncertain marketplace.

The information contained within this article, including information posted by official staff, guest-submitted material, message board postings, or other third-party material is presented solely for the purposes of education and furtherance of the knowledge of the reader. All trademarks used in this publication are hereby acknowledged as the property of their respective owners.

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