What is qualitative research?

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is an exploratory research method that elicits deep insights.  It’s about gaining an understanding of people’s motivations, thoughts, and feelings. It’s about depth not breadth; it’s about conversations, stories, anecdotal evidence and reflections, not about numbers, statistics and measurements. Exploratory, open and creative, it can mirror the artistic process itself.

In an arts context, qualitative research can involve both existing and potential audiences, users, stakeholders and participants. In this DIY guide we hope to demystify qualitative research and any perception that it’s only specialists that can confidently undertake a valuable research project.



Qualitative research can give you an understanding of what motivates and drives your audiences’ and users’ choices and behaviours. It also allows you to engage with and build relationships with potential new audiences and users. It can tell you a lot about the impact and value of your work.



You use qualitative research when you need to explore and dig deep. This could be at key moments in your organisation’s future planning and development: for example, when rethinking your strategy, evaluating your programme of work, or planning your future reach and activity. It’s also useful when you’re seeking to understand a problem: a qualitative approach allows for open and candid exploration that can lead to surprising new directions. If your organisation is in need of facts and figures, qualitative research is not the appropriate approach.

top tips

  • Qualitative research can tell you about not just your current audiences, users or participants, but your potential audiences too.
  • Use your existing knowledge of audiences and users combined with your creativity when devising your qualitative research approach.

More QUAL Essentials

A group of people networking inside traditional building.
Research question
John Harris talking about recruiting a sample.
Who to talk to
Old sweeping brush propped against box of pamphlets.
Approach choices
Bottles of brightly coloured printing ink on a shelf.
Industrial workshop space.
Artist creating sculpture at workbench.
Christopher Glasgow talking about using research results.
Acting on Results
Young people studying at desks.
Conduct & Ethics