Qualitative research can be defined in opposition or in contrast to quantitative research. Qualitative research is research that is based on subjective judgments about data that cannot really be put into numerical form. Whereas quantitative research asks questions like “how many,” “when,” and “how often,” qualitative research tends to ask questions such as “why?”
Looking at this from a business perspective, qualitative research is typically used to better understand why something is happening. For example, if productivity is falling off among your employees, you might hire someone to conduct interviews with employees to try to determine what is causing their productivity to fall. As another example, if you want to do a better job of marketing a product that you are selling, you can conduct focus groups in which people discuss what they like or dislike about your products and its competitors. The information that you gain from these discussions will not be numerical and will not really be good for statistical analysis. Instead, you will have to look at the answers that people give and subjectively try to understand what is motivating them.
Thus, qualitative research is subjective research that uses non-quantifiable information to try to answer open-ended questions such as “why.”