Qualitative research, sometimes also referred to as naturalistic inquiry, is a distinct field of research with its own research philosophy, theory and methodology. If your desire is to perform a qualitative study, it will probably be a lot easier to develop your research question if you first become familiar with some of qualitative research’s basic principles.
The qualitative paradigm suggests that there are multiple realities, and what we are researching are constructs. In qualitative research, generally the phenomenon is studied in its natural setting and the focus is on the participants’ (and also the researcher’s) view of the world. In other words, qualitative research usually does not happen in a lab, or while sitting at a desk. It generally requires going out, talking to people, observing what they do, as well as how they perceive and interpret things. Also, it does not aim to generalize findings to entire populations. Therefore, the research question that you ultimately choose guides your inquiry and reflects this stance. The vocabulary of your questions will usually suggest to the reader your intent to explore a certain phenomenon in its natural context.
To learn more about the differences between qualitative and quantitative research, you can read the post: Choosing Between Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches.
The process of developing qualitative research questions
It is very unlikely that your first attempt to develop a good research question will be without hurdles. Every question usually undergoes a process of reflection and refinement before you get your question to its final version. It is usually helpful to share your draft question with others (mentor, advisor, colleagues, other students) so they can comment on it and help you improve and reach better clarity.
For instance, a question ‘What challenges are encountered by people who switch careers later in life?’ could guide a qualitative inquiry, but this question would most likely require some further clarification. As it stands, it refers to a broad group of people who might be difficult to capture in one single study. People can change careers for different reasons (e.g. illness, difficulty finding a job in their primary profession, new life stage, joining a family business) so even a big sample of people could have experiences that vary significantly. We might want to consider narrowing this question down and focusing only on one group, for example: What special challenges are encountered by people who switch careers later in life due to not being able to perform their primary profession anymore because of age-related health issues? This group of participants could then be narrowed down even further to distinguish between different sub-groups of health issues (mental health, physical illness, accidents, etc.). The first question could serve as the overarching question, followed by sub-questions referring to different examples of health problems.
The process of crafting a good research question can begin with writing down a qualitative purpose statement regarding your research. When accomplishing this try using words such as explore, understand, discover. Your purpose statement can also mention the participants and the research site. An example of a purpose statement would be: The purpose of this study is to explore how online tools can help with dieting.
The purpose statement can then be used to develop your research question, which narrows down your purpose statement and makes it more specific. For the previous statement, the research question could be:
What are the experiences of women aged 30 to 40 using smartphone applications for dieting?
Examples of research questions for different qualitative methodologies
Different types of studies go under the umbrella of qualitative research; each with its own philosophy and ways of looking at the world as well as various methods of interpreting data. Here are some qualitative research question examples that could be used through different qualitative approaches:
- What are the attitudes of elderly people with stroke towards the daily use of assistive devices and technologies?
- What role does the therapist’s spirituality play in the treatment of his or her patients?
- How do female high school teachers who have been physically assaulted by students overcome their fears so they can effectively teach?
- How do adolescent Latinas/Latinos conceptualize classroom participation processes shape active oral participation?
- How does a good everyday life come about when living with chronic rheumatic conditions?
- What strategies are being used by small businesses that have effective and viable workplace wellness programs?
Check out this post for a brief overview of qualitative versus quantitative research questions, and some more example of questions.
Agee, J. (2009). Developing qualitative research questions: a reflective process. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education. 22(4), 431-447.
Worthington, M. (n.d.) Differences between phenomenological research and a basic qualitative research design. Retrieved from http://a1149861.sites.myregisteredsite.com/DifferencesBetweenPhenomenologicalResearchAndBasicQualitativeResearchDesign.pdf
Case studies and testimonials are useful to have on hand. They help you earn a prospect’s trust, show them what life would be like as your customer, and validate that your product or service works.
Consider creating a library of customer stories your sales team can use to share targeted and relevant content with your prospects via your website and sales proposals.
To build this library, you'll need case study interview questions that will surface valuable details and insights. The following list of 100 case study interview questions will help you build a narrative using the “Problem - Agitate - Solve” method. Use these prompts to get started and add more specific case study interview questions for your business or products.
How to Ask Your Customer for a Case Study
Before you can start putting together your case study, you need to ask your customer's permission. These email templates will come in handy.
If you have a customer who's seen success with your product, proactively send them this request:
Thank you & quick request
Hi [customer name],
Thanks again for your business -- working with you to [solve X, launch Y, take advantage of Z opportunity] has been extremely rewarding, and I'm looking forward to more collaboration in the future.
[Name of your company] is building a library of case studies to include on our site. We're looking for successful companies using [product] to solve interesting challenges, and your team immediately came to mind. Are you open to [customer company name] being featured?
It should be a lightweight process -- [I, a product marketer] will ask you roughly [10, 15, 20] questions via email or phone about your experience and results. This case study will include a blurb about your company and a link to your homepage (which hopefully will make your SEO team happy!)
In any case, thank you again for the chance to work with you, and I hope you have a great week.
If one of your customers has recently passed along some praise (to you, their account manager, your boss; on an online forum; to another potential customer; etc.), then send them a version of this email:
Hey [customer name],
Thanks for the great feedback -- I'm really glad to hear [product] is working well for you and that [customer company name] is getting the results you're looking for.
My team is actually in the process of building out our library of case studies, and I'd love to include your story. Happy to provide more details if you're potentially interested.
Either way, thank you again, and I look forward to getting more updates on your progress.
You can also find potential case study customers by usage or product data. For instance, maybe you see a company you sold to 10 months ago just bought eight more seats or upgraded to a new tier. Clearly, they're happy with the solution. Try this template:
Hey [customer name],
I saw you just [invested in our X product; added Y more users; achieved Z product milestone]. Congratulations! I'd love to share your story using [product] with the world -- I think it's a great example of how our product + a dedicated team and a good strategy can achieve awesome results.
Are you open to being featured? If so, I'll send along more details.
The Ultimate List of Case Study Interview Questions
Case Study Interview Questions About the Customer’s Company
- Would you give me a quick overview of [company]?
- Can you describe your role?
- How does your role and team fit into the company and its goals?
- How long has your company been in business?
- How many employees do you have?
- Is your company revenue available? If so, what is it?
- Who is your target customer?
- How does our product help your team or company achieve its objectives?
- How are our companies aligned (mission, strategy, culture, etc.)?
- How many people are on your team? What are their roles?
Case Study Interview Questions About the Customer’s Business Case
- How long have you been using our product?
- How many different people at your company use our product?
- Are there multiple departments or teams using our product?
- How do you and your team currently use the product? What types of goals or tasks are you using the product to accomplish?
- If there are other teams or departments using our product, do you know how they’re using it?
- What was the most obvious advantage you felt our product offered during the sales process?
- Were there any other advantages you discovered after using the product more regularly?
- Are there any metrics or KPIs you track with our product? What are they?
- Were you tracking any metrics prior to using our product? What were they?
- How has our product impacted your core metrics?
Case Study Interview Questions About the Decision Process
- How did you hear about our product?
- How long had you been looking for a solution to this problem?
- Were you comparing alternative solutions? Which ones?
- Would you describe a few of the reasons you decided to buy our product?
- What was the criteria you used when making the decision to buy our product?
- Were there any high-level initiatives or goals that prompted the decision to buy? For example, was this decision motivated by a company-wide vision?
- What was the buying process like? Did you notice anything exceptional or any points of friction?
- How would you have changed the buying process, if at all?
- Who were the decision makers from your team that were involved in the buying process?
Case Study Interview Questions About the Buying Team and Internal Advocates
- Are there any additional team members you consider to be advocates for our product? For example, does anyone stick out as a "power user" or product expert on your team?
- Is there anyone else on your team you think we should talk to?
- Are there any team members who you think might not be the biggest fans of our product or who might need more training?
- Would you share some details about how your team implemented our product?
- Who from your company was involved in implementing our product?
- Were there any internal risks or additional costs involved with implementing our product? If so, how did you address them?
- Is there a training process in place for your team’s use of our product? If so, what does it look like?
- About how long does it take a new team member to get up to speed with our product?
- What was your main concern about rolling this product out to your company?
- What have people been saying about our product since they've started using it?
Case Study Interview Questions About the Environment Before the Purchase
- What was your team’s process prior to using our product?
- Were there any costs associated with the process prior to using our product?
- What were the major pain points of your process prior to using our product?
- Did our product replace a similar tool or is this the first time your team is using a product like this?
- What other challenges were you and your team experiencing prior to using our product?
- Were there any concerns about how your customers would be impacted by using our product?
- Why didn't you buy our product or a similar product earlier?
- Were there any "dealbreakers" involved in your decision to become a customer?
- Did you have to make any changes you weren’t anticipating once you became a customer?
- How has your perception of the product changed since you’ve become a customer?
Case Study Interview Questions About Customer Success
- By using our product can you measure any reduced costs?
- By using our product can you measure any improvements in productivity or time savings?
- By using our product can you measure any increases in revenue or growth?
- Are you likely to or have you recommended our product to a friend or colleague?
- How has our product impacted your success? Your team's success?
- In the beginning you had XYZ concerns; how do you feel about them now?
- I noticed your team is currently doing XYZ with our product; tell me more about how that helps your business.
- Have you thought about using our product for a new use case with your team or at your company?
- How do you measure the value our product provides?
- What will it take for you and your team to get the most value out of our product?
Case Study Interview Questions About Product Feedback
- Is there anything about the product you would like to see changed or improved?
- Do you have any feature requests or suggestions for our team?
- What is your favorite feature or part of our product? Why?
- What is the feature or part of our product that you or your team use most frequently? Why?
- Have you used our customer support resources? If so, do you have any feedback from your experience?
- Have you checked out any of our support content or training resources recently? What do you think?
- Are there any content or support documents you would like to see us work on and share?
- Do you have any overall feedback or advice for us as a company?
- Are there other members of your team who might have feedback for us?
- Could we be doing anything else to keep you happy?
Case Study Interview Questions About Willingness to Make Referrals
- How do other companies in this industry solve the problems you had before you purchased our product?
- Have you ever talked about our product to any of your clients or peers? What did you say?
- How likely are you to recommend our product to a friend or client?
- Can you think of any use cases your customers might have for our product?
- What is your advice for other teams or companies who are tackling problems similar to those you had before you purchased our product?
- Do you know someone in X industry who has similar problems to the ones you had prior to using our product?
- I noticed you work with Company Y; do you know if they are having any pain points with these processes?
- Does your company participate in any partner or referral programs?
- Can I send you a referral kit as a thank-you for making a referral and give you the tools to refer someone to us?
- Are you interested in working with us to produce additional marketing content?
Case Study Interview Questions to Prompt Quote-Worthy Feedback
- How would you describe your process in one sentence prior to using our product?
- What is your advice to others who might be considering our product?
- What would your team’s workflow or process be like without our product?
- Do you think the investment in our product was worthwhile? Why?
- What would you say if we told you our product would soon be unavailable? What would this mean to you?
- How would you describe our product if you were explaining it to a friend?
- What do you love about your job? Your company?
- What was the worst part about your process before you started using our product?
- What do you love about our product?
- Why do you do business with us?
Case Study Interview Questions About the Customers’ Future Goals
- What are the biggest challenges on the horizon for your industry?
- What are your goals for the next three months?
- How would you like to use our product to meet those challenges and goals?
- Is there anything we can do to help you and your team meet your goals?
- Do you think you will buy more, less, or about the same amount of our product next year?
- What are the growth plans for your company this year? Your team?
- How can we help you meet your long-term goals?
- What is the long-term impact of using our product?
- Are there any initiatives that you personally would like to achieve that our product or team can help with?
- What will you need from us in the future?
- Is there anything we can do to improve our product or process for working together in the future?