Qualitative research questions; definition, types, questionnaire research questions, advantages and disadvantages

What is qualitative research question? Is qualitative research question just like any other question you meet anywhere in the streets? Section 1.1 below provides a key definition for our guideline in this article.

1.1 Definition

Just as anchored to the qualitative research, the research question of this nature is a scientific inquiry that aims at collecting qualitative or non-numeric data from research respondents. The congregation of information of this nature is to aid the researcher to infer the characteristics of the study subject from experiences, observations, and perceptions of the research subjects in line with the objectives of the investigation. 

NOTE: That, qualitative research is less quantifiable in nature and focuses more on ascertaining, understanding, and discovering importance of a matter at hand when it comes to an objective. Therefore, qualitative research questions are less straight and far further ambiguous in nature. Qualitative research questions are of Ethnographic nature common in Ethnographic Research and entails observing variables in their natural environments or habitats in order to arrive at objective research outcomes. Therefore, the qualitative research questions help the researcher to gather understandings into the habits, personalities, insights, and manners of research subjects as they interact in specific environments. 

The research questions of this nature are applicable where by the research subject does not talk as it is in the case of a human being can communicate verbally and being in a position to respond to a data collection instrument such as a questionnaire or interview schedule. Or the study subject may be a natural persons like human beings but the data being collected through qualitative questions may not require responding. A good example is in health science. In hospital a patient may be questioned in silence.

Types of qualitative research questions

Now, qualitative research questions may be structurally of three types, namely;

  1. Qualitative Exploratory Research Questions
  2. Qualitative Predictive Research Questions
  3. Qualitative Interpretive Research Questions


2.1 Qualitative Exploratory Research Questions

Qualitative exploratory research Question is a scientific inquiry aiming at seeking data on an area which is new and not fully researched. It is designed to understand more about a theme. The main purpose of using exploratory question for inquiry is to study more about a subject freely without any manipulation or alterations. Qualitative exploratory research questions are common in survey kind of research and therefore the questions can be framed in a general manner and at the same time in the context of survey environment. The following are examples of such questions;

Example 1

General: What is the effect of drug abuse on today’s student future career?

Survey Question: Do you perceive a positive or negative effect on today’s student future career?

General: How do business men in market “A” maintain their customers?

Survey Question: How do you maintain your customers in market “A”?


You can realize that the aim of exploratory research questions is to seek for an understanding of a certain phenomenon with the investigator’s hands off the subject of study. For instance, asking how popular a product is in the market is a case of exploratory question.

2.2 Qualitative Predictive Research Questions

Qualitative predictive research Question is an essential probe aiming at seeking data on an area which is touching the future outcome especially when the researcher is not sure of the consequences of his/her current or past actions. Qualitative predictive research questions are common in survey kind of research and therefore the questions can be framed in a general manner and at the same time in the context of survey environment. An example of this type of question would include asking how will the consumers behave if we increase the price of good “Y”? The following are examples of such questions;


General: Are people more likely to buy a new product after we give the hotel a facelift?

Survey Question: Would you ever try a new product if the hotel you eat from is given a facelift?

General: Would customers continue watching our TV programme after we re-launch it to start at 6 PM in the evening other than late at night?

Survey Question: How often would you watch our TV programme after we re-launch it to start at 6 PM in the evening other than late at night?


In this case, you can see that the question focuses on the unknown outcome that the researcher is curious to know the possible outcomes based on past courses of action undertaken.

2.3 Qualitative Interpretive research Questions

Qualitative Interpretive research Question is an inquiry which aim at collecting data with interpretive characteristic so as to understand respondents in their natural surroundings. The question tries to get interpretation of how a group makes sense of shared experiences and characteristics denotation to various occurrences. These studies gather feedback on a group’s behavior without affecting the outcome. Qualitative interpretive research questions are common in survey kind of research and therefore the questions can be framed in a general manner and at the same time in the context of survey environment. The following examples are of much help to you.


General: How do customers behave if the product being sold to them has a free gift accompaniment?

Survey Question: How do you feel when purchasing the product packaged with a free gift?

General: What is the historical significance of new clothe fashion during a festive season?

Survey Question: How do you attribute prestige of a new clothe fashion during a festive season?


The researcher or investigator has a concern to discover the inner feeling of the respondent by finding out his/her view on a certain issue. In other words, just like in interpretivism philosophy, it is argued that the same aspect can be interpreted by different people in different ways yet it is the same thing. So in this type of questions, the investigator is appreciating that people have different views and this should not be assumed in research.

Questionnaire research questions

Most of the qualitative questions are set in questionnaires or interview schedule. The structure in which the questions are set is diverse and are as explained below with illustrations thereof;

3.1 Open-Ended Research Question

As the name suggests, open-ended research questions are enquiries with loose ends such that the way the questions are set give the respondent room to express his/her opinion at liberty. In other words, the respondent is not restricted very much on what to say. Either the questions allow one to freely say a lot or there may be a wider choice to make. Open-ended questions are further categorized into: -


3.1.1 Multiple Choice Research Question
This type of question has several options that the respondent is expected to choose from. Multiple choices are several for the audience to pick from either. Basically, the structure of the question follows the market research kind of questions.


How long have you worked as a manager in this organization?

Less than 5 years

Between 6-10 years

Between 11-14 years

Above 14 years


3.1.2 Likert Scale Research Question
It is a common qualitative research question whereby a psychometric scale is used in ranking respondents’ opinion especially when a questionnaire is being used. It entails introducing different answer options such as satisfied/not satisfied/disagree, very likely/not very likely and other similar differentiating nature questions on a let say 5 or more or even less scale. Generally, they are commonly used by researchers due to the correctness of outcomes that they are associated with. 



Successful researchers wanted to collect data on a variable “control activities” which is one of the 5 components of internal control system in an organization. The following is a specimen of a Likert scale to guide on collecting the relevant data. 

Control Activities

Using the following table and the Likert scale provided below, please tick on the following statements which best describe your opinion of Control Activities in your organization; Scale: Strongly Agree (SA)=5, Agree(A)=4, Neutral(N)=3, Disagree(D)=2 and Strongly Disagree (SD)=1. Table 3.1 portrays this perspective of Likert scale


3.1.3 Matrix Table Research Question
Matrix table research question is a qualitative research question characterized by multiple-choice, close-ended question where numerous factors are appraised by bearing in mind the alike set of column answer choices. In this approach of setting the question, the researcher makes use of quality based enquiries for the respondent to reply from based on his/her experiences. Table 3.2 shows the matrix perspective of a question using an example


How do you rate our training services? Kindly rate us as per the table below


3.1.4 Rank Order Scaling Research Question
This question is set following order of preference schedule. Such that the respondent can answer the questions based on what he/she likes most and up to the last lowly ranked ones. For example, someone may like games like football, volleyball and hockey. Rank order scaling questions are the correct research questions to launch which game is most loved by the respondent.
Below is a typical example of rank order:


From the following three game options, rank each game based on your level of satisfaction from experience/. The solution is as per Table 3.3

3.1.5 Rating Scale Research Question
Rating scale research questions is similar to Rank order scaling research question only that the collecting of data involves use of a continuous scale. It is a common approach used by medics as narrated by Table 3.4.


Which of the following levels best describe your level of satisfaction from the counter you have been served from?


3.1.6 Semantic Differential Scale Research Question
It is a qualitative research question that assigns an arithmetic value to the opinion and feeling of the respondent over a matter such as a particular service, brand, organization, or product so as to understand better the respondent's feelings on the same perspectives. The scale features polarized opinions on either end, with a neutral option in the middle. This question type uses a multiple-point rating scale to achieve this objective.


To what extent are you satisfied with our airline services from Dubai to South Africa? Considr the details provided as per Table 3.5

3.1.7 Leading Research Question
Qualitative research questions of leading nature, are market research-based question that thrusts respondents to answer a specific query in a certain manner as the researcher desires. These types of questions carry an element of an information or details that the researcher/investigator wants to confirm its correctness. These questions are common in criminal settings such as the police station, court or criminal investigation departments.

3.1.8 Stapel Scale Research Question
It is a qualitative research question with a scale rating ranging for example between a positive and negative score such as between +5 and -5 which is used by the respondents to rank how a single factor fairs on a particular matter or issue such ranking of public schools, a brand or product. The respondent is expected to react adjectively on the scoring of the factor in question.


Production of juices in our company is very competitive as compared to other brands. Our market proportion is big. According to you, what is your take on the aspect of our socially responsible processing of juices in this region? Table 3.6 will aid in clarifying this type of question

3.1.9 Constant Sum Research Question
It is a type of qualitative research question with an overall score of 100% where by the respondent is expected to assign a certain percentage on various related aspects in their performance such that the sum of the individual item’s performance totals to 100%. This is meant for comparison purposes.


To what extent do you like our three tea leaves flavors, namely; Normal; medicinal and premium? Pleas assign some percentage scores as far as the budget you set aside to spend on the three tea leave categories (Hint-use the buttons in the box to set your level of spending on each as per your budget). Table 3.7 has the details



3.1.10 CAPTCHA Research Question
This are usually computerized qualitative research question used with the intention of minimizing the number of respondents so that the researcher can narrow down to those of his/her concern. Rarely are they printed in hard copies. They are commonly filled online using an online questionnaire or interview schedule.

3.1.11 Net Promoter Score Question
Net Promoter Score question is used mostly where a company is promoting its brand in the market by estimating customer devotion and brand commendations. The data collected from Net Promoter Score questions allows you to fast track your brand's supporters who are actively endorsing your product. The questions are ranked within a certain level such as 1-8 graduation scale. Table 3.8 clarify this type of questions

You like our TV programs all the times?


As per the positions, respondents are categorized under either of the 3 clusters. That is; those categorized as Detractors (1-3)

Those categorized as Passives (4-6)

Those categorized as Promoters (7-9).


3.1.12 Demographic Research Question
Demographic questions are demographic based diversity inquiries aiming at collecting data to describe some characteristics that cannot be manipulated such as age, sex, level of income, race, ethnicity, education level, and other similar variables. These questions tie performance aspect of a firm product to a particular set of diversity such as sex. In the questionnaire, it is used in the preliminaries to get some kind of background information about the respondent. 


What is your level of income in US Dollars?

Below $1,000

Between $1001 to $1,499

Between $1,500 to $3,499

Between $3,500 to $5,499

Above $5,500

3.1.13 Side-by-Side Matrix Research Question
As the name suggests, the side-by-side matrix qualitative research questions are set in a manner to create space for the respondent to rank several variables at ago. Like a single matrix, these research questions give you the ability to compact your survey. The matrix is simplified to avoid monotony. From Table 3.9, this type of questions are clarified


Kindly rate us on the performance of the following spare parts of our recently launched two car model CC-Double comfort and CC-Double Sure Comfort type

3.1.14 Static Content Question
This kind of qualitative research question is unique in its design for the researchers provides a descriptive text in the box or boxes provided instead of a question so as to guide the respondent about a certain issue or matter of concern. Such a description can be something like a presentation text/picture, caption, or byline. This is meant for the respondent for his or her “for your information”. 

3.1.15 Miscellaneous Question
The miscellaneous qualitative research questions is another category of questions which accommodates other types of questions which by nature you as a researcher may not be in a position to categorize them precisely. A good example is details of one’s birth day. 

3.1.16 Dichotomous Research Question
They are qualitative research questions which leave the respondent with only two options to choose and the name suggests. The term Di, means two, hence two answers to be provided by the respondent. They for instance assume the design of Yes/No or True/False etc.


Indicate your sex in the spaces provided below

  Step by step procedure of setting questions for a questionnaire

As a researcher or investigator, use of qualitative research questions may be very tricky for one has to balance between capturing all the relevant data needed and at the same time make sure that most respondents fill the questionnaire. Hence the need to prepare a questionnaire which is user friendly. This calls for step by step preparation of questions/questionnaire that is fully compliant.

The following steps will guide you on the same and several illustrations will be used to demonstrate the right approach to achieve this objective.

STEP 1:  Topic of the study

The researcher should start writing the research questions by reviewing the study topic to identify or familiarize himself/ or herself with the thematic view. This makes one remain relevant to the main focus of the study.

STEP 2: Research Problem

The researcher should fully identify the research problem at hand. This is necessary for it helps in ensuring that the research resources are not misallocated to other areas of no concern and also the research objectives are not missed out in the efforts thereof.


STEP 3: Research Objectives

The research objectives are the Centre of focus. This is the area of the researcher’s concern for the research questions to be established should target to gather information to achieve these points. At this step the researcher needs to ensure that the specific objectives are SMART.


STEP 4: Review the Research Design

Before the researcher starts to develop the research questions, he/she should factor in the research design adopted where the research methodology is a key concern. The research design will guide the researcher on all the methodologies pertaining data collection, analysis and reporting.


STEP 5: Question Development

In this step, the researcher takes one specific objective at a time and set questions around the objective such that the kind of questions set help in building validity of the data collection instrument.

Step 5 should be repeated for all the other specific objectives.

The following illustration guide you on how to prepare quality questions for a questionnaire or interview schedule


STEP 1:  Topic of the study

The topic is;

Internal Factors Influencing Procurement Performance in USA: A Case of Seattle state.

NB: You should note that this is the thematic issue in this study and all the parts and steps of developing research questions has to be tied to this topic. Even for those who are doing research for academic purposes

STEP 2: Research Problem

Do the internal factors identified significantly influence Procurement Performance in Seattle state?

NB: You can realize that the research question is pegged on the main topic of study. This is the thematic issue

STEP 3: Research Objectives

The specific objectives were;

To determine the influence of tendering process on procurement performance of Seattle state.

 To evaluate the influence of organizational culture on procurement performance of Seattle state.

To establish the influence of information and communication technology adoption on procurement performance of Seattle state.

To assess the influence of institutional accountability on procurement performance of Seattle state.

NB: You can see that the specific objectives are SMART compliant. This is because the data to be collected for the sake of analysis must be measurable


STEP 4: Review the Research Design

This is an extract from the main document-it reads; 3.2 Research Design

A research design is the plan for gaining answers to the queries being studied and handling some of the problems met throughout the research process (Kothari, 2004). It is thus the arrangement of conditions for the collection and analysis of data in a method that intends to combine significance to the research purpose. This study used descriptive research design.

NB: Descriptive research design allows the researcher to describe the trend and movement of variables without manipulating them. So when you look at this variables, namely; tendering process, organizational culture, information and communication technology and institutional accountability they were not manipulated and they were analyzed as they were

STEP 5: Question Development

The following were the qualitative research questions for some of the variables as portrayed by Table 3.10

 Advantages of qualitative research questions

  1. Flexibility-these questions are structured in a way such that they generally give the respondent room to fully express themselves hence more helpful information is gotten for research purposes.
  2. Reliable for management decision making-the response is from one opinion hence the management especially human resource can make well informed decision for their employees to improve productivity.
  3. Suitable social set ups-these questions are good for excavating in depth secretive information for counseling purposes.
  4. Help meet the objectives of the company-the questions are framed in a manner to ensure that the set goals of the company are met by the time the respondent provides the information required.
  5. Simple to answer on average-the questions are prepared in a manner to ensure that they are understandable by the respondent. In fact they are tailor made to suit a particular respondent.
  6. Have high validity-these questions are of high validity for they are prepared, reviewed and scrutinized in a way that they meet the standards of measuring what they were intended to measure.

 Disadvantages of qualitative research questions

  1. Technical to develop-if one is not careful, the questions may not capture the specific objectives of the study.
  2. Tedious to prepare-for the questions to measure what they should measure, the framing and the number of questions to be set may turn to be tiresome exercise.
  3. Not popular-especially in data collection for academic research, many respondents do not welcome the idea for it exposes their personal life or business secrets something not ok with them.
  4. Biasness-these questions may be subjective for they are prepared and also filled by natural persons. The outcome may in a nutshell not be reliable.

About the Author - Dr Geoffrey Mbuva(PhD-Finance) is a lecturer of Finance and Accountancy at Kenyatta University, Kenya. He is an enthusiast of teaching and making accounting & research tutorials for his readers.