Have you ever hugged Christmas? How to get more out of qualitative research 

Does it really matter how you conduct qualitative research, as long as you do it right?  No not really. There are all sorts of good reasons to use all the current qual methods including ethnography and social media analysis.

The real insight comes at the analysis stage by using the right kind of analysis. Though this varies a little from country to country, from an Australian perspective there are five different types of qual analysis we can do, each one giving a different insight.



  1. Content analysis
  2. Linguistic analysis
  3. Metaphor analysis
  4. Narrative analysis
  5. Discourse analysis


Content analysis

Everyone who analyses qual research uses content analysis at some time or another.  This is all about ‘what was said?’ .  One way to do this is to work out what the themes are regardless of how many people mention them, and the other is to take frequency into account.  Now you might argue that frequency counts should play no role in qual research, and I completely agree with you.  Content analysis is the easiest to automate, though did you know that most Word Clouds are based on frequency counts?


Linguistic analysis

What words and phrases do your customers, users etc.  use?  When people talk or write about your product or service, how do they describe it?  For example do people donating to charities call it ‘donating’ or do they call it ‘giving’, or even ‘investing’?  Some of this comes from actually reading the words, but any software that gives you a word list can be really helpful here.


Metaphor analysis

When the workplace is described in terms of a battle metaphor, it’s time to worry. One of our clients was in just that situation, with employees using phrases like being ‘bombarded’ or ‘hammered’ with tasks to complete, otherwise  superiors would  ‘have a shot at me’.  

The only way to do metaphor analysis is manually. You need to read the transcript and think about the metaphors being used. Some are obvious, like the battleground metaphor, but some are subtle.  For example, in our research into Christmas we have people ‘embracing’ Christmas.  Not hugging Christmas exactly, but certainly one way of describing the physicality of ‘being together’.


Narrative analysis

For me, narrative analysis takes it all to another level because it goes way beyond the standard ‘what people said’.  The point about narrative analysis is that people often describe their experiences in terms of stories. These stories have characters, themes and a plot.  There are often goodies and baddies in these stories and sometimes the archetypal heroes and journeys found in classic stories.  In many stories, one of the most common structural elements is opposition. Talking to men about Christmas, one of the common oppositions to emerge was the ‘then’ versus ‘now’ story, as in


“I used to get bored of the advertising but now it adds to the hype in our family. Christmas feels way more fun now I'm a dad. “


Seeing this ‘then versus now’ concept helped us see nostalgia at Christmas time in a new light.

Narrative analysis can emerge from a content analysis of themes (but not a Word Cloud). However, to see oppositions you need to specifically choose  to go into the transcript. There are no short cuts here.


Discourse analysis

In qualitative analysis, the main reason to do discourse analysis is explore beyond just words.  For example in this comment from our Christmas forum, it’s not the words used but how they are put together:


“I would have to say that I am the carrier of dishes”


In this forum, the only time when the men used this from of sentence construction was when they were talking about their own role at Christmas, which seemed to be a fairly narrow  but clearly bounded role. 


 “My role would have to be the Seafood man.”


This contrasts with how their partner ‘goes the extra mile’.  This tells us implicitly without them having to spell it out to us that at Christmas, Australian men’s roles are often bounded and women’s are assumed to be highly extendable.  This gives insight into how to market to the men and women – and is a helpful hint to any woman who is expecting her partner to do more!


To sum up, we get more out of qualitative research if start qual analysis with content analysis and then use one or more of the other methods depending on the objectives and the nature of the comments we are seeing.