Research Methods: Qualitative vs Quantitative Research

Comparison: Qualitative vs Quantitative Research

Research does not need to be qualitative OR quantitative. Very often there’s a mix of approaches in play. But which one should be the thrust of your project – or which one should come first? The purposes of your research, its goals and objectives, are going to be the best determiner of whether qualitative or quantitative research is a better “fit” for your immediate needs.

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is exploratory – it allows you to discuss a topic in depth with participants. And in fact, rather than a script or series of questions, it is a conversation that usually follows a discussion guide. This means that the core questions you want to explore with your participants are all laid out with a planned flow – but if the participant naturally takes the discussion in a direction that otherwise comes later in the plan, you let it go there … you just make sure to circle back to the “skipped” sections. Examples of qualitative research include (but are not limited to) in-depth interviews and focus groups.

Because it’s a discussion, while you might have some elements that are more concrete – a rating scale, or a heat map presentation, for example – for the most part your output is going to be broad themes where these emerge across the range of conversations, supplemented with quotes and possibly word clouds. Your insights will be deep but directional; you probably don’t want to extrapolate the findings out to broad or very different audience.

What is Quantitative Research?

Quantitative research is going measure perspectives, to assess how consistent those perspectives are or how broadly they are held. Examples are surveys: a concrete set of questions are asked of all your participants, and the results can be graphed or charted to provide insight on each topic.

Just as qualitative research might include a quantitative question or two, you can include a qualitative question in your survey. You just need to keep in mind that, generally speaking, people may skip the question, or only give you a few words in response; you will not get the same depth of insight. And of course, the question are the questions – in a survey, you can’t circle back if someone hasn’t really understood or answered the question you were asking, or probe for more detail.

Should we do both? Which should come first?

There are many situations where both Qual and Quant research are valuable, and work in tandem. There is not “one right way” to approach this mix. Which should come first should ultimately be dependent on your needs.

When You Need to Explore, Then Quantify

If you don’t know what you don’t know – you’re entering a new marketplace, or pursuing a new customer segment, for example, or your topic is likely to be somewhat sensitive – you might want to start with a series of interviews to help you better understand, in some depth, what the key considerations are, or even how this audience talks about the things you want to know. This insight could then be leveraged to inform the design of a survey, so that you can ensure the people you interviewed are representative of a broader audience. This will help ensure that you get both depth and breadth of insight.

When you need to Quantify, and Then Provide Color

A survey is very good for understanding what a broad swath of your audience things, but it may not tell you enough about why. In this case, you would likely want to start with a survey, to get the broad perspectives, and then selectively target interviews as a follow-up, to provide more insights and color to the survey results.

Coming Up: Survey Tools

Next time, we’ll discuss survey tools, and whether the tool you choose matters. Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss an issue.

Do you have a question about market research? Post a comment below, and it may make its way into a future post. Do you have a question you hope to answer with market research? Contact our team at Coax Insights. We’d be happy to help.

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