Qualitative vs Quantitative Research: Which to Use?

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Regardless of the subject of your study, you have just two types of research to choose from: qualitative and quantitative.

Your knowledge of your research area and respondents will determine the right type of research for you. Most people will need a combination of the two to get the most accurate data.

When and How to Use Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is by definition exploratory. We use it when we don’t know what to expect. It helps define the problem or develop an approach to the problem.

We also use it to go deeper into issues of interest and explore nuances related to the problem at hand. Common data collection methods used in qualitative research are:

  • Focus groups
  • Triads
  • Dyads
  • In-depth interviews
  • Uninterrupted observation
  • Bulletin boards
  • Ethnographic participation/observation.

The Best Times for Quantitative Research

Quantitative research is conclusive in its purpose. It tries to quantify a problem and understand how prevalent it is. It looks for projectable results to a larger population.

For this type of study we collect data through:

  • Surveys (online, phone, paper)
  • Audits
  • Points of purchase (purchase transactions)
  • Click-streams.

Guidelines For Using Both Types of Research

Ideally, if the budget allows, we should use both qualitative and quantitative research. They provide different perspectives and usually complement each other.

Advanced survey software should give you the option to integrate video and chat sessions with your surveys. This can provide you with the best of both quantitative and qualitative research.

This methodological approach is a cost-effective alternative to the combination of in-person focus groups and a separate quantitative study.

It allows us to save on facility rental, recruitment costs, incentives, and travel usually associated with focus groups. Clients can still monitor the sessions remotely from the convenience of their desktops. They can also ask questions to respondents through the moderator.

If you still want to go with traditional methods, and if you can only afford one or the other, make sure you select the approach that best fits the research objectives. Be aware of its caveats as well.

Never assume that conducting additional focus groups can replace quantitative research. Also, don’t assume that a lengthy survey will provide all the nuanced information obtainable through qualitative research methods.

For a more detailed guide on the best way to ask quantitative questions, check out our article on New Ways to Ask Quantitative Research Questions.

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