Now that more and more non-researchers are populating the research departments at many corporations, I often find myself explaining the differences between qualitative and quantitative research, since many think they can be used interchangeably.
Qualitative research is by definition exploratory, and it is used when we don’t know what to expect, to define the problem or develop an approach to the problem. It’s also used 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, and ethnographic participation/observation.
Quantitative research is conclusive in its purpose as it tries to quantify the problem and understand how prevalent it is by looking for projectable results to a larger population. Here we collect data through surveys (online, phone, paper), audits, points of purchase (purchase transactions), and click-streams.
Here are some guidelines to use both types of research:
Ideally, if budget allows it, we should use both qualitative and quantitative research since they provide different perspectives and usually complement each other. If you are a SurveyGizmo user, you can now integrate in-depth interviews via iModerate chat sessions with your surveys, which can give the best of both worlds. 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 still are able to monitor the sessions remotely from the convenience of their desktops and ask questions to respondents through the moderator.
If you still want to go with traditional methods and can only afford one or the other, make sure you select the approach that best fits the research objectives and be aware of its caveats. Never assume that doing more focus groups is a substitute for quantitative research or that a long survey will give you all the in-depth information you can get though qualitative research methods.