Quantitative Vs. Qualitative Research – When to Use Which

Posted 03.16.10 by in: Best Practices, Most Popular Posts 24 Responses

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:

Quantitative Vs. Qualitative Research - When to Use Which

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.

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  • Pierre

    Great article and excellent use of comparative charts between qualitative and quantitative. All the best.

  • zviroe

    very good job guys keep up the spirit its too educative especially to us university students

  • side mkali

    only in only qualitative research is an emergent designe in nature as it does not include pr- designe

  • Kiki

    I read this but I still don’t have any idea what is the difference…

    • Awanbor Martin

      kiki martin here. the difference between them is simply the manner in which data or information is collected. qualitative is e.g getting ur data’s or informations through for example interviews while quantitative is for example collecting or getting ur information through the internet, news papers and so on. thanks i hope this helps

      • http://twitter.com/jimkearney4 james kearney

        Awanbor Martin, I think you are explaining primary and secondary research there!

  • mecky

    qualitative research refers to research method of collecting descriptive (non- numerical) data. the common instrument used to collect data are interview and observation, but quantitative refers to research method of collecting numerical data. the common tools used to collect data are questionnaires and experimentation.by mhepwa, mecky A.

  • expenseofspirit

    Quantitative research advances knowledge; qualitative research gives some people the feeling they have advanced knowledge.

  • fabiano

    I did not find what I was looking for

    • Christian

      Hi Fabiano,

      What were you looking for?

  • habtsh

    it’s still confusing. which one is the category of questionnaire?

    • Christian

      Hi Habtch,

      A questionnaire could be either or both. The type of question on a questionnaire is going to be more telling in terms of qualt. vs. quant.

      For example, an essay box is a naturally qualitative question type because it asks for an open ended response.

      While a radio button or multiple choice question is quantitative becuase you are reporting on it’s frequency and percentage for the entire population.

      Does that help?

  • eleeassang

    does the use of qualitative research mean you set out to add to existing literature by creating or proving a theory? or can it be used to solve practical problems like making recommendations?

    • sgizmo

      It really depends on the goals of your qualitative research efforts. Qualitative can be used to add context to quantitative results, can be used to determine options for a questions in a quantitative study and can be used when you are looking for a “deep dive” on a specific topic.

      I usually do not make large dollar decisions based on qualitative data alone. But I will decided to move forward with more research studies based on preliminary findings using qualitative methods.

  • Biggie

    Qualitative is like and adjective; it’s descriptive of the information. While Quantative is like a verb; it show what is happening, and wht is going on.

  • Jolo

    My research is about Sales Forecasting
    I gathered data from an electronics store and they gave me their sales from 2010-2013(every month)

    so which research method I will use?

    • Anita Delgado

      numbers= quantity, or quantitative

  • Anita Delgado

    quantitative information pertains to quantity or numbers numeric values or anything you can add up… qualitative has to do with everything else; for instance colors, or happiness, those can not be measured by numbers.

  • Pingback: Class 10: Contrastive Analysis, Interlanguage, and Error Analysis | Strategic Learning Unlimited

  • Brandon J.

    Hello there, was a bit confused about whether or not the study I’m conducting is a qualitative or a quantitative one.
    Basically, I am researching the effects of age on selective attention. For example, I will be showing Simons and Chabris Invisible Gorilla video to the subject, then ask them whether or not they had seen the gorilla in the video. Subjects from different age groups will be tested, and the data will be recorded to be compared and seen whether or not age has an effect on inattentional blindness.

    Is this ia qualitative or a quantitative research?

    • sgizmo

      Your study should primarily be quantitative but you may want to use 1-2 qualitative questions to further qualify an answer.

  • Ruru Shahrin

    hi, i m wonder if i can use quantitative research (survey) in my exploratory research, can somebody help me to give the best solution for this

    • sgizmo

      Each research survey is unique but you can use a combination of quantitative and qualitative question types.

  • mkoosi lorinyu

    would you please share with me,,, mkoosa86@hotmail.com

About the Author

Michaela Mora - A Survey Expert
Michaela is the president of Relevant Insights, LLC, a Texas-based full-service market research agency serving B2B and B2C clients and offering research services for the general and Hispanic market. With 20 years of hands-on market research experience, Michaela has been involved in the design and implementation of many studies ranging from market segmentation, to pricing optimization, customer satisfaction tracking, new product testing, advertising testing, and brand tracking studies among others. Michaela holds a MS in Marketing Research from The University of Texas at Arlington, a MS in Marketing, Advertising and PR from Stockholm University, and a BS in Psychology from Havana University. She also holds a Professional Researcher Certification (PRC) at the Expert Level, issued by the Marketing Research Association (MRA). If you need help with survey design or other phases of a research project, Michaela can be an invaluable resource. She can be reached at michaela@relevantinsights.com



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