Qualitative & Quantitative Research: Which to Use?
Regardless of the subject of your study, you have just two types of research to choose from: qualitative and quantitative.
How much you know (or suspect) about your area of research and your respondents will determine exactly which kind of research is right 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, 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
- In-depth interviews
- Uninterrupted observation
- Bulletin boards
- Ethnographic participation/observation.
The Best Times for Quantitative Research
Quantitative research is conclusive in its purpose, as it tries to quantify a problem and understand how prevalent it is by looking for projectable results to a larger population.
For this type of study we collect data through:
- Surveys (online, phone, paper)
- Points of purchase (purchase transactions)
Guidelines For Using Both Types of Research
Ideally, if budget allows, we should use both qualitative and quantitative research since 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, which can give you 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, and 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 could get 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.