When to use qualitative vs. quantitative research
Quantitative data can help you see the big picture. Qualitative data adds the details and can also give a human voice to your survey results.
Let’s see how to use each method in a research project.
- Formulating hypotheses: Qualitative research helps you gather detailed information on a topic. You can use it to initiate your research by discovering the problems or opportunities people are thinking about. Those ideas can become hypotheses to be proven through quantitative research.
- Validating your hypotheses: Quantitative research will get you numbers that you can apply statistical analysis to in order to validate your hypotheses. Was that problem real or just someone’s perception? The hard facts obtained will enable you to make decisions based on objective observations.
- Finding general answers: Quantitative research usually has more respondents than qualitative research because it is easier to conduct a multiple-choice survey than a series of interviews or focus groups. Therefore it can help you definitely answer broad questions like: Do people prefer you to your competitors? Which of your company’s services are most important? What ad is most appealing?
- Incorporating the human element: Qualitative research can also help in the final stages of your project. The quotes you obtained from open-ended questions can put a human voice to the objective numbers and trends in your results. Many times it helps to hear your customers describe your company in their own words to uncover your blind spots. Qualitative data will get you that.
How to balance qualitative and quantitative research?
These two research methods don’t conflict with each other. They actually work much better as a team. In a world of Big Data, there’s a wealth of statistics and figures that form the strong foundation on which your decisions can rest. But that foundation is incomplete without the information collected from real people that gives the numbers meaning.
So how do you put these two forms of research together? Qualitative research is almost always the starting point when you seek to discover new problems and opportunities–which will help you do deeper research later. Quantitative data will give you measurements to confirm each problem or opportunity and understand it.
How about an example? Let’s say you held a conference and wanted feedback from your attendees. You can probably already measure several things with quantitative research, such as attendance rate, overall satisfaction, quality of speakers, value of information given, etc. All these questions can be given in a closed-ended and measurable way.
But you also may want to provide a few open-ended, qualitative research questions to find out what you may have overlooked. You could use questions like:
- What did you enjoy most about the conference?
- How could we improve your experience?
- Is there any feedback on the conference you think we should be aware of?
If you discover any common themes through these qualitative questions, you can decide to research them more in depth, make changes to your next event, and make sure to add quantitative questions about these topics after the next conference.
For example, let’s say several attendees said that their least favorite thing about the conference was the difficult-to-reach location. Next time, your survey might ask quantitative questions like how satisfied people were with the location, or let respondents choose from a list of potential sites they would prefer.
Open-ended vs. close-ended questions. A good way of recognizing when you want to switch from one method to the other is to look at your open-ended questions and ask yourself why you are using them.
For example, if you asked: “What do you think of our ice cream prices?”, people would give you feedback in their own words and you will probably get some out-of-the-box answers.
If that’s not what you’re looking for, you should consider using an easily quantifiable response. For example:
Relative to our competitors, do you think our ice cream prices are:
- About the same
This kind of question will give your survey respondents clarity and in turn it will provide you with consistent data that is easy to analyze.
How to get qualitative data?
There are many methods you can use to conduct qualitative research that will get you richly detailed information on your topic of interest.
- One-on-one conversations that go deep into the topic at hand.
- Case studies. Collections of client stories from in-depth interviews.
- Expert opinions. High-quality information from well-informed sources.
- Focus groups.In-person or online conversation with small groups of people to listen to their views on a product or topic.
- Open-ended survey questions.A text box in a survey that lets the respondent express their thoughts on the matter at hand freely.
- Observational research.Observing people during the course of their habitual routines to understand how they interact with a product, for example.
However, this open-ended method of research does not always lend itself to bringing you the most accurate results to big questions. And analyzing the results is hard because people will use different words and phrases to describe their points of view, and may not even talk about the same things if they find space to roam with their responses.
In some cases, it may be more effective to go ‘full quantitative’ with your questions.
Why Collect Quantitative Data?
Qualitative survey questions can run the risk of being too vague. To avoid confusing your respondents, you may want to eschew questions like, “What do you think about our internet service?” Instead you could ask a closed-ended, quantitative question like in the following example.
The internet service is reliable:
- Most of the time
- About half the time
- Once in a while
Qualitative questions take longer to answer. Survey respondents don’t always have the patience to reflect on what they are being asked and write long responses that accurately express their views. It’s much faster to choose one of several pre-loaded options in a questionnaire. Using quantitative questions helps you get more questions in your survey and more responses out of it.
Quantitative survey questions are just more… quantifiable. Even word responses in closed-ended questionnaires can be assigned numerical values that you can later convert into indicators and graphs. This means that the overall quality of the data is better. Remember that the most accurate data leads you to the best possible decisions.
How long have you been a customer of our company?
- This is my first purchase
- Less than six months
- Six months to a year
- 1-2 years
- 3 or more years
- I haven’t made a purchase yet
How likely are you to purchase any of our products again?
- Extremely likely
- Very likely
- Somewhat likely
- Not so likely
- Not at all likely
Qualitative follow-up question:
Do you have any other comments, questions, or concerns?
When you make a mistake, how often does your supervisor respond constructively?
- Most of the time
- About half of the time
- Once in a while