Learn About Using Qualitative or Quantitative Methods

Four business people review qualitative and quantitative information.
The Complementary Perspectives of Qualitative and Quantitative Methods Result in Stronger Consumer Insights. Getty Images Tom Merton | CaiaImage

Deciding which data collection approach to use is one of the most difficult and most important tasks in conducting market research. Qualitative and quantitative research methods both have inherent strengths so the decision about which method to use can be difficult or confusing. It is helpful to recognize that different research methods produce different types of data that are useful for answering some research questions, but not at all useful for answering other questions.

 Begin by determining the purpose of the market research study. This means being able to say what questions will be answered by the research. 

How Do Qualitative and Quantitative Methods Differ?

Quantitative research is useful for determining high-level trends and for synthesizing a construct into a single number – or several figures – that is easily conveyed to clients.  The use of Net Promoter Score is one example of how quantitative research is readily adopted by clients.

Qualitative research methods can add depth to surveys and questionnaires, and positively influence the research design, the data analysis, and the generation of consumer insight.  Different types of qualitative research exhibit particular strengths that make them most effective for certain types of research.  

It can be quite useful to consider ways to use both qualitative and quantitative methods together in the same research inquiry.

The Delphi Method is a good example of when the use of mixed methods can strengthen the data collection process, analysis, and findings of a research effort

Qualitative Research Can Be Used to Refine Design

Qualitative research enables a deeper examination of what is important to consumers since it relies on the use of the consumer's own voice and language.

 In this way, a truer picture of the consumer's experiences and perceptions is revealed.  Use of qualitative research as a foundation for a quantitative inquiry makes it easier to select metrics that are a good match for consumer interests.

The information gained from a qualitative inquiry can inform the methodology.  For instance, consumer voices can point to a more precise sampling plan that includes stakeholders who might otherwise have been overlooked. Considerations can be optimized by applying knowledge gained from qualitative processes to quantitative methods.  For instance, qualitative data can highlight the importance of the recency of experiences, or when in the purchase journey the respondents are best able to answer questions about their choices. 

Qualitative Research Can Be Used to Evaluate a Survey Pilot

When creating a new survey questionnaire, it is important to pilot test the instrument to make sure that respondents follow the survey logic, that the questions make sense to them, and that they are not leaving the survey at any particular place because of question fatigue.  This type of information is best collected by listening directly to the respondents who have participated in the survey.

 

Using some of the same techniques employed by user experience experts, the questionnaire designers can go through the survey item by item with the respondents. This will enable the researchers to gain in-depth information about the questionnaire wording, the survey intent, the extent that question ordering was perceived as leading or intuitive.  Taking this tack will facilitate gathering survey information that is a good fit to the research questions and the business decisions that will articulate with the survey outcomes.

Qualitative Research Can Be Used to Clarify Quantitative Findings

Should some quantitative information not be completely clear during the data analysis phase, the researchers can screen and identify respondents they believe can shed more light on the results.  With some surveys that are conducted in digital environments, the researchers can use a chat function to gain clarity at the very moment that the respondents are providing answers to the questions.

 Using a modified member check technique common to qualitative research, the investigators can discuss the responses that participants provided in order to learn why they responded as they did.  The qualitative data can help answer the questions that clients and decision makers have about the quantitative research, providing rich descriptions and specific illustrations that enhance the quantitative data, and which can strongly add value and utility to the survey. 

Sources:

Johnson, R. B., Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Turner, L. A. (2007). Toward a definition of mixed methods research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1(2), 112-133.

Surowiec, B. (2015, June 15).  Better quant through qual: How qualitative research improves quantitative research. Clear Seas Research.