Qualitative and Quantitative Research Defined

One of the most common mistakes non-researchers make is not understanding when to use Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research methods. This article briefly defines each technique and explains where each technique is appropriate.

Qualitative research is the “collection of in-depth, non-numeric data, traditionally collected face-to-face in an unstructured manner.” This form of research is primarily concerned with obtaining and understanding consumer attitudes and motivations.

The most common forms of qualitative research include:

  • Focus groups
  • Mini groups
  • One-on-one in-depth interviews
  • Dyads/Triads
  • Laddering (in-depth probing technique)
  • In-depth telephone interviews

Quantitative research is the “systematic collection of numeric data.” This form of data collection usually involves sampling techniques and sizes that enable the analyst to make projectable conclusions. Data can be collected via phone, mail, fax, or in-person.

Some common forms of quantitative research include:

  • Concept testing
  • Positioning testing
  • Advertising/awareness/attitude tracking
  • Optimization studies
  • Name/logo testing
  • Acquisition/goodwill testing
  • Client/relationship satisfaction
  • Price sensitivity models
  • Market segmentation

Marketing research purchasers and research users often ask which technique will be better for a specific purpose. The following guidelines may help the next time you wonder which data collection method is best suited for your needs.

Characteristics of Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Qualitative Quantitative
Purpose: To describe, explore or generate ideas, thoughts, or
feelings; to form hypotheses to be tested quantitatively
To predict or to measure; to quantify
hypothesis generated qualitatively
Form: No predetermined categories of analysis Standardized measures and predetermined
Scale: Small-scale; small number of observations or
respondents; small groups of people generating a large amount of in-depth, exploratory
Large-scale; larger numbers of observations
(at least n=100); limited number of questions yielding broad, generalized, projectable
Optimal result: Greater understanding of individual
Greater understanding of group similarities
Outcome: Longer and more detailed. Variable in content Succinct, easily aggregated for analysis
Negatives: Over complicated thinking; some respondent
bias may occur
Reductionistic thinking
Process: Illustrative explanation, responses can be
Numerical aggregation, responses can be
Approach: Supposedly subjective Supposedly objective
Description: Interpretive—how? why? Statistical—how many? how often? how
much? What?
Sampling: Convenience Projectable, random, quota, structured
Strength: Face validity Statistical reliability
Cost & Timing Less expensive. Usually quick for groups;
longer for in-depth interviews
More expensive, usually takes longer in field
to complete

Uses of Qualitative and Quantitative Research

When should qualitative research be recommended?

  • When you want to “explore” a topic, generate ideas and hypothesis
  • As a primary screening tool for concepts, products, services, etc.
  • To obtain an in-depth understanding of market segments
  • To learn why people think, feel, or behave in a certain way
  • To assist in the design of quantitative studies (learning appropriate language or ensuring all-inclusive lists)
  • When the value of the decision to be made is very low, or the budget is very limited (knowing the data is not projectable)

When should quantitative research be recommended?

  • To obtain definitive statistics on a topic
  • As the final test for concepts, products, services, etc., prior to market entry or other large investment
  • To define and determine the size of market segments
  • To determine how many people think, feel, or behave a certain way
  • To determine the percentages of people who hold each of the opinions which were previously expressed in qualitative research
  • When the cost of the decision to be made is high

About Kathleen Turner

Kathleen Turner (Kathy Yeaton), MBA, President of i2s Advantage (formerly Marketing & Research Partners, based in Dallas Texas), helps Fortune 500 and start-up organizations create and sustain a competitive advantage and build value. Kathleen is a frequent writer and speaker in numerous associations. Contact Kathleen for other articles or more information at 214-632-0183, via email KatTurn@gmail.com, or visit i2S Advantage online at www.i2sadv.com.
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