Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research

Learn the differences between qualitative and quantitative data.

search_fingerprintSome things just go well together; chocolate and peanut butter, Batman and Robin, qualitative and quantitative research.

One of the main steps of creating a survey is knowing how best to balance both qualitative and quantitative research in your survey process. Each play critical roles in ensuring your data provides actionable insights that will allow you to make better decisions.

Using qualitative and quantitative research

Qualitative research helps you gather detailed information on the topic you are interested in and formulate hypotheses to help you direct your quantitative research and see whether the theories you developed are correct.

Qualitative research can also help in the final stages of your project, where you can use quotes from open-ended questions to put a face to the numbers you’ve collected. When you want to know things like what words your customers would use to describe you or how your customers interact with your product, qualitative research is a good place to start.

Once you’ve defined your issues, quantitative research will help you make decisions based on numbers and figures on which you can apply statistical analysis.

Often, quantitative research has a larger number of respondents or participants than qualitative research, so you can definitively answer questions like: Do people prefer you to your competitors? Which services are most important? What ad is most appealing?

To make sure you have the right balance to get all the answers you need, here are some more tips on how to use both forms of research to help you make better decisions.

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How to balance qualitative and quantitative research

So how do you put these two forms of research together? Qualitative research is almost always a starting point, where your goal is to discover new problems and opportunities. These, in turn, allow you to define where further research must be directed. Quantitative research gives specific measurements that identify the accuracy and significance of a problem or opportunity.

Let’s say you held a conference and wanted to gather feedback from your attendees. You probably have several things you can already measure with quantitative research, such as attendance rate, overall satisfaction, quality of speakers, value of information given, etc.

All these questions are given in a closed-ended and measurable way. But you also may want to provide a few open-ended, qualitative research questions to explore different subjects that you may have overlooked. For this reason, you would probably choose to add 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?

Any common themes picked up by these qualitative questions that have not been addressed in the quantitative questions would be great additions to your next conference feedback survey.

For example, let’s say several attendees responded that their least favourite thing about the conference was the difficult-to-reach location. After your next conference, your survey might ask quantitative questions like how satisfied people were with the new location, or let respondents choose from a list of potential sites to see what would be most convenient in the future.

Another benefit of asking open-ended questions in a survey is that you can use their responses in the final report you distribute to the colleagues who helped organised your conference. You might also consider putting them up on your website as testimonials—if you’ve asked for their permission, of course. By inserting quotations from your survey in your report or website, you can put a voice to the numbers and percentages you’ve collected, making your data story even more powerful.

Now that you know the definition of qualitative and quantitative research—and how to use them together—it’s time to learn how specific question types can benefit your research.

This article is part of SurveyMonkey’s Surveys 101 project. We hope to help more people create smart surveys. Learn more about the project and our involvement in the research community .

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