Before discussing the distinctions between qualitative and quantitative research, it is important to go back to basics. There are two types of research categories: primary and secondary research. The way to know the difference is simple – primary research is “not already out here”. While, you guessed it; secondary analysis is data that is “already out there”. There are thousands of examples of secondary research, it comes in the form of articles and databases such as Bloomberg, Lexisnexis, and Hoovers.
Both quantitative and qualitative research are types of primary research. So, what is the difference between quantitative and qualitative?
Qualitative, also called exploratory research, is directional in nature. Typically, this type of research assesses a small number of people. This kind of analysis includes mostly open-ended questions or observational research. Examples of qualitative research include:
Focus groups are typically groups of 6-8 participants. An expert moderator facilitates each group. To have the most useful session possible, the moderator follows a guide that includes several open-ended questions.
Focus groups take place in facilities equipped for this type of research. The facility includes a table for participants and the moderator to gather around. The moderator usually sits at the head of the table. There is also a one-way mirror where the client and market research company sit and view the session.
The groups are recorded and transcribed. From them, the moderator along with the research team develop a concise report that includes key findings and quotes to back up conclusions.
Conducting this research online is a way to reduce the cost and length of the qualitative research project. However, facial expressions or the tone of people’s voices is no longer possible to analyze when conducting the group’s virtually.
Ethnographic Research is observational research where you view the subject in their environment. An example could be a butter company looking at how adults cook with the product at home. A study on how parents shops for children’s clothes at a retailer is another example. Virtual reality is a new trend occurring in ethnographic research. By building virtual stores and in-home scenarios, it lessens the need to conduct this research in the space.
One-on-One In-depth Interview
Another exploratory research option can include individual interview sessions. This qualitative method can happen in person, via phone or even online. Often this option is beneficial when interviewing professionals such as doctors or discussing sensitive topics.
Quantitative research, also called descriptive statistics, surveys a statistically representative portion of a population. For the results to be as accurate as possible, this method surveys a large number of respondents. The goal is to reduce the margin of error in your sample to be more confident in your results.
Unlike qualitative research, quantitative research uses close-ended questioning in order to garner numerical responses.
Developing a questionnaire is often tricky as survey writing is an art form. Errors in survey writing can often lead to inaccurate conclusions. Read 4 Watch Outs When Conducting a Survey to learn more about questionnaire writing.
Once the questionnaire is developed, respondents are invited to take the survey. When fielding is complete, the data is analyzed,this can also include advanced analytics techniques. The results are often shown in a deck that provides key findings, recommendations, and detailed findings with graphs and charts.
Today, quantitative research is most frequently conducted online, but phone and in-person are other methods used. For example, in many third world countries, the internet is sparse and therefore in-person interviews may be a more reliable source. See Conducting Research in a Third World Country.