Qualitative Research vs Quantitative Research

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is a type of market research that is exploratory and seeks to understand people’s attitudes, motivations and behaviors.  This type of research often focuses on small numbers of subjects at an in-depth level and typically produces rich responses through intensive probing.  Results are measured in many ways, but in general, the researcher looks for themes and patterns that may have emerged from the research.  Only qualitative research can solicit such intuitive, highly subjective personal input.  Common examples of qualitative research include in-depth interviews (IDIs), focus groups, bulletin boards, participant observation, and ethnographic observation.

Why would I choose to engage in Qualitative research vs. Quantitative research?

Qual and Quant research methods complement each other and can both be very valuable. Quantitative research tools, such as surveys, provide quantifiable results that can be measured using mathematical techniques.  The decision of which type of research to use depends on the type of information you are hoping to obtain.  In general, if you are attempting to generate insights and hypotheses or answer questions which include: In what way? Through what thought process? What is the connection between attitude and behavior? Qualitative research is most likely your answer.  Quantitative research attempts to answer questions such as how many? And how much? In general, qualitative research generates rich, detailed and valid (process) data that contribute to in-depth understanding of the context. Quantitative research generates reliable population based and generalizable data and is well suited to establishing cause-and-effect relationships.   At times, quantitative and qualitative methods can be combined in the same study, and often, qualitative research will precede or follow quantitative research.  Conducting qualitative research can be a lengthy process with recruitment, sessions, and content analysis, but with AnswerTap’s new technology, this time is reduced dramatically.  Please refer to the chart for additional guidance.

How many respondents should I include?

Qualitative vs Quantitative Research

Qualitative vs Quantitative Research

For quantitative, measurable, studies, considering your sample size is important to achieve statistical significance with your results.   Your population size, confidence level, and confidence interval will dictate your required sample size.  Qualitative studies are not designed to be mathematically measured, and therefore, there is no simple answer to how many respondents to include.  In short, you should include as many respondents as it takes to help you reach your goal of hypothesis generation, understanding people’s reaction to a concept, etc.  Additionally, due to the in-depth and labor-intensive nature of qualitative studies, researchers typically do not have the resources to generate large sample sizes. Often, qualitative research can help formulate an ensuing round of qualitative research which if done correctly can provide statistically significant results.

Do I need a moderator?

AnswerTap provides a DIY service to help you reduce your costs while obtaining the information you need.  Some people choose to enlist independent moderators to lead the discussion with IDIs or focus groups.  Advantages can include the removal of potential for bias and the trained expertise of the moderator.  We provide the flexibility for you to moderate on your own, or to hire a moderator/service to conduct the interviews through AnswerTap for you.  It’s your choice.

How do I analyze my qualitative research results?

The results of a qualitative research are found not only in the words people say (words are the primary unit of analysis), but in their tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, etc. they use while saying the words.  AnswerTap provides you the opportunity to replay your IDIs at any time, or to share it with a third party to ensure you capture everything you need.  Most qualitative research is also transcribed, so that researchers have an easier time analyzing the main unit of analysis, the words.  Often, researchers will use a coding system to group themes and interconnections that emerge repeatedly.   While the process can be labor intensive, the richness of the data will typically be unrivaled by other methods.

  • Nice article, I largely subscribe to the arguments, but what about non-interpretivist qualitative research analyzing causal mechanisms and seeking causal explanations? I find it curious when qualitative/quantative discussions miss this variant of qualitative research; it shares the philosophical grounding with quantitative methods, but processes the same small number of cases as interpretivist research. Non-interpretivist qualitative research should have its place in methods discussions. (One has to admit that it is the reverse “sin of omission” of the Tale of Two Cultures book by Goertz/Mahoney that does not explicitly discuss interpretivism.)

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