Get to know the characteristics and main differences between these types of research

Understanding the difference between qualitative and quantitative research is critical for conducting a design of research models, and also for data collection, since both are based on these two main approaches to research. 

Both kinds of research have significant value, with each contributing to the investigation of disciplines, from the social to the psychological, as well as natural and business. They differ only in their applications.

Every professional understands the importance of research in the decision-making process. However, when choosing between qualitative and quantitative research, it is necessary to understand the differences between the two, and in which situations one or both of them should be applied.

These methods can be applied both separately and in tandem, often complementing each other and leading to deeper, more comprehensive results.

As a rule of thumb, quantitative research aims to collect numerical data in order to understand, among other things, the preferences and behaviors of certain individuals or groups; while qualitative research attempts to understand certain behavioral phenomena by collecting narrative data and studying individual preferences. In this article we will examine both types in detail. 

What is quantitative research?

Quantitative research is a practical method that translates all data obtained into numbers and percentages, and seeks to obtain conclusive answers on a number of topics, such as market assessment, acceptance of a product or brand reputation, for example.

In other words, this type of market research is concerned with describing the collected data in a factual way. Quantitative samples are usually large, involving a high number of respondents, and the results generated are seen as a real representation of an entire section of the research’s target population.

Here are some of the characteristics of quantitative research:

  • It is centered on objectivity;
  • It has a structured collection method that must be specified in detail before the study begins;
  • Its strategies for data collection include printed or online questionnaires, and digital, telephone or face-to-face interviews, among others;
  • Its measurement is standardized and numerical, and its results are analyzed at the end of the study;
  • The selected sample is large, and aims to extrapolate the results to the demographic which the sample represents, with the smallest possible margin of error.

As we have seen, quantitative research uses numbers, percentages and mathematical calculations to reach its conclusions, so its objectives include the statistical verifying of a hypothesis. One of the most important characteristics of this type of research is the definition of a sample that guarantees the smallest possible margin of error.

This type of approach is used to measure the size of a specific market or segment. It can also be used for the validation of hypotheses, in which the results obtained allow for a statistical analysis in order to validate an idea, answering the questions posed at the beginning of the study.

Quantitative research deploys questionnaires with mostly closed questions – i.e. multiple-choice questions, single-answer, dichotomous or ranking questions.

What is qualitative research?

Unlike the quantitative method, qualitative research cannot be carried out using structured instruments such as questionnaires. Instead, scripts or a flow chart maker can be used to guide the interviews to be carried out, and the focus is on understanding how the consumer behaves, rather than measuring it.

The collected information seeks not only to measure a theme, but also to describe it, making use of respondents’ impressions, points of view and opinions. 

Compared to the quantitative method, qualitative research is less structured, and goes deeper into the proposed questions, in order to obtain the greatest amount of data to understand the attitudes, ideas and motivations of a specific group.

In other words, qualitative research is mainly concerned with the generation of insights.

Here are some of the characteristics of qualitative research:

  • The types of data collected are narrative, and don’t use a numerical system;
  • The type of approach is subjective;
  • Unlike quantitative research, sampling is selective, with few participants involved. The aim is to achieve a deeper understanding of the topic at hand;
  • Research methods are flexible and the strategies used to collect data may include observations, individual interviews and focus groups;
  • Analysis of the data to reach a conclusion is based on observations and comments.

This research method deals mainly with subjective insights, and for this reason it is typically used to understand the motivations, thoughts, ideas and opinions of respondents, and even to discover new trends.

Qualitative market research is an important tool for maintaining your company’s health in an extremely competitive market.

Because of its flexibility, qualitative research can be applied in different situations, such as discovering the main needs of your target audience, identifying consumer behavior, creating new ideas or having a greater understanding of the business itself.

A qualitative study is based on the observation of a relatively smaller number of respondents. Methods to be used include:

  • Interviews: conducted individually, in writing, online or over the phone;
  • Focus groups: groups of people who will debate the subject in question;
  • Ethnography: starting from the observation of a consumer profile in their natural environment, and not in the interviewees’ discourse;
  • Observation: while similar to the ethnographic method, observation makes it  possible to interact with the client, to understand in greater detail what motivates them to act in a certain way.

This type of research typically follows a semi-structured script, in order to guarantee that all previously raised topics are addressed. Not only are direct answers required from the participants, they are encouraged to explain in detail their motivations which lead to different behaviors.

It is anticipated that issues and problems which may not have been considered will be revealed, allowing the company to use more assertive solutions in future marketing campaigns, for example.

The main differences between qualitative and quantitative research

Qualitative research is an exploratory method of investigation, which serves to investigate underlying causes, emotions and values ​​before a hypothesis is developed. Its aim is to discover and explain why a phenomenon or behavior occurs.

This method focuses on conducting a survey and improving knowledge about a topic using semi-structured and unstructured questions, that allow the respondent to speak freely when answering. Surveys of this type are generally short, to account for the large volume of data obtained from each participant’s response.

On the other hand, quantitative research is a systematic method of research, whose data-oriented approach is designed to answer a specific question. 

Quantitative studies collect numerical and statistical data to support or refute previously held hypotheses, and are structured to draw descriptive conclusions in order to recommend appropriate future actions.

How can the use of qualitative and quantitative research be balanced?

Knowing the difference between qualitative and quantitative research is important, especially since certain situations call for a combination of both in order to achieve the best results possible. These two types of research are not in conflict; on the contrary, they usually complement one another.

Qualitative research is usually the starting point for a research project, since it generates hypotheses which can be tested and quantified at a later stage.

Meanwhile, quantitative information provides measurements that allow the issues raised to be confirmed and better understood.

The first consideration is to assess your problem or objective. Doing so makes it possible to analyze the best way to collect data and identify the specific type of information you are looking for. These results will surely be useful in practice, hence the importance of understanding the difference between qualitative and quantitative research.


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *