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Qualitative and Quantitative Research - What's The Difference?
07 Mar 2014

RESEARCH TIPS FROM A DATA GEEK – Qualitative and Quantitative Research – What’s The Difference?

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qualitative and quantitative researchIn the world of research, people use the terms qualitative and quantitative research, but the meaning of those terms can be confusing.  This RESEARCH TIPS FROM A DATA GEEK post explains what those terms mean.

In the last Research Tips from a Data Geek we defined market research for you. Market research helps you anticipate and predict your customers’ needs and wants. The terms qualitative and quantitative refer to research methods, or ways of conducting research – the HOW, rather than the WHAT.  So let’s talk a bit about the how.

Qualitative Research – Small Groups

Researchers use Qualitative research methods like focus groups and one-on-one, in-depth interviews to get a personal picture of what is important to the people being studied.

Let’s say you have a small customer base and you want to know how you can better serve their needs. A one-on-one interview can be used to help you understand on a personal level which of your goods and/or services work for your customers and what could use improvement. Once you have spoken with a handful of people, trends and common threads will emerge.

A small group method that can help you understand larger groups are focus groups. A focus group has a moderator with a small group of people, usually between 6 and 10. Like an in-depth interview, you would have questions prepared ahead of time.  The goal of a focus group is to incite conversation among the subjects. In optimum circumstances, this conversation will develop organically and illustrate the experiences of the group as a whole. The subjects will validate each other and remind the group of shared experiences. Once you have conducted a few focus groups, like for the interviews, you will see trends and common threads.

But these threads represent the views of small groups of people.  What if you need to make sure that they represent the views of the entire group you’re interested in?

Quantitative Research – Large Groups

Quantitative research methods involve numbers. Large numbers of people, large sets of data, whether the data is from a survey or gleaned using data mining.

Let’s say you start out with a series of focus groups and talk to 30 people. You discover people in your focus groups have the same need for a product or service. Before you offer this product or service, you want to determine whether it will sell and how you should sell it; you need to be sure before you make a large investment. The next step would be to create a survey that will test your theories. With good survey design, you’ll find what is important to your clients on a larger scale. An analyst can go further to create profiles of your ideal customer, and strategies to engage different groups by age, gender or location.

We can also take large groups of data, like a customer transaction database, or collected social media mentions, and make inferences based on the responses – that’s data mining. We will talk more about that in a later post.

Qualitative and Quantitative Research – Better Together

The scenario I described above is using qualitative and quantitative research methods combined. We started with in-depth interviews and focus groups, which informed how we designed our quantitative research method, a customer survey.

In the next RESEARCH TIPS FROM A DATA GEEK, we will talk about Quantitative data and strategies for creating a great customer survey.

Have you ever conducted a focus group or customer survey? Have you participated in a focus group? What did you think of the experience?

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