Quantitative and Qualitative Research – What’s the difference?

Quantitative and Qualitative Research – What’s the difference?
April 30, 2020 Mackman Research
Man with a laptop looking at graphs

Quantitative and Qualitative Research – What’s the difference?

When thinking about launching a new product or service, assessing the success of an existing one, or measuring customer or employee satisfaction, market research is the first port of call. It provides crucial insight that can be used to ensure the highest likelihood of success in your marketing venture. This information will be gathered via qualitative and quantitative means depending upon your research objectives. The differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods not only affects how many people you can survey, but also impacts upon how findings are presented and how much information or detail can be extracted from that data. Understanding the difference between qualitative and quantitative research can therefore shape the aims and outcomes of a research project.


Quantitative Research

Quantitative research focuses on statistics and numbers, and ‘quantity’. This style of data collection concentrates on objective measurements and numerical analysis of data, often used when answering questions such as ‘How many…?’, ‘Which?’, ‘Where?’, ‘Who?’, and ‘How?’. In this way, quantifiable numerical data can be used to predict trends, explain causal relationships, or contribute towards an understanding of why particular phenomena are occurring. For example, you may ask “Which of these toothpaste brands do you use regularly?” or “Where do you shop for exercise equipment?” Quantitative data can be arranged in non-textual formats such as tables or graphs. A quantitative survey of any size among customers, employees or stakeholders can be achieved using methods such as online questionnaires, telephone surveys, and panels with closed questions.


Benefits of Quantitative Research

Quantitative research accommodates broad studies that involve a large number of respondents – this is usually a minimum of several hundred, up to thousands. This allows for increased objectivity and, in theory, reliable or representative data. If conducting ‘pulse-taking’ research on a regular basis, well-designed quantitative research can be replicated with relative ease, and results can be directly compared those from previous projects to provide insight into changes over time. Quantitative research is particularly valuable when testing propositions, for example, “Retirees are time-rich and are more likely to spend multiple hours with their pets.” You can also gather data about elements such as price points that consumers would be willing to pay, or product or service features that they particularly value.


Designing Quantitative Research

All quantitative questions have to have a fixed answer. This could be as simple as a dichotomy (“yes” or “no”), or presenting the respondent with a variety of options from a list. Another method is to ask respondents to rank their answers, for example, “On a scale of 1 to 10, rate how important you find these factors when selecting a washing powder brand.” This could alternatively be structured on a rating scale by order of preference, such as “highly satisfied” to “highly dissatisfied”.

The options that are offered to respondents need to be inclusive and consider as many plausible answers as possible. This is because the results need to be straightforward to measure, and therefore reducing the number of respondents who select “Other”, or “Don’t Know”. However, you must ensure that this option is included if the participant genuinely is not sure, or has a response that the survey does not account for.

In addition, it is important to avoid questions that make assumptions. This could take the form of a question such as “When you go to a physiotherapist, is their logo important to you?” with a dichotomous answer of “yes/no”. It is likely that not all the respondents in the survey have ever visited a physiotherapist, and therefore they would be forced to select an untrue answer. This could either decrease the reliability it of the survey results, or possibly lead to respondents leaving the survey out of frustration that their opinion is unable to be registered. It is also worth noting that the lack of personal researcher contact combined with the distance of the respondent can lead to ‘false’ responses, where the respondent will answer with deliberately incorrect or nonsensical answers in an effort to complete the survey quickly.


Qualitative Research

If you are more interested in obtaining in-depth data about the feelings, opinions and perceptions of respondents, qualitative research can provide deeper insight. Methods of qualitative data collection that Mackman Research offer include focus groups, telephone surveys, and participant observation. The sample size is typically smaller than that used for quantitative research, and respondents are carefully selected to fulfil certain criteria. Open-ended questions can be included. If insight is required into questions that begin with ‘How?’ or ‘Why?’, qualitative research is the way forward.

After data collection is completed, researchers can search for trends within the data such as respondents who are providing the same or similar answers to questions. For example, you may ask an open ended question such as “What do you enjoy most when it comes to the cinema experience?”, and then count up how many people responded with answers that referred to cinema snacks, seeing the latest trailers, etc. This could then be validated using a larger number of consumers using a quantitative survey, giving respondents set options using the most common answers in the qualitative survey.


Benefits of Qualitative Research

Conducted effectively, qualitative research can generate rich and detailed data. It enables the opinions of participants to be heard verbatim and for multiple contexts to be taken into consideration. This can add a human aspect to data, particularly when considering pain points. If an appropriate sample framework is selected, researchers can easily represent the whole community or population with as few as 15 respondents. Small sample sizes give greater control over accuracy and can filter out non-experienced consumers before a survey commences.


Designing Qualitative Research

Qualitative research uses a mixture of open and closed questions to create a blend of resolute data and in-depth free flowing responses that provide further information to support closed questions. When conducting a qualitative survey, it is preferable that answers to open-ended questions are just one or two words long. Shorter answers will aid data analysis, yet longer more in-depth responses are of equal value, particularly when interviewing very small numbers of respondents. The answers should also be limited in scope to aid the analysis of results – for example, asking an audience of restaurant employees what their greatest source of stress is in their line of work will result in a range of answers from vague to specific, and present challenges in later stages of the project. It may be difficult for respondents to narrow down their frustrations, and this will limit the amount of useful insight that can be gleaned from such a question. However, if it is narrowed down in scope to a specific area, such as sources of stress when working at the pass, more useable data can be collected.



When setting out to conduct a research project – whether you’re performing the research in-house or commissioning it from an agency such as Mackman Research – it is important to understand the different applications of these two approaches to research. This understanding can help you to choose the appropriate research approach yourself, understand why a researcher has chosen a particular approach, or communicate with researchers or stakeholders about a research approach and your overarching research strategy. Both quantitative and qualitative research have an important place in market research, and where possible, a blend of both should be utilised, as brands can use qualitative research to developing their initial concepts, and quantitative for testing any current theories or assumptions about a target market.


Further Reading

Carrie Williams, ‘Research Methods’, Journal of Business & Economic Research 5.3 (2007) 65-72.

Melissa J. Goertzen, ‘Chapter 3. Introduction to Quantitative Research and Data’ in Applying Quantitative Methods to E-book Collections (American Library Association) 53.4 (2017) [online].

Michael J. Albers, ‘Quantitative Data Analysis—In the Graduate Curriculum’, Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 47.2 (2017) 215-233.