A beginner's guide to qualitative and quantitative research

Conducting research? Step one is deciding what kind of data you want to collect: qualitative or quantitative. Use this guide to find out which is best for you.
March 14, 2019

Research studies always begin with a question - the fun part is getting to the bottom of the mystery and discovering something completely new. But how do you get there? Depending on the individual goals of the study, you'll need to decide on a method of research that best helps you find the answer to your question. There are plenty of ways to go about conducting research, but they all fall into two major kinds of research methods: qualitative and quantitative research.

You've probably heard of these two types of research before. But do you know how to spot the difference between the two? If not, this guide is for you: it's essential to know which is which, and what each is good for, when you're forming a plan of action for your research study.

Here's a quick-and-dirty definition: questions that look into a person's experience and give depth to research are best answered with qualitative research, while quantitative methods are numerical so they usually give more black-and-white evidence to back up your claim.

Now let's dive into a little bit more about what makes these two research methods different, and which is the best type of research for you.


What's the difference between qualitative and quantitative research?

We're all about quick-and-dirty definitions, so here's another one: qualitative data describes and quantitative data defines. An easy way to remember the difference between these two research types is to remember that quantitative gives numerical data, whereas qualitative data is long-form.

If you've given a multiple-choice questionnaire and it shows that 80 people chose option A over option B, that's quantitative research. If your questionnaire tells you that Carrie from Connecticut felt option A made her feel more relaxed and that she thought it was a more attractive color than option B, you're looking at the result of qualitative research. Each method provides an answer to the question in different ways and works better for different purposes.

Here's yet another easy way to remember the difference between quantitative data and qualitative data, just for fun: QUANT-itative data deals with QUANT-ities and QUAL-itative deals with QUAL-itities.

A person expressing an opinion in a qualitative research interview

Qualitative and quantitative research in action

Market research

Let's talk about this new marketing strategy you're looking to develop for your new luxury propeller brand. What's question do we need to answer to make sure the campaign is a smash hit? The who, the where, the when and the how. We already know what we're marketing, but discovering where our audience spends time online, where they can be reached and how is essential to success. Qualitative research methods are ideal for investigating how to position your brand or product because they get to the bottom of emotive response - more in-depth information on your audience is so valuable when planning your marketing activities.

A focus group is a popular qualitative research method that can help you understand emotional response to lots of different marketing and brand details. Everything down to the design of that luxury propeller and the color scheme of the website you use to sell it can be discussed by a small group of people to help you discover what works and where any pain-points are. Getting this information 'from the horse's mouth' and in detail is a lot more valuable than a few check marks on a questionnaire.

Market research can answer questions about consumer products

When you're experimenting with website design and functionality you need to get insight into which options are most effective in getting your customers down the funnel to the point of purchase. This can include testing the color of buttons, which call-to-action you should use and the images on your page, to name but a few. Realistically, the opportunities are endless with your website testing - you should always be on the lookout for ways to optimize your site. Here's where quantitative research can be useful - discovering your audience's preferences on your tests will help guide you in the right direction.

Academic research

Qualitative and quantitative data both play a part in answering academic research questions, too. If you're studying the interpersonal relationships between adopted siblings, you'll be able to get a lot more data and insight by interviewing them with specific questions that are guided by your research. You'll get fewer questions answered, but each answer will be unique to that person's experience, letting you explore the answers to your questions.

Academic focus groups for adopted siblings would introduce an entirely different kind of qualitative data. Just think about it: do you act differently when you're alone versus when you're with your sibling? And do you act differently when you're alone with your sibling versus when you're in a group of strangers? Whether or not they realize it, people change the way they act based on who they're with. Focus groups will show the subtle changes in behavior nonverbal communication; these will be layered on top of changes in words that you'll pick up on when you tag, code and annotate the focus group transcript later. Focus group data will provide you mountains of subtlety and nuance.

Academic research interview transcripts will influence analysis

On the other side of the coin, quantitative data will give you straightforward answers to questions. One way to get quantitative data is with a survey. They can be sent out to a huge database of people, giving a much wider sample of data than your qualitative focus group, and can give you some strong stats to prove success in your decisions. They're a great tool to gather both academic research and market research.


Research can be tough, but with a strong grasp of both qualitative and quantitative methods of research and how each one can help, you'll quickly find the answers to your research questions. If you're looking for feedback on your next-generation luxury propeller or studying how adopted siblings relate to each other in group settings, knowing your research methods will help you succeed.


When your research interviews are done, dive into your analysis right away: upload the audio to Trint for research transcripts in minutes.




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