Quant or Qual

How to choose the best method for your research study

Quantitative and qualitative research are both scientific methods for data collection and analysis. They can be applied alone, or in combination, to maximize insights.

The Basic Difference: Going Beyond What vs. Why


Quantitative research relies on large sample sizes to collect numerical data that can be mathematically analyzed for statistically significantfindings. Surveys are structured, questions are typically closed-ended, and answer choices are fixed. However, quantitative research may also include a limited number of short-answer open-ended questions to help clarify why people responded the way they did to a closed-ended question. Eye tracking, facial coding, and even Big Data fall under the umbrella of quantitative research, with computers analyzing enormous volumes of data incredibly fast.

Quantitative studies produce numerical data, which allows for statistical analysis and ultimately precise findings. The US Census is a great example of a quantitative research study – fixed and close-ended questions, an enormous sample size, a collective review of many respondents, and measured population segments.


In contrast, qualitative research seeks to understand the reasons behind the numbers, as well as what is not yet known. Sample sizes are smaller, questions are unstructured, and results more subjective. Unlike quantitative research, qualitative studies insert the researcher into the data collection process. The researcher probes responses and participants provide more detail. Qualitative data is collected through interviews, group discussions, diaries, personal observations, and a variety of other creative and ever-expanding means.

Qual studies work with textual and visual data, interpreted and analyzed for directional findings. Qualitative research studies include fluid and open-ended questions, a smaller sample size, an in-depth review of each respondent, and emerging themes.

Visual representation of how quantitative + qualitative data differs

A quant study collects specific data from a large number of people, and a qual study goes deeper to collect greater insights from a small number of people.

How to Choose

The answer to whether you proceed with quantitative or qualitative research lies in your research objective and available resources.

  • Why you’re doing the research
  • What you need to know
  • Your budget, staff, + schedule
  • How the findings will be used

Consider these possible scenarios the next time you’re stuck and don’t know which way to go:

Quant + qual can come together in other ways. A questionnaire with open-ended questions, while ultimately coded numerically, can offer a window into the unknown. Focus groups that also include poll questions or surveys can produce hard data when analyzed in total, even if the results are not statistically significant.

With good planning, quantitative and qualitative research come together like a dance, guiding the marketer’s success with every step.

I Say Hybrid, You Say Multi-Method

Combining quantitative and qualitative research approaches is an ancient strategy, but the names continue to change with the times. I did a bit of research and found the following terms being used to describe that ideal combination of quantitative and qualitative research. What term do you use? And why? 😉

More Tips

6 Ways to Boost Your Online Market Research

A hot topic in industry articles, white papers, and webinars today is conducting a strategic combination of quantitative and qualitative research online. While intimidating labels like multimethod research, hybrid approaches, mixed methods research, multimethodology, and even methodological pluralism (seriously?) may be flooding the airwaves, at its core the concept has always been a good one for online market research.

InsideHeads online satisfaction-scaleQuantitative studies require a significant sample size  and qualitative studies require a few who freely speak. While that fundamental difference may seem to put the quant and qual fields at odds, in practice the two have always been more complementary than contradictory.

Increasing the richness of the data you collect and the insights you can elicit is just one reason to create a healthy mix of quant and qual. And it need not be a double-whammy to your research budget. At InsideHeads we consider small budgets to be a healthy challenge!

Here are 6 simple, cost effective quant/qual add-ons to consider when designing your next market research study:

1. Give your screener a boostInsideHeads research screening questionnaire
While you have prospective recruits completing your online screening questionnaire, consider directing qualified respondents to complete additional questions for an added incentive prior to their selection for an interview. Not only is it a good way to further qualify recruits, you’ll also collect a sizeable amount of quantifiable information. The added incentive cost is a small price to pay for getting valuable data in advance of an in-depth interview (IDI) or online focus group.

2. Invite participants to engage in other waysteen_online
Working a multimedia reply into your online questionnaire is crazy simple. Regardless which platform you’re using to create your survey, consider branching respondents based on their answers to a page that instructs them to do something else that will bring clarity or depth to their answer. Ask respondents to call a designated phone number and leave a detailed audio explanation, or ask them to email a photo or video before continuing.  All viable requests you can layer into your survey and track files received by name, email, or a preassigned ID number.

3. Not all homework is bad InsideHeads-market-research-participant-responding
Converse to the idea of working qualitative responses into your quantitative study, consider incorporating activities before or after a single or group interview. Whether it’s a shopping assignment, a diary, collage, video request, or some other activity, research participants are quite good at meeting whatever expectations you set in the recruiting process. Pay recruits appropriately for any homework time and you’ll be pleased how much the added information will enrich your discussions.

4. Think ahead to future research effortsInsideHeads Online Marketing Research
Whether you’re running an online questionnaire or screener, it’s always a good idea at the end to ask respondents if they’re interested in participating in future research, should they not qualify for the study at hand. Having a list of willing and eligible partipants at the ready will prove handy the next time you have questions that need answering. Even a small sample size can offer valuable insights. More than once I’ve seen a website halt release of a feature based on a few usability studies done using a free screenshare platform.

5. Get a little socialInsideHeads-market-research-participant-activities
It’s difficult to ignore the impact the internet has had on our social lives. The sheer volume of information, valuable or not, is enough to make any budding Data Scientists drool. The good news is that you don’t need an expensive tool to find good stuff in this vast space. The key is to have a working knowledge of boolean search methods, and some insight into Google’s research gold mines, including public data, scholarly publications, and consumer surveys . Marketers are even using social media sites like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest and others for crowdsourced feedback to burning questions.

6. Design before deviceIdentify-research-design-before-device
Probably the most important tip for saving money on your next research study and keeping your objective in clear sight is to design your study first before you pick a tool or platform. Begin with the desired end result and work backwards and you’ll not only understand the best path to success, you’ll also find the best device for the job. Always fabulous, sometimes even free!

InsideHeads logoFor more information on creative research approaches that deliver, contact the nice folks at InsideHeads.