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Process & Methods - 11 minute read

Combining qualitative research and quantitative research for the best results

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By Sam Reid - 21st May, 2021

Combining qualitative research and quantitative research for the best results

TL:DR

This blog post provides a basic overview of qualitative and quantitative research tools, outlining  the benefits and drawbacks of each. It goes on to explain how the two can be combined via a qualitative survey, and how to analyse rich, qualitative data.

Qualitative vs. quantitative

Qualitative research and quantitative research are different paths that can be taken to answer similar questions. It simply depends on the angle of your research project.

While quantitative research lends itself more towards statistical analysis, it is possible to convert and interpret qualitative research data statistically, meaning neither method is better than the other. They're both essential for understanding people and behaviours.

However, with advances in natural language understanding and browser-based technology, new platforms are coming online, like Loops, which give you the best of both - the speed and scale of quantitative data with the depth and discovery usually obtained from qualitative surveys.

What is qualitative research?

In the simplest terms, qualitative research seeks to understand the 'why', like "Why do people feel this way about X, Y, and Z?". Qualitative surveys can teach you about people's feelings, and offers insight into certain behaviors and the emotional stance of your target audience.

The resulting qualitative data isn't as easy to structure or layout as quantitative survey data, and it is often recorded as speech, video, or captured text. It's written in the target audience's own words. These unstructured responses are because qualitative survey questions are deliberately open ended to encourage exploration of peoples' perspectives and nuanced human behaviours. The more open ended the qualitative survey questions are, the more qualitative data you can potentially collect.

Because of this, qualitative data comes in many shades of grey, and is therefore difficult to analyze or group, however the resulting insights are often rich with new ideas and hidden opportunities for improvement.

Insights are derived from analyzing participant feedback, like from user research interviews, observations of a user performing tasks, or from focus groups. These insights are clustered together to either prove or disprove a hypothesis.

Qualitative methods can be costly and time consuming, but the benefits are worth it when you need to unlock what makes people tick at an emotional level.

What are the basics for running an effective qualitative research project?

A clear goal for your qualitative study - what are you trying to identify? What's your hypothesis? This should guide how you draft your research survey questions, and how you plan to collate your data and  observations.

Recruitment of participants - it makes sense to only recruit those who match your target audience, or display certain behaviours, right? However, they all must display the same traits or behaviours in order for the data to be valid.

The right environment - somewhere where participants feel comfortable talking openly. This can be in person or via a digital platform, solo or as a group.

A way to collect data - have you considered social research methods? Semi-structured interviews? What about online surveys?

Data synthesising resources - you will need to convert your unstructured data into clear and easy-to-digest results. Without help, this complex step will require a lot of manual effort and researcher intuition in order to sift through all the qualitative data. However, there are software based solutions which use machine learning to speed up the process, but you'll need to shop around as data quality can vary.

The ability to ask solid open-ended questions will take you a long way in qualitative studies, as will simply asking "Why?" a lot.

Being as familiar as possible with the topic of discussion is key, as is having an empathetic ear. Putting your participants at ease will increase the quality of your data, which should make it easier to draw conclusions later on.

6 examples of qualitative research methods

Focus groups are small discussion groups in which people talk about a product with open ended questions. For example, 10 people in a moderated setting discussing pain points and new ideas related to using a new smart TV model.

Field studies are real time, in-person observations (e.g. observing how customers interact with staff in a retail setting.)

Surveys can provide quick, succinct, to-the-point feedback, and can be repeated later during your research to compare how participants sentiments and feelings may have changed. An online survey has the benefit of being able to be drafted and set live within minutes. 

Diary studies are when participants keep written records of their person experience during the study. This is sometimes referred to as a ethnographic.

User interviews help you find out what participants think face-to-face. They answer your questions and provide insight and inspiration.

Social listening is great for quick and easy observation of larger groups. Social media listening platforms can provide huge amounts of qualitative insights on areas that interest you. The catch? You cannot ask questions, but the upside is big data at your fingertips with minimal effort and time spent.

Disadvantages of qualitative research

Cost and time of qualitative data analysis

Qualitative research methods are not always feasible thanks to the long timelines and high costs involved. This is why it's often reserved for high-value data collections, with quantitative or mixed approaches being more common in other cases.

Participant recruitment

Not only can conducting your qualitative research take time, but setting it up can too.

Finding the right participant pool can be time consuming as you first need to find them, but also screen them to ensure they're the right fit for your research. If you already have access to existing customers, this can be a good option, assuming you'll be allowed access.

Human factors

Like with any study, there are always multiple variables at play.

It can be hard to do qualitative research consistently when you are the one who asks questions. You might repeat a study, but might not capture the data in the same way. Researchers are not robots, and even being unconsciously impatient because you're hungry can compromise the data.

Subjectivity

The qualitative research process is subjective. This means that the interpretation of data can be influenced by personal feelings and beliefs, which may not always provide an accurate representation of reality for all people in a group or situation.

Advantages of qualitative research

Depth

Qualitative research allows you to explore complex phenomena and gain rich insight because of generally smaller participant numbers, the common use of open ended questions, and the ability to drill down into interesting areas as they appear.

Discovery

The conversational nature of qualitative surveys throw up personal, cultural, or social nuances such as issues and attitudes around gender, race, class, etc. that may never have been on the agenda, but are nonetheless very important behavioural considerations.

What is quantitative research?

Quantitative research is best known as quantifying participant responses into numerical data. Think bar charts, percentages, tables.

It's a great way for researchers to get a clear idea of what large groups of individuals think, how they behave, and generalise results from a larger sample population.

What basics do I need to run effective quantitative research?

A measurable hypothesis - before you start your research, you need to know what you're hoping to find. By defining a measurable hypothesis, you can ensure that your quantitative data collection method is going to work.

Large sample size - typically speaking, if you're doing a survey, you want 300+ respondents so that your results are statistically significant.

Data collection method -  this depends on the data you want to gather. The most flexible approach is to create a survey, but there are also more sophisticated tools like usability testing platforms, which allow you to identify how respondents interact with products.

Analysis resources - many online platforms will do the analysis for you and allow you to create visualisations and reports. However, don't forget about trusty old Excel.

What skills and experience should someone have for conducting quantitative research?

The understanding of basic statistical techniques, analysis software (e.g. Excel), and the ability to interpret numerical data to build narratives and craft insight.

3 examples of quantitative research methods

Surveys are a simple and incredibly powerful data collection method because they enable you to measure and understand the opinions of thousands of people within a small research timeframe.

Website analytics allow you to see what your site visitors are doing. It's possible to know how far users get through your content and where they leave, informing changes for future readers.

Usability testing is an important step in product development. It helps ensure your final solution will meet user needs and expectations, while also uncovering any potential problems before you make large time and monetary investments.

Disadvantages of quantitative research

Rigid insights

A quantitative method can provide insight into the what and the how, but not necessarily the why. This is due to the lack of open-ended questions and one-way dialogue.

Lacks deeper learning

In its pursuit of concrete, statistical data, quantitative research can lead researchers to overlook broader themes and relationships. Staring at the little numbers can risk missing the bigger picture.

Requires careful foresight

You'll need a specific question for your research, but it is hard to rely on subjectivity as the basis for what data should be collected.

Advantages of quantitative research

Scale

Quantitative research can be conducted more reliably because it has a set design, meaning data and circumstances can be easily replicated time and time again.

Rapid analysis

Interpretation of data can be straightforward and less open to judgement, and with the right software, you could be presented with the results of your quantitative research within a matter of hours.

What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research in terms of sample size?

Sample number is often much bigger in quantitative research. Here are some examples of both qualitative and quantitative research participant numbers:

A/B test - 1000 minimum, but ideally 10,000

Survey - 300 minimum

Focus group - 10 minimum

User interviews - 10 minimum per person

Usability test - 5 minimum

Why use both research methods?

A combination of open ended qualitative data and numerical quantitative survey data ensures that the limitations of one process is balanced by the strengths of the other.

For example, follow up questions in a qualitative survey can counteract the rigidness of quantitative data.

How do you conduct a qualitative survey?

The traditional way of creating qualitative surveys (simplified):

  1. Find a suitable tool e.g. Google Forms (free and very flexible).
  2. Build a text based questionnaire / form.
  3. Test your test (e.g. gather feedback from colleagues to find any blind spots in your questions).
  4. Revise your questionnaire / form content based on the feedback.
  5. Recruit quality respondents and send.

Loops is the new way to combine qualitative and quantitative research

A key difference between Loops and traditional qualitative surveys is that Loops uses visual inputs and annotations. This is because these often deliver clearer answers and highly actionable insight.

  1. Adding visual inputs engages your respondents and increases response rates - too much text is overwhelming and creates survey fatigue.
  2. Build questions using a combination of likert scale and open ended question types - the perfect balance of 'what' and 'why'.
  3. You can choose your audience - our platform connects you to over 110 million people so that you can specify the ideal participants.
  4. Each participant answers each question by annotating the visual stimulus. This UX makes it easy to for them to comment and easy for you to understand (low cognitive overhead).
  5. You capture 1000s of comments from respondents on your research stimulus (qualitative data) and use natural language understanding to translate it all into easy to understand stats (quantitative data).
  6. Measure the 'what' (numerical data) against the 'why' (open-ended data) with direct-from-audience feedback.

Our exciting hybrid research method provides new ways to target participants and explore their attitudes with speed, scale, depth, and discovery.

Get the best of focus groups AND surveys with a free trial of Loops.

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