It is no longer a question in marketing research design of whether you should use qualitative or quantitative methods. The answer is frequently, “Use both.” Combining the rich, free-form information that results from qualitative research with the quantification of survey research often yields deep and sometimes surprising new insights. From BetterEvalution.org, here are the benefits of combining qualitative and quantitative data:
- Enriching. We enrich our understanding of the research problem by using qualitative work to identify issues or obtain information not obtained by quantitative surveys. Researchers often refer to qualitative research as providing the “why?” to the quantitative question “How many?”
- Defining. Better understanding the research and generating hypotheses from qualitative work allows better preparation for the quantitative phase of the project.
- Explaining. Sometimes, we get results in quantitative projects that need additional exploration to yield understanding and insight.
- Validating/Rejecting. Combining qualitative and quantitative research lets us verify or disconfirm the results we received in the other method.
Combining qualitative and quantitative information in a research project improves research quality. Either we create a stronger understanding of the research problem or a deeper understanding of the resulting data. In either case, the resulting research project will better answer and solve the research questions.
So, the question now is, “How do you combine them?”
There are three approaches to combining qualitative and quantitative data collection methods in your research project design, as described in detail in our blog The Qualitative Research Trifecta. Which of the three approaches to use depends on your research objectives and your purpose in pursuing both qualitative and quantitative insights, as explained by Jeff Sauro:
- Explanatory Sequential Design. In this design, we start with quantitative methods and then follow on with qualitative methods to bring great insight and clarification to the data. By examining and identifying the key findings and trends in the first phase of the study, you could then explore the “why?” behind the numbers using one-on-one interviews, focus groups, or even ethnographies.
- Exploratory Sequential Design. In the exploratory design, qualitative research techniques are used before the quantitative research to better inform the design of the quantitative through stronger hypotheses, more typical consumer language, and a deeper understanding of the research problem from the consumer’s perspective. Think of the qualitative as enabling the questions that are then validated and quantified by the quantitative methods.
- Convergent Parallel Design. When you conduct qualitative and quantitative research simultaneously and independently you as using a convergent parallel design. In analyzing the results, you give equal weight to both types of data, comparing the findings to identify similarities, patterns, and contradictions.
Understanding the role you want the qualitative and quantitative information to play in your research is the key to choosing the correct approach of combining these methods.
Qualitative and quantitative research methods are both important, valid and valued tools. While you do not need to use both methods in all projects, you should keep them in mind as you design research projects. If I am trying to define the shopper journey, should I use shop-alongs before, after, or both? If I am conducting a usability project, would qualitative research add insight into why the consumer chose to navigate as they did? Combining qualitative and quantitative can lead to better and more actionable results.
Are open-end questions in surveys qualitative research? Here’s our answer: Infosurv Insider.