Qualitative or Quantitative? How to Choose a Method for Your Survey

Four business people review qualitative and quantitative information.
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If you're conducting a market research study, your first decision is whether to use qualitative or quantitative research methods. It depends on what you need to know. A quantitative method helps you see broad trends. A qualitative method can give you greater insight.

Begin by thinking through the purpose of the market research study. You want to understand what questions you expect the research to answer.

How Do Qualitative and Quantitative Methods Differ?

Quantitative research is useful for determining high-level trends. It is intended to produce a single number or several numbers that can be easily conveyed to a client. Net Promoter Score is an example of a quantitative research tool.

Qualitative research methods can add depth to a survey or questionnaire, and positively influence the research design, the data analysis, and the generation of consumer insight. Different types of qualitative research have particular strengths that make them most effective for certain types of research. 

It can be useful to consider ways to use both qualitative and quantitative methods in the same research inquiry. The Delphi Method is a good example of a mixed method that can strengthen the data collection process, analysis, and findings of a research effort. 

Refine Design With Qualitative Research

Qualitative research enables a deeper examination of what is important to consumers, as it relies on the use of the consumer's own voice and language. In this way, a truer picture of the consumer's experiences and perceptions is revealed. Use of qualitative research as a foundation for a quantitative inquiry makes it easier to select metrics that are a good match for consumer interests.

The information gained from a qualitative inquiry can inform the methodology. For instance, consumer input can suggest a more precise sampling plan that includes stakeholders who might otherwise have been overlooked. Considerations can be optimized by applying knowledge gained from qualitative processes to quantitative methods. For instance, qualitative data can highlight the importance of recent experiences, or pinpoint the time during the purchase process that the respondents are best able to answer questions about their choices. 

Evaluate a Survey Pilot With Qualitative Research

When creating a new survey questionnaire, pilot test the instrument to make sure that respondents follow the survey logic, that the questions make sense to them, and that they are not bailing out of the survey because of question fatigue. This information is best collected by listening directly to the respondents who have participated. 

Following the techniques employed by user experience experts, the questionnaire designers can go through the survey item by item with the respondents. Designers can gain in-depth information about the items' wording, the survey intent, and the extent to which questions were perceived as leading or intuitive. 

Qualitative Research Can Clarify Quantitative Findings

If some of the quantitative information is not clear during the data analysis phase, the researchers can screen and identify respondents who might shed more light on the results. With some online survey tools, the researchers can use a chat function to gain clarity at the moment when the respondents are providing answers. Using a modified member check technique common to qualitative research, the investigators can discuss the responses that participants provided to learn why they responded as they did. 

Qualitative data can help answer the questions that clients and decision makers have about the quantitative research, providing rich descriptions and specific illustrations that enhance the quantitative data, which can strongly add value and utility to the survey. 


Johnson, R. B., Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Turner, L. A. (2007). Toward a definition of mixed methods research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1(2), 112–133.

Surowiec, B. (2015, June 15). Better quant through qual: How qualitative research improves quantitative research. Clear Seas Research.