This post was written by our Guest Blogger Mark Dengler who is President here at Research & Marketing Strategies, Inc. (RMS).

When doing market research, businesses often wonder whether they should conduct qualitative or quantitative research.

Qualitative research is used to explore and understand people’s beliefs, experiences, attitudes, behavior and interactions. It generates non-numerical data – for example a customer’s description of satisfaction rather than a rating using a numerical scale. Techniques like focus groups and in-depth interviews are commonly used in qualitative research fieldwork to document a variety of experiences, or in studies about how an organization is functioning, revealing views and experiences of test subjects.

On the other hand, quantitative research often generates numerical data or data that can be converted into numbers for a statistical review. A typical example would be a restaurant survey card that asks “from 1 to 5, with one being ‘very dissatisfied’ and 5 being ‘very satisfied,’ how would you describe your dining experience today?” Quantitative research often looks to obtain a statistically reliable sampling of respondents.

Quantitative research is generally better for confirming and clarifying, while qualitative research is usually better for exploring, understanding and uncovering. Often research studies incorporate components of both qualitative and quantitative research techniques. Many times, qualitative research is done first and followed up with quantitative studies. However, the reverse order is not uncommon either, such as analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each method.

While numbers don’t lie (which validates quantitative data as more efficient and able to test hypotheses), by turning surveyed individuals’ input into numbers, researchers may miss contextual detail they could obtain with qualitative research. In contrast, the knowledge produced from qualitative research might not apply to everyone – too few people are reached – but is critical in product or service design. By incorporating both techniques, researchers can obtain the numbers and contextual detail needed.

For example, using quantitative research, you conduct a restaurant survey in which a majority of diners give their dining experience a rating of 2. With the results, you know they are dissatisfied, but you don’t know why. There could be many different issues affecting diners’ experiences such as poor service, unclean atmosphere or distasteful food. Using qualitative research, you now conduct a focus group to try and understand the underlying issues and help determine a potential solution. Researchers obtain a greater understanding of that which they are researching by utilizing both techniques.

While there is a tendency to choose one or the other approach when considering “qualitative versus quantitative research,” it is more important to focus on how the techniques complement one another. Overly focusing on the debate of “qualitative versus quantitative” ignores the intimate connection between them and diminishes the value of what each technique provides.