Choosing Methodology

Choosing A Methodology: Qualitative vs. Quantitative

When considering the best methodology for an upcoming research project, one of the first big steps is deciding whether to do qualitative or quantitative research.

  • Qualitative research (such as focus groups, ethnographies, shop alongs, etc.) is used to explore initial reactions, ideas, and concepts associated with new products or services.
  • Quantitative research (such as online surveys, phone surveys, etc.) is best used after the qualitative research has established the foundational issues for the business problem at hand. It is meant to quantify these ideas and concepts on a macro level, to understand their prevalence within their consumer audience.


While qualitative research can be more expensive due to its requirement of spending more time in-person with respondents, it is highly valued for the ability to probe deeper into respondents’ perceptions and reactions. Quantitative research may be relatively cheaper, but it is limited in its ability to provide new ideas, as the pre-designed survey instrument forces respondents to choose only from answers that are already coded into the survey. Thus, the data reflects the assumptions of those who design the survey, not necessarily the reality of respondents. When choosing which methodology to move forward with, researchers should consider whether their research needs are exploratory or conclusive.

Exploratory research projects are the first wave of research for a new product, concept, or idea. For example, a beer company is developing its first line of wines. Once they’ve finished refining the different wines they plan to sell and have developed the brand imagery, they’re ready to test the wines among consumers. Since they’ve never made a wine before, quantitative data will not be able to provide them an accurate projection of how the wine will perform in the market. The Research Manager creates a plan to bring in 3 different focus groups, of 4 respondents each, and these participants will taste each of the wines, provide feedback on the taste, and then assess the brand imagery related to the wines. The information they receive shows them that 2 of the wines do very well in terms of taste, and 1 of the wines tastes so bad that participants thought it was from a different brand. The brand imagery lined up with their associations when they considered the tastier wines, but the weaker wine was an outlier and created confusion.

Thus, the beer company decided to only sell the 2 wines in their initial product launch. For conclusive research projects, the qualitative research has already been done, and the researcher knows the ways in which consumers are behaving with their product in the market. Now, the researcher needs to do quantitative research to identify the frequency and magnitude of behaviors. For example, a gaming company has released a new patch for one of their most popular games. This game has been around for a long time, and they’ve a great deal of research in the past to understand how people perceive and play the game. The Research Manager decides to run a quantitative study based on an online survey to learn about fans’ perceptions of and experiences with this new game patch. They learn that the game is largely well received, but there’s one sequence that many think is poorly explained and the narrative is confusing. The product team releases a fix for the patch, and then continues to develop the next version of the game.

Choosing the correct methodology for a project is an extremely important decision, and it is imperative that researchers consider their current knowledge of the topic, research goals, and action steps before choosing a qualitative or quantitative methodology. If the topic is deemed exploratory, qualitative research is required. If the researcher already knows what data needs to be quantified and how to measure it, then he should proceed with quantitative research.