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Pros And Cons Of Qualitative Research vs Quantitative Research

Updated: 18 hours ago

A business man weighing up the pros and cons of qualitative research vs quantitative research

In this post, you will learn the pros and cons of qualitative research vs quantitative research along with the differences and discover how both types of research can help and be applied to different business situations from ethnographic research to online surveys.

Table of contents:

The table above shows the advantages and disadvantages of using qualitative research and quantitative research.

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The difference between qualitative and quantitative research

The main purpose of qualitative research is to explore the in-depth behaviour, opinions and attitudes of a small group of individuals in a more open manner instead of strictly following a set of questions. These tend to be face to face in-depth interviews or focus groups, where people can discuss the subject at hand openly with guidance from the interviewer.

While quantitative research is where results can be measured by numbers, which is easy to pick up and understand for those making the decisions. These quantified results are gathered by interviewing a large group of people (from 50 running into the 1000s) that is a reflection of the whole population you are targeting. Hence with a larger sample size, statistical analysis can be applied to provide better consumer insights such as predicted behaviour, best price levels and key drivers of buyers’ decisions.

Other than exploring attitudes and behaviour in detail, qualitative research is also used to test adverts, develop concepts and new products and build a picture of the market. Whereas quantitative research is used more for market measurements such as the number of people who use a product or service, awareness, consideration, preference, segmenting the market and how likely are they to buy.

Pros and cons of qualitative research

Pros of qualitative research

Explores attitudes and behaviour in-depth

Explores attitudes and behaviour in-depth as it’s more on a personal level and can delve in detail to gain a better understanding of their views and actions to generate or examine a hypothesis in more detail.

Encourages discussion

Encourages discussion as it’s more in an open manner instead of strictly following a fixed set of questions. In this way, it gives the research some context rather than just numbers.


Flexibility, where the interviewer can probe and is able to ask any questions around the subject matter, they feel is relevant or had not thought of before during the discussions and can even change the setting.

Cons of qualitative research

The sample size can be an issue

The sample size can be an issue if you are taking the opinion of 5 people out of 300 of your customers or subscribers as a generalisation.

Bias in the sample selection

Bias in the sample selection, meaning the people you are selecting to take part in the qualitative research may all have a certain opinion of the subject matter rather than a group of people with mixed views, which is more valuable particularly if they are debating with opposing views during focus groups.

Lack of privacy

Lack of privacy, if you are covering sensitive topics then people taking part may not be comfortable in sharing their thoughts and opinions of the subject with others.

Whether you are using a skilled moderator or not

It is of vital importance; the moderator is skilled and experienced in managing the conversations of groups as well as being knowledgeable enough of the subject matter to ask relevant questions that may have not been thought of.

Pros and cons of quantitative research

Pros of quantitative research

Larger sample sizes

Larger sample sizes allowing for robust analysis of the results, so you are able to make more generalisations of your target audience.

Impartiality and accuracy of data

Impartiality and accuracy of the data as it based on the survey questions for screening, grouping and other hard number facts.

Faster and easier to run

Faster and easier to run particularly online and mobile surveys, where you can see the results in real time.

Data is anonymous

Data is anonymous especially with sensitive topics through self-completion exercises like online surveys.

Offers reliable and continuous information

Offers reliable and continuous information where you can repeat the survey again and again weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly to gain consistent trend data to help you plan ahead or investigate and address issues.

Cons of quantitative research

Limited by the set answers on a survey

Limited by the set answers on a survey, so you are unable to go beyond that in delving in more detail the behaviours, attitudes and reasons as you do with qualitative research. This is particularly true with self-completion surveys (online), where there is no interviewer probing you even if you include a couple of open-ended questions.

Research is not carried out in their normal environment

Research is not carried out in their normal environment, so can seem artificial and controlled. Answers given by participants are claimed and may not be their actual behaviour in real life.

Unable to follow-up any answers given following completion of survey

Unable to follow-up any answers given after they have completed the survey due to the anonymity of the participants. This is especially true for validity of the findings if the results are inconclusive. Although you can ask at the end of the survey if they would like to do a follow-up survey but not all participants may agree to do so.

So when can qualitative and quantitative research be applied

Generally qualitative research is used for exploratory purposes to get a picture of what is going on or examining a hypothesis that can be tested later on. Although it can be used independently through a series of depth interviews and focus groups to explore concepts such as ideas for advertising or new products.

While with quantitative research you can gather measurable results that you can draw insights from and take action where needed like there is a drop in the number of visitors to your website page, which may be tackled through redesign of the webpage or promotions.

Read this post if you want run a survey - 5 Best Survey Maker Platforms To Consider Using

Qualitative and quantitative research is best utilised when they are combined and split into phases. For example, phase 1 could be exploratory research with qualitative research and then in phase 2 this is followed up with quantitative research to test the hypothesis that came up in the first phase. A post phase of qualitative research can be applied if there has been redesigns of the concept or to identify experiences after an event.

There are advantages in combining data and information from both methods where you can reap the benefits from the advantages that both methods have as well as countering the limitations through this hybrid approach. This is achieved through:

  • Enrichment by identifying issues not found in quantitative research

  • Examination via generating a hypothesis that can be tested.

  • Explanation through bringing the results to life by understanding any surprising results from the quantitative data.

Below are the most popular types of research within qualitative and quantitative research that you can use to achieve your objectives and answer questions you may have.

Main types of qualitative research methods

The three key tools of qualitative research are:

  • Focus groups – this is where a group of 5 to 10 people at a set location or on a private online forum discuss a topic of interest who have been pre-selected via screening to take part in. These group discussions are led by a person moderating the group.

  • Depth interviews – are one to one interviews that are either conducted face to face, over the phone or through video conferencing apps like Skype and Zoom. This allows the participant to talk at length in a more open manner and is especially good for sensitive topics. The interviewer will use a discussion guide to follow a relatively unstructured list of topics.

  • Ethnography and observation – are a fly on the wall way of listening and observing the behaviour of participants in certain real environments like shopping at a supermarket. Is great to capture the actual actions of participants rather than what they claim to do in a survey.

Key types of quantitative research methods

The 3 most popular methods of quantitative research:

  • Online surveys – is without a doubt the most popular type of research especially amongst consumer research as it’s quick, easy to do and relatively cheap compared to other methods. The great thing with online surveys is it easily accessible for everyone to take part in whether that’s on a laptop, mobile or tablet and can be on a website or survey links through social media and email. Plus, you can check out the results in real time.

If you are interested in creating a survey, quiz or online forms you can try JotForm which is a easy to use interactive platform to set up surveys from scratch or have customisable templates to get you started with.

Also there is free eBook available called Jotform for Beginners that you can download and will explain the different features available to save time and boost productivity with all kinds of online forms for apps, stores, pdf, tables and more.

  • Telephone interviews – due to advancements in technology this is now used more for business to business research and interviews tend to last between 15 to 30 minutes. The advantage of this method is you have an interviewer who can probe or clarify any answers to open ended questions.

  • Face to face interviews – these are normally conducted in specific situations like shopping malls, exhibitions and the high street. As it’s more time consuming, costly and higher a security risk for interviewers, makes it the least popular method to use.

  • Social listening - is a form of secondary research where you can track, listen and respond to mentions about a brand or key topic on social media and elsewhere on the web. You can read more about it in this post - 3 Social Listening Tools To Consider

If you want to find out more how market research can help you, check out the posts below:


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