MythTrouncers Episode 1: Quantitative research is better than qualitative, and vice versa.
3/1/12 / Holly Russo
Myth: Quantitative research is better than qualitative (or) qualitative research is better than quantitative.
As a gal who holds qual research so near and dear to my heart, my initial reaction to the first half of this myth is to lean back in my desk chair and yell dramatically, “Noooooooo!”
But in an effort to remain professional, I shall take a deep breath and propose that, as any good researcher would tell you, there is a time, a place, and a purpose for each of these approaches to understanding your various constituents. Google “qualitative research” and the first search result will send you to the Wikipedia page on the topic. It’s tough to talk qual without contrasting it with quantitative research, as the Wiki page does, but it boils down to the type of information you’re trying to get. The widely accepted rule is that quant research helps you learn what, where, when, how many, and qual research helps hone in on the how, and why – mostly related to decision-making behaviors.
So you can see why one might be preferable in one situation but not another.
I think I’ve noted the ‘quant is better’ school of thought (perhaps because I’m sensitive to the assumption) in situations when we are working with a client who must take the results of the research and present them to decision-makers – and really, most of our clients must do just that. And I understand. It’s different going to your manager with numbers and statistics with margins of error than it is going with quotes from a focus group. You don’t have a way to prove the accuracy of your qualitative results. Even when you’re working with a smart, reputable firm, qual research is tricky…but it’s the only way to dig deeper than those survey responses allow.
The fact is that there are certain situations in which there’s very little substitute for qual research, nor is there for quant. They’re a good team to help you answer all sorts of questions. So next time, before you scoff at the suggestion of a focus group, or poo-poo the recommendation for in-depth interviews, just consider what you’re trying to learn. And for goodness sake, find someone bright to guide you to the right research methods, and conduct it well.
I’m thinking we can declare this Myth TROUNCED. What do you think?