A simple way of distinguishing ‘qualitative’ from ‘quantitative’ is to look at the origin of each term’s Latin root word. Qualitative undeniably evokes ‘qualitas,’ which lends to the quality of responses your organization might receive in a qualitative study. Although, ‘quantitative’ only reminds us of ‘quant,’ or ‘quantity,’ measurable and quantifiable data is also quality data.
Sometimes it can be tricky deciding between conducting a qualitative study or a quantitative survey to meet your research goals. But aside from the linguistic rationale, there is an easier way to differentiate the two study types, and it is probably best explained by describing their meeting point within the context of a research program.
Enter, a problem, or query, or perhaps, a hypothesis.
“We encourage clients to come to us early in the research process, when they’ve identified a need or problem,” contributes Director of Primary Market Research, Laura Clark.
Let’s say an association wants to create a new content area for their annual conference. This is a two-pronged ask and may start with a qualitative study and then be solidified with a quantitative survey. Here’s one approach we may take with our partners:
- Generate a study that promotes a conversation about content areas of interest. This type of qualitative study is essentially a discussion with the membership conducted in a focus group or one-on-one interviews.
- Review results of the qualitative study, which will likely reveal a few content areas of interest. Our consultants will synthesize the responses and present tightened up summaries with infographics or other visual media for efficient interpretation.
- Generate a questionnaire with closed questions to quantify interest in each content area. This type of quantitative survey can be released to a larger audience, such as members, former members, or potential members.
- Review the results and reveal which one content area is most favorable.
Closed-ended questions can only be answered from a predefined set of responses, such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, rating scales, or selecting from a series of response options. Quantifying the initial qualitative responses will determine the highest-ranking content area that is the most suitable for the said association’s next annual conference.
Quantifying feedback from a qualitative study can be an important step to confirm that an offering or an idea resonates with the membership as a whole and not just with a subset of vocal members.
However, not all organizations come to Vault at the same starting point. Some clients have a ‘gut feeling’ and want to make decisions right away after a qualitative study.
These are the types of studies that are based off of potential solutions that clients have been mulling over for quite some time and want to, “get a gut check that it is good to go down that path,” says Clark.
An example of this may be when an association wants to create a new content area for their annual conference with a preconceived notion of what their members are looking for.
Clark adds, “we have a lot of clients that never get to the stage of quantifying. We do qualitative research on how they want to improve their annual conference and decisions are made. Part of that comes in designing who you’re talking to. You must make sure you’re not talking to people who look the same, [but rather] you’re talking to a wide selection.”
Alternatively, some clients start with quantitative surveys and then want to penetrate the surface beneath one or two questions and take a deep dive.
In this case, a qualitative study could follow a quantitative survey. Karen Taylor, Director of Marketing, manages large-scale quantitative survey programs for manufacturing associations and playfully admits that the less restrictive component of qualitative studies is appealing. “A qualitative study is more interesting. It is more of a conversation. You get a different type of insight with open-ended questions,” remarks Taylor. She also contributes that sometimes clients opt to gather opinion data along with quantitative data on benchmarking programs.
For Vault’s research group, there is no ‘this or that.’
Sometimes, there are grey areas that need to be tailored to meet research goals. Organizations do not have to know exactly which type of research they need prior to reaching out to a Vault consultant. Although some organizations may know what type of research they want, it is ok to be curious about which is the best approach to take that will satisfy the end goal.
There are times when quality is king; other times, quantity takes the casting vote, and, sometimes, you just need two to tango.
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