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Quantitative vs Qualitative Research

There are two main types of user research: quantitative (statistics: can be calculated and computed; focuses on numbers and mathematical calculations) and qualitative (insights: concerned with descriptions, which can be observed but cannot be computed). These two research methods complement each other using both you can get results that are both wide-reaching and deeper.

To get the best results from these methods in your surveys, it’s important that you understand the differences between them. Let’s go and have a look.

The definition of quantitative research

Quantitative research is primarily exploratory research and is used to quantify the problem by way of generating numerical data or data that can be transformed into usable statistics. Some common data collection methods include various forms of surveys – online surveys, paper surveys, mobile surveys and kiosk surveys, longitudinal studies, website interceptors, online polls, and systematic observations. This form of user research may also include analytics, such as Google Analytics. Surveys are cost-effective, flexible, and allow for researchers to collect data from a very large sample size. Quantitative research is a methodology that provides support when you need to draw general conclusions from your research and predict outcomes.

The definition of qualitative research

Qualitative data collects information that seeks to describe a topic more than measure it. Qualitative researchers seek to examine deep into the topic at hand to gain information about people’s motivations, thinking, and attitudes. This type of research measures opinions, views, and attributes. Qualitative research methods usually involve first-hand observation, such as interviews or focus groups. People and groups are studied in their natural setting. Researchers study things as they are without manipulation—there are no experiments and control groups. The data can be collected using diary accounts or in-depth interviews and analyzed using grounded theory or thematic analysis.

When to use quantitative vs. qualitative research

Quantitative data can help you see the big picture. Qualitative data adds the details and can also give a human voice to your survey results. A rule of thumb for deciding which research methods to use is:

  • Use quantitative research if you want to confirm or test something (a theory or hypothesis)

  • Use qualitative research if you want to understand something (concepts, thoughts, experiences)

Which type you choose depends on whether you’re taking an inductive vs. deductive research approach; whether you’re doing experimental, correlational, or descriptive research; and practical considerations such as time, money, availability of data, and access to respondents. But again, these two research methods don’t conflict with each other. They actually work much better as a team.

How to analyze qualitative and quantitative data

Qualitative or quantitative data by itself can’t prove or demonstrate anything but has to be analyzed to show its meaning in relation to the research questions. The method of analysis differs for each type of data.

Quantitative data is based on numbers. Simple math or more advanced statistical analysis is used to discover commonalities or patterns in the data. The results are often reported in graphs and tables. Applications such as Excel, SPSS, or R can be used to calculate things like:

  • Average scores

  • The number of times a particular answer was given

  • The correlation or causation between two or more variables

  • The reliability and validity of the results

Qualitative data is more difficult to analyze than quantitative data. It consists of text, images, or videos instead of numbers. Some common approaches to analyzing qualitative data include:

  • Qualitative content analysis: Tracking the occurrence, position, and meaning of words or phrases

  • Thematic analysis: Closely examining the data to identify the main themes and patterns

  • Discourse analysis: Studying how communication works in social contexts


Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group feels that in the case of UX research, it is better to emphasize insights (qualitative research) and that although quant has some advantages, qualitative research breaks down complicated information so it’s easy to understand, and overall delivers better results more cost-effectively.

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