When do I use Qualitative vs. Quantitative research methods?

When do I use Qualitative vs. Quantitative research methods? #

In your research projects you daily work with two different methods to collect and analyse data:

UX Research Methods Tools-Attitudinal vs Behavioural methods?

What is Quantitative research? #

Quantitative research methodologies are all about numbers and statistics. You look at answering questions such as “How many?” and “How much?”.  This method is conclusive in its purpose, it is used to quantify opinions, attitudes, behaviours, and other defined variables with the goal to support or refute hypotheses about a specific phenomenon by looking for projectable results to a larger population. You measure and uncover patterns such as behaviour, motivation, emotion, and cognition.

You present your findings and insights in figures and graphs. Your main goal with utilizing quantitative methods is to test and confirm your theories and assumptions, which helps you to establish generalizable facts about your chosen topic.

For example:

  • 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

Most used quantitative methods include:
experiments (situation in which variables are controlled and manipulated to establish cause-and-effect relationships.)
observations recorded as numbers (Observing subjects in a natural environment where variables can’t be controlled.)
surveys with closed-ended questions (online, in person, or over the phone)

What is Qualitative research (exploratory research)? #

Qualitative research methodologies are all about words and interpretation. You look at answering questions such as “Why?” and “How to fix?” to gather in-depth insights on topics that are not well understood. By definition this research method is all about exploratory, which means it is used when you don’t know what to expect, to define the problem or develop an approach to the problem.

You present your findings and insights in the form of quotations and anecdotes. Your main goal with utilizing qualitative methods is to understand concepts, user thoughts or experiences.

For example: 

  • 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

Most used qualitative methods include:
interviews with open-ended questions (online, in person, or over the phone.)
focus groups (gathering a group of people to discuss around a topic to gather opinions that can be used for further research.)
ethnography (closely observing how users behave in their natural environment.)
literature reviews that explore concepts and theories.

The differences between Quantitative and Qualitative research #


Quantitative research

Qualitative Research

When do I apply it?

Apply when you want to confirm or test theories and hypotheses.

Apply when you want to explore and understand ideas, formulate theories or hypothesis.

How do I analyse it? 

You analyse through mathematic and statistical data.

You analyse by summarizing, categorizing and interpreting data.

How do I present it?

You present findings through numbers, graphs and tables.

You present findings in the form of quotations and anecdotes.

How many participants do I need?

You need 30-3000 participants 

You need  3-10  participants

What kind of questions do I choose? 

Your questions and surveys are closed (multiple choice).

Your questions and surveys are open-ended.

What are the advantages?

  • Specific research problem
  • Clear independent and clear dependent variables 
  • High level of reliability 
  • Minimal personal judgment
  • Provides a full picture and reason behind it all
  • Used to inform answers to social issues. 

What are the disadvantages? 

  • Limited outcomes due to structured method
  • Inability to control the
  • Expensive (large number of respondents)
  • Not easy to compare
  • Time-consuming to analyse 
  • Observer can be bias when interpreting 

What is the benefit of using a mixed method approach? Both qualitative and quantitative method? #

If you have the time and budget, you should always try to use a mixed method approach because a quantitative study will only answer “how?” and not “why?”. They provide different perspectives and usually complement each other, for example use surveys to discover the overall trends, and follow up with 1-1 interviews to better understand the reasons behind the trends. 

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