Ask the ordinary man on the street what the definition of research is and he’ll likely give you a blank stare, more so if you ask him to differentiate quantitative and qualitative research. But most people would be able answer if you asked them if they preferred working with numbers or words. Both have a place in surveys, but too often the terms qualitative and quantitative are used interchangeably, and the wrong method is applied.

Take knife violence as an example: if you want to find out if a knife amnesty programme can help reduce violence there are two approaches you can take.

Let’s look at the Quantitative vs Qualitative research methods.

You can approach it through qualitative research, which means taking a deep look at issues and attitudes involved. The word qualitative pertains to ‘quality’ data and in this case, you can gather data by interviewing people who have been convicted of a crime involving knives. For instance, you can ask them questions on why the program didn’t prevent them from getting convicted, what was their childhood background and if the crime was premeditated or not.

On the other hand, you can also use quantitative research for the problem at hand, either by looking at census data or other government published statistics, or you can capture the data by implementing an automated survey such as those available from VIRTUATel. In our knife crime example, you can look at the crime rates before and after the amnesty came into play, how many people from different age groups or geographies were impacted, and explore difference by looking at the mass numerical data.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is basically an exploratory type of research that is used to gain a deep understanding of a subject. In this kind of research, the researcher is able to get a lot of insights into a problem.

Good qualitative research can be worth its weight in gold to companies. Companies can learn what their customers or prospective clients think and feel about their products and service, firms can find out how their branding influences customers, marketing teams can find out which marketing messages have the most impact on their consumers.

In market research, there are lots of issues and concerns that can be addressed by qualitative research.

Qualitative research can be done in the following methods—interviews, focus groups, and open-ended questions.


  • Don’t need a large number of participants to gather a lot of data
  • Can be conducted over a short amount of time
  • Topics can be explored in depth
  • Interviewees can dictate the question paths


  • Small number of participants can mean inaccurate results
  • Results and interpretation depends on the skill of the interviewer
  • It can be very expensive

Quantitative Research

On the other hand, quantitative research is used to look at a problem or topic by examining empirical data which can be transformed into usable statistics.  As well as looking at existing data, such as crime statistics, data can be gathered proactively through methods such as automated surveys. These can also be done through the traditional clipboard-and-pen, over the phone, through emails, or via the web.

Respondents can be randomly selected, with the aim isof getting a representation of the general population, or the population you are sampling.  The population may also be that of call-centre agents, other employees or a specific customer sector.

In the corporate world, quantitative research is often utilised by companies to find out if there is a market for their products and services. Firms can find out how many people are interested in buying their product and service, the buying habits of their customers, and the changing needs of their target market, amongst other topics.

Automated surveys are also used extensively to gather real-time quantitative research data immediately following a contact centre or field visit event. Adding metadata to this research means that the ability to cross-reference and do deeper root cause analysis, which makes for a very powerful quantitive tool.


  • Extremely objective, as long as the questions are phrased well data can not be misinterpreted
  • With a large enough sample, the data is extremely accurate
  • Data can be collected in real-time
  • Generally, less costly, both in terms of deployment of researchers and production of the research assets, such as printing of questionnaires


  • Requires a large number of participants to get a representative sample, the larger the better
  • Won’t yield in-depth results, unlike qualitative data

So What’s the Answer?

For the best results, combining a large quantity of data with some quality in-depth research, a combination of quantitative and qualitative can be applied.   For example, by cycling questions among the recipients, automated surveys can collect both quantity and quality data.

In our knife violence case, researchers could study the crime statistics to wield a huge amount of data as to whether knife violence was reduced when the amnesty program was implemented. You could compare data from areas where it had been implemented and where it wasn’t, and see if there was a difference in the knife crime rate. But that wouldn’t tell you why the amnesty had or hadn’t worked.

For that, you could interview those previously convicted of knife crime to see why they participated in the program. Was it because they knew they wouldn’t be arrested? Because they were influenced by their peers? Was the advertising of the amnesty effective? These are the kinds of questions that would be useful to get long and in-depth answers on.

Whilst you may not be involved  in reducing violent crime, it’s worth considering a combination approach in collecting data on your business. It doesn’t have to be Quantitative vs Qualitative data, it can be Quantitative and Qualitative data.

As a specialist in the area of automated surveys, VIRTUATel has loads of additional resources on all survey issues, which you can find here.

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