Differences between qualitative and quantitative research

Qualitative and quantitative research methods are widely used in marketing, but they can often be confused or misused. Although many people are aware of these terms, what do they actually mean, and more importantly, what can they tell us? So, let’s look at the differences between qualitative and quantitative research.

To start with, it’s not the case that one is ‘better’ than the other. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Both data methods can be powerful when done correctly and they are often used together to provide a full picture for researchers.


Differences between qualitative and quantitative data

Quantitative research in a nutshell is numbers and data! Think spreadsheets and anything that’s recorded as a figure that’s an ‘established’ fact. This kind of data helps easily identify trends and patterns and can be simply compared and measured. It’s often referred to by researchers as ‘quant’ data.

Qualitative data refers to ‘non-data’ related information. Think open ended questions, opinions, interviews or even observations of behaviour. From this research we better tell why the data is the way it is. The shorter term for it is ‘qual’ data.


Examples of qual and quant research

If you were to weigh yourself daily at 8am for one month, you’d have a month’s worth of quantitative data. The number on the scale, regardless of whappens in that month, is the data that is recorded. It’s simple to collect and to read, and we can put that into a graph or presentation and draw conclusions for this. It’s handy to be able to present this to a group of people and have them digest this data for themselves.

We can expand on quantitative data alongside this, to improve the accuracy. So for example we might ask those who are weighing themselves if they are trying to lose weight or not (Yes/No). This still counts as quantitative as it’s a closed question – we can still record this data on a spreadsheet – ie option 1 or 2. We could go further and ask, on a scale of 1-5, how hungry did you feel today? While this is giving us more data we can draw conclusions from, it’s still qualitative and almost ‘narrow’ in its approach.

Quantitative would be trying to ‘dig deeper’. For example, ‘what did you enjoy most about your meal’ or ‘how could we improve the service in the restaurant’. These open ended questions give us information into the psychology behind answers. From this, we can try to spot similarities between answers – although compared to quantitative data it can be more difficult to ‘present this’ into a digestible format. It may be used to help drive changes over a period of time or put yourself into the psychology of why something is the way it is.  


Comparing both types of research

Going back to our restaurant review – using qualitative and quantitative research together, is where we really start to see the power of the data when these two methods are used together. 

For example, on the quantitative side we could ask ‘on a scale of 1-5 how was your experience at the Data Soup Restaurant’? And ‘would you return again’ (Yes/No). 

This may end up with a high score for experience, but we could see a low score on the return. While this still gives us ‘good’ data we are left drawing our own conclusions as to what the data is telling us. Was the food good but the service poor? Was the food and service good but the price point expensive? We may end up with more questions than answers, and could end up making knee-jerk changes using only quantitative data.

To really understand the psychology behind the data, ideally we’d want qualitative research combined with quantitative. Perhaps we could ask these follow-up questions: 

  • What was the most enjoyable aspect of your visit?
  • What could have been improved? 
  • What would make you return again? 

This can now help bring up any issues you may not have been aware of that is skewing the qualitative data. 

If we were bringing this up in a presentation to the Soup Data Restaurant manager we could now identify any trends and patterns using the quantitative data, and recommend changes after picking out any qualitative answers. 

We could then go even further by following up with visitors about their experiences in an interview. For example, if they mostly had a poor experience, but would return again, it may be a particular server who needs better training rather than the service overall. If we did not use these data sets together we could end up making assumptions that it’s the service as a whole.

You may save time in the short-term using one data set, but this could end up costing you time and money in the long run if you don’t use both sets of research available – even though one set can tell you lots! 


Qualitative market research with Acumen

At Acument, we are leaders in qualitative market research and fieldwork in the UK. We relish the opportunity to find participants who will really light up your project. And we can design and manage a host of qualitative market research options for you, including focus groups, interviews, workshops, and custom and stakeholder events.

Our case studies will give you a close-up view of the work we do in qualitative and quantitative research. And take a look at our team of researchers, project managers and data analysts who will relish the opportunity to work with you on your project.


Unrivalled for quantitative research

Our experience spans across all methods; from on-street data capture to managing online communities and product placement trials. 

One thing that sums up our work is the care and attention we put into your project. We have a number of industry awards for our quantitative research agency services. 

We do all of our work in-house, keeping our fieldworkers alongside our data team.

This combination of knowledge and resources allows us to deliver meaningful insights regardless of your budget or timescale. 

Find out more about the quantitative research services we offer and get in touch with us for a quote or discussion about your research requirements and how we can work together.


We strive to create long-lasting partnerships with our clients, growing with them on every project while delivering the same high quality fieldwork. 

Talk to us today about all the qualitative or quantitative research methods we offer, and how we can help you achieve the results you need.