Quantitative and qualitative research: pros and cons

Performing some user interviews at Torresburriel Estudio

User research is a key part of everyday’s work at Torresburriel Estudio, no matter the way it is performed: interviews, online surveys, focus groups

However, it is important to correctly set your aims and objectives. This will help you not only boost your productivity, but also to help your users not to be frustrated. If not, you will be wasting time and money, thus reaching to inappropriate conclusions.

Our piece of advice: take your time to find the most suitable users for your research as well as to adapt to your client’s needs. Tailor your plans depending on the product you will be researching on, digital or physical.

However, in today’s post we will focus on the differences between quantitative and qualitative research and the pros and cons of each one.

Pros and cons of each methodology

Quantitative research is often associated to methodologies that include surveys, analytics or experiments where the researcher is willing to know certain aspects of user behaviors that can be measured statically. It is very important to avoid any bias, specially if it may affect the project itself or user selection.

You can find on this article at The Interaction Design Foundation a fantastic example using a user group’s exercise habits: if using quantitative methodology, you can craft an online survey and submit it to a wide number of people who will answer questions such as how many hours do you exercise weekly?

If you did your work well and you collect data about the people getting your survey, the collected answers will help you to get interesting numbered information about exercise habits.

On the other side, if your approach is qualitative, you can interview a limited amount of users, and ask them about how, when, when and how much they exercise per week. Not only that: as you can ask over and over again to your users, depending on the questions and your attitude, you will get some information that will be processed and interpreted under the point of view of the person conducting the research and report.

Qualitative analysis is not suitable to measure objectively the reality if we want to avoid researcher’s point of view on the matter, but we need this methodology to know and understand users’ perspective, as well as to dissect the tests and reach to conclusions.

This can lead to some usual false statements:

  • Qualitative research is worse than quantitative.
  • Qualitative research doesn’t need any specific preparation as we you only need to observe/talk to users.

If you are an experienced researcher, you know neither of them are true.

Which methodology is the best for your project?

Though sometimes it seems we take the qualitative approach because we don’t have either the time or resources to perform a quantitative analysis, qualitative methodologies are a good strategy to consider if you don’t have too much information about the topic of the research.

Its flexibility (e.g. on interviews) can make your findings easier to understand, as well as to maximize your results on a test or even on an entire research stage. Qualitative research can help a deeper understanding of a subject that is impossible to be represented by numbers and to get more details about a situation or user’s answers.

You can always ask again or appoint the user for an extra interview. And this will be less time-consuming than quantitative research, making it easier to fit in your iterative processes.

However, both can and must be combined in all our research processes. If we think of a think aloud test, you can qualitatively analyze user behavior, reactions and task solving, but you can also measure time to finish the tasks or reaction time.

Adding this quantitative analysis will help not only to improve your research, but also will add an objectivity layer, which will help your client to better understand your conclusions.

At Torresburriel Estudio, we work designing digital products, enhancing customer experience through research and user testing. If you are looking for help from UX professionals, contact us.

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Torresburriel Estudio

Torresburriel Estudio

User Experience & User Research agency focused on services and digital products. Proud member of @UXalliance