In our previous blog this week, Starting a Research Project, we introduced the basics to beginning research and also proposed two main methods of research: qualitative and quantitative. In outlining key elements of these two methods, we hope to help you best understand what research approach will work best for your project. The effective graphic above illustrates the basic difference between quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research collects and studies measurable quantities (things we can count) in order to provide data for analysis. Examples and applications for quantitative research will be considered in our next blog post.
In using this graphic, we can see that in contrast to quantitative research, qualitative methods focuses on analysing the behaviors, opinions, and reasons of a particular group. Quantitative research considers the social, political, and cultural context of a set of questions through analysing the experiences and responses of research participants. In effect, while quantitative research studies a particular environment or social phenomena, qualitative research studies how and why people behave within that environment.
There are three main methods generally used within qualitative studies: participant observation, focus groups, and structured (or semi-structured) interviews. Participant observation is rather straightforward and usually includes a prolonged period of time spent in the ‘field’ observing the subject of your research. This particular method could be difficult to undertake from a business perspective and not necessarily as useful as the other two methods.
Focus groups usually consist of between 5-10 people and prompt a focused but open discussion about a specific topic. Utilising the graphic above, we could conduct a focus group asking people to discuss how they would respond to an offer of free ice cream. Focus groups allow for a larger collection of data and can also help in comparing participant reactions from different demographics. It is important to note that people involved in research projects – having been informed of their rights and obligations through the ethics process – are aware of their participation and therefore can perform (respond or react) differently in a group or individual setting, with the knowledge that their responses are being recorded.
The final, and perhaps most in-depth qualitative method is the one-on-one interview. This method is often used to follow-up with specific participants from a focus group in order to gain more insight (and data) regarding their experiences and responses. There are many important considerations regarding the structuring of your interviews. Where will the interviews take place? What questions will you ask and how? Interviews can therefore range from highly structured exercises to informal practices and unorthodox approaches (such as walking interviews, thought exercises, and oral history techniques).
Participants will respond differently to each technique and you should use your overall research aim to guide your methodological approach. Each individual method will produce different results, which will be able to help answer your key research questions. Abbey Research is designed to help your company achieve the best results and has extensive experience in both qualitative and quantitative methods. Feel free to contact us for further information about our range of services.