“The thirty-year war between qualitative and quantitative researchers still flares up in the form of the occasional skirmish with minor injuries on either side, but, on the whole, truce has been declared and happily we are beginning to see signs of co-operation and respect between followers of the two religions. Religions they are, since defenders of either side can still be fanatical and irrational in their denouncements of the other and completely blind to the weaknesses of their own faith.” — Wendy Gordon and Roy Langmaid, Qualitative Market Research (1988).
Though the “paradigm wars” between qual and quant is a thing of the past, the above quote alludes to the fundamentally different perspectives that underlie these disciplines. Market researchers often describe themselves as either quantitative (quant) or qualitative. And though the two research forms support one another in addressing business issues, they differ in virtually every aspect of the research process — the type of problem each can solve, the method of sampling, the approach to collecting information, as well as the techniques of analysis. These differences are outlined in Exhibit 4.1.
The objective in qual is to describe, examine and explore issues, which usually leads to the expansion in the scope of the investigation. Quant on the other hand deals with measurement and validation of hypothesis; it often leads to closure.
A qual focus group constitutes a small sample that is selected for a specific purpose. In comparison, in quant, since measurement is the intent, samples need to be carefully designed and configured. The size of a quant study sample is determined by stipulated accuracy standards, and tends to be relatively large, representative and comprehensive.
The qual advantage arises from quality of content, specifically in terms of its diversity of information. Verbal and non-verbal exchanges, expressions, actions and reactions … all these forms of communication contribute to the wealth of the information that is captured in focus groups, depth interviews and other modes of qual research.
The richness of content allows for the examination of relatively complex issues by tapping the conscious and rational, as well as the subjective and emotional. Qual strives to peel off the outer objectivity that engulfs issues and delve deep into the subjective core; to comprehend not only what people say, but what they actually mean.
The qual framework and process is relatively fluid and relies on implicit models of evaluation and interpretation. On the other hand, the theories, concepts and processes in quant tend to be explicit and fixed.
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