Quant or Qual?

Understanding each research methodology.

The age old question, should I use quant or qual research? Well, for me, the most important thing is you’re doing research. Yes, we’ll try and unpick which research methodology is best a little later on, but for now, I applaud that you are taking time to speak to your audiences at all. Whether this is your first time, or you’re working hard to integrate research into your process as often as you can, taking the time to understand real thoughts, needs, pain points and moments of joy will pretty much guarantee that you’ll make better decisions with whatever you’re creating, than if you didn’t speak to anyone at all.

Before we delve into how we choose a research methodology, let’s create a shared understanding of each one.

Hands holding an ipad, looking at an online survey.


Quantitative research focuses on gathering data, most often numerical through indirect sources, such as surveys or by using analytics tools. It can be perfect for understanding ‘what’ people are doing and answering questions like how many and how much.

Examples are; surveys, analytics reviews, A/B testing.

A group of people talking and sitting in a circle.


Qualitative research focuses on generating data about behaviours or attitudes based on hearing them directly from your current or potential audience. This method is much better at uncovering ‘why’ people are doing certain things and figuring out how to fix a problem. 

Examples are; 1:1 sessions, focus groups, diary studies.

So now we have that down, this is the bit where I tell you which one, right? Well, no, because more often than not, it’s actually both. Bear with me, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.

Choosing your research methodology is heavily dependent on the research question you’re trying to answer. And this should always be your starting point.


Creating a clear statement of what you are trying to achieve at the start of your project will not only help you shape how you are going to achieve that objective, it will also give you a really useful tool to share with stakeholders. Here’s a simple structure to follow:

We want to better understand how our audience [think about / make decisions on / interact with] [subject of research / product] in order to [create / improve] [product / website / service].

Example – We want to better understand what our existing supporters think about the experience of volunteering with us, in order to create a compelling and successful volunteer recruitment campaign. 

Nailed it, now what? Now we break that down into our individual research goals.


Our research goals should cover the different aspects of the overall objective that we need to understand. I’d suggest limiting yourself to 3 goals to ensure you can cover everything. Taking our volunteering scenario above, here are some research goals we may want to consider:

Now we’re getting closer.


Taking a quick glance back to our definitions, we can see that as the majority of our research goals focus on answering questions like ‘why’ our audience do something and how they ‘feel’ about it, qualitative research should be our primary methodology. 

The most popular qualitative research method is 1:1 interviews. Where you sit down with one of your supporters and have a conversation about the topic in a 1:1 situation. This is the method I’d choose to answer most of our research goals. This is driven by the fact that we are looking to hear personal experiences and uncover thoughts and emotions about a topic, therefore creating a safe space for participants to share this without others is vital. 

But why can’t I ask people how they feel about something in a survey, I hear you ask. Well you can, but there are a couple of reasons why it’s not quite as good as human interaction:

  • Humans have an automatic mental model when approaching a survey, it is expected to be quick, easy to complete and have a range of potential answers laid out for us to select from. This means we tend not to fully engage our brains to think beyond a surface level response. And we’re scanning at speed.
  • If we want to ask a qualitative question in a survey, like ‘how do you feel about volunteering?’ We are relying on the respondent to type a detailed response into the answer field that, if spoken, would probably be quite long, thus placing additional cognitive load on the respondent when their brain hasn’t prepared them for this (see note above).  This often results in more surface level responses, for example – ‘it makes me feel good’ or ‘I find it rewarding’. Both valid responses, but we now have no opportunity to ask the all important follow up question that will delve much further into the motivations and values that drive behaviour – ‘why?’

I said at the start, we usually need both quantitative and qualitative methods, so how would we use quantitative research to answer our goals?

Our 1:1 interviews will more than cover research goal 1 and 2. And, if you’re using an insight first approach to creating campaigns like we do, you will use all of the data gathered about how it feels to volunteer and what drives our supporters to give up their time, to create a range of campaign materials. You would then use quantitative research as the secondary methodology to answer goal number 3.

Here, you have a couple of options.


You could run a round of creative testing using a survey. Displaying messaging, creative and imagery separately, getting feedback on each element. And then showing everything together (like a finished advert, for example) to gather consensus on which ones resonate the most.

A/B testing

Alternatively, you could run some A/B testing once the campaign was live. This involves showing slightly different variations of your campaign materials to different sets of people to see which one performs best. It is important to note, if you do choose this route, when running an A/B test be sure to only change one thing on each test i.e. run two adverts that are identical apart from the headline. That way you will be able to isolate exactly which headline performs best. This approach takes slightly longer as you are just changing one thing at a time, but you should quickly see what’s working.


If you’ve read this far through the article, I’m hoping you feel like you have a structure you can use to help you plan your research and choose which method to use. I’ve given a couple of examples here of both qualitative and quantitative methods but there are lots more to explore *makes mental note for next article*.

But my main piece of advice is – give it a go. Start small, test what works and what doesn’t. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn when you have the confidence to ask.

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