The purpose of qualitative research is to build a deep understanding of the problem space. Qualitative researchers are looking to understand why a phenomenon might exist, and to understand how people relate to a phenomenon. As Schuler puts it, qualitative research helps us understand things we don't already know, how people think and feel, and the factors that inform their behaviour.
Quantitative research, on the other hand, looks to quantify the presence of something we think we already know. It measures how much, how often, and how many. It's less useful for uncovering emotions, motivations, goals, or for building a high-level sense of the research space.
Qualitative research is focused, narrow, and deep; quantitative research is broad but shallow. If you have a specific question to answer, you probably want a quantitative method; if you have an open-ended question, use a qualitative method.
- Qualitative research creates mental models about the problem space.
- Qualitative and quantitative research represent different philosophies of knowledge.
- Quantitative analysis is not inherently more reliable than qualitative data
- Sensemaking articulates new perspectives and frames for understanding the world around us
Levin, Alec. “StAtIsTiCaL SIgNiFiCaNcE.” Known Unknowns (blog). Accessed October 12, 2020. https://knownunknowns.substack.com/p/statistical-significance.
Schuler, Greg. “Getting Big Ideas Out of Small Numbers.” Cooper (blog), April 8, 2020. https://www.cooper.com/journal/2013/05/getting-big-ideas-out-of-small-research/.
Yocco, Victor. “Filling Up Your Tank, Or How To Justify User Research Sample Size And Data.” Smashing Magazine (blog). https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2017/03/user-research-sample-size-data/.