Each research question requires its own way of researching. For some research questions, the answer is best found by doing qualitative research. For other inquiries, quantitative research is more appropriate. But what exactly do qualitative and quantitative research entail? In this blog, I will explain this to you.
Qualitative research is aimed at obtaining information about what matters and why. It provides in-depth information by examining the underlying motivations, opinions, wishes, and needs of the research group.
The following methods are appropriate for qualitative research:
- Individual in-depth interview or a Duo interview;
- Group discussion;
- Mystery guests.
Quantitative research focuses on quantity. It gives you numerical results about a specific group. To speak of representative research, you need a minimum number of participants within your target group who give their opinion. For this, you can draw a sample. When this sample has a specific size and characteristics (depending on the research question), statements can be generalized to the entire target group.
For quantitative research, a (digital) questionnaire/survey is primarily used as a method. The answers from the questionnaire are then processed in a data processing program (e.g., Excel or SPSS), after which you can conduct analysis and calculation. Percentages and numbers usually describe the results.
In my next blog, I will explain for which answers it is best to do qualitative research and when, on the contrary, it is wiser to choose quantitative research.
The range of research methods on offer is enormous, so you can sometimes not see the wood for the trees. That's why I give you a handy overview of different research methods in this blog. With some of the research methods, you will find a link to a blog with more information.
In this overview, I characterize quantitative and qualitative research methods. Would you like to know more about these? In my previous blog, 'When to choose: qualitative research or quantitative research,' you will find information about the difference between these two types of research.
- Group discussion: Conversation or discussion with several people about one or more topics.
- Individual interview: Structured or unstructured conversation with one person in which you go into detail about one or more topics.
- Literature Review: Research in which you use research, theories, and information already available (e.g., from a library or on the Internet) based on a problem statement.
- Mystery visitor: Research method in which you use experts who behave as customers or visitors and assess the quality of service or organization.
- Observing: Observing actual behavior and recording responses.
- Questionnaires: Recording data and opinions of groups of people using a pre-prepared questionnaire. You can have this questionnaire completed digitally or in writing by a large group of people.
- Tear tickets: A research method in which you get a large group of people to answer one question quickly. This can, for example, be done by giving the audience a piece of paper with a statement on it before a show. After the show, the audience can indicate whether they agree or disagree with the statement by making a tear in the piece of paper.
- Existing source research: conducting research using existing datasets of quantitative data that other researchers have already collected. You then use the dataset again to answer a new question.
- Informal conversations: During an informal conversation that is already taking place, you will ask a few specific questions. You record the answers afterward and repeat them to multiple respondents. The respondents are not aware that they are participating in a survey.
- Ten-minute interviews: Short interviews to find out about respondents' experiences, opinions, and motivations. It is stated in advance how long the interview will last. You can use a timer.
- Tracking: following respondents (e.g., visitors to a museum or customers in a store) through a distinct area. This can be done through the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth of their own devices, but also with a device that you give to respondents, with which you follow them.
- Logbook: A document (digital or written) in which you have visitors or participants record events and specific data.
Observation is a method of finding out and recording actual behavior. You choose the observation method to determine how activities, programs, or projects are received and when you want to register spontaneous reactions. While observing, you make an objective report of what you see; there is no direct contact with the respondents. I give you some tips on how to observe effectively:
- When observing, use an observation list. With a structured observation list, you consistently record objective information, and you can quickly analyze the collected data.
- While observing, show an open and inquisitive attitude. Avoid jumping to conclusions about behaviors. Make an objective report of what you see.
- Name or record verbatim what you actually see happening, not what you think is happening.
- Don't just look at random gestures. A loose gesticulation doesn't say much. Its meaning becomes understandable only when combined with other gestures and signals.
- Depending on the situation, make it known that you will observe people, for example, if you will follow them during the activity.
- Combine observations with a (short) interview to indicate what you have seen.
- By making many observations, you can make representative statements about your research topic or group with supporting figures.
- The observers should be given clear instructions so that everyone records the observed in the same way and that interpretation of observation is avoided. To make different observers equal, you can do the first observations together.
- When observing, you can use all kinds of technical aids. There are various tracking devices on the market, but you can also consider a stopwatch to help you measure how long someone is using something.
- Always observe and consider the circumstances. If someone is standing in a cold room with their arms tightly crossed, chances are they are not defensive and closed, but simply cold.
- Make a schedule of when to observe in advance and do so at different times under different conditions so that the picture you get is as varied and complete as possible.
- Disrupt the situation you are observing as little as possible. Thus, do not talk to those being observed and be as inconspicuous as possible.
In my previous blogs, I explained how to determine the right research question and how to choose the proper research method. The next step in the research process is data collection. While gathering data, there are several things you need to keep in mind. I'll give you some tips:
- Determine your research population. It is not always necessary to interview everyone to get a representative picture. Especially in the case of large numbers, such as the voting behavior of all Dutch citizens, a representative sample is drawn.
- Keep a close eye on representativeness while collecting the data (in quantitative research). Does everyone in your sampling actually cooperate? If your subgroups are not equally represented, you can still question the missing respondents or decide to leave out a particular subgroup.
- Check whether you have enough information, especially in qualitative research. If this is not the case, you can conduct an additional interview.
- The data must be registered in a way that the data is clearly arranged and ready for analysis. Having a large pile of completed questionnaires is in itself insufficient for analysis. The best way to register results depends on the research method you have used.
Individual and group interviews allow you to find out a lot. For example, about the impact of an activity, the course of a program, or the influences of different actors.
But how do you get the most out of your interviews?
- Make sure you are talking to the right people. Thoroughly explore your options in this respect. Who can answer the questions you have? What perspectives are out there?
- See if interlocutors can complement each other (group interviews) or tell more when they are alone (individual interview). When conducting a group interview, make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak.
- Make sure your interlocutor(s) feel at ease. Provide a pleasant space and beverages. Provide anonymity if necessary. Be polite and respectful to your interlocutor.
- Make sure your questions are consistent with your research topic and your interview questions are all-inclusive.
- Prepare your interview by formulating questions that are attuned to what your interlocutors know.
- In an introductory narrative, tell who you are, why you are conducting this research, your research question, who your client is, whether it is anonymous or not, and what the interview is essentially about.
- Formulate your questions in a way that your interlocutor understands them.
- Stay objective. Keep your opinions to yourself.
- Let your interlocutors finish speaking. Three seconds of silence does not mean that they finished speaking. They may want to think about the rest of the answer.
- Pay attention to your interlocutor's body language.
- Try to make the interview as natural as possible. Don't read the questions from your question list. Make a connection with what has already been said. Don't interrupt your interlocutor only to return to that topic later. At the end of the interview, check whether you have asked all the questions.
- Summarize your interlocutors’ answers so that they know you have understood them correctly and so that they hear the mainline repeated.
- Appeal to your interlocutor's responses.
- Monitor the time and adhere to the agreed-upon time. It is frustrating if you have not been able to ask some of your questions because your interlocutors have to go to their next appointment.
- Explain what happens to the conclusions of the interview. Also, explain what you will do with the report made of the interview (e.g., the audio recording). Will you use it only to refer to it yourself, or will you also publish it or hand it over to your client? In the latter two cases, make sure you give everyone feedback on the report.