Generally, when you perform research you use quantitative questions. While occasionally comment boxes are used when appropriate, numbers are far easier to analyze than long comments, are far more likely to generate an answer, and give you a tool that you can use to draw conclusions with very little doubt. Quantitative data is far more valuable to many researchers.
Yet there is a movement within the research world about giving more value to qualitative questions on surveys. That is because with the right coding methods in place, you can still get analyzable data from the qualitative answers that can be used to help your company. In addition, qualitative information can have value even beyond the quantitative survey, and that data may be even more valuable to your company in the long run.
Problems with Qualitative Data
Before we begin, however, it’s important to recap some of the problems that occur with qualitative data. It’s certainly not the perfect research method and has a lot of issues that can contribute to poor analysis or data collection. Some of these include:
- Survey Length: Qualitative answers take respondents much longer to answer. If you have many of these types of questions in one survey, you run the risk of making the survey take too long and cause too much of an inconvenience for some people, and the dropout rate can be very high. Learn more on how to increase response rates.
- Coding Problems: Coding requires at least two individuals that understand coding techniques, and even that can cause problems if the way you code the data makes it less valuable, or if you give too much credence to some aspects of the data that don’t deserve that much attention.
- Written Communication: Most people, especially when filling out a survey online, are poor writers that do whatever it takes to type quickly and get the question over with. How valuable is that data going to be to your company?
Qualitative data can cause some serious issues with data collection and can easily lead to problems with how to interpret the results. For market researchers, that causes it to lose a lot of its value. But that certainly doesn’t mean that it always causes that problem, because what it can do is give you insight in a way that isn’t provided by quantitative surveys – primarily because the information you receive isn’t limited to how you designed the survey.
Here’s an example:
The best example would be market research on new features. Normally with a quantitative survey, you need to have an idea of what features you have already thought about creating, and then research what the customers think of those ideas. However, if you ask a qualitative question such as “What features would you like to see on our product?” you may have a respondent that provides an answer you never before considered. It’s that lack of limitations that give the surveys so much potential, provided you get responses that have that value. Essentially it allows your customers (or employees, or whoever you decide to survey) to think outside the box for you, and come up with potential ideas and solutions that your company can easily benefit from.
How to Integrate Qualitative Surveys
Adding qualitative questions to quantitative surveys is a start, but the best way may be to run a completely separate survey using qualitative questions. Many researchers choose to run these surveys first. They collect data and ideas from their customer base and use them to create their overall quantitative surveys, exploring the ideas set forth in the qualitative data further.
For companies looking for the next great idea this may be the best option. It essentially allows you to use customers like employees and find information for your company. Yet you will need to make sure that you make these surveys very short. Get in, get the information you need, get out. Otherwise, you’ll get a lot of responses that are either rushed or have a high dropout rate.
Adding these questions to quantitative surveys still works, and is something you can consider, but you’ll only be making the survey longer and you may affect your results by potentially suggesting ideas that don’t allow your customers to think outside the box. Still, if you choose to go this route, don’t forget that you can use that data to create a new quantitative survey and find out how valuable the qualitative information you received actually is.
The key here is to remember that qualitative data does have its flaws. But these flaws don’t make it useless, and indeed it is possible to benefit greatly from these types of surveys if you know how to use the data correctly. Here’s more on the difference between qualitative research and quantitative research.