Quantitative vs Qualitative survey questions

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Research is developed using quantitative and qualitative research methods to gain a complete understanding of the target audience’s needs, challenges, wants, willingness to take action, and more. However, the right time to use either method (or use both together) can vary depending on your research goals and needs. 

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Difference between Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Quantitative research is about collecting information that can be expressed numerically. Researchers often use it to correlate data about specific demographics, such as Gen Z being more likely to focus on their finances than Millennials. Quantitative research is usually conducted through surveys or web analytics, often including large volumes of people to ensure trends are statistically representative

Even when the survey audience is very large, quantitative research can be targeted towards a specific audience, usually determined by demographic information such as age, gender, geographic location.

Qualitative research focuses on personalized behavior, such as habits or motivations behind their decisions. This can be gathered through contextual inquiries or interviews to learn more about feelings, attitudes, and habits that are harder to quantify but offer important additional context to support statistical data.

When quantitative and qualitative research are paired, a complete set of data can be gathered about the target audience’s demographics, experience, attitudes, behaviors, wants and needs.

Benefits of Quantitative Survey Questions

Quantitative survey questions are an excellent starting point in market research, allowing a researcher to “take the temperature” of a population to ensure there is a want or need for a product or service before investing in expensive qualitative research.

Reaching bigger, broader audiences

Quantitative survey questions are best for gathering broad insights and developing basic profiles, validating assumptions about an unknown (or little known) audience. 

Mobile survey compatibility

Mobile survey environments are especially effective when closed-ended quantitative survey questions are used, as they allow for the optimal respondent experience

Statistical accuracy

Quantitative surveys are ideal when working with a control group or when there is a need for the statistical representation of a population. They can be deployed broadly and results weighted for statistical accuracy after the survey is complete.

Benefits of Qualitative Survey Questions

Qualitative survey questions aim to gather data that is not easily quantified such as attitudes, habits, and challenges. They are often used in an interview-style setting to observe behavioral cues that may help direct the questions.

Gaining context

Qualitative survey questions tend to be open-ended and aim to gather contextual information about particular sets of data, often focused on the “why” or “how” reasoning behind a respondent’s answer. 

Unexpected answers

The open-ended nature of qualitative survey questions opens up the possibility to discover solutions that may not have been presented in a traditional quantitative survey. Allowing respondents to express themselves freely may reveal new paths to explore further.

Examples of Quantitative Survey Questions

Quantitative survey questions are used to gain information about frequency, likelihood, ratings, pricing, and more. They often include Likert scales and other survey question types to engage respondents throughout the questionnaire. 

How many times did you use the pool at our hotel during your stay?

  • None
  • Once
  • 2-3 times
  • 4 or more times

How likely are you to recommend this service to a friend?

  • Very likely
  • Somewhat likely
  • Neutral
  • Somewhat unlikely
  • Very unlikely

Please select your answer to the following statement: “It’s important to contribute to a retirement plan.”

  • Strongly agree
  • Somewhat agree
  • Neutral
  • Somewhat disagree
  • Strongly disagree

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Examples of Qualitative Survey Questions

Qualitative survey questions aim to extract information that is not easily quantifiable such as feelings, behaviors, and motivations for making a choice. By asking open-ended questions, and following up with “why?”, respondents are given the freedom to express what led them to these decisions. A technique called the Five Whys is commonly used to determine cause-and-effect correlation. Some examples of qualitative survey questions are:

How would you improve your experience?

Describe the last time that you purchased an item online.

Why did you choose to take public transportation to the airport?

When you should use Quantitative and Qualitative Survey Questions

Whether or not you should use quantitative or qualitative survey questions depends on your research goals. Most often, both kinds are needed during different phases of a research project to create a complete picture of a market need, user-base, or persona.

When to use quantitative survey questions

  • Initial research. Because quantitative research is typically less expensive or time-intensive than qualitative, it’s always best to begin with quantitative surveys. These can help ensure a research project is defined for the right target audience before investing in qualitative insights.
  • Statistical data. Statistically accurate data, such as that which can be mapped to the census, can be collected through quantitative survey questions. This is ideal for ensuring an accurate sample in polling and national surveys.
  • Broad insights. Quantitative survey questions are ideal for gaining a 10,000-foot view of a market to determine needs, wants, and desire for a product or service based on demographic data that will help shape product development or marketing campaigns.
  • Quantifiable behaviors. Behavior such as how often a person visited a website page, how likely they are to purchase an item, or how much they are willing to pay for a product or service are all behavioral insights than can be gathered through quantitative survey questions.
  • Mobile survey environments. Data quality can be impacted by the survey distribution method. Because mobile devices are hand-held and mobile audiences are on the go, quantitative survey questions that offer limited answer choices and quick responses tend to yield better data quality than open-ended responses that involve typing and more concentration.

When to use qualitative survey questions

  • Gain context about quantifiable data. Research that begins with quantitative data might reveal an unexpected trend that requires further inquiry among a certain group.
  • Understand hard-to-quantify behaviors. Thoughts, opinions, beliefs, motivations, challenges, and goals can be uncovered through qualitative research questions.
  • Persona development. Personas are tools used by designers, marketers, and other disciplines to create and sell products to people based on specific motivations and interests. While these often include demographic information based on quantitative research, challenges and needs are uncovered through qualitative methods.
  • Conversational environments. Focus groups and interviews are ideal places to conduct qualitative research. Disciplines like psychology and user experience research rely heavily on qualitative questions to uncover motivations and reasoning behind certain behaviors.

It is ideal to use a mix of both quantitative and qualitative methods to supplement gaps in data. These methods can be iterative and conducted at different points throughout a research project to follow up and verify different insights gathered from either method. Using both quantitative and qualitative survey questions is the best way to holistically understand audience segments.