A new era in market research continues to gain momentum and with it the definition for the term “qualitative” might change, especially if we keep in mind that some tools are used by both qualitative and quantitative researchers, and the types of data collected have expanded and even overlapped. This is the topic at the linkedin NewMR group and part of their conclusions you can read below.
Today, researchers can collect large amounts of text, images, and videos, and these large amounts can be collected from the same sorts of samples that are used for quantitative studies. Using social media and mobile devices allow vast quantities of unstructured data to be collected.These changes have made data that has been traditionally the preserve of qualitative research available to quantitative researchers. At the same time the growth of techniques such as online discussions, MROCs, mobile diaries has resulted in many qualitative projects collecting semi-structured data, with some going as far as using survey software to collect their data.
The changes in the range of data collection options available to researchers mean that it is often not possible to describe qualitative research (or quantitative research) in terms of the tools used to collect the information. For example the same software can be used to collect 10 in-depth mobile dairies as a part of a qualitative project, or 3000 quantitative diary sets.
The difference between qualitative and quantitative research lies in the analysis. Qualitative research depends on applying human understanding and is based on creating a story from the data. Usually the human understanding, i.e. the mind of the researcher, engages with the data that were collected (e.g. text, images, artefacts, etc.) rather than with the outputs of automated processes. Quantitative research depends on using an algorithm to produce numbers that can be projected to a relevant group.
When qualitative analysis is being conducted, the data has to be restricted to the amount that can be handled. This is why most qualitative research is based on small data sets, rather than the analysis being qualitative because there is less data. However, quantitative tools can be used to augment the qualitative analysis process, for example software that helps organize, tag, and sort text, images, and videos.