Qualitative research is as important as quantitative research and should never be abandoned or underestimated. In fact most of the times, researchers would rather start with qualitative research techniques such as interviews right before formulating the research approach because qualitative research can provide researchers rich insights that could shape up the approach. Qualitative research however has its demerits too, but let’s discuss the merits of qualitative research before listing those demerits.
Merits of Qualitative Research:
- Provides more depth than information found in quantitative research: Open ended answers, long conversations, discussions and explanations shared by an interviewee or a few focus group participants can be very insightful and can offer information and ideas beyond what researchers could’ve captured through surveys and secondary data. In fact, in many situations, interviews and focus groups could even provide solutions or perspectives that management and researchers never ever thought of, or capture crucial factors that could’ve been left out by quantitative research. In rare occasions qualitative research could help management and researchers reach a satisfying conclusion to their research and decision problems.
- It enables research participants to express better: In many cases, surveys can limit or – even worst – blind guide participants and not allow them to share information and knowledge freely. In addition, quantitative research has a tendency to simplify the real world. In fact, researchers often consider respondents comfort and do their bests to make data capturing as convenient as it could for respondents (especially in commercial and consumer products and service related research). For instance, the more complex a survey about dairy products, the less excited respondents will be about filling the survey. However, qualitative research techniques can offer participants more freedom and a better chance to express their feelings, experiences, stories, ideas, suggestions and understanding of the subject enabling researchers to capture complexities of the real world.
- Have a dynamic, interactive and flexible framework: Surveys and other quantitative research techniques are designed, developed and once their set, printed and distributed they are difficult to change. However, qualitative research offers researchers, moderators, interviewers a chance to interact with participants, react towards participants’ answers, revise their methods, and keep improving their methods until best practices are spotted and utilized.
- Can be less expensive, sometimes: In certain scenarios, it could cost researchers less to get information through qualitative research techniques such as interviewing a small sample of existing customers, or employees, or experts than conduct a nationwide survey. There other creative techniques that researchers can use and gather information without spending so much money too. But one must admit that there are scenarios where qualitative research can be as expensive even more expensive that quantitative research. For instance, conducting focus groups with participants that are CFOs of top 50 brands in Saudi Arabia.
Demerits of Qualitative Research:
- Involves small samples that can not represent populations: This is probably the most weakening factor of qualitative research results and could be the most frequent reason managers would not take these results for granted. Qualitative research is only affordable and cost-effective when sample sizes are small, otherwise, they become drastically expensive when larger numbers of participants or respondents are involved. Therefore, when participants are as low as forty, twenty, ten or one, their inputs will only represent themselves as individuals and cannot represent a wider audience, segment or group with common demographics characteristics. Therefore, researchers cannot generalise qualitative research findings and managers must not allow to use these findings as a basis for a larger population.
- Cannot quantify answers: If a respondent answers a question saying “Most people like the color blue” researchers cannot replace the word “Most” with 99% or 95% or 90% or 80%, because that statement is a subjective and the word “Most” can be subjective too. When gathering open ended answers that vary in length, quality and even relevance to subject it is often difficult to aggregate and quantify these answers into a solid statistic or visualize results in pie charts and bar charts. Not only that researchers will need sufficient amount of samples to create stats with high confidence levels, but also will need more time spent to analyse answers, accurately interpret it and create a consensus that accurately reflect gathered answers.
- Easily influenced by researchers: Sometimes researchers, interviewers or moderators can be opinionated or – even worst – unskilled, and can easily influence discussions or intimidate participants or confuse interviewees.
- Can be rejected by management: Research can always be rejected because of politics that occur on top and middle management level. Quantitative research can be viewed as more concrete and can stand strong against managerial politics, however, qualitative research can be easily exposed, vulnerable and weakened by management when management is in opposition to qualitative research’s conclusions.
- Can be difficult to manage: It was extremely difficult to find 20 Saudi female teachers of the age between 25 and 35 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, back in 2008 when I wanted to arrange for a focus group session to ask these ladies about their investment service needs. Back then, a permit from the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice was required to conduct such activity. Today, we still face the same challenges when wanting to conduct face-to-face interviews. For many reasons, culture specific and non-culture specific, conducting qualitative research techniques can be more difficult than conducting online surveys.
Although there is no standard order for which type of research to conduct first, however, I would more likely advice to start with qualitative research. As mentioned above, it can be very insightful and enlightening to an extent where it can have a very positive impact over qualitative research and the researcher’s understanding to the problem in hand.
Disclaimer: The post above is a homework submission in response to a request to “Write a short essay on the Merits and Demerits of Qualitative Research” during Marketing Research class in the MBA program at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.