The official end of the neverending qual vs quant debate

August 6, 2010 | 1 Comments

It’s a question that tugs at the heart strings of many researchers. Are you a quant person or are you a qual person? You must choose only one, and you must choose wisely, because it will define who you are as a researcher for the rest of your professional career.

Your decision will determine which market research methodologies you are permitted to use.

Surveys – Just for quant people
Focus groups – Just for qualis (like @BenSmithee and @LongoMR)
MROCs – More stuff for qualis
SMR¬† – Now we’re stuck…

Actually, there is no such as thing as a researcher or a method that is just quant or just qual. When was the last time you analyzed survey data and didn’t read a single verbatim? Reading those verbatims and trying to organize them into meaningful pieces of information counts as qual. When was the last time you put together a focus group without regard for who or how many participated and then proceeded without a carefully designed discussion guide? Counting those people, counting those opinions, measuring the intensity of those opinions counts as quant. Certainly every research method, whether quant or qual, has a leaning, but every method dips its toes into each bucket, sometimes more deeply than other times.

The same holds true for social media research (SMR). Your personal style probably has you leaning on the quant side or the qual side but SMR is almost by definition a beautiful combination of the two. For those with qual leanings, you can individually review hundreds or thousands of online conversations, sort them, categorize them, and treat them as you would any qualitatively focused study.

For those whose personal leanings are in the quant direction, you can take advantage of systems which transform hundreds, thousands, or millions of verbatims into datasets that look surprisingly the same as what you would generate with a survey. Box scores, percentage scores, norms, crosstabs, and t-tests are all just waiting to be admired.

Even better, imagine the insight, yes the dreaded word insight, that you would achieve by letting both your quant and qual sides show. A qualitative approach to quantitative research. A thorough, individualized analysis of social media data subsequently quantified using standardized procedures for maximum generalizability.

How nice it is to lean both ways.


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1 Comment so far
  1. by Tom Smith

    On August 14, 2010 at 10:07 am

    And how scary it is when large companies rely strictly on analytics without qualitative insights to add context to the analytics.

One Response to  “The official end of the neverending qual vs quant debate”

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