What is a Survey and What Types of Surveys are Qualitative vs. Quantitative?

  • 6 min read

If you’re new to the world of creating surveys, you might have a few questions about what a survey is and different types of surveys. At SurveyPlanet, we give you the tools you need to create any survey. We also want to help you understand how to create better surveys that serve your distinct purposes. Read below to learn more about surveys and what makes them qualitative vs. quantitative.

What is a Survey?

A survey is a method that gathers information from a select sample of people. You then use the responses from surveys to gain insights and data that enable you to draw conclusions about a subject. In a survey, the sample size represents a larger population. There are two different types of research: qualitative and quantitative. The different types of research you want to gather determines which kind of questions you will ask.

What is a Qualitative Survey?

A qualitative survey is one that collects data to describe a topic. In other words, the survey is more interested in learning about opinions, views and impressions than numerical data. Qualitative surveys are less structured and work to gain insight into the way people think, what their motivations are and their attitude towards your topic. These types of surveys are more difficult to analyze, but they can bring much-needed depth to your research. Qualitative surveys give you the answers to “why” and “how.”

Benefits of Using a Qualitative Survey

For the most part, qualitative surveys are completely exploratory. Their main purpose is to understand the way your group thinks, their opinions and their attitudes about a particular topic. During the analysis phase, you get to analyze every word they write to form a hypothesis about their answers.

Although this type of survey is great for learning more about personal opinions, it’s best suited for small sample sizes. This means the conclusions you draw aren’t exactly a representation of your audience, only a small portion of it.

Despite small sample sizes, qualitative surveys are essential for identifying weak points in your business. You can then use the weak points you identify to create related questions for a quantitative survey. Oftentimes, these questions are not asked without first doing qualitative research beforehand.

Examples of Qualitative Research

There are many different ways you can use qualitative research. To start, qualitative questions are often used in interviews, which collect data from one person about one topic. If you want to send a survey to your company asking about job satisfaction or company culture, interviewing a few employees beforehand is a good place to start. This way, you have an idea of what topics you should bring up in your survey as well as follow-up questions. Think of qualitative surveys as a way to gain insight that will help you create a comprehensive quantitative survey down the line.

Another example of qualitative research is a case study. Case studies are like interviews because they collect data from one source and focus primarily on opinions. If you want to use a case study as a marketing technique to attract more customers to your business, you can conduct a one-on-one interview where you ask the participant a series of questions about your business to showcase on your website later.

Expert opinions are another example of qualitative research. You might want an expert to weigh in on a topic you’re interested in. When you collect an expert opinion, you’re once again gathering insight from one source about a specific topic.

Another example of qualitative research is focus groups. With focus groups, you ask a small sample size for their opinions on a certain subject. Focus groups allow you to gauge reactions in a setting that’s a free-flowing discussion. This is a great way to test a new product or marketing strategy for a small audience.

You can also collect the same type of information by giving a qualitative survey. Instead of sitting down one-on-one with participants, you would ask the questions in a survey with a short answer box for them to express themselves.

What is a Quantitative Survey?

A quantitative survey collects facts and numbers from the data. It’s most commonly used to prove or disprove a hypothesis you might have drawn after completing qualitative research. The analysis phase looks at the statistical data to draw conclusions like proving or disproving your hypothesis. Choosing the right type of survey to send to your sample depends on what you want to achieve from your survey.

Benefits of Using a Quantitative Survey

There are several benefits to choosing a quantitative survey to collect data. For one, a quantitative survey allows you to test and check the conclusions you draw. The analysis phase is usually straightforward since it involves looking at numbers. You don’t have to analyze short written answers or look at which adjectives a participant used to describe something. There are no opinions or detailed answers involved.

On the flip side, quantitative surveys aren’t always ideal because they require a larger sample size to come to a credible conclusion. For example, if you send a survey to 100 people but your store has millions of customers, it’s safe to say that the answers of your 100 participants don’t represent your entire customer population.

Examples of Quantitative Research

You can conduct quantitative research by giving one of two types of surveys. The first type is a cross-sectional survey. This type of survey gives multiple variables to analyze during a particular time period. It’s most common in the health care, retail and SME industries.

The other type of quantitative survey is a longitudinal survey. It’s common to conduct this type of survey over a certain time period that can be anywhere from days to months to years. Its purpose is to observe changes to behavior or the thought process over time. For example, you could study the buying habits of a teenager through their adult years. This type of survey is ideal for long-term feedback on services or products, or when a certain sequence of events is important.

When to Use Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research

So when do you use a qualitative survey vs. a quantitative survey? You should use qualitative research when your main objective is to understand motivations, opinions or to gather insight to create a hypothesis to test with quantitative research. You should use quantitative research to quantify data and to measure findings from qualitative research. The data you gather from quantitative research will usually allow you to come to a conclusion, while qualitative research only allows you to draw a hypothesis.

If you’re ready to test qualitative or quantitative research yourself, create a survey to get started. SurveyPlanet has lots of different themes and premade surveys to help you get started. Start gathering insight into your burning questions and drawing conclusions. Sign up for a free account today! If you want to gather more insight and further expand your research, our Pro plan gives you access to even more features like question branching.

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