Everyone has something they want or need to know. We find the answers to these questions through research. Research happens every day, big and small, whether through a full-fledged survey with hundreds of respondents, or a simple web-search for nearby restaurants, it’s all research. For the more extensive questions, research becomes a question of approach. While a large research project can be daunting there is one simple question you can ask to point you in the right direction—what do I already know? Before diving into a massive research project, you should always make sure you don’t already have the answers you need on hand.
When your answers aren’t on hand, the primary question becomes—is primary research is right for you? Primary research is an attempt to find something new, secondary is an attempt to glean relevant data from information that already exists—it is the difference between asking the questions and searching for pre-existing answers. Primary research can be timely for smaller projects and is fully customizable, but it also comes with a higher cost and effort. Meanwhile, secondary research has a low cost of entry, and can often be completed in-house, but limits the possibility of unique findings.
While the customizability of primary research may sound appealing, you should never be doing primary research just for research’s sake. There is considerably more value to research being done in the name of real unanswered business questions as opposed to research done because “it should be.” If you are doing research for no reason other than needing research, secondary research is the way to go.
If, after all this consideration, you decide you do in fact need to do research, and it has to be primary research, you have a new question to ask yourself—qualitative or quantitative research? The basic difference between qualitative and quantitative research can be found in their names, qualitative research is about the qualities of the information (the details), while quantitative is about the quantities (the numbers).
Qualitative research is used to test intangible objectives, for questions of why, and details about reasoning, processes, and feelings. The central concept behind qualitative research is that it is more in-depth detail; it can be used to unlock the drivers behind customer decisions and opinions, explore processes within populations, or to guide product design or launch strategies. On the other hand, qualitative research is not necessarily suitable for estimating aspects like sales or consumption volumes among target populations, showing trends, or summarizing demographic characteristics of a population.
Quantitative research is used to test objectives that are easily quantified, to find the numbers in the data. While there is variation between methods, all quantitative approaches produce numerical data of some kind. Quantitative research is good for creating benchmarks and predictive models, developing a metrics driven narrative about population, reviewing and measuring impact and awareness. On the other hand, quantitative research is not suitable for adding the “who” or “why” to observations, concision, or zeroing in on the feelings of underserved populations.
In short, all of these questions, come down to what you are looking to find, new information or pre-existing, numbers or details. It is easy to decide that you need research, what is more difficult is making sure that you are spending your budget on worthwhile research with clear objectives and measurable results. You can have your questions answered through research as long as it is well thought out and gives you the answers you need.