Researchers conduct quantitative research to establish a relationship between one variable and the other, in other words, the independent and the dependent variables. There are two common research design used in quantitative research: descriptive and experimental. A descriptive quantitative research study tries to establish a connection between two variables, whereas an experimental quantitative study seeks to establish causality.
Related: Qualitative research
The central tenets of quantitative research are as follows. The findings are typically collected by the use of more structured quantitative research tools. The findings are built around a large participant sample size that is ideally representative of the overall population. Quantitative research is easy to replicate which gives it a higher validity as opposed to qualitative research methods. For quantitative research, researchers aim to find more objective findings and data from the participants. Each and every tool that is used in quantitative research is very carefully planned, thought out and structured. Findings that are obtained from quantitative research are usually in the form of statistical figures and numbers. Because of its objective nature, quantitative research findings can predict better by establishing causation.
Things to look out for when conducting a quantitative research
It is critical that objectivity is maintained throughout a quantitative research. Researchers would usually avoid tainting the findings because of their presence and critically assess the findings for any signs of bias from them or the participants involved in the research. Researchers should also work hard on maintaining the validity of the study and making sure that they are only measuring what they say they are measuring.
There are also wide arrays of external variables that can affect the findings of the study and should be controlled by the researcher. In certain cases, where it is impossible to completely remove a confounding external variable from the study, the researcher should acknowledge its presence and how it may have affected the findings of the study.
Another central aspect of quantitative research is deductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning means that your approach will gradually narrow down from being too generic to being specific. This guarantees that the hypothesis or the argument being made at the beginning of the study are accurate. Most researchers, however, would incorporate inductive reasoning at certain points in the research.
Researchers should also strive to make their sample or participants as representative of their target population as possible. This involves careful planning and using an effective selection process. To get maximum accuracy for their findings, researchers often go for random sampling. It is also important that the study’s findings are not only generalisable in terms of the people involved in it but also situational. This means that the study should be as high on external validity as possible. External validity being how close findings of the research is to real life.
Purposes and uses of quantitative research
There are many purposes of quantitative research; however for market research here are some of the most important ones:
- It helps researchers know whether or not there is an actual demand or market for the product or services that the company is offering.
- Tell the researchers if your target consumers are already aware of your brand.
- Give a close approximate of the number of people who are willing to avail your product or service.
- Identify your most ideal target demographic.
- Give a glimpse of your target consumers’ purchasing behaviour.
- Identify the change in market trends and patterns.
Main methods used in quantitative research
The main methods used in quantitative research are:
Survey methods collects data gathered from responses given by the participants through questionnaires. These questionnaires are usually close-ended and do not require the participant to spend time elaborating their answers. Survey questionnaires should be easy to understand and quick to answer. Researchers usually dispatch survey questionnaires via post or by hand. However, nowadays there are cheaper and more convenient ways of distributing survey questionnaires. Surveys are one of the preferred methods for quantitative research because it gives objective data and can reach a huge number of people. One of its downsides is that participants usually do not take surveys seriously and therefore, there is no way for the researcher to vouch for its validity unless if other methods are used alongside it to rectify this disadvantage.
Tracking is simply following the behaviour of the participants and observing them until you can create a pattern. This is most commonly used by websites who deploy trackers that will let the servers know your internet surfing habits and send you advertisements according to your interest based on the websites you frequent the most.
Tracking is slowly becoming a popular method that is used by market researchers. There is also a significant progress on the technology that allows for researchers to track customer behaviour. Tracking may give you a good insight as to who your customers are, but some of them may not be comfortable with the idea of being tracked and may view such methods as an intrusion of privacy.
Quantitative researchers also make use of experiments wherein they manipulate one variable to produce a change in the other variable. The data and findings that emerge from experiments are highly valuable especially for product testing, trying to find out how people are reacting to certain tweaks to an already existing product, consumer decisions, effect of your new advertising campaign and gauging the pricing of your products or services.
Experiments surely give reliable and valid findings. However, they can be expensive and time-consuming because of the amount of variables that you intend to control. Nowadays, market researchers are trying to formulate methods and techniques that are more cost-efficient than conventional experiments.
The best way to know what people think about your product or service is by asking them in interviews. A structured interview involves a set of questions that the researcher has already planned and thought about before the meeting and only these questions will be asked to the participant. This is the opposite of open-ended interviews wherein the participant is encouraged to be as descriptive as possible, and the researcher just picks up on things that the participant said that they think should be probed further. Open-ended interviews flow in a conversational manner, whereas structured interviews are to the point.
Structured interviews are easier to quantify than open-ended interviews because structured interviews limit the answers that are allowed to be given during the interview. With the data gathered from a structured interview, the researcher can then come up with a quantitative data by turning their responses into, say, percentages or give it a numeric value. It will be easier to cross-check responses from different sets of participants and emerge with a more conclusive finding that is borne out of straightforward answers from the participants. Despite this, structured interviews still have some disadvantages. Due to its straightforward nature, there is no way for researchers to know the motivations and reasons behind the participant’s answer.
Main critiques of quantitative research
There are a lot of advantages in doing quantitative research. Quantitative research first and foremost is a cheaper than qualitative research. Most of the methods can be done without needing a large amount of funding, unlike other elaborate experiments. It can be argued that only relevant information is filtered through quantitative research. However, this claim varies from one research to another because every research has different aims and objectives. If you are looking for straightforward findings, quantitative research is better suited for your needs. Another advantage of quantitative research is that it is easier and less time consuming to conduct. Lastly, the results obtained are easy to convert into quantifiable data which is easier to understand, analyse and present.
For the findings to be valid, the researcher should make sure that they establish the correlation and causation. There are two major issues that affect the validity of the study: internal and external.
Internal validity can only be achieved if the researcher measures what the study claims to measure. Threats to internal validity can come about from experimental procedures, treatments and the varied backgrounds of the participants that prohibit the researcher from making a generalisable understanding of the findings.
External validity is critical when it comes to quantitative research findings. It is crucial that the findings of your study can be generalised to the population that you have intended the study for. One way of ensuring this is by gathering a representative sample from a bigger chunk of the population and across different groups such as financial, educational, religious and racial background. If your sample is not representative of the population, your findings would be of no importance whatsoever.
Lack of detail
This is probably one of the biggest criticisms of the quantitative study. Yes, quantitative studies give you results that are easily quantifiable and analysed, but at the same time, you let go of crucial details and information in the process. Regardless of the kind of hypotheses you have, or the kind of study you are conducting, details are important in understanding data and when presenting it. The process of quantifying data may mean that you are compromising on important details. The methods employed for quantitative research also has the same criticisms.
Structured interview and questionnaires
Structured Interview and Questionnaires are one of the most popular methods or tools used in quantitative research. However, by using these methods, the researcher is not able to probe deeper into the thoughts of the participant and may not be able to find out why the participant has given the answer that he has given. Details and motivations as to how consumers make decisions are highly important especially for market research. These types of methods can also lead to the participant feeling intimidated and alienated. The presence of the researcher in the room might also bring about demand characteristics wherein the participant gives the researcher the answer they think the researcher expects of them.
Some people are uncomfortable in sharing intimate details with strangers, especially researchers. Regardless if the questionnaire wants them to explain in detail or if it’s in a yes or no format. Self-report questionnaires put the participant at ease that they are answering the questions on their own volition and their identities are kept secret.
However, the information derived from a self-report are not always reliable. There is a high probability that they were answered quickly and was not taken seriously by the respondent. Self-reports also do not allow the participant to be more flexible and elaborative in their responses.
Surveys are a very popular method in quantitative and even qualitative research. Surveys may be cost-effective and time efficient, but the results derived from surveys risk being invalid. This problem comes about when the respondents are not truthful in their response, the researchers have surveyed the wrong population, or they have asked the wrong question in the survey which makes it invalid. Surveys should, therefore, be taken from a large number of people and the questions asked should be well-formulated and not misleading.
Tracking is probably one of the most effective methods that can be used to obtain quantitative data. However, the ethics behind this method has been questioned time and again, who sets the guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is an invasion of privacy?The line that separates both is fine and should be treated carefully. Another question that the researcher should ask himself when he decides to use this method is whether or not it is worth the result and how much deception is required. Debriefing the participants after the study is necessary.