Quantitative vs qualitative: why you need both in your surveys

When it comes to a survey, there are two types of responses you can collect. One is quantitative; the other is qualitative.

Both quantitative and qualitative response types are important for measuring how people feel. For best results, you should include both in surveys.

What are the quantitative responses?

Quantitative responses are those responses that identify definitive data. For instance, if you asked a group whether they liked roast dinner on a Sunday, you will get a set of people who said yes or no.

Quantitative data is what makes the headlines in newspapers because it presents cold, hard data that is hard to ignore. Though quantitative data does not always give the true reflection of the audience with not much you can go on.

What are the qualitative responses?

Qualitative responses are those that give lots of detail about the thinking of the respondent. They ask for information that the survey writer can not predict and there can be an unlimited number of responses. Qualitative data is more of a challenge to collect, but it can give important insights.

Qualitative responses take longer for audiences to complete. Therefore, they tend to get answered less. That is why you have to use them sparingly on surveys and only when you need the information for better business decisions.

Can you mix quantitative and qualitative data in questions?

There is no way that you can mix quantitative and qualitative data into a single question, but you can use them in conjunction with each other. For example, you can ask a respondent whether they liked something and give them a scale of one to ten to respond. Then the next question could ask them to explain their reasoning behind their answer.

You will then be able to see what is important to the respondents and what has the most impact.

In an example, if a survey asked whether they enjoyed a character in the film, the first part could be quantitative (yes, no and indifferent). However, you would want to know why the respondents liked/disliked the character. Qualitative data can collect this data. The audience could give numerous reasons.

Then when analysing the results, you can sort qualitative data into sections. So for the character question, you could group responses into dialogue, costumes, actor, believability, etc. Grouping responses will give you quantitative data from qualitative responses, but it would also give you a better understanding of general trends. For example, it would say what they did not like about that dialogue. Quantifying the data later is possible, but it takes more analysis.

What are the advantages of using both quantitative and qualitative data?

There are many reasons why you would want to use both quantitative and qualitative data within your surveys. First of all, quantitative data can give you a snapshot view of what you are trying to test. Whether you want to test if employees like working from home or if customers enjoy a new product line, quantitative questions can give you that answer quickly. But there are problems. Some research has shown that there is bias in the results; especially when a neutral option is available.

At the same time, quantitative data is easier for the respondents. Often it is just a click to give their answer. Most of the hard work is done for them by you.

However, it is never good enough to know something definitively. You want to be able to repeat the success and avoid failures. To achieve this, you need qualitative data. But qualitative data is harder for respondents. It takes time for them to think of and write responses. Therefore, you will often find that qualitative responses are abandoned, ignored or have minimal input.

But there are ways that you can improve these response rates and gain both sets of information.

How to improve quantitative responses

When working with quantitative responses, you want to ensure that giving a neutral response is not taking the easy option. There is debate as to whether to include neutral responses in surveys. Some research shows that the inclusion of a neutral option will change the conclusion of surveys.

Though it might depend on what measurement you are taking on whether you want to include it all. If you would like to measure a like or dislike to something, i.e. working from home, then you should leave it out. You don’t want to be dealing with neutral responses that don’t provide you with any information. And if given a choice, up to 20% of respondents will choose a neutral position to avoid offence or not share their opinion.

If you’re trying to get a comparison, such as whether or not the upgrade affects their use of the product, then a neutral response will be required and should be included.

The number of available responses for a quantitative questionnaire should also be limited. You should have no more than ten options for the audience to select as fewer options are better.

How to improve qualitative responses

When it comes to improving qualitative responses, you have to think about the question itself and the number of times that you’re asking it. Avoid bias language when you’re asking the question. So don’t ask what ‘someone liked’ about a product; instead ask about ‘what they thought’ about the product.

You need to limit the number of qualitative questions to just one in five questions. Any more than this and customers or employees could abandon the survey.

When creating a survey, use qualitative responses

If you’re worried about not getting enough data from your surveys, remember that it is better to collect more responses. Increasing the number of responses will limit bias within your survey results and allows you to have more data to make business decisions.

You should use qualitative responses to help you format your next survey. For instance, if you noticed that employees were saying in a qualitative question that they felt their company wasn’t offering them enough support at home, you could use this as a basis for the next survey.

It is important to note that audiences prefer to answer more, smaller surveys than fewer yet longer surveys. The latter is deemed too time-consuming.


You should use qualitative and quantitative data within surveys. Used together, they can help you collect more data, be more accurate and help with business decisions. These types of questions will be useful when you format your next survey, allowing you to get the data you need to take the business to the next level.

If you want to get the most out of your surveys, you need to use the right tools to build them and make sure that you’re asking the right questions. We can’t tell you what to ask respondents, but Tapapp makes building surveys as straightforward as possible.

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