Research Categories

In determining which type of study would be best for a particular company, product or situation, it is important to first understand the major categories of research that are available. The first key distinction is between secondary and primary research. Secondary research is conducted by gathering and analyzing information found through a variety of existing resources, including published reports, newspaper or magazine articles, trade publications and associations, historical files, public databases and the Internet. Primary research, on the other hand, is conducted as an original, customized research study. Unlike secondary research, it is typically proprietary in nature and is thus rarely disseminated for public use.

As a further important distinction, there are two major types of primary research:

(1) Qualitative Research - This kind of research is most often used when in-depth, comprehensive answers to a group of questions is desired. Qualitative studies examine how customers feel about the particular issues of concern to the researcher and why they feel the way they do. As opposed to providing information in numerical form (see below), qualitative research uncovers consumer opinions, attitudes, feelings, needs, emotions, etc. Several methods are used to obtain this feedback, including:

  • Focus groups (6-12 people)
  • Mini groups (such as three-person "triads")
  • One-on-one personal interviews
  • Advisory panels
(2) Quantitative Research - As its name implies, this form of research is number-based and provides statistical information. In a typical quantitative study, a sample of target consumers is queried on a variety of issues, then the results are tabulated and projected to the broader population. The most common quantitative methodologies include:
  • Consumer intercepts (on the street, in malls, etc.)
  • Telephone interviews
  • Central location tests
  • Mail surveys
  • Electronic surveys

Regardless of which method is used for quantitative research, sample size plays a crucial role in determining the level of confidence that can be placed on the results being truly indicative of the broader population. In general, the more respondents included in the sample group, the more valid the study will be.


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