When conducting user research, there are a variety of methods to acquire valuable data. This chart, courtesy of the Nielson Norman Group, illustrates the ranges that your research can measure.
Let’s break this down to the extreme ranges of this chart.
Ethnographic research is a fine example of behavioral research. This is where the researcher goes in to the user’s natural environment and observes the user in the user’s normal and regular context.
Surveys and Interviews are some ways to see what the user says they would or would not do something. Often users will give answers they think the research wants to hear or what they think is the “correct” answer. The key here is that the user might actually believe what they are saying is true. But in fact, when the researcher actually observes the behavior, what the user has said might not be accurate.
One-on-one interviews and ethnographic research are a couple of great ways to get qualitative research information. The researcher can devote individual time to the user, and really get deep information about them. This takes time, and therefore can be difficult to accomplish in mass quantities. But submersing yourself in the users world will provide much more in-depth information than more quantitative research methods.
Surveys accomplish quantitative research very well. Especially with the plethora of online survey tools (many of them are free), one can easily send out a survey to hundreds, if not thousands of participants and gather a large amount of data. This data can then be accumulated to show trends, make charts and post results of several people. However, this research method does not provide individual insight and appreciation that a more qualitative research will provide.
All in all, there are many research methods that a UX researcher has at his or her disposal. They key is to know which research method is best for the type of information he or she is seeking. Also, many of research methods fall within the middle ranges of this chart, and not at the extremes. I encourage you to use a variety of research methods in your next UX project.