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Qualitative vs Quantitative Research - Learning the Basics

Qualitative vs Quantitative Research - Learning the Basics

Qualitative and quantitative data research are the two main types of research design. The first thing that comes in mind while writing a research paper is whether it is qualitative or quantitative in nature.

Choosing between qualitative vs. quantitative research can be challenging, especially if you do not know their differences.

Many students mistakenly think that the two terms can be used conversely. However, there are considerable differences between the research methods. But, on the other hand, their objectives and applications do overlap in many ways.

You can also combine both these methods in your surveys to get wide-reaching results.

In this blog, we have detailed the main differences and advantages of quantitative vs. qualitative research designs.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research Definition

Below is the definition of both qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Qualitative Research Quantitative Research
It deals with non-numerical data, such as words and meanings. It deals with numerical and statistical data.

The detailed definition of both the research methods is discussed below.

Qualitative Research Definition

Qualitative research is the gathering and analysis of data that is more natural and interpretive. It generates textual or non-numerical data and examines it in its natural environment.

Moreover, it is exploratory research that is used to get an idea of the opinions and reasons. It further provides insights into the research problem and helps to develop the hypothesis.

The primary purpose of qualitative research is to understand the meaning of social groups, cultures, and communities. Moreover, this study also analyzes and evaluates various types of data by gathering deep insights on the topic.

Quantitative Research Definition

Quantitative research is based on gathering statistical or numerical information from various sources. It is used to quantify attitudes, opinions, behaviors, and other defined variables.

This data is later organized, ranked according to certain criteria, and measured in specific units. It further formulates facts and results from a large sample population.

For example, observing the increase in the annual growth of a company. Similarly, the growth in the number of employees holding a foreign technical education, etc.

Techniques like rapid analysis and statistical analysis process large amounts of numerical information. This eliminates the need for manual data processing.

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Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research Features

Here are some features of qualitative and quantitative research.

Qualitative Research Quantitative Research
  • Research techniques are naturally available
  • Focused on natural settings
  • Focus on the research problem and develop a hypothesis
  • Involves theory that is based on real-time data
  • Highlights numerical data
  • Structured research questions
  • The large sample size represents the wider population
  • Results are accurate
  • Data presented in charts, tables, figures

The following is a detailed description of these features.

Features of Qualitative Research

The features of qualitative methods include:

  • The research techniques and subjects are naturally available. You do not need anything distinct for it.
  • The researcher studies and understands the phenomenon and focuses on natural settings.
  • The researcher participates in the research by delving deep into the root cause and collecting important data.
  • It involves the theory that is based on real-time data. It can evolve with time by adding more data.

Features of Quantitative Research

The following are the main features.

  • It highlights important numerical data that can be used to support the arguments and study.
  • Structured research questions and instruments are used to collect data for examination.
  • Larger sample sizes are used that represent the population.
  • The results are based on large data sets.
  • Since the study is more reliable and accurate; thus, the results can be replicated.
  • This research type studies the data from a wide range of sources.
  • It includes data represented in charts, tables, and figures, etc.

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Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research Questions

The research questions suggest the direction of your research study. Here are the questions of qualitative and quantitative research.

Qualitative Research Quantitative Research
  • Start with ‘what’ or ‘how’
  • Identify the main argument
  • Have more specific sub-questions
  • Start with ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘why’.
  • Have independent and dependent variables
  • Three types of questions i.e., descriptive, casual, and predictive.

The questions with examples are discussed below.

Qualitative Research Questions

Below are the qualitative research questions.

  • The questions usually start with ‘what’ or ‘how’.
  • It helps to identify the main argument that you are planning to study.
  • It shows what the study is going to describe, explore, discover in detail.
  • Avoid using quantitative terms such as relate, cause, or effect.
  • It can contain words like experience, meaning, understanding, and stories.
  • It can have sub-questions that will be more specific.

The examples of the qualitative research questions are:

  • How can overweight people describe their meal timings?
  • What does it feel like growing up in a single-parent family?

Quantitative Research Questions

The following are the quantitative research questions.

  • The questions usually start with ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘why’.
  • It contains an independent and dependent variable.
  • It shows the relation and comparison between the variables.
  • Quantitative research questions are of three types i.e., descriptive, casual, and predictive.

The examples of these research questions are:

  • How often do people between the age of 35 to 45 visit their parents?
  • How work stress can be related to the quality of life in people?

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Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research Methodology

There are several methods to collect qualitative vs. quantitative data for writing a research paper. However, it is crucial to choose a method that best answers your research question.

Have a look at the below infographic.

These methods are discussed below in detail.

Qualitative Data Collection Methods

The methods for collecting qualitative data include:

  • Interviews - In-depth interviewing is a face to face session where you learn about different concepts from experts. It may include structured, unstructured, or semi-structured questions.
  • Focus Groups - These are small group discussions designed to target a specific issue or point. Each member expresses its point of view on a selected topic and gathers opinions for future research.
  • Ethnography - Here, a researcher participates in a community or organization for an extended time. The main aim is to observe the culture and behavior closely.
  • Case Studies - It involves an in-depth study about a person, group, or organization.
  • Literature Review - It is a detailed survey of published work by other authors.

The sample size is small, and the respondents are selected to collect the required data.

Quantitative Data Collection Methods

The following are the methods of collecting quantitative data.

  • Surveys: It includes a list of questions that is distributed to the selected sample. With this, a researcher gathers feedback from the subjects. Similarly, surveys can have both open or closed-ended questions.
  • Secondary Data: This includes the collection and analysis of non-primary data. Such as company accounts and other related numerical data.
  • Observational Research: It involves participant observation in a natural environment where it is impossible to control the variables.
  • Experiments - Here, a researcher controls and manipulates the variables to establish a cause and effect relationship.
  • Content Analysis - It helps record words and themes in a set of texts to analyze communication patterns.

These qualitative vs. quantitative methods are more structured and offer a detailed explanation for the arguments provided in your research.

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Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research Limitations

The table below shows the limitations of both qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Qualitative Research Quantitative Research
  • No large scale data
  • Shortage of expenses and time
  • Results can not be verified
  • Difficult to analyze the credibility of data
  • Do not take place in a natural setting
  • Results are less specific to behavioral traits
  • Participants are not allowed to explain opinions
  • Can reveal ‘what’ questions in research but can’t explore ‘why’ and ‘how’

The following is a detailed explanation of the research limitations.

Limitations of Qualitative Research

The limitations include:

  • This research does not involve large scale data due to the shortage of expenses and time.
  • The research design and questions require a lot of time to manage, collect, and analyze data.
  • Results cannot be verified because it is open-ended research.
  • Its subjective nature makes it difficult to analyze the credibility of the data.
  • Expert area knowledge is required to interpret qualitative data.

Limitations of Quantitative Research

Below are the limitations of quantitative research.

  • Quantitative experiments don’t take place in natural environments.
  • The results are numerical in nature. Thus, they offer less insight into specific behavioral traits.
  • It does not allow participants to explain their choices and opinions.
  • Questionnaires can lead to a ‘structural bias,’ including an inaccurate presentation of certain concepts.
  • The researcher works with smaller data sets. They may be too narrow and superficial to represent a larger group or community.
  • It can reveal ‘what’ questions in the research but can’t explore ‘why’ and ‘how’

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Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research Pros and Cons

Here are the pros and cons of qualitative and quantitative research.

Qualitative Research Quantitative Research

Pros

  • Useful in the early stages of a study
  • Does not require a research design
  • Gathers detailed data
  • Focuses more on the real context

Cons

  • Offers a subjective view of the study
  • Involves biased analysis
  • Time-taking process

Pros

  • Useful in measuring and interpreting data
  • An objective view of the findings
  • A detailed description of independent and dependent variables
  • Measure statistical data

Cons

  • Ignore the context of the study
  • Cannot take place naturally
  • Unable to study a large sample

Below is a comprehensive explanation of these pros and cons.

Qualitative Research

The pros of the qualitative research method are the following.

  • It is useful while starting a research paper when the researcher is unsure of what to study or focus on.
  • It does not require a strict research design that gives freedom to allow the study to unfold naturally.
  • It gains detailed and comprehensive data in the form of evidence or descriptions.
  • It focuses more on the context and social meaning.

The cons are as follows:

  • Qualitative research provides a subjective view of the study and the participants.
  • The researcher can analyze the study according to his own biased opinions.
  • It is a time-taking process that can last for months or even years.

Quantitative Research

The pros of quantitative research include:

  • It allows the researcher to measure and interpret the collected data.
  • The researcher is more objective about the findings of the research study.
  • It studies a detailed relationship between independent and dependent variables.
  • It can test the hypothesis in experiments.
  • It can measure data by using statistics.

The cons are the following.

  • It completely ignores the context of the research study or experiment.
  • It cannot study concepts in natural settings.
  • This research cannot study a large sample.
  • The timeline, complexity, and cost of research are increased to get accurate results.

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When to Use Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research?

Using a method largely depends on the following elements:

  • Research type
  • Research question
  • Practical aspects (time, money, availability of data, and access to participants)

The following table discusses when to use quantitative vs. qualitative data.

Qualitative Research Quantitative Research
Use this research for understanding a concept, thought, or experience. Use it to confirm or test a theory or hypothesis.

Below given is a comprehensive idea of using each method in a research project.

  • Developing A Hypothesis - Qualitative research helps to gather relevant data on a topic. It is also used to create a strong hypothesis to begin your research work.
  • Validating the Hypothesis - Quantitative research provides numbers and statistical data to validate the hypothesis.
  • Finding Answers - It is easier to conduct a survey than an interview or observation. Thus, using quantitative research is better as it has more respondents than the qualitative method.
  • Incorporate the Human Element - Qualitative research can help in the final stages of the research study. You can include the data obtained by open-ended questions in your results.

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How to Analyze Qualitative Vs. Quantitative Data?

Qualitative and quantitative research data can’t prove anything by itself. Instead, it has to be analyzed to show its relationship with the research questions. However, the method of analysis is different for each type of data.

Analyzing Qualitative Data

It is more complicated to analyze qualitative data than quantitative as it consists of texts, images, and videos. Common approaches to analyzing qualitative data include the following:

  • Qualitative Content Analysis – It identifies the position and meaning of the words and phrases.
  • Thematic Analysis – It examines the data to identify the themes and patterns.
  • Discourse Analysis – It studies how communication works in a social context.

Analyzing Quantitative Data

Quantitative data usually consists of numbers. Therefore, an advanced statistical analysis is used to analyze the data patterns. The results are reported in the form of graphs and tables. Moreover, the application like Excel, SPSS, or R is used to calculate the quantitative data such as:

  • Average scores
  • The relation between two or more variables
  • The number of times a specific answer was given
  • The validity of results

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Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research Examples

Have a look at the following examples of quantitative research vs. qualitative research for better understanding.

Quantitative Research Example (PDF)

Qualitative Research Example (PDF)

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Nursing Research (PDF)

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research Sociology (PDF)

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research in Healthcare (PDF)

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Marketing Research (PDF)

Qualitative Research vs. Quantitative Research (PDF)

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