The main difference between qualitative and quantitative research is how the data is collected and analyzed. Qualitative research relies on qualitative data, such as observations and interviews, to gather data, while quantitative research uses quantitative data numbers and statistical analysis. Qualitative research is often used to explore a topic in-depth, while quantitative research is used to test hypotheses or compare groups.
In simple words, qualitative research mostly deals with non-numerical data, such as texts, interviews, and observations, while quantitative studies deal with numbers and statistics.
So let’s take a closer look at each research method and their key differences.
Qualitative research is a type of scientific inquiry that explores and describes phenomena in naturalistic settings. Qualitative researchers seek to gain an in-depth understanding of human behavior and subjective perception of reality. Studies are usually conducted through interviews and participant observation.
Qualitative approaches are often used to explore a topic in-depth or if a topic is new and you want to derive a theory. The data collected is usually non-numerical, such as interviews, observations, and open-ended surveys. This data is then analyzed to look for themes and patterns.
This approach uses mostly unstructured or semi-structured techniques to gather data. The researcher is more likely to be involved in the data collection process.
What are qualitative research methods and approaches?
This method was developed by sociologists Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss in the 1960s. It is used to develop theories by collecting and analyzing data. The theory is derived from the data instead of being imposed on it.
Ethnography is a method that is used to learn about cultures by observing and interacting with people in their natural settings. Ethnographers typically spend a lot of time in the field, living among the people they are studying.
The narrative qualitative approach uses stories to understand people’s lives and experiences. It is often used to study sensitive topics that are hard to discuss, such as abuse or trauma.
Phenomenologies focus on people’s perceptions and experiences of a phenomenon. Phenomenology is often used in psychology to study consciousness and subjective experience.
Action research focuses on solving problems and improving practice. It is often used in education, healthcare, and businesses.
This type of qualitative research focuses on analyzing historical data to answer questions about the past. It is often used in social science and humanities disciplines.
A case study focuses on a single individual, group, or event. Case studies are often used to study rare phenomena or situations.
Certain literature review types are qualitative, such as interpretive and critical literature reviews. These types of literature reviews use qualitative data to answer questions about a topic.
Qualitative data collection methods
Qualitative data methods are often used to explore a topic in-depth or if a topic is new and you want to derive a theory. Qualitative researchers collect data through interviews, observations, and open-ended surveys.
Researchers conduct interviews by asking people questions about their experiences, opinions, or views on a topic.
After an interview is conducted and audio recorded, the interviews need to be transcribed. Transcribing an interview is the process of converting the audio recording into a written text document. Further, this data can be used for qualitative data analysis.
In-depth interviews are one of the most widespread qualitative data collection methods. It involves conducting face-to-face interviews with individuals about a particular topic. The interviewee is typically asked open-ended questions to encourage them to share their thoughts and experiences in their own words.
Field notes are a type of qualitative data that are used to document what is observed in the field. A researcher typically takes field notes during and after observing a phenomenon.
Artifacts are objects that can be used to learn about a culture, such as clothing, tools, and architecture. Artifacts can be used in ethnographies to understand how people interact with their environment.
Historical texts are another type of qualitative data that can be used to study the past. These texts can include diaries, letters, newspapers, and other primary sources. Historical studies often use them to understand people’s experiences and perspectives.
Photographs, video, and audio recordings
Photographs, video, and audio recordings can also be used as qualitative data. These data sources can provide insights into people’s behaviors and interactions. For example, video recordings of police interactions with civilians can be used to study police brutality.
Quantitative research uses numerical measurable data to answer questions. Quantitative studies can be used to study trends, relationships, and cause-and-effect relationships. The main goal of every quantitative study is to provide statistically significant findings.
Quantitative methods are mostly used to prove existing theories and to test hypotheses. The main advantage of quantitative studies is that they be used to study a large number of people or things.
Quantitative studies can be more difficult to conduct than qualitative ones, as it often requires knowledge of statistical analysis.
What are quantitative research methods and approaches?
Experimental studies use controlled conditions to study cause and effect. Researchers use experimental and control groups to study the effects of a particular treatment or intervention. Experimental design is often used in the sciences, such as psychology and medicine.
Quasi-experimental studies do not use controlled conditions. Instead, it uses existing conditions to study cause and effect. Quasi-experimental research is often used in the social sciences, such as sociology and economics.
Correlational studies investigate the relationship between two variables. Correlational design can be used to study the strength of the relationship between two variables.
This is a type of quantitative research that describes the characteristics of a population. Descriptive design can be used to study the demographics of a population, such as age, gender, and income.
Certain literature review methods such as meta-analysis and systematic literature review are quantitative in nature. A meta-analysis combines the results of multiple studies to answer a research question. A systematic literature review uses a standard methodology to identify, select, and analyze all relevant research on a topic.
While case studies are not strictly quantitative, they can be used to generate quantitative data. A case study is a type of research that investigates a single individual, group, or event and provides an understanding of the individual’s, group’s, or business’s experiences. Case studies are often used in the social sciences, such as psychology and sociology, as well as in business studies.
Quantitative data collection methods
Quantitative data consist of numerical values that are used to measure defined variables. Quantitative data should represent a population to generalize results. Statistical analysis methods are used to analyze quantitative data. The most common software used to analyze quantitative data is SPSS, Stata, and Excel. Quantitative data collection methods include various forms of surveys, measurement instruments, and secondary data.
Surveys are used to collect data from a large number of people. Surveys are often used to study the opinions and beliefs of a population. Data obtained through surveys can be quantified and analyzed.
Experimental data is numerical data that is collected through controlled conditions with measurement instruments. Experimental data can be used to study cause and effect. Measurement instruments and rating scales used to collect quantitative data are usually reliable and valid. Meaning that the instrument was designed to accurately measure what it is supposed to measure and that the results are consistent.
Secondary data is data that another person or organization has already collected. Secondary data can be used to study trends, relationships, and cause-and-effect. Secondary data can be obtained from sources such as government reports and data sets.
Mixed-methods research uses both qualitative and quantitative data. This research design is used to study complex phenomena and can be more difficult to conduct than either a quantitative or qualitative study alone.
However, this design provides deeper insights and is used to shed light on areas that would otherwise be difficult to understand using only one research method.
Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research
So what is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research?
Both these approaches have their pros and cons, which means that each approach is suitable for different types of research questions. For example, if a researcher wants to understand how people experience a certain phenomenon, they would use qualitative methods such as interviews or focus groups. On the other hand, if a researcher wants to test a hypothesis about how a certain treatment affects people, they would use quantitative methods such as randomized controlled trials.
Quantitative research is best suited for descriptive and explanatory studies as it allows researchers to obtain data in a structured way to test hypotheses and draw conclusions.
All these designs have their own limitations. For example, qualitative research is often criticized for being subjective and not generalizable. Quantitative studies are often criticized for being too impersonal and for not providing insights into how people experience a certain phenomenon.
Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research Data Collection Methods
Qualitative and quantitative data also have advantages and disadvantages. Qualitative data is usually more in-depth and descriptive. Quantitative data is often easier to analyze but can be less rich.
Qualitative studies can be done with few respondents as qualitative data is more in-depth than quantitative data. A study with 10-20 people can provide a lot of data that can be analyzed for themes and uncover patterns. However, quantitative sample size requirements are often larger as quantitative data is more surface level. A study with 100-200 people is often needed to apply data analysis and statistics.
Hence, while selecting the appropriate approach, you should ensure that it aligns with the research question, as well as with the purpose of your research.
Every researcher should know both qualitative and quantitative methods as every research project will require different research approaches.