qualitative and quantitative research

What is qualitative and quantitative research? An EASY explanation

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(Last updated on: 22/02/2022)

What is qualitative and quantitative research? This is one of the first things that you will learn when you begin to study research methodology and it something that you will need to know if you are undertaking your own primary research, for example if you are doing a research project, dissertation or thesis. So in this article I will explain what the difference is between qualitative and quantitative research and I will also outline the benefits and limitations of both types of data collection. Ready to learn more? Read on…

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Qualitative And Quantitative Data - What Is The Best Research Approach?

What is qualitative and quantitative research?

qualitative and quantitative research

When you are undertaking primary research (i.e. collecting your own data) you will need to decide how you will do this- which research methods will you choose any why? What research philosophy will you use? How will you conduct the research?

There are many different types of research methods available to you and they will generally fit into one two categories- qualitative and quantitative research. But what does this actually mean? Well, put simple, qualitative research is about words and meanings and quantitative research is about numbers and statistics. However there is a little bit more to it than that…. lets take a deeper look..,.,

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is not concerned with numbers, it is more about words and actions and is useful to answer questions such as how and why. Here are some facts about qualitative research:

  • Is not concerned with numbers
  • Emphasises words in the collection of rich and deep data
  • Qualitative research focuses on depth, meaning, and detail
  • The researcher tries to ‘get inside’ the minds of people and see things from their point of view
  • Involves gathering a lot of information about a small number of people rather than limited information about a large number of people
  • The information is generally not presented in numerical form
  • It explores and tries to understand the meaning people give to a social or human problem (Creswell, 2013)
  • It involves emerging questions and procedures
  • The data is usually collected in the participants’ setting (natural settings)
  • The data analysis builds inductively from particular to general themes
  • The researcher makes interpretations of the meaning of the data
  • It recognises the complexity of the phenomena studied

Benefits of qualitative research

When you are deciding whether qualitative or quantitative research is best for your study, it is important to examine the advantages and disadvantages of both types of data collection. Qualitative research can be great for certain types of studies, especially those that involve:

  • Examining feelings and motivations
  • Examination of deep and complex issues
  • Searching for insights into an issue or concept

This is because qualitative research really allows you to dig deep into particular issues or concepts. It allows you to understand why things happen or how they occur and provides a much more flexible and fluid approach to research than is provided by quantitative data collection.

qualitative and quantitative research

Disadvantages of qualitative research

However, sometimes qualitative research is not the best type of research to be used and it does have limitations which include:

  • Sample sizes are limited meaning that the research can’t extrapolate to the whole population
  • Volume of data can be large
  • Analysis of data can be complex
  • Data collection and analysis can be time-consuming

Methods of qualitative data collection

There are many ways that we can collect qualitative data, some of the most popular qualitative data collection methods include:

  • Interviews (structure, semi-structured or unstructured)
  • Focus groups
  • Case studies
  • Observation
  • Netnography

What is quantitative research?

Quantitative research is concerned with the collection/ analysis of data in numeric form and is perceived as being about the gathering of ‘facts’. Quantitative data allows us to test relationships between variables, make predictions, and generalise results to wider populations. Here are some general facts about quantitative data:

  • Quantitative research involves measuring or counting attributes
  • Quantitative research answers the “how many” questions
  • It is interested in using formalised, standard structured questioning, whereby response options are pre-determined
  • It is administered to significantly large numbers of people

Advantages of quantitative research

When examining qualitative and quantitative research methods, quantitative research is generally viewed as being scientific and oftentimes more reliable than qualitative research. Benefits of quantitative research include:

  • The quantitative approach has a well structured content
  • Survey instruments can be computer generated
  • Data are captured in a computer programme and are usually analysed using a computer (e.g. SNAP; Survey Monkey)
  • It allows for large sample sizes
  • Quantitative data can often be generalised
qualitative and quantitative research

Disadvantages of quantitative research

Whilst there are lots of pros to quantitative data collection, there are also negatives too. These include:

  • It requires a certain level of familiarity with statistical methods (including the use of descriptive statistics such as mean, mode, standard deviation, percentages etc)
  • It can be challenging when selecting statistical tests (inferential statistics)
  • It does not provide an in-depth understanding of issues and concepts
  • It does not answer questions such as ‘how’ or ‘why’

Methods of quantitative data collection

There are many ways that we can collect quantitative data, some of the most popular quantitative data collection methods include:

  • Questionnaires/surveys
  • Scientific observations
  • Experiments

When to use qualitative and quantitative research

Choosing whether to use qualitative or quantitative research will depend on what type of study you are doing. For some projects large amounts of data are the priority, whereas for others the priority might be to understand the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of a situation or concept.

You will also want to consider where your strengths lie- many people opt for quantitative data collection because they think that it is easy to administer a survey. Yes, that may be relatively easy, however if maths is a weak point for you then you may want to steer clear of quantitative data, because there will inevitably be some level of data analysis involving mathematical equations and graphic representation. Likewise, if talking to people is not your thing then you might want to avoid doing interviews.

Mixed methods research

There is also the option to choose mixed methods research. This is when you will choose more than one research method that includes qualitative and quantitative data collection. This can help to offset some of the disadvantages of both qualitative and quantitative data and can help to make your research more reliable overall. However, you do need to consider how realistic it is to undertake multiple stages of data collection given the time and resource constraints that you may have.

What is qualitative and quantitative research?

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