Qualitative research vs quantitative research

Data collection and analysis is carried out using two distinct approaches, i.e. qualitative and quantitative research. These two kinds of research methods have different objectives and are carried out using distinct techniques. In addition, they play a vital role in acquiring different kinds of knowledge. This article will discuss qualitative and quantitative research in greater detail and present the differences between the two.

Definitions and explanations

Qualitative research

The purpose of carrying out qualitative research is to obtain extensive understanding of the experiences, perspectives, thoughts and trends so as to obtain deeper insights of the problem being examined. Qualitative research is typically presented in words. It is an exploratory form of research that seeks to examine very complex phenomenon that cannot be analysed using quantitative research. In this form of study, more significance is given to the views of the respondents.

Qualitative data is collected using unstructured or semi-structured methods. These include:

  • Unstructured interviews: Participants are asked open-ended questions.
  • Case studies: A person, organization, event or group is studied in detail.
  • Focus groups: Discussions among small groups of people regarding a topic so as to obtain their opinions, which may be used in subsequent research.
  • Literature review: Assessing the studies published by other researchers.
  • Behavioral observations

Qualitative research usually involves a small group of respondents who offer insights into the problem. The goal is to obtain sufficient information so as to generate a hypothesis that can be used in subsequent quantitative studies.

Quantitative research

Quantitative research is carried out to test or confirm theories or assumptions. This kind of research is conducted when generalizable facts regarding a phenomenon are required. Quantitative research is carried out to quantify attitudes, perspectives, behaviors and other given variables so as to support or reject hypotheses regarding a given phenomenon. The findings obtained from the study sample can then be generalized to be applicable to a wider population.

The objective of a quantitative research is to determine cause and effect relationship among two variables, for which computational and statistical techniques are performed. Often, this research is called empirical research.

Quantitative research seeks to present explicit facts about what has been measured and how it has been measured so as to discover patterns in the behaviors, feelings, motivation, etc. of people. This is why the data collection involved in this form of research is structured in comparison to qualitative approaches. Some examples of quantitative data collection methods are:

  • Structured interviews: respondents are asked a series of pre-determined questions in the same order.
  • Survey questionnaire: A questionnaire with closed or multiple choice questions distributed among a sample (in person or over the internet or telephone).
  • Experiments: situations where variables are controlled and adjusted to determine cause-and effect relationships
  • Content analysis: performing systematic analysis of communication patterns.

Once data is collected, the researcher assigns them to different categories, or ranks them. Graphs and tables of the data gathered can be created so as to facilitate the researcher in analyzing it and performing comparisons.

Differences between qualitative and quantitative research

The major difference between qualitative research and quantitative research is explained below:

1. Meaning

Qualitative research is carried out to comprehend a phenomenon by obtaining the experiences, thoughts, beliefs or ideas of respondents, while quantitative research is a systematic analysis of a phenomenon that is performed by obtaining quantifiable data, which is then evaluated using statistical, numerical or computational methods.

2. Kind of process

Qualitative research is an inductive process that is used to generate a theory or hypothesis, while quantitative process is a deductive process that is used to test or confirm pre-determined theories, concepts or hypotheses.

3. Nature

Qualitative research is more subjective in nature as it defines a phenomenon or problem from the perspective of those experiencing it. Quantitative research, on the other hand, is more objective as it offers information that the researcher has interpreted with respect to a condition or phenomenon.

4. Data collection method

Qualitative data is gathered using unstructured methods, such as open-ended interviews, focus groups, case studies, literature reviews and behavioral analysis. In contrast, quantitative data is collected using structured methods, such as structured interviews, questionnaires and surveys, experiments and content analysis.

5. Kind of data collected

Data collected in qualitative approach is in textual form, whereas the data collected in quantitative research is in numbers and statistical form.

6. Sampling process

The basis of qualitative research is purposive sampling, in which a small sample size is chosen to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the given phenomenon. The basis of quantitative research is random sampling. The sample size selected is large in this kind of research, with the aim of generalizing the findings to the entire population.

7. Aim

The aim of qualitative research is to examine and identify ideas used in the processes, while the objective of qualitative research is to determine cause and effect relationship among the variables.

8. Outcome

Qualitative research does not produce generalizable findings, and the outcomes are quite descriptive. On the other hand, in quantitative research, the findings quite generalizable and the results obtained are very specific.

9. Hypothesis

In qualitative research, hypothesis generation take places, while in quantitative research, hypothesis is tested.

Qualitative research vs quantitative research – tabular comparison

A tabular comparison of qualitative research and quantitative research is given below:

Qualitative research vs Quantitative research
Meaning
Research carried out to obtain in-depth understanding of the problem being examined Research carried out to test or verify a theory
Kind of process
Inductive Deductive
Nature
Subjective Objective
Data collection method
Unstructured methods, such as open-ended interviews, focus group discussions, literature review, behavioral analysis, case studies, etc. Structured methods, such as closed-ended interviews, surveys, experiments, etc.
Kind of data collection
Textual form Numerical or statistical form
Sampling process
Purposive sampling Random sampling
Aim
Examine ideas used in the process Identify cause and effect relationships
Outcome
Non-generalizable findings Generalizable findings
Hypothesis
Hypothesis is created Hypothesis is tested

Conclusion – qualitative research vs quantitative research

The kind of research that should be carried out in a study entirely depends on the purpose of the research and the outcomes required. Sometimes, a mix of both approaches actually provides better outcomes. The starting point in such studies is qualitative research, which helps in obtaining information about the problems or conditions being examined. The hypothesis generated from the qualitative research can then be verified using quantitative research. Hence, both research approaches are critical and provide valuable information to the researcher.

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