By Dr. Saul McLeod, updated 2019
Qualitative Research | Quantitative Research
There exists a fundamental distinction between two types of data:
Quantitative data is information about quantities, and therefore numbers, and qualitative data is descriptive, and regards phenomenon which can be observed but not measured, such as language.
What Is Qualitative Research?
Qualitative research is the process of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting non-numerical data, such as language. Qualitative research can be used to understand how an individual subjectively perceives and gives meaning to their social reality.
Qualitative data is defined as non-numerical data, such as text, video, photographs or audio recordings. This type of data can becollected usingdiary accounts or in-depth interviews, and analyzed using grounded theory or thematic analysis.
Qualitative research is multimethod in focus, involving an interpretive, naturalistic approach to its subject matter. This means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them.
An interest in qualitative data came about as the result of the dissatisfaction of some psychologists (e.g., Carl Rogers) with the scientific study of psychologists such as the behaviorists (e.g., Skinner).
Since psychologists study people, the traditional approach to science is not seen as an appropriate way of carrying out research, since it fails to capture the totality of human experience and the essence of what it is to be human. Exploring the experience of participants is known as a phenomenological approach (re: Humanism).
The aim of qualitative research is to understand the social reality of individuals, groups and cultures as nearly as possible as its participants feel it or live it. Thus, people and groups, are studied in their natural setting.
Research following a qualitative approach is exploratory and seeks to explain ‘how’ and‘why’ a particular phenomenon, or behavior, operates as it does in a particular context. It can be used to generate hypotheses and theory from the data.
Methods (used to obtain qualitative data)
There are different types of qualitative research methods including diary accounts, in-depth interviews, documents, focus groups, case study research, and ethnography.
The results of qualitative methods provide a deep understandings of how people perceive their social realities, and in consequence, how they act within the social world.
The researcher has several methods for collecting empirical materials, ranging from the interview to direct observation, to the analysis of artifacts, documents, and cultural records, to the use of visual materials or personal experience.
A good example of a qualitative research method would be unstructured interviews which generate qualitative data through the use of open questions. This allows the respondent to talk in some depth, choosing their own words. This helps the researcher develop a real sense of a person’s understanding of a situation.
Notice that qualitative data could be much more than justwords or text. Photographs, videos, sound recordings and so on, can be consideredqualitative data.
Qualitative Data Analysis
Qualitative research is endlessly creative and interpretive. The researcher does notjust leave the field with mountains of empirical data and then easily write up hisor her findings.
Qualitative interpretations are constructed, and various techniques can be used to make sense of the data, such ascontent analysis, grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) or discourse analysis.
For example, thematic analysis is a qualitative approach that involves identifying implicit or explicitideas within the data. Themes will often emerge once the data has been coded.
Events can be understood adequately only if they are seen in context. Therefore, a qualitative researcher immerses her/himself in the field, in natural surroundings. The contexts of inquiry are not contrived; they are natural. Nothing is predefined or taken for granted.
Qualitative researchers want those who are studied to speak for themselves, to provide their perspectives in words and other actions. Therefore, qualitative research is an interactive process in which the persons studied teach the researcher about their lives.
The qualitative researcher is an integral part of the data, without the active participation of the researcher, no data exists.
The design of the study evolves during the research, and can be adjusted or changed as it progresses.
For the qualitative researcher, there is no single reality, it is subjective and exist only in reference to the observer.
Theory is data driven, and emerges as part of the research process, evolving from the data as they are collected.
Limitations of Qualitative Research
Because of the time and costs involved, qualitative designs do not generally draw samples from large-scale data sets.
The problem of adequate validity or reliability is a major criticism. Because of the subjective nature of qualitative data and its origin in single contexts, it is difficult to apply conventional standards of reliability and validity.
For example, because of the central role played by the researcher in the generation of data, it is not possible to replicate qualitative studies. Also, contexts, situations, events, conditions, and interactions cannot be replicated to any extent nor can generalizations be made to a wider context than the one studied with any confidence
The time required for data collection, analysis and interpretation are lengthy. Analysis of qualitative data is difficult and expert knowledge of an area is necessary to try to interpret qualitative data, and great care must be taken when doing so, for example, if looking for symptoms of mental illness.
Advantages of Qualitative research
Because of close researcher involvement, the researcher gains an insider's view of the field. This allows the researcher to find issues that are often missed (such as subtleties and complexities) by the scientific, more positivistic inquiries.
Qualitative descriptions can play the important role of suggesting possible relationships, causes, effects and dynamic processes.
Qualitative analysis allows for ambiguities/contradictions in the data, which are a reflection of social reality (Denscombe, 2010).
Qualitative research uses a descriptive, narrative style; this research might be of particular benefit to the practitioner as she or he could turn to qualitative reports in order to examine forms of knowledge that might otherwise be unavailable, thereby gaining new insight.
What Is Quantitative Research?
Quantitative research involves the process of objectively collecting and analyzing numerical data to describe, predict, or control variables of interest.
The goals of quantitative research are to test causal relationships between variables, make predictions, and generalize results to wider populations.
Quantitative researchers aim to establish general laws of behavior and phenonomon across different settings/contexts. Research is used to test a theory and ultimately support or reject it.
Methods (used to obtain quantitative data)
Experiments typically yield quantitative data, as they are concerned with measuring things. However, other research methods, such as controlled observations and questionnaires can produce both quantitative information.
For example, a rating scale or closed questions on a questionnaire would generate quantitative data as these produce either numerical data or data that can be put into categories (e.g., “yes,” “no” answers).
Experimental methods limit the possible ways in which a research participant can react to and express appropriate social behavior.
Findings are therefore likely to be context-bound and simply a reflection of the assumptions which the researcher brings to the investigation.
Quantitative Data Analysis
Statistics help us turn quantitative data into useful information to help with decision making.We can use statistics to summarise our data, describing patterns, relationships,and connections. Statistics can be descriptive or inferential.
Descriptive statistics help us tosummarise our data whereas inferential statistics are used to identify statistically significantdifferences between groups of data (such as intervention and control groups in arandomised control study).
Quantitative researchers try to control extraneous variables by conducting their studies in the lab.
The research aims for objectivity (i.e., without bias), and is separated from the data.
The design of the study is determined before it begins.
For the quantitative researcher reality is objective and exist separately to the researcher, and is capable of being seen by anyone.
Research is used to test a theory and ultimately support or reject it.
Limitations of Quantitative Research
Context: Quantitative experiments do not take place in natural settings. In addition, they do not allow participants to explain their choices or the meaning of the questions may have for those participants (Carr, 1994).
Researcher expertise: Poor knowledge of the application of statistical analysis may negatively affect analysis and subsequent interpretation (Black, 1999).
Variability of data quantity: Large sample sizes are needed for more accurate analysis. Small scale quantitative studies may be less reliable because of the low quantity of data (Denscombe, 2010). This also affects the ability to generalize study findings to wider populations.
Confirmation bias: The researcher might miss observing phenomena because of focus on theory or hypothesis testing rather than on the theory of hypothesis generation.
Advantages of Quantitative Research
Scientific objectivity: Quantitative data can be interpreted with statistical analysis, and since statistics are based on the principles of mathematics, the quantitative approach is viewed as scientifically objective, and rational (Carr, 1994; Denscombe, 2010).
Useful for testing and validating already constructed theories.
Rapid analysis: Sophisticated software removes much of the need for prolonged data analysis, especially with large volumes of data involved (Antonius, 2003).
Replication: Quantitative data is based on measured values and can be checked by others because numerical data is less open to ambiguities of interpretation.
Hypotheses can also be tested because of the used of statistical analysis (Antonius, 2003).
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How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2019, July 30). Qualitative vs. quantitative research. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/qualitative-quantitative.html
APA Style References
Antonius, R. (2003). Interpreting quantitative data with SPSS. Sage.
Black, T. R. (1999). Doing quantitative research in the social sciences: An integrated approach to research design, measurement and statistics. Sage.
Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101.
Carr, L. T. (1994). The strengths and weaknesses of quantitative and qualitative research: what method for nursing?. Journal of advanced nursing, 20(4), 716-721.
Denscombe, M. (2010). The Good Research Guide: for small-scale social research. McGraw Hill.
Denzin, N., & Lincoln. Y. (1994). Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications Inc.
Glaser, B. G., Strauss, A. L., & Strutzel, E. (1968). The discovery of grounded theory; strategies for qualitative research. Nursing research, 17(4), 364.
Minichiello, V. (1990). In-Depth Interviewing: Researching People. Longman Cheshire.
Punch, K. (1998). Introduction to Social Research: Quantitatie and Qualitative Approaches. London: Sage
Research Data Designing qualitative research Methods of datacollection and analysis Introduction to quantitative and qualitative research Checklists for improving rigour in qualitative research:a case of the tail wagging the dog? Qualitative research in health care:Analysing qualitative data Qualitative data analysis: the framework approach Using the framework method for the analysis ofqualitative data in multi-disciplinary healthresearch Content Analysis Grounded Theory Thematic Analysis
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How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2019, July 30). Qualitative vs. quantitative research. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/qualitative-quantitative.html
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What's the difference between qualitative and quantitative research simply psychology? ›
In general, quantitative research seeks to understand the causal or correlational relationship between variables through testing hypotheses, whereas qualitative research seeks to understand a phenomenon within a real-world context through the use of interviews and observation.What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research answer? ›
Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings. Quantitative methods allow you to systematically measure variables and test hypotheses. Qualitative methods allow you to explore concepts and experiences in more detail.Are qualitative and quantitative research simply trying to answer the same questions but in different ways? ›
Simply put, quantitative data gets you the numbers to prove the broad general points of your research. Qualitative data brings you the details and the depth to understand their full implications. To get the best results from these methods in your surveys, it's important that you understand the differences between them.How to remember the difference between quantitative and qualitative? ›
An easy way to remember the difference between these two research types is to remember that quantitative gives numerical data, whereas qualitative data is long-form. If you've given a multiple-choice questionnaire and it shows that 80 people chose option A over option B, that's quantitative research.What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research ?( Minimum of 5 sentences? ›
Qualitative research is a method of inquiry that develops understanding on human and social sciences, to find the way people think and feel. Quantitative research is a research method that is used to generate numerical data and hard facts, by employing statistical, logical and mathematical technique.What is the main difference between quantitative and qualitative research quizlet? ›
Quantitative data are numerical in nature, while qualitative data are categorical in nature.What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research give examples? ›
As qualitative and quantitative studies collect different data, their data collection methods differ considerably. Quantitative studies rely on numerical or measurable data. In contrast, qualitative studies rely on personal accounts or documents that illustrate in detail how people think or respond within society.What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative with examples? ›
Quantitative data is fixed and “universal,” while qualitative data is subjective and dynamic. For example, if something weighs 20 kilograms, that can be considered an objective fact. However, two people may have very different qualitative accounts of how they experience a particular event.Which is easier qualitative or quantitative? ›
In general, quantitative studies are easier to conduct, but require more participants than qualitative studies. Specifically, data collection in quantitative studies tend to require less time commitment from participants, and the data analysis can be conducted relatively quickly.Can quantitative research be easily misinterpreted? ›
Quantitative research can be easily misinterpreted because it provides numerical data. Research designs refer to overall strategy that you choose in order to integrate the different components of the study in a coherent and logical way. Non-experimental design is also called descriptive research design.
Is qualitative research method better than quantitative method why and why not? ›
Quantitative research is more preferred over qualitative research because it is more scientific, objective, fast, focused and acceptable. However, qualitative research is used when the researcher has no idea what to expect. It is used to define the problem or develop and approach to the problem.What is qualitative research explained for dummies? ›
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Quantitative research is the process of collecting and analyzing numerical data. It can be used to find patterns and averages, make predictions, test causal relationships, and generalize results to wider populations.Why is qualitative research best suited for psychological studies? ›
Qualitative approaches can tell us how patients experience their treatment process, whether their outcome is good or bad. In this way, a qualitative approach not only can fill in the gap regarding what numbers can tell us but can also give rise to a constructive critique of what is measured in quantitative studies.What is the biggest difference between qualitative and quantitative data analysis? ›
Quantitative data is numbers-based, countable, or measurable. Qualitative data is interpretation-based, descriptive, and relating to language. Quantitative data tells us how many, how much, or how often in calculations. Qualitative data can help us to understand why, how, or what happened behind certain behaviors.What is common between qualitative and quantitative research? ›
Both qualitative and quantitative research are based on a logical and repeatable process. Determination for either research method is driven by the problem, gap, purpose, and research questions. Both also include the ability to collect primary and/or secondary data.What is the difference between a qualitative test and a quantitative test? ›
A qualitative test tells you if a particular substance (analyte) is present in the specimen. A quantitative test tells you how much (the quantity) of an analyte is present.What is the difference between qualitative research and quantitative research PDF? ›
Qualitative research involves the collection and analysis of narratives and/or open-ended observations through methodologies such as interviews, focus groups or ethnographies. The purpose of quantitative research is to generate knowledge and create understanding about the social world.What are 3 examples of quantitative research? ›
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The purpose of quantitative research is to attain greater knowledge and understanding of the social world. Researchers use quantitative methods to observe situations or events that affect people. Quantitative research produces objective data that can be clearly communicated through statistics and numbers.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of quantitative research? ›
|Relatively easy to analyse||Difficult to understand context of a phenomenon|
|Data can be very consistent, precise and reliable||Data may not be robust enough to explain complex issues|
Selecting a Topic
Thinking, defining, and deciding what phenomenon to study is the hardest step of a qualitative research endeavor.
Inconsistency between research question and methodology, insufficient methodological knowledge, and lack of attention to the philosophical underpinning of qualitative methodology are some important challenges.What is the most difficult part of quantitative research? ›
The quantitative study requires extensive statistical analysis, which can be difficult to perform for researchers from non-statistical backgrounds. Statistical analysis is based on scientific discipline and hence is difficult for non-mathematicians to perform.What is the weakness of qualitative research? ›
Weaknesses of qualitative research
Poor quality qualitative work can lead to misleading findings. Qualitative research alone is often insufficient to make population-level summaries. The research is not designed for this purpose, as the aim is not to generate summaries generalisable to the wider population.
The main drawback with quantitative data is that it is reductionist. This means it simplifies too much. A lot of detail and meaning is lost when human experience is presented quantitatively. Two participants may get the same scores, even if they got those scpores by doing very different things.Why is qualitative research more reliable than quantitative? ›
Quantitative research generates factual, reliable outcome data that are usually generalizable to some larger populations, and qualitative research produces rich, detailed and valid process data based on the participant's, rather than the investigator's, perspectives and interpretations (1).Why is qualitative data more reliable? ›
Reliability in qualitative research refers to the stability of responses to multiple coders of data sets. It can be enhanced by detailed field notes by using recording devices and by transcribing the digital files. However, validity in qualitative research might have different terms than in quantitative research.What are two advantages that qualitative methods have over quantitative methods? ›
- Qualitative Research can capture changing attitudes within a target group such as consumers of a product or service, or attitudes in the workplace.
- Qualitative approaches to research are not bound by the limitations of quantitative methods. ...
- Qualitative Research provides a much more flexible approach.
Qualitative research is a process of naturalistic inquiry that seeks an in-depth understanding of social phenomena within their natural setting. It focuses on the "why" rather than the "what" of social phenomena and relies on the direct experiences of human beings as meaning-making agents in their every day lives.
What is qualitative vs quantitative for dummies? ›
Quantitative research focuses on numerical data (e.g., statistics), while qualitative research focuses on non-numerical data, such as words. Quantitative research methods allow you to collect and analyze data to test hypotheses; qualitative methods allow you to collect and analyze data to understand experiences.What is qualitative short answer? ›
Qualitative data describes qualities or characteristics. It is collected using questionnaires, interviews, or observation, and frequently appears in narrative form. For example, it could be notes taken during a focus group on the quality of the food at Cafe Mac, or responses from an open-ended questionnaire.What is qualitative research in psychology? ›
a method of research that produces descriptive (non-numerical) data, such as observations of behavior or personal accounts of experiences. The goal of gathering this qualitative data is to examine how individuals can perceive the world from different vantage points.What is quantitative research in psychology? ›
a method of research that relies on measuring variables using a numerical system, analyzing these measurements using any of a variety of statistical models, and reporting relationships and associations among the studied variables.What is quantitative research about psychology? ›
Quantitative psychologists study and develop the methods and techniques used to measure human behavior and other attributes. Their work involves the statistical and mathematical modeling of psychological processes, the design of research studies and the analysis of psychological data.What is quantitative research in psychology example? ›
Common examples of quantitative data in mental health include: Population studies and samples to determine the prevalence of a specific condition. Statistical analysis of trends in mental health. Analysis of the frequency of certain conditions in particular families, populations, locations, and environments.What is qualitative research in simple words? ›
Qualitative research involves collecting and analyzing non-numerical data (e.g., text, video, or audio) to understand concepts, opinions, or experiences. It can be used to gather in-depth insights into a problem or generate new ideas for research.Why is qualitative research used in Psychology? ›
Qualitative approaches can tell us how patients experience their treatment process, whether their outcome is good or bad. In this way, a qualitative approach not only can fill in the gap regarding what numbers can tell us but can also give rise to a constructive critique of what is measured in quantitative studies.What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative? ›
Quantitative data is numbers-based, countable, or measurable. Qualitative data is interpretation-based, descriptive, and relating to language. Quantitative data tells us how many, how much, or how often in calculations. Qualitative data can help us to understand why, how, or what happened behind certain behaviors.What is quantitative research in simple words? ›
Quantitative research is the process of collecting and analyzing numerical data. It can be used to find patterns and averages, make predictions, test causal relationships, and generalize results to wider populations.
Why is qualitative and quantitative research important in psychology? ›
Psychologists rely on both quantitative and quantitative research to better understand human thought and behavior. Qualitative research involves collecting and evaluating non-numerical data in order to understand concepts or subjective opinions. Quantitative research involves collecting and evaluating numerical data.Why is quantitative research is widely used in psychology? ›
The purpose of quantitative research is to attain greater knowledge and understanding of the social world. Researchers use quantitative methods to observe situations or events that affect people. Quantitative research produces objective data that can be clearly communicated through statistics and numbers.What are the issues in quantitative research psychology? ›
Quantitative researchers generally have four main preoccupations: they want their research to be measurable, to focus on causation, to be generalisable, and to be replicable.What is an example of qualitative research in psychology? ›
A good example of a qualitative research method would be unstructured interviews which generate qualitative data through the use of open questions. This allows the respondent to talk in some depth, choosing their own words. This helps the researcher develop a real sense of a person's understanding of a situation.What is qualitative and quantitative research with examples? ›
Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings. Quantitative methods allow you to test a hypothesis by systematically collecting and analysing data, while qualitative methods allow you to explore ideas and experiences in depth.