Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research – What’s the Difference

Both qualitative and quantitative research are valid and effective approaches to study a particular subject. However, it is important to know that these research approaches serve different purposes and provide different results. This guide will help illustrate quantitative and qualitative research, what they are used for, and the difference between them.

What is quantitative research?

Quantitative research focuses on collecting numerical data and using it to measure variables. As such, quantitative research and data are typically expressed in numbers and graphs. Moreover, this type of research is structured and statistical and the returned results are objective.

What is quantitative research used for?

To illustrate what quantitative research is used for, let’s look at a simple example. Let’s assume you want to research the reading habits of a specific part of a population.

With this research, you would like to establish what they read. In other words, do they read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, blogs, and so on? Also, you want to establish what they read about. For example, if they read fiction, is it thrillers, romance novels, or period dramas?

With quantitative research, you can gather concrete data about these reading habits. Your research will then, for example, show that 40% of the audience reads fiction and, of that 40%, 60% prefer romance novels.

In other studies and research projects, quantitative research will work in much the same way. That is, you use it to quantify variables, opinions, behaviors, and more.

How to collect data for quantitative research

Now that we’ve seen what quantitative research is and what it’s used for, let’s look at how you’ll collect data for it. Because quantitative research is structured and statistical, its data collection methods focus on collecting numerical data.

Some methods to collect this data include:

  • Surveys. Surveys are one of the most popular and easiest ways to collect quantitative data. These can include anything from online surveys to paper surveys. It’s important to remember that, to collect quantitative data, you won’t be able to ask open-ended questions.
  • Interviews. As is the case with qualitative data, you’ll be able to use interviews to collect quantitative data with the proviso that the data will not be based on open-ended questions.
  • Observations. You’ll also be able to use observations to collect quantitative data. However, here you’ll need to make observations in an environment where variables can’t be controlled.
  • Website interceptors. With website interceptors, you’ll be able to get real-time insights into a specific product, service, or subject. In most cases, these interceptors take the form of surveys displayed on websites or invitations on the website to complete the survey.
  • Longitudinal studies. With these studies, you’ll gather data on the same variables over specified time periods. Longitudinal studies are often used in medical sciences and include, for instance, diet studies. It’s important to remember that, for the results to be reliable, you’ll have to collect data from the same subjects.
  • Online polls. Similar to website interceptors, online polls allow you to gather data from websites or social media platforms. These polls are short with only a few options and can give you valuable insights into a very specific question or topic.
  • Experiments. With experiments, you’ll manipulate some variables (your independent variables) and gather data on causal relationships between others (your dependent variables). You’ll then measure what effect the manipulation of the independent variables has on the dependent variables.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research focuses on collecting and analyzing non-numerical data. As such, it’s typically unstructured and non-statistical. The main aim of qualitative research is to get a better understanding and insights into concepts, topics, and subjects.

What is qualitative research used for?

Considering that qualitative research aims to provide more profound insights and understanding into specific subjects, we’ll use our example mentioned earlier to explain what qualitative research is used for.

Based on this example, you’ve now established that 40% of the population reads fiction. You’ve probably also discovered in what proportion the population consumes other reading materials.

Qualitative research will now enable you to learn the reasons for these reading habits. For example, it will show you why 40% of the readers prefer fiction, while, for instance, only 10% prefer thrillers. It thus gives you an understanding of your participants’ behaviors and actions.

How to collect data for qualitative research

We’ve now recapped what qualitative research is and what it’s used for. Let’s now consider some methods to collect data for this type of research.

Some of these data collection methods include:

  • Interviews. These include one-on-one interviews with respondents where you ask open-ended questions. You’ll then record the answers from every respondent and analyze these answers later.
  • Open-ended survey questions. Open-ended survey questions give you insights into why respondents feel the way they do about a particular aspect.
  • Focus groups. Focus groups allow you to have conversations with small groups of people and record their opinions and views about a specific topic.
  • Observations. Observations like ethnography require that you participate in a specific organization or group in order to record their routines and interactions. This will, for instance, be the case where you want to establish how customers use a product in real-life scenarios.
  • Literature reviews. With literature reviews, you’ll analyze the published works of other authors to analyze the prevailing view regarding a specific subject.
  • Diary studies. Diary studies allow you to collect data about peoples’ habits, activities, and experiences over time. This will, for example, show you how customers use a product, when they use it, and what motivates them.

When to use which approach?

Now, the immediate question is: When should you use qualitative research, and when should you use quantitative research? As mentioned earlier, in its simplest form:

  • Quantitative research allows you to confirm or test a hypothesis or theory or quantify a specific problem or quality.
  • Qualitative research allows you to understand concepts or experiences.

Let’s look at how you’ll use these approaches in a research project a bit closer:

  • Formulating a hypothesis. As mentioned earlier, qualitative research gives you a deeper understanding of a topic. Apart from learning more profound insights about your research findings, you can also use it to formulate a hypothesis when you start your research.
  • Confirming a hypothesis. Once you’ve formulated a hypothesis, you can test it with quantitative research. As mentioned, you can also use it to quantify trends and behavior.
  • Finding general answers. Quantitative research can help you answer broad questions. This is because it uses a larger sample size and thus makes it easier to gather simple binary or numeric data on a specific subject.
  • Getting a deeper understanding. Once you have the broad answers mentioned above, qualitative research will help you find reasons for these answers. In other words, quantitative research shows you the motives behind actions or behaviors.

Considering the above, why not consider a mixed approach? You certainly can because these approaches are not mutually exclusive. In other words, using one does not necessarily exclude the other. Moreover, both these approaches are useful for different reasons.

This means you could use both approaches in one project to achieve different goals. For example, you could use qualitative to formulate a hypothesis. Once formulated, quantitative research will allow you to confirm the hypothesis.

So, to answer the initial question, the approach you use is up to you.  However, when deciding on the right approach, you should consider the specific research project, the data you’ll gather, and what you want to achieve.

No matter what approach you choose, you should design your research in such a way that it delivers results that are objective, reliable, and valid.

How to analyze qualitative and quantitative research?

Both these research approaches are based on data. Once you have this data, however, you need to analyze it to answer your research questions. The method to do this depends on the research approach you use.

Analyzing quantitative data

To analyze quantitative data, you’ll need to use mathematical or statistical analysis. This can involve anything from calculating simple averages to applying complex and advanced methods to calculate the statistical significance of the results. No matter what analysis methods you use, it will enable you to spot trends and patterns in your data.

Considering the above, you can use tools, applications, and programming languages like R to calculate:

  • The average of a set of numbers. This could, for instance, be the case where you calculate the average scores students obtained in a test or the average time people spend on a website.
  • The frequency of a specific response. This will be the case where you, for example, use open-ended survey questions during qualitative analysis. You could then calculate the frequency of a specific response for deeper insights.
  • Any correlation between different variables. Through mathematical analysis, you can calculate whether two or more variables are directly or indirectly correlated. In turn, this could help you identify trends in the data.
  • The statistical significance of your results. By analyzing the data and calculating the statistical significance of the results, you’ll be able to see whether certain occurrences happen randomly or because of specific factors.

Analyzing qualitative data

Analyzing qualitative data is more complex than quantitative data. This is simply because it’s not based on numerical values but rather text, images, video, and the like. As such, you won’t be able to use mathematical analysis to analyze and interpret your results.

Because of this, it relies on a more interpretive analysis style and a strict analytical framework to analyze data and extract insights from it.

Some of the most common ways to analyze qualitative data include:

  • Qualitative content analysis. In a content analysis, you’ll analyze the language used in a specific piece of text. This allows you to understand the intentions of the author, who the audience is, and find patterns and correlations in how different concepts are communicated. A major benefit of this approach is that it follows a systematic and transparent process that other researchers will be able to replicate. As such, your research will produce highly reliable results. Keep in mind, however, that content analysis can be time-intensive and difficult to automate.
  • Thematic analysis. In a thematic analysis, you’ll analyze data with a view of extracting themes, topics, and patterns in the data. Although thematic analysis can encompass a range of diverse approaches, it’s usually used to analyze a collection of texts like survey responses, focus group discussions, or transcriptions of interviews. One of the main benefits of thematic analysis is that it’s flexible in its approach. However, in some cases, thematic analysis can be highly subjective, which, in turn, impacts the reliability of the results.
  • Discourse analysis. In a discourse analysis, you’ll analyze written or spoken language to understand how language is used in real-life social situations. As such, you’ll be able to determine how meaning is given to language in different contexts. This is an especially effective approach if you want to gain a deeper understanding of different social groups and how they communicate with each other. As such, it’s commonly used in humanities and social science disciplines.

Differences between qualitative and quantitative research

We’ve now given a broad overview of both qualitative and quantitative research. Based on this, we can summarize the differences between these two approaches as follows:

Differences Quantitative research Qualitative research
Use case Focuses on testing hypotheses. Can also be used to determine general facts about a topic. Focuses on developing an idea or hypotheses. Can also be used to gain a deeper understanding into specific topics.
Analysis Analysis is mainly done through mathematical or statistical analytics. Analysis is more interpretive and involves summarizing and categorizing topics or themes and interpreting data.
Data Data is typically expressed in numbers, graphs, tables, or other numerical formats. Data is generally expressed in words or text.
Sample size Requires a reasonably large sample size to be reliable. Requires smaller sample sizes with only a few respondents.
Questions Data collection is focused on closed-ended questions. Data collection is focused on open-ended questions to extract the opinions and views on a particular subject.

Frequently Asked Questions 

1. What is qualitative research? Qualitative research is a method of inquiry focused on understanding human behavior, beliefs, experiences, and interactions through observation, interviews, and analysis of non-numerical data.

2. What is quantitative research? Quantitative research involves collecting and analyzing numerical data to identify patterns, relationships, and statistical significance. It aims to quantify phenomena and draw conclusions based on numerical evidence.

3. How do they differ in data collection methods? Qualitative research often employs methods like interviews, focus groups, observations, and open-ended surveys to gather rich, descriptive data. Quantitative research relies on structured surveys, experiments, observations, and statistical analysis to collect numerical data.

4. What types of questions are best suited for qualitative research? Qualitative research is ideal for exploring complex phenomena, understanding motivations, and generating hypotheses. It is well-suited for questions that start with “how” or “why” and require in-depth exploration of participants’ perspectives.

5. When should I choose quantitative research? Quantitative research is appropriate when you aim to measure phenomena objectively, establish causality, or generalize findings to a larger population. It is suitable for questions that involve numerical comparisons, trends, or statistical relationships.

6. How do they differ in data analysis? Qualitative research involves thematic analysis, coding, and interpretation of textual or visual data to identify patterns and themes. Quantitative research employs statistical techniques like regression analysis, t-tests, and ANOVA to analyze numerical data and test hypotheses.

7. Which approach provides more depth of understanding? Qualitative research offers deeper insights into the nuances of human behavior, motivations, and social contexts. It allows researchers to explore complex issues in detail, uncovering rich, context-specific information.

8. Which approach is more objective? Quantitative research is often perceived as more objective because it relies on numerical data and statistical analysis, providing measurable and replicable results. However, both qualitative and quantitative approaches can be conducted rigorously with appropriate methodologies to enhance objectivity.

9. Can I use both approaches in one study? Yes, employing mixed methods allows researchers to triangulate findings, providing a more comprehensive understanding of research questions. Combining qualitative and quantitative data can enhance the validity and reliability of research outcomes.

10. How do I choose between qualitative and quantitative research? The choice depends on the research questions, objectives, and the nature of the phenomenon under investigation. Consider the depth of understanding needed, the availability of resources, and the preferences of stakeholders when selecting the most appropriate approach.

Place your order
(550 words)

Approximate price: $22

Calculate the price of your order

550 words
We'll send you the first draft for approval by September 11, 2018 at 10:52 AM
Total price:
The price is based on these factors:
Academic level
Number of pages
Basic features
  • Free title page and bibliography
  • Unlimited revisions
  • Plagiarism-free guarantee
  • Money-back guarantee
  • 24/7 support
On-demand options
  • Writer’s samples
  • Part-by-part delivery
  • Overnight delivery
  • Copies of used sources
  • Expert Proofreading
Paper format
  • 275 words per page
  • 12 pt Arial/Times New Roman
  • Double line spacing
  • Any citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, Harvard)

Our guarantees

Delivering a high-quality product at a reasonable price is not enough anymore.
That’s why we have developed 5 beneficial guarantees that will make your experience with our service enjoyable, easy, and safe.

Money-back guarantee

You have to be 100% sure of the quality of your product to give a money-back guarantee. This describes us perfectly. Make sure that this guarantee is totally transparent.

Read more

Zero-plagiarism guarantee

Each paper is composed from scratch, according to your instructions. It is then checked by our plagiarism-detection software. There is no gap where plagiarism could squeeze in.

Read more

Free-revision policy

Thanks to our free revisions, there is no way for you to be unsatisfied. We will work on your paper until you are completely happy with the result.

Read more

Privacy policy

Your email is safe, as we store it according to international data protection rules. Your bank details are secure, as we use only reliable payment systems.

Read more

Fair-cooperation guarantee

By sending us your money, you buy the service we provide. Check out our terms and conditions if you prefer business talks to be laid out in official language.

Read more
Open chat
You can contact our live agent via WhatsApp! Via + 1 4129036714

Feel free to ask questions, clarifications, or discounts available when placing an order.

Order your essay today and save 20% with the discount code GURUH