Quantitative vs Qualitative, the Differences, a Simple Guide

Evgeniya Ivonina

11 years of experience in online marketing

Quantitative and qualitative research are supplementary methods that one can combine in their surveys in order to get results that are both meaningful - as well as wide-reaching.

In order to attain the best results from these research methods, it is essential to understand the differences between them. So in this article, we’re going to make some comparisons between quantitative and qualitative research methods.

But first, here’s a quick rundown of qualitative vs quantitative to give you a quick overview, then we’ll dive into some of the details…

Difference between quantitative vs qualitative research? Both research methods have different approaches. Quantitative relies more on factual testing and data, with mostly closed questions, to arrive at conclusions. Whereas qualitative explores ideas, classifications, and scenarios, with more words, fewer tables, and graphs, and more open-ended questions.

So now we’ve got the overview answer, let’s take you through a more thorough - yet simple review of qualitative vs quantitative to give you a deeper understanding.

Research Methods

Both quantitative and qualitative research uses a separate set of research methods to gather and analyze data, enabling you to answer a variety of research questions.

Here‘s a summary of the major differences between the two.

Quantitative research

  • Emphasizes on testing hypotheses and theories
  • Data is analyzed through statistical and mathematical analysis
  • Results are typically expressed in the form of tables, numbers or graphs
  • It needs a number of respondents
  • Surveys comprise of closed, multiple-choice questions

Qualitative research

  • Emphasizes on exploring ideas and devising theory or hypothesis
  • Data is analyzed through classifying, categorizing and interpretation
  • Results are typically expressed in words
  • It requires relatively fewer respondents
  • Surveys mostly comprise of open-ended questions

Methods of Collecting Data

According to Researchgate, there are a variety of ways in which we can collect data, such as the collection of primary data, interviews, and other methods. Both quantitative and qualitative data can be gathered using a number, or selection of, these different methods.

But of all these data collecting options available, it’s important to use a data collection method that would help justify your research solutions.

Quantitative - methods of data collection

Surveys: Often entailing a list of multiple-choice or closed questions that are distributed to a sample population. This can be done either online or in person, but often in a controlled environment to reduce variables in the data.

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Experiments: a scenario in which variables are controlled, to develop cause-and-effect relationships with as few anomalies as possible.

Observations: The act of observing the phenomenon understudy in a natural environment where the variables can’t be controlled.

Content analysis: Consistently registering the presence of particular themes or words in a set of texts in order to analyze communication schematics.

Qualitative - methods of data collection

Interviews: Verbally asking a variety of open-ended questions to a group of respondents. Environments are normally more informal to elicit a more natural response.

Focus groups: Conducting a debate between a group of people regarding a certain topic to gather ideas that can be used for further research.

Ethnography: Living within an organization or a community for a significant period of time so as to keenly observe culture and behavior.

Case studies: Thorough study regarding a group, person, organization, or event.

Literature review: Studying published works by reputed authors. Adding to theories, and/or offering alternative hypothesis.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research - When to Use

Another aspect of qualitative vs quantitative is knowing when to use each. When deciding whether to use a quantitative or qualitative research approach, keep the following basic criterion in mind.

Use quantitative research if you want to test or confirm something, for instance, a theory or a hypothesis. Use qualitative research if you wish to understand something, such as concepts, thoughts, and experiences.

For a majority of research topics, you can go for a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods approach. Which type of research approach you opt for can depend upon factors such as:

  • Whether your research approach is inductive or deductive
  • Type of research questions
  • The type of research you are conducting; correlational, experimental or descriptive
  • Other considerations such as money, time, and availability of data as well as that of the respondents
Use quantitative research if you want to test or confirm something …use qualitative research if you wish to understand something

Quantitative research approach - Example

An example would be that of conducting a survey amongst 300 students at your university and asking them questions such as “on a scale from 1-10, how satisfied are you with your product?”

You can then statistically analyze the data and derive conclusions such as “on average, customers rated this product at 8.2 - on a scale of 1-10”

Here are the survey templates you should look to use for this kind of approach.

Qualitative research approach - Example

Conducting detailed interviews with 10 customers, and asking them open-ended questions like “How satisfied are you with the service?”, “What is the most positive aspect of this service?” and “What can be done to further improve this service for you?”

Depending upon the range and type of answers you get you can even then ask follow-up questions in order to clarify specific areas of your research. This enables you to refine any grey areas in your findings.

You will then document all the answers using any transcription software and try to find patterns and generalities.

Analyzing the Data

In terms of quantitative vs qualitative data, neither quantitative or qualitative would demonstrate or prove anything by itself. It has to be properly analyzed in order to demonstrate its meaning in association with the research questions. Each type of data would have a different method of analysis.

Analyzing quantitative data

Quantitative data is largely based on figures. Simple mathematics or more advanced statistical analysis is required to discover patterns or common trends within the data. The results are typically expressed in the form of tables and graphs.

Standard industry software such as Excel, SPSS, or R can be used to calculate things like:

  • Average scores
  • The frequency of a certain answer
  • The causation or correlation between two or more variables
  • The validity and reliability of the results

Analyzing qualitative data

Qualitative data is comparatively trickier to analyze when compared to quantitative data. It’s expressed in the form of images, texts, or videos instead of absolute figures.

Some of the commonly employed methods to analyze qualitative data include:

  • Qualitative content analysis: Monitoring the position, occurrence, and meaning of certain phrases or words
  • Thematic analysis: Thoroughly examining the data in order to identify the main patterns, commonalities, and themes
  • Discourse analysis: Understanding how communication works in social contexts

Quantitative vs Qualitative Research - Outcomes

Quantitative data will allow you to see the bigger picture from a predominantly statistical viewpoint. Qualitative data, on the other hand, adds further details and can even impart a human voice to the results of your surveys.

Quantitative vs Qualitative research - Hypotheses

Research invariable involves a set of expected outcomes, there are a number of hypotheses involved in this process, let’s explore the concepts around these…

Formulating hypotheses

Qualitative research enables you to collect detailed information on a certain topic. You can then use it to initiate your research by exploring the opportunities or problems that people encounter. Those ideas then become “hypotheses” or theories - yet to be proven through quantitative research.

Validation of hypotheses

Quantitative research will give you results in the form of absolute figures upon which you can apply statistical analysis to validate your hypotheses.

Was that problem even real or just somebody’s perception? The facts attained through quantitative research will enable you to make an informed decision.

So Finally

We hope this has provided an overview of quantitative vs qualitative methods, and answered some of the questions you may have around these types of research.

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