Qualitative vs quantitative research

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There is no doubt that it is very important for you to understand the differences between qualitative research and quantitative research methods if you were to carry out a research project. While we can divide research methods  broadly into quantitative and qualitative methods, what method you should choose depends on your research philosophy, approach (e.g. deductive and inductive), and your research questions. Your own preference may also determine what method you select. This article is about qualitative vs quantitative research. It aims to identify the differences between qualitative research and quantitative research. However, if you would like to know more on research in general, read our article ‘Research – definition of research’.

Qualitative vs quantitative research

Before we talk about the differences between these methods, let us look into the definitions. ‘Qualitative research is geared towards gathering qualitative information about for instance, attitude and motivation, often in the form of pictures and words and using techniques such as discussion groups’ (BPP Learning Media, 2013, p.60). According to Wilson (2012) it is a research which you may undertake by using an unstructured research approach with a small number of carefully selected individuals to produce non-quantifiable insights into behaviour, motivation, and attitudes.

On the other hand, quantitative research is a formal, objective, systematic process in which numerical data are used to obtain information about the world (Burns & Grove 2005). In this type of research, the data that you produce are always numerical and you can analyse them with some kind of mathematical and statistical methods. So, if your research does not involve numbers, it is not a quantitative research!

You can collect quantitative data mostly with surveys and questionnaires. However, you need interviews, focus groups, and other tools to collect qualitative data. Quantitative research emphasises on measurement. On the other hand, qualitative research focuses on ‘understanding’ rather than simple measurement. While quantitative research is very structured, qualitative research design is flexible and can emerge and evolve as the study develops.

You may conduct a quantitative research to examine the relationships between two variables, measure the size of a market, calculate awareness of a brand and many more.  On the other hand, you can examine any phenomenon in a qualitative way. In fact, many researchers in the UK and Europe prefer qualitative research to quantitative research.

To conclude, qualitative vs quantitative research is a topic of much academic discussion.  As shown above, there are many differences between qualitative research and quantitative research. You need to understand these differences as they directly impact on your overall research. Research methods determine research tools e.g. surveys and questionnaires, interviews, focus groups and so on. Therefore, understanding and selecting the right research method is extremely important for your research endeavours.

The article publication date: 08 October 2017

Further reading/references

BPP Learning Media (2013) Business Essentials: Marketing Intelligence and Planning, 3rd edition, London: BPP Learning Media Ltd

Burns, N, Grove, SK (2005) The Practice of Nursing Research: Conduct, Critique, and Utilization, 5th edition, St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders

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Author: M Rahman

M Rahman writes extensively online with an emphasis on business management, marketing, and tourism. He is a lecturer in Management and Marketing. He holds an MSc in Tourism & Hospitality from the University of Sunderland. Also, graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University with a BA in Business & Management Studies and completed a DTLLS (Diploma in Teaching in the Life-Long Learning Sector) from London South Bank University.