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What’s the difference between qualitative and quantitative research?

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❶In Quantitative Research, researchers tend to remain objectively separated from the subject matter.

This article is a part of the guide:

Qualitative Research
Quantitative Research
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Nor is it meant as an exhaustive discussion of research methodology. Instead, this is a brief look at the topic where the arguments and content are kept purposely simple because this type of discussion can quickly become a morass of jargon.

The argument put forward here is that the distinction between qualitative and quantitative research may have had validity at the turn of the 20th century, but as ideas about research have continued to evolve and develop the distinction has become more historical than actual. The reasons often forwarded for why qualitative and quantitative research are fundamentally different generally reduce to four areas: Each of these areas is taken in turn and the assumptions exposed.

Research methodology is most often described as the overall philosophy underpinning research, whereas research methods are the practical guidelines or techniques used to produce research. Those differences can be described as: A brief thought about both definitions shows that a reasonable person can come up with examples whereby the basic definitions do not hold. There are, of course, a multitude of definitions for what is realism and idealism.

It basically comes down to the assumptions which are made about the nature of reality and since philosophers have been arguing about the nature of reality for thousands of years, without coming to a conclusion, it is not likely that researchers will arrive at a conclusion any time soon. So the same argument of idealist versus realist is rolled out based on no real evidence. The second part on the philosophy of research is causality vs interpretation.

Up until the early 20th century many scientists searched for causality, also known as cause and effect. Even so, causality as the purpose of quantitative research is still put forward as being a stumbling block between qualitative and quantitative research.

As for qualitative research, the emphasis is on the interpretation of how social reality is constructed or the cultural meaning of phenomena experienced by those who are in a study. Quantitative and qualitative researchers need to make judgements about their data in order to elicit new meaning, extract alternative meanings, and interpret results based on previous research. Any research without interpretation is simply disaggregate.

This leads directly in to the area of theory and, by extension, hypotheses and deductive reasoning vs description, and also by extension, inductive reasoning. The qualitative camp state that data collected can only describe the situation as it is and that no theories can be developed. Where then does this leave the branch of qualitative research called Grounded Theory, whereby theories are developed based on the data collected? Yet there are examples of where this is not so.

If you look at surveys, a quantitative technique, there is no need for a hypothesis or a theory — the point of a survey is to find out information and not to test a hypothesis. Both sides use a combination of induction and deductive reasoning.

In fact, it is not too difficult to see that induction and deduction are parts of the same process Figure 1. For example, in epidemiology diseases are observed, patterns of disease are detected, tentative hypotheses are postulated about the underlying cause or causes, and theories of the disease are formulated: From there, the theory is tested based on exposure and non-exposure, results are observed, and the theory of the disease is rejected or not rejected: So why should there be a limit to our understanding based on to one type of reasoning over the other?

The second set of difference between qualitative and quantitative research can be summed up as context, values, and involvement. In the quantitative camp, research is supposed to be conducted independent of context, be free of societal or cultural values, and the researcher is detached from, or not involved, in the process. In the qualitative camp the research is said to be context dependent, societal and cultural values are present and explicitly stated, and the researcher is involved in the process.

However, all research has a context. Quantitative research can attempt to control for this by limiting the context through controlling variables but in some quantitative techniques, such as developmental studies, this is not possible so that the context of the research becomes more important. Qualitative research does not attempt to control for context and it is through the context of the research that the research gains value, however, qualitative research can not always be said to happen in naturalistic setting, e.

On the topic of societal and cultural values, no research is value free. Where quantitative research has learned from qualitative research is that these things are present and need to be accounted for in the way research is conducted.

In fact, there has been a movement in health research to publically register randomised controlled trials before they begin, so that the procedure, influences, and the veracity of the results can be publically determined. Equally, qualitative and quantitative researchers are deeply involved in their own research. It is more a matter of when this occurs. For the quantitative researcher their involvement is notionally suspended as the data is collected, i. But this has more to do with introducing as few biases into the research than a lack of wanting to be involved.

Meanwhile, the qualitative researcher is notionally involved the whole way through their research but it is not necessarily the case in large projects where the researcher may not be involved in all or any interviews. The third group of differences put forward are that qualitative research uses words as the data, thematic analysis of the data, and has few participants whereas quantitative research uses numbers as the data, statistical analysis, and has many participants.

Again, on the surface, this appears true but with a little digging the distinction is difficult to maintain. Quantitative studies can have one participant, i. On the data and analysis side, the distinction is a matter of precision rather than use of different data and analysis. If the research requires a high degree of precision, then numbers and statistical analysis may be the requirement.

However, if the degree of precision is not as important and the views of the participants are of more value, then the use of words and thematic analysis, or another qualitative analysis technique, are more useful.

Also, where the subject being studied is too complex to reduce it to quantitative data, then it is better to allow that complexity to stand and to analyse the data in a qualitative manner. All this is true whether the research technique employed was primarily qualitative or quantitative. There is one common error that is made by both camps and it has been alluded to in the previous sections without spelling it out in detail: Both camps assume that there is only one facet to the other.

In other words, the qualitative camp appear to assume that there is one, stereotypical quantitative design and the quantitative side appear to assume that there is one, stereotypical qualitative design. However, both camps have a number of research designs at their disposal Figure 2. Furthermore, a research objective, purpose, or question is normally stated in a way that is independent of the research method employed. Surely the better strategy is to decide where you want to go and then decide which is the best way to get there?

In quantitative research, sample selection seeks out a large number of cases that are expected to best represent the population of interest. Individual respondents are selected at random. Qualitative data analysis is non-statistical, its methodological approach is primarily guided by the concrete material at hand. In quantitative research, the sole approach to data is statistical and takes places in the form of tabulations.

Findings are usually descriptive in nature although conclusive only within the numerical framework. Rather, one could compare the two approaches as follows: Quantitative research seeks out explanatory laws whereas qualitative research aims more at in-depth description.

Qualitative research measures, in hopes of developing universal laws where qualitative research can be described as an exploration of what is assumed to be a dynamic reality. Qualitative research does not claim that what is discovered in the process is universal, and thus, replicable. Common differences usually cited between these types of research include. In general, qualitative research generates rich, detailed and valid process data that contribute to the in-depth understanding of a context.

Quantitative research, on the other hand, generates reliable population-based and generalizable data that is suited to establishing cause-and-effect relationships. The decision of whether to choose a quantitative or a qualitative design is ultimately a philosophical question. Which methods to choose will depend on the nature of the project, the type of information needed the context of the study and the availability of resources time, money, and human.

Qualitative analysis involves a continual interplay between theory and analysis. In analyzing qualitative data, we seek to discover patterns such as changes over time or possible causal links between variables. Combining of qualitative and quantitative research is becoming more and more common. It is important to keep in mind that these are two different philosophies, not necessarily polar opposites.


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While defining quantitative and qualitative research based on their uses and purposes may be considered a practical approach for researcher, the difference actually lies .

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Qualitative vs Quantitative Research. Here’s a more detailed point-by-point comparison between the two types of research: 1. Goal or Aim of the Research. The primary aim of a Qualitative Research is to provide a complete, detailed description of the research topic. It is usually more exploratory in nature.

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1 Chapter 2 Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Research This chapter is our introduction to the three research methodology paradigms. A paradigm is a perspective based on a set of assumptions, concepts, and values that are held by a community or researchers. Qualitative: Quantitative: Definitions: a systematic subjective approach used to describe life experiences and give them meaning: a formal, objective, systematic process for .

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Qualitative research collects information that seeks to describe a topic more than measure it. Learn the difference between these two forms of data and when you should use them. Quantitative research is designed to collect cold, hard facts. Qualitative Methods Quantitative Methods Methods include focus groups, in-depth interviews, and reviews of documents for types of themes.