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Qualitative vs Quantitative Research: Which One to Choose for Your Project

Qualitative vs Quantitative Research: Which One to Choose for Your Project

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At some point, students need to conduct their own research. Yet, they may get confused because of plenty of research types and methodologies. We will help you to understand the difference between qualitative and quantitative research to know which one you need to apply to your project.

What Is the Difference Between Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Qualitative and quantitative research types have been successfully applied by researchers around the world as they allow collecting reliable empirical data. When quantitative research is useful in getting numerical information, qualitative research provides an opportunity to draw conclusions from words and content. The former focuses on statistical analysis. In contrast, the latter is concerned more with description than measurement. Let us have a look at the features and data analysis peculiarities of each to know how to distinguish between qualitative and quantitative research.

What Is Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is a type of empirical research that aims at collecting and interpreting data that cannot be expressed in numbers. It is widely used in the sphere of psychology, anthropology, and social studies. Researchers focus rather on describing a subject matter than measuring it. They reject artificial settings to study a certain concept without distractions of a controlled environment.

When you are wondering what is qualitative research, examples are numerous. Within this frame, concepts, opinions, and experiences of certain groups of people are of interest. For example, you can use qualitative research findings as evidence for your scholarship essay. Qualitative research does not simply help to collect data. It gives a chance to understand the trends and phenomena of the outside world. 

Features of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research has its notional and methodological characteristics that differentiate it from other types of research. Let's have a look at the most important features: 

  1. Qualitative research usually happens in natural and dynamic settings.
  2. It analyzes different kinds of data, including texts, images, interview answers, and observations.
  3. It is used to interpret concepts that cannot be measured in numbers.
  4. Qualitative research aims to understand human experiences, attitudes, thoughts, behaviors, views on certain topics, and interactions with others and surroundings.
  5. Qualitative research addresses target populations or locations.
  6. It is interested in the opinion of the study participants.

Qualitative Data Analysis

Qualitative data is harder to analyze because it consists of information that cannot be measured. It requires more sophisticated approaches to its interpretation to ensure the confirmability and credibility of the research. The four most common ways to analyze qualitative data are:

  • Content analysis

This type of analysis is concerned with the interpretation of the frequency, location, and definition of words. Researchers usually apply this approach to textual and visual data from interviews.

  • Thematic analysis 

Thematic analysis involves determining specific patterns or themes in the large portions of the collected data. It is a flexible approach that allows exploring the opinions of different participants. 

  • Narrative analysis

This approach is useful when it comes to analyzing stories told by participants of the study. Narrative analysis is used in observations, interviews, and surveys. 

  • Discourse analysis 

Discourse analysis examines social circumstances in which communication happens. It is similar to narrative analysis but involves a particular interest in a social context. Moreover, discourse analysis takes into account the usual surroundings in which participants live.

Strengths of Qualitative Research

  1. Qualitative research can bring a new dimension to studies. This cannot be achieved with only numerical calculations. 
  2. It allows researchers to interpret human behavior and attitudes. They can determine common and diverse trends that characterize different population groups. 
  3. With qualitative research, it also becomes possible to find out whether there are any shifts in attitudes of a certain group. 
  4. Qualitative research requires a smaller sample size compared to other research types. Thus, it turns out to be more economically effective.
  5. It gives more freedom to study participants. They can express themselves in a more creative way, giving researchers a chance to collect extensive data. 
  6. Qualitative research provides insights into the context. It makes this approach more versatile in terms of study areas and techniques. As a result, different industries can use qualitative research to get specific observations. 

Weaknesses of Qualitative Research

  1. As qualitative research is creative and open-ended, it may make the results less objective. Individual preferences of a researcher or his or her bias can sometimes lead to inaccurate interpretation of data. 
  2. Qualitative data is difficult to analyze. 
  3. There are problems with research findings representation because qualitative research is focused on an individual perspective. Consequently, it may be biased or distorted by some external influences.
  4. Some scholars do not accept the accuracy of qualitative data because it can be rarely replicated in other circumstances and with other participants. 
  5. People's attitudes and opinions are likely to change over time, which might cause misleading study results. Thus, qualitative research must be carefully planned for each particular purpose. Otherwise, its findings may be of questionable value. 

What is Quantitative Research

Quantitative research is a type of scientific research based on the collection and interpretation of numeric data. It focuses on measuring and generalizing results. Researchers widely apply statistical operations to discover patterns in the phenomena under examination. Unlike qualitative research, quantitative research offers more objective findings as they are based on more reliable numeric data. What are some examples of quantitative data? It is a broad category that can include such examples as:

  • amount of money invested into certain services
  • average weight or height
  • number of residents of a particular borough
  • number of people involved in a certain activity

Features of Quantitative Research

The main features of quantitative research are:

  1. Focus on formulating facts about certain phenomena.
  2. Use of stable and controlled settings.
  3. The key role of numerical data and measurements in the research.
  4. Use of statistical analysis.
  5. Possibility to present findings as well-structured tables, graphs, diagrams, etc. 

Quantitative Data Analysis

Quantitative data is numerical. Thus, researchers use different mathematical calculations as well as statistical analysis to interpret collected data. It helps to determine common trends and present the results in the form of diagrams, graphs, and tables. Generally, we distinguish descriptive and inferential statistics. The choice of statistical analysis type depends on the research objective and design. 

  • Descriptive statistics processes empirical evidence to summarize and represent it, taking into account statistical indicators. It allows researchers to measure central tendency and find the standard deviation. Descriptive statistics gives an opportunity to see the whole picture of collected data with analysis of lowest and highest scores, frequency, and average indicators. 
  • Inferential statistics aims to check collected data using statistical tests. It helps researchers to track the relation between an intervention and a result.

Although statistical analysis is the most common way to interpret quantitative data, there are many other ways to make sense of numerical information. Other quantitative data analysis approaches are: 

  • Trend analysis aims to discover changes that happen over a certain period of time.
  • Cross-tabulation analyzes matching and dissimilar patterns.
  • Conjoint analysis helps to get detailed metrics and use them as a basis for research outcomes.
  • Gap analysis shows the difference between the desired state of things and actual performance.
  • SWOT analysis determines benefits and weak points as well as favorable circumstances and risks in a numeric form.

Researchers use different software to work on quantitative data analysis. Excel spreadsheets are probably the most common application. Yet, SPSS and R can also be used to facilitate research. 

Strengths of Quantitative Research

  1. As quantitative data is numerical, it is more specific. It makes quantitative research more objective than, for example, qualitative research. 
  2. Quantitative research findings can be tested with statistical analysis calculations. 
  3. The influence of researchers' bias on the collection of data is minimal. The answers of participants are straightforward and clear. As a result, findings do not depend much on researchers' observations. 
  4. Quantitative findings are more reliable and detailed. Usually, they can be replicated in other settings and different participants. 
  5. The presentation of numerical data is simple and can be easily structured. Examples of quantitative research presentation formats include tables, charts, diagrams, etc. 

Weaknesses of Quantitative Research

  1. As quantitative research usually happens in a completely controlled environment, the result greatly depends on the professionalism of researchers. For example, if they formulate closed-ended questions poorly, the risk of getting invalid outcomes is rather high. 
  2. Qualitative research offers a lack of creativity. Participants have a limited number of options for expressing themselves because this type of research entails controlled and fixed settings. 
  3. The collected information can turn out to be limited because of the extreme focus on numbers. To have a full picture of the problem, researchers may need to use additional methods.

Qualitative Research vs. Quantitative Research: Contrasting Characteristics 

Qualitative Research vs. Quantitative Research: Contrasting Characteristics

Qualitative vs Quantitative Research: Data Collection Methods

What is the difference between quantitative and qualitative data collection methods? In general, qualitative research methods are more flexible and apply open-ended questions. Quantitative data collection methods focus on highly controlled approaches and numerical information. Let's discuss the most popular methods in detail. 

Qualitative Data Collection Methods

  • Interview is the most widely used qualitative research method. It involves personal interaction between a researcher and a participant. It is suitable for exploring attitudes and opinions regarding certain issues. Researches use open-ended questions to collect meaningful data and allow participants to be creative in expressing their thoughts. Interviews are usually conducted either in person or over the phone.
  • Focus groups are useful in collecting data from several participants. It can be held either in person or online. Each member of a group shares his or her opinion and discusses an issue with others. A researcher needs to guide the process and ask questions. Qualitative research examples that involve focus groups are market research and testing of new products. This data collection method helps to predict potential reactions from a larger population. 
  • Ethnography allows collecting data in natural and uncontrolled settings. Researchers observe study participants to make conclusions about their behavior, motivation, struggles, etc. The method requires a lot of time (days, months, or even years). This example of qualitative research methods needs a researcher to be competent and experienced. 
  • Case study, as a qualitative data collection method, explores a particular problem in a natural environment. It can involve a different number of participants. A researcher can use various sources of data, including interviews, visual materials, and written records. For example, researchers may collect qualitative data from a reflective essay or any other written document. Case studies provide a profound exploration of complex situations. 

Quantitative Data Collection Methods

  • Survey is one of the quantitative research methods, which involves questioning a large number of people. As a rule, a questionnaire includes closed-ended questions, which are the same for all participants. A survey can be conducted face to face, by phone, or via the internet. Researchers should develop clear and straightforward questions. An ambiguous questionnaire can lead to distorted research outcomes. 
  • Experiment involves different techniques to analyze how certain variables may affect research participants. Researchers have complete control over the process and can manipulate the conditions. An experiment usually involves a control group and an experimental group. It depends on statistical analysis to draw a conclusion. 
  • Observation is among the types of quantitative research methods too. It involves systematic observation of people with the aim of collecting the necessary numerical data. For example, researchers can count the frequency, time, or duration of a certain event. Although observations may be time-consuming, they give detailed and valid data.
  • External data in the form of written records can also give valuable quantitative information. For example, researchers can examine hospital records, school attendance records, population records, etc. It allows them to access already structured numerical data and interpret it according to research objectives. 

Mixed Methods 

Researchers often combine qualitative and quantitative methodologies of research in one study. The best practices of each help to look at a phenomenon under analysis from a broader perspective. Such an approach is widely used in social studies and healthcare. It allows researchers to add flexibility and creativity to their work. Mixed methods collect rich and reliable data, which can be further tested and replicated. The examples of the mixed methods are:

  • Convergent design

A convergent design allows researchers to collect and interpret both qualitative and quantitative data. Then, they can compare them to rule out any contradictions in findings. 

  • Exploratory sequential design 

This research design is primarily focused on qualitative data. Yet, it applies numerical information to test and complement initial qualitative outcomes. 

  • Explanatory sequential design

Unlike an exploratory sequential design, this type of research organization focuses on numerical data first. Then, it uses qualitative data to help interpret quantitative findings. It allows making numerical data more detailed and comprehensive. Besides, using an explanatory sequential design, researchers can be sure that findings correspond to the experiences of study participants. 

When to Use Qualitative vs Quantitative Research

Due to the inherent difference between qualitative and quantitative research, their application differs. You need to determine what your project requires most: descriptions or measurements. Then, you can make the right choice. 

Let's look at some examples. Qualitative research will be of use when you need:

  • To collect information and prepare a hypothesis for further research
  • To explore how people perceive a certain phenomenon
  • To explore the corporate culture of a particular organization
  • To collect customers' feedback regarding a new product
  • To test understanding of a marketing slogan
  • To plan a strategy for business development
  • To generate ideas 
  • To analyze the values of a certain population group
  • To identify areas that require improvement
  • To determine problems relevant to the population 

In contrast, quantitative research can help:

  • To identify the level of customer satisfaction
  • To determine which product is more popular based on sales
  • To validate scores
  • To evaluate performance
  • To find average prices of a service

To Conclude

Qualitative research and quantitative research help to look at a researched issue from a broad perspective. Researchers can use these two types separately or apply mixed methods and enjoy the benefits of each. While qualitative research ensures flexibility and creativity, quantitative research methods can help with measurements and statistical analysis. 

Both methods require a researcher to be well-prepared and competent. You can collect and interpret data correctly only if you are completely confident in your knowledge of research methods and approaches. Our article will help you cope with both qualitative research and quantitative research. However, as studies can be too time-consuming, you can ask professionals to help "do my paper" and research information. This way, you will get reliable and comprehensive findings, already analyzed, structured, and presented in a required format.

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