Qualitative vs. quantitative research

There are two approaches to collecting and analyzing data: qualitative research and quantitative research. Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.

Each of these types of research has different objectives and methods, and both are important for gaining different kinds of knowledge.

Quantitative research
Quantitative research is expressed in numbers and graphs. It is used to test or confirm theories and assumptions. This type of research can be used to establish generalizable facts about a topic.

Qualitative research
Qualitative research is expressed in words. It is used to understand concepts, thoughts or experiences. This type of research enables you to gather in-depth insights on topics that are not well understood.

The differences between quantitative and qualitative research

Quantitative and qualitative research use different research methods to collect and analyze data, and they allow you to answer different kinds of research questions.

Qualitative vs. quantitative research
Quantitative researchQualitative Research
Focuses on testing theories and hypothesesFocuses on exploring ideas and formulating a theory or hypothesis
Is analyzed through math and statistical analysisIs analyzed by summarizing, categorizing and interpreting
Mainly expressed in numbers, graphs and tablesMainly expressed in words
Requires many respondentsRequires few respondents
Closed (multiple choice) questionsOpen-ended questions
Key terms are: testing, measurement, objectivity, replicabilityKey terms are: understanding, context, complexity, subjectivity

Data collection methods

Quantitative and qualitative data can be collected using various methods. It is important to use a data collection method that will help answer your research question(s).

Quantitative data collection methods

  • Surveys: List of closed or multiple choice questions that is distributed to a sample (online, in person, or over the phone).
  • Experiments: Situation in which variables are controlled and manipulated to establish cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Observations: Observing people in a natural environment where variables can’t be controlled.
  • Content analysisSystematically recording the presence of certain words or themes in a set of texts to analyze communication patterns.

Qualitative data collection methods

  • Interviews: Asking open-ended questions verbally to respondents.
  • Focus groups: Discussion among a group of people about a topic to gather opinions that can be used for further research.
  • Ethnography: Participating in a community or organization for an extended period of time to closely observe culture and behavior.
  • Case studies: In-depth study about a person, group, event or organization.
  • Literature review: Survey of published works by other authors.

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When to use qualitative vs. quantitative research

A rule of thumb for deciding whether to use qualitative or quantitative data is:

  • Use quantitative research if you want to confirm or test something (a theory or hypothesis)
  • Use qualitative research if you want to understand something (concepts, thoughts, experiences)

For most research topics you can choose a qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods approach. Which type you choose depends on, among other things, whether you’re taking an inductive vs. deductive research approach; your research question(s); whether you’re doing experimental, correlational, or descriptive research; and practical considerations such as time, money, availability of data, and access to respondents.

Research question
How satisfied are students with their studies?

Quantitative research approach

You survey 300 students at your university and ask them questions such as: “on a scale from 1-5, how satisfied are your with your professors?”

You can perform statistical analysis on the data and draw conclusions such as: “on average students rated their professors 4.4”.

Qualitative research approach

You conduct in-depth interviews with 15 students and ask them open-ended questions such as: “How satisfied are you with your studies?”, “What is the most positive aspect of your study program?” and “What can be done to improve the study program?”

Based on the answers you get you can ask follow-up questions to clarify things. You transcribe all interviews using transcription software and try to find commonalities and patterns.

Mixed methods approach

You conduct interviews to find out how satisfied students are with their studies. Through open-ended questions you learn things you never thought about before and gain new insights. Later, you use a survey to test these insights on a larger scale.

It’s also possible to start with a survey to find out the overall trends, followed by interviews to better understand the reasons behind the trends.

How to analyze qualitative and quantitative data

Qualitative or quantitative data by itself can’t prove or demonstrate anything, but has to be analyzed to show its meaning in relation to the research questions. The method of analysis differs for each type of data.

Analyzing quantitative data

Quantitative data is based on numbers. Simple math or more advanced statistical analysis is used to discover commonalities or patterns in the data. The results are often reported in graphs and tables.

Applications such as Excel, SPSS, or R can be used to calculate things like:

Analyzing qualitative data

Qualitative data is more difficult to analyze than quantitative data. It consists of text, images or videos instead of numbers.

Some common approaches to analyzing qualitative data include:

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Raimo Streefkerk

Raimo is an expert in explaining plagiarism and citing sources. He has been writing helpful articles since 2017 and is continuously improving Scribbr's Citation Generators.

34 comments

Msizi Erol Ngcobo
April 3, 2020 at 2:16 PM

What a useful information thanks.

Reply

lilynoko
March 30, 2020 at 7:20 PM

thank you !! that was awesome and u made it easier for me.

Reply

Opio Daniel okello
March 23, 2020 at 4:37 PM

The article was well articulated and speak for itself. Thanks.

Reply

Itangishatse Jafet
February 19, 2020 at 12:00 PM

This is interesting

Reply

Olufemi Ige
February 9, 2020 at 9:28 PM

Yes, I agree with everyone that the article is very educative and helpful. The explanation is given with easy-to-understand language. Super! Super!! Super!!!

Thank you veeeeerrrryyy muchh!!

Reply

Manshi agarwal
January 28, 2020 at 4:17 AM

Article is too gud give full information

Reply

winifred atutor
January 27, 2020 at 5:28 PM

it was very simply explained and very insightful.

Reply

OKELLO ROGGERS
February 20, 2020 at 5:52 PM

You are right Winny

Reply

George Acquah
January 18, 2020 at 1:37 PM

Extremely helpful article. In terms of analysis which is the best software or app you would recommend currently

Reply

John Steele
January 13, 2020 at 7:40 PM

Hey there, great resource, thanks for your deep insights!

My team created a handy infographic to help keep these concepts straight. Thought people may be interested. You can find it here: https://resources.pollfish.com/market-research/the-difference-between-quantitative-and-qualitative-research/

Reply

Qudratullah
January 8, 2020 at 7:23 AM

Thanks a lot.
Most useful information.

Reply

Mpalala Nelson
December 30, 2019 at 6:12 AM

The article is very readable and presented in a way that it gives key points directly..... I love it.

Reply

Keats.Ailsa
December 27, 2019 at 6:48 AM

Failure is due to the neglect of fineness, and success begins with the importance of small things

Reply

Jessy
December 17, 2019 at 7:36 PM

Thank you so much, very helpful article.

Reply

Nephan
December 7, 2019 at 2:20 AM

Great insight , thanks

Reply

pina erika
December 4, 2019 at 7:04 AM

was of great help, thank you

Reply

marilyn c. soriao
November 23, 2019 at 4:04 AM

very good.. thank you. clear and concise.

Reply

Vivian Annan
November 7, 2019 at 1:14 PM

Thank you, the information was helpful.

Reply

Manusiu
November 1, 2019 at 5:20 PM

Thank you for your article, very helpful.

Reply

Elizabeth
October 28, 2019 at 2:58 PM

Thank you so much. Your article was and it will still be helpful in future.

Reply

Mathias Anyanwu
October 18, 2019 at 5:18 PM

Thanks a lot for this article. It really guided me on what step to take when conducting research.

Reply

ThabetAL Masri MD
October 16, 2019 at 10:26 PM

I really don't know how to thank you, research turned out easy to me after reading your article. really many thanks

Reply

John
October 3, 2019 at 10:10 AM

What kind of SAMPLING METHOD is used in QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH?

Reply

Shona McCombes
Shona McCombes (Scribbr-team)
October 7, 2019 at 12:37 PM

Hi John! Probability sampling is the best choice for quantitative research. Within this type, there are several methods to choose from. You can learn more in our quick guide to sampling.

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kamata
October 3, 2019 at 9:26 AM

Well explained.

Reply

Rossana
October 1, 2019 at 4:30 PM

Thank you very much! Very nice and helpful article!

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ዳዊት አሰፋ Dawit Assefa
September 26, 2019 at 3:32 PM

It gives me clear idea on the topic. Thanks a lot for the presenting this issues.

Reply

Gull
September 21, 2019 at 9:52 PM

Owesome
Very much help ful in understanding research

Reply

Tahir
September 12, 2019 at 3:29 AM

Article is so good that im speechless.

Reply

Cátia
June 10, 2019 at 9:33 PM

Thank you for this amazing and helpful article!

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