Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research : Differences and Methods

While collecting and analyzing data, qualitative research deals with words and meanings, while quantitative research deals with statistics and numbers. Both types of research are needed for deep and wide-reaching actionable insights. Quantitative research is expressed in numbers and graphs and is used to test and confirm data and assumptions. On the other hand, quantitative research is expressed in words and is used to decipher thoughts, concepts, and experiments. Common quantitative methods include experiments and observations recorded numerically and in the form of surveys through close-ended questions. Common qualitative methods include observations in words, interviews through open-ended questions, and reviews to explore theories and concepts. 

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is considered suitable for exploratory research, for instance, for the pilot stage of a research project. It is mainly used to discover and gain deep insights into individual thoughts, experiences, opinions, trends and dive deep into the problem at hand.

A qualitative research analyst collects data from multiple sources ranging from entirely unstructured to partly structured data. The commonly applied qualitative research techniques are individual interviews, group discussions, behavioral observations, and focus groups. 

Qualitative research collects, analyzes, and interprets non-numeric data such as language. Qualitative research helps users understand how an individual perceives social reality. Since qualitative research focuses on a naturalistic and interpretive approach towards its data, qualitative researchers perform their jobs in a natural setting, with an aim to interpret the subject matter in terms of its actual meaning.   

Due to its individualistic approach, qualitative research follows an iterative study method involving data collection and research questions altered as per the lessons learned. Mostly, qualitative research is performed with few respondents and is expected to provide insights into the problem that can generate hypotheses for future quantitative research. 

In simple words, quantitative research considers all numbers and figures. It is used to measure and quantify defined variables like attitudes, opinions, and behaviors. The primary goal of quantitative research is to support or refute a hypothesis about a certain event and examine the results from the studied sample and apply it to a wider population or a bigger data group. 

Quantitative research is more structured than qualitative ones. It specifies what is measured and how it is measured to uncover unique patterns, such as motivation, behavior, cognition, and emotion. 

Quantitative research uses a method that relies on the systematically collected data and analyzed and its results are conclusive. These methods support situations when you need to draw general conclusions and predict outcomes from your research.  

Key differences between Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Both quantitative and qualitative research use different methods to collect, analyze data, and answer several questions. Given below are the key differences between qualitative and quantitative research.

Quantitative Research

Qualitative Research 

Focus on testing theories and hypothesis

Focus on analyzing ideas before formulating theories and hypothesis

Research-based on math and statistical analysis

Research-based on analysis through summarization, categorization, and interpretation.

Results are mainly expressed through graphs, numbers, and tables.

Results mainly expressed in words

Requires several respondents

Requires only a few respondents.

Methods include interviews through closed-ended questions 

Methods include interviews through open-ended questions. 

The key concepts in this research are testing, objectivity, measurement, and replicability 

The key concepts in this research are context, understanding, subjectivity, and complexity.

Qualitative and Quantitative Data Collection Techniques

Data for qualitative and quantitative research can be done through various methods, and it is crucial to use a data collection method that can effectively answer the research questions. Data collection methods can be either qualitative or quantitative. For instance, in observations, surveys, case studies, or observations, your data can be represented numerically (using scales and frequency charts) or in words (using open-ended questions and observational descriptions). 

However, some data collection methods are distinctive to qualitative or quantitative research.

Quantitative Data Collection Methods

Some of the common quantitative data collection methods are:

1. Surveys 

These include a list of multiple-choice close-ended questions distributed to a sample, be it online, over the phone, or in person. 

2. Experiments

These include situations where variables are manipulated and controlled to establish clear cause and effect relationships.

3. Observations 

This includes observing the subjects within their natural environment where variables cannot be controlled.

Quantitative Data Collection Methods 

Some of the common quantitative data collection methods are: 

1. Interviews 

These include asking respondents open-ended questions verbally.

2. Focus Groups

This involves discussion amongst a group of people regarding a specific topic to gather opinions for future research.

3. Ethnography

This method entails being a part of an organization or community for a long period to closely observe its culture and mannerisms.

4. Literature Review

This includes a survey of the works of published authors.  

When to use Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research

The general rule of thumb for applying qualitative vs. quantitative research is:

  • Use qualitative research to understand something, whether they are thoughts, concepts, or experiences.
  • Qualitative research helps you collect elaborate information on a specific topic that can discover the issues and spot the opportunities to drive your research.
  • Use quantitative research if you wish to test or confirm something, whether a theory or a hypothesis. Once you get your numbers, you can apply statistical analysis to them, make objective decisions and validate your hypothesis. 
  • If you wish to find general opinions or answers of a larger group, quantitative research is more appropriate. It is simpler to conduct a large-scale survey than a series of small interviews on focus groups. Answers to questions like “Why do people prefer your product to your competitors”? and “Which of your services is most appealing to your target audience?” require quantitative research.  
  • The open-ended questions you put forth through qualitative research can add the human element to the trends and numbers in your results. You can get to hear your customers’ opinion of your company in their own words that can help you fix any loopholes.

For most research requirements, you can choose quantitative, qualitative, or mixed approaches. The research technique you choose depends upon whether you are undertaking inductive or deductive research, what your research questions are, whether you are doing descriptive, experimental, or correlational research, and the factors into consideration, namely, money, time, data availability, and access to respondents. 

Examples

1. Qualitative approach

You conduct interviews of 100 employees of a company, asking them open-ended questions like “Are they satisfied with their job” and “What they think is the most positive aspect of their job”? Etc.

The answers can help you follow up with further questions and clarifications. 

2. Quantitative approach

You survey 200 students at a school and ask them questions such as “On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied are they with the curriculum”? 

You can then perform statistical analysis with the data obtained and draw concrete and productive conclusions.

3. Mixed Approach

You can first conduct interviews of your audience sample by asking open-ended questions and gaining new insights. Later, you can perform surveys to test the insights obtained on a larger scale. 

You can also begin with a survey to find out the general trend, followed by interviews to understand the drivers of the trend. 

How to analyze Qualitative and Quantitative Data

Qualitative or quantitative data do not offer any insights unless they are analyzed. Mathematical or statistical analysis must be performed on the data to derive patterns in data, and the results can be reported through tables and graphs. Applications like Microsoft Excel can be used to calculate data such as:

  • Average scores
  • The correlation between two variables
  • The repetition of a particular variable
  • The validity and reliability of the results of the analysis

Analyzing qualitative data

Qualitative data is more challenging to analyze than quantitative data due to text, pictures, or videos instead of numbers. Some of the common approaches to analyze qualitative data are:

  • Qualitative content analysis: This involves tracking the position, occurrence, and meaning of words or phrases.
  • Thematic analysis: This involves carefully examining the data to identify the key themes and patterns. 
  • Discourse analysis: This includes exploring the working of communication within social contexts. 

How to balance qualitative and quantitative research

Qualitative and quantitative research do not conflict with each other. They deliver better results as a team. In the realm of Big Data, there is a wealth of figures and statistics that lay a strong foundation for your decisions. But this foundation cannot be comprehensive or meaningful without the data collected from real audiences. 

So, how do you put these two research methodologies together? Qualitative research is mostly the starting line from where you begin to discover new opportunities and problems that can enable deeper research. Then, data from quantitative research can give you the appropriate metrics to either confirm and decipher every problem and opportunity.   

How upGrad can help

upGrad offers Masters’ and Doctorate courses in Business Administration with topics in market research, including qualitative and quantitative research. 

The program offers best-in-class content instructed by leading faculty and industry leaders. upGrad has contributed to successful career transitions for over 100+ learners partnering with over 300+ hiring partners.

The Final Word

Once you understand the definition of qualitative and quantitative research and the differences between them, you can better decide which method must be used for which situation. Whether to use the qualitative or quantitative approach is entirely up to you. But you must base your decision on your project type and the kind of information you need for your study, and the available resources.

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