Qualitative vs quantitative research - Some simple examples

The main differences between quantitative and qualitative research consist in respect to data sample, data collection, data analysis, and last but not least in regard to outcomes.
Susanne Friese
Product specialist, trainer and author of the book "Qualitative Data Analysis with ATLAS.ti"
  1. Quantitative Research
  2. Qualitative Research
  3. Sample selection in qualitative research

Qualitative vs Quantitative Research

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research is considered to have as its main purpose the quantification of data. This allows generalizations of results from a sample to an entire population of interest and the measurement of the incidence of various views and opinions in a given sample. Yet, quantitative research is not infrequently followed by qualitative research which then aims to explore select findings further. These qualitative research methods are often used to analyze scientific data. This type of data often occurs in case studies. These research methods are often used to analyze scientific data.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is considered to be particularly suitable for gaining an in-depth understanding of underlying reasons and motivations. ​So qualitative research is more than a simple data collection method.​ It provides insights into the setting of a problem. At the same time, it frequently generates ideas and hypotheses for later quantitative research. ​Therefore, the research design and research questions very important to look at.

The main differences between quantitative and qualitative research consist in respect to data sample, data collection, data analysis, and last but not least in regard to outcomes.

Data collection in qualitative research is not seldom based on unstructured or semi-structured, but methodologically flexible techniques, e.g. individual depth interviews or group discussions, that are suited to elicit great detail and a comprehensive view. Individual interviews help to understand behaviors and other defined variables better, but they need even more time of preparation than group discussions or other data collection methods. ​Quantitative research ​methods​ uses highly structured, rigid techniques such as online questionnaires, on-street or telephone interviews. Unlike qualitative research, which allows unlimited expression from respondents, quantitative research relies ​on responses to pre-formulated questions.

Outcomes: Qualitative research typically is exploratory and/or investigative in nature. Its findings are often not conclusive and cannot automatically be used to make generalizations. However, it is indispensable in developing a deep understanding of a given thematic complex and sound rationale for further ​decision-making.​ Quantitative research is essential for providing a broad base of insight on which typically a final course of action is recommended. ​To put it into a nutshell, sometimes you need qualitative data collection and quantitative data in order to not just identify uncover patterns but also find reasons. So please make sure your methods include your targeted focus groups as sample sizes.

Comparison of viewpoints
Figure 1: Comparison of viewpoints

Sample selection in qualitative research is usually based on a smaller number of not-necessarily representative cases.

Respondents are frequently selected with the expectation that they fulfil certain criteria. 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 of such collected and analyzed data are usually descriptive in nature although conclusive only within the numerical framework.

To learn how to put ATLAS.ti to good use in your research, visit our Research Hub

Figure 2: Comparison of Laptop vs. Typewriter

It is a frequently held prejudice that quantitative research is “objective” vs. qualitative is “subjective.” This is, of course, a gross oversimplification. 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. In fact, elements of both designs can be used together in mixed-methods studies.