Differences between Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches to Research

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Differences between Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches to Research


Research is an essential process of new knowledge acquisition. In the world of science, there are two general approaches to gathering and reporting information: quantitative and qualitative methods. According to Allwood (2012), the quantitative method of research is focused on approximating a phenomenon for a large population by utilizing survey methods. On the other hand, the qualitative method of research concentrates on understanding a phenomenon from a closer perspective depending on the variables under study. The two approaches to research are critical in life because certain variables cannot always be analyzed without the use of statistical analysis. Similarly, some variables can only be determined with the help of descriptive analysis. Therefore, although many people use the two terms interchangeably, there exist critical differences between the methods. This paper will discuss the essential differences between the two approaches to research, especially in their application, benefits, and detriments.


Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is mainly exploratory in nature (Castellan, 2010). It aims at understanding the underlying reasons, motivations, and opinions about different phenomena. The method is also useful in uncovering trends in thoughts and ideas as one digs deeper into a problem. The methods of data acquisition vary depending on the problem, with unstructured and semi-structured techniques forming the basis for further research. The primary methods of data collection include open-ended questions, interviews, and focal groups (Choy, 2014). Research interviews usually involve an interviewee and an interviewer who undertake a study in a given variable. Interviews allow physical interaction between the parties, hence laying emphasis on the interviewee's emotions during the interaction.

Interviews usually take the form of open-ended questions without a concrete guideline on how to answer  them. The questionnaires consist of a set of issues pre-prepared and tailored to fit the context of the study. The respondents usually fill in the answers based on their personal opinions, thereby providing new information about a variable. Focus groups are also essential in the research process, especially in data collection. Due to the limited resources, it is common practice for this research method to use small groups as a source of preliminary information because undertaking extensive research requires much time and involves many resources (Mahoney & Goertz, 2006). Investing in this kind of investigation is also costly as it necessitates the participation of a few respondents. Consequently, the results of the survey cannot be generalized to cover an entire population. The research results are, however, important as they render a deeper understanding of phenomena allowing a further study in a particular area.

Several aspects contribute to the insightful results in qualitative research. Firstly, synergy among the participants allows the strengthening of others' comments and ideas leading to a deep insight into the matter (Smith, 2015). Secondly, the probe process makes it possible for the respondents to engage each other, thereby enabling the most structured survey. Besides, the opportunity to learn and read the body language as well as intonations provides valuable information concerning the discussions. Lastly, the research process admits projective techniques to avoid spontaneous reactions by creating self-consciousness during the entire interview process.

Benefits and Detriments

There are numerous benefits of the qualitative approach to research. The use of interviews and open-ended questions is critical for the researchers in understanding particular trends, behaviors, and experiences. Consequently, qualitative research is essential in identifying new and untouched phenomena occurring in a given area of research. Furthermore, qualitative research is beneficial for providing a deeper understanding of the mechanisms existing within a particular population.Moreover, the qualitative research approach is advantageous in the sense that verbal information collected in the procedure can be converted into a numerical form to allow further statistical analysis. A key benefit of the qualitative process is the identification of new information that may not be captured in the pre-determined questions (Hussein, 2015). Since open-ended questions allow the respondents to express their thoughts freely, it is common that there is the introduction of new information at the end of the research exercise.

On the other hand, the qualitative method has some detriments. For example, the results of the research process cannot be generalized to the general population. Consequently, the information gathered cannot be taken as a representation of the general population but rather as a representation of the focus group. Carrying out the entire research process would, therefore, prove to be time-consuming and expensive. Moreover, this research approach presents problems for applying statistical methods of analysis (Lampard & Pole, 2015). Consequently, there cannot be a statistical measure indicating how variables relate to each other. Finally, the method renders a fundamental difficulty in assessing or establishing the relationship between several variables. Consequently, the research cannot determine to what extent onevariable determines or influences the other.

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Quantitative Research

Quantitative analysis is utilized in quantifying a problem by generating numerical data. Therefore, this research approach is employed in transforming data into useable statistics by quantifying opinions, behaviors, attitudes, and many other variables (Katz, 2015). The study procedure uses measurable data, such as temperature, to formulate facts and uncover the specific patterns that exist within the data. According to Groeneveld, Tummers, Bronkhorst, Ashikali & Van Thiel (2015), the quantitative method encompasses the use of structured interviews and surveys as the primary methods of data collection. The interviews comprise questions alongside answers from which the respondents can choose one. Besides, the interview process has few responses with the conventional "yes" or "no" answers (Creswell, 2013). In addition, a review of past records or documents is a critical method of data collection in quantitative research.

The analysis involves perusal of previous records to obtain numerical information. Unlike the qualitative method that is subjective, the quantitative method is objective in the sense that the approach seeks to provide observed effects of a problem after intensive study. Therefore, the research has a well-structured and defined goal, comprising research questions, objectives, and hypotheses which are to be either accepted or rejected. For example, any research aimed at establishing the relationship between variables must have well-defined research questions, objectives, and hypothesis. Quantitative research is number-based; therefore, all entries are made using numerical values. For instance, the temperature of a room is expressed with regard to the numerical values of Celsius, unlike the qualitative method which would suggest the temperature of a room is either cold or warm.

Numbers play a crucial role in the analysis of the data collected. Therefore, this method is less in-depth as it looks at the insignificant value of a variable without considering other aspects. However, there is a tendency towards more breadth of information because many cases can be examined at once. Since the objective of quantitative research is to accept or reject a null hypothesis, statistical tests such as student t-test, chi-square, and Z-tests are essential for analysis (Tonkin-Crine, Anthierens, Hood, Yardley, Cals, Francis & Butler, 2016). Statistical analysis plays a crucial role is determining whether or not a relationship between paired variables exists. In addition, statistical analysis is essential in determining the type of relationship between the variables, that is, positive, negative, or no relationship between pairs. Quantitative research is reliable and valid because it largely depends on the measuring instrument. According to Djuma, Bruggeman, Camera & Zoumides (2016), the planning stage requires many resources, while the analysis stage is a bit lighter because of the use of tools such as computers to carry out statistical analysis. Finally, the results of quantitative research can be generalized to cover the entire population under study unlike in the case of qualitative research.

Benefits and Detriments

There exist numerous advantages of the quantitative analysis method. The method allows collection of information from a relatively large number of variables. Besides, the method is highly applicable over a wide range of groups allowing the comparison between them. According to Atieno (2009), the quantitative method enables the generalization of information to cover the entire population under study. Moreover, the method provides rating information regarding the study, allowing researchers to identify the level of relationship between paired groups or variables. Lastly, the method is beneficial for instantiating the guidelines or policies. On the contrary, there are several detriments of quantitative research. The method presents a challenge to recognizing untouched or new information because of the real interviews or questionnaires. Consequently, there is limited opportunity for the respondents to express their thoughts or feelings apart from what is provided. Lastly, there is a need for caution, especially in the presentation and interpretation of research results without a control group.


Research is an essential exercise in the acquisition of new knowledge. Qualitative and quantitative approaches are two broad methods of research. The qualitative analysis method is exploratory in nature and seeks to achieve a comprehensive understanding of particular opinions, results, and motivations. Besides, this research method is subjective to a certain extent and depends on the information provided by the respondents.  On the contrary, the quantitative method utilizes numerical data to determine the type of the relationship that exists between paired variables. In addition, the method is objective; thus, it necessitates the definition of targets and hypothesis before the actual research takes place. Quantitative and qualitative approaches allow a different view of the phenomena and situations under analysis. The two primary methods of research are highly instructive, especially when used together. Therefore, the researchers' adequate knowledge of each method's benefits and detriments can help practitioners and policy-makers understand the extent of the application of the research results.

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