Summary of this article:

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research
Here, you will learn about the differences between quantitative and qualitative research. There are seven points of comparison that will be covered.
1. Epistemological Assumptions
Often, the choice between using qualitative or quantitative research methods is less about methodology and more about a researcher’s own epistemological assumptions. If we assume that individuals have beliefs about the way “reality” is to be best understood, then researchers’ beliefs will influence their methodological preferences. These beliefs are termed “epistemological” assumptions, and form the basis upon which researchers come to understand their social and physical surroundings.
Quantitative and qualitative researches have differing epistemological assumptions. In quantitative research, social phenomena are viewed as having an objective reality, whereas qualitative researchers view reality as being socially constructed. Philosophically, quantitative research implies a knowable objective reality, and the researcher often seeks to conduct experiments, or quasi- experiments to isolate the effects of specific variables on others.
2. Purpose
The general purposes of quantitative and qualitative research are different.
In quantitative studies, the researcher is frequently interested in establishing causal explanations, which will then be used for prediction i.e. predicting future outcomes based upon past occurrences. The research interest is often to measure the relationship between variables, or to establish statistical differences between groups. Also, the researcher attempts to establish control, manipulate specific variables, and measure the effects of change in some variables upon
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others. “Generalizability” is usually a major focus of quantitative research. The term “generalizability”, in quantitative research, refers to the extent to which the research findings of a specific study can be assumed to apply to other settings, other populations, and at other points in time. This is the reason quantitative researchers prefer large samples.
Contrastingly, qualitative research focuses on understanding and interpreting the “lived experiences” of the research participants. For the qualitative researcher, there is often an assumption that variables and relationship between variables are multifaceted, intertwined, and hard to measure. Qualitative researchers attempt to study the subject matter with the intention of being unobtrusive and conduct their research without interfering with, or disturbing the natural environment and phenomena they are studying. They are more interested in depth than breadth, and sample size does not have the same importance or relevance as in quantitative research.
3. Raw Data
Quantitative and qualitative have different types and sources of raw data. In quantitative research, measurement of variables usually results in producing numbers, hence the term “quantify”. In qualitative research, however, the raw data are generally words. The primary sources from which the words are derived are in-depth interviews, observations and field notes made by the researcher, and records or documents. There are many other less frequently used sources of data in qualitative research such as photographs, audio recordings, video recordings, poems, songs, artifacts, etc.
4. Emphasis
Although quantitative and qualitative research attempt to provide us with a better understanding of the social and physical world around us, and both attempt to answer specific questions about various phenomena of interest, there are distinct differences of emphasis that underlie each of them.
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In quantitative studies, researchers are often interested in discovering laws about entire classes of phenomena. Hypotheses and theories are formulated and then tested by way of collecting data to determine what bearing the data have upon the hypotheses. The emphasis in quantitative research is often about measuring variables, establishing validity and reliability, testing for statistical significance, replication of results, and using findings for predictions.
The qualitative approaches to research are often focused upon discovering meaning, and understanding the processes by which individuals arrive at that meaning. The various traditions of qualitative research evidence a fundamental premise that reality is socially constructed, and therefore there are multiple realities. Rather than beginning with hypotheses to be tested, qualitative researchers attempt to immerse themselves in the data of observation and open- ended in-depth interviewing in order to formulate research questions or develop theory inductively from the data. Qualitative research is particularly well suited for exploratory studies of phenomena that have not been studied extensively and not well understood. Also, qualitative methods are well suited for the study of complex social phenomena that are complicated by the interactions of many variables. In this instance, sampling and data collection would occur in “chain” sequences.
5. Sampling
Sampling and sample size are also features that distinguish quantitative from qualitativeresearch. Quantitative researchers generally desire large, randomly selected, representative samples. A sample having these criteria is thought to allow the researcher greater “external validity”. It allows for findings from the sample population to be “generalized” to the larger population from which the sample was drawn, or to other populations with similar characteristics, and at different points in time.
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Typically, the qualitative researcher works with smaller samples. These smaller samples are usually selected purposively in a nonrandom fashion, and are, therefore, not representative of any other population. In qualitative research, the researcher is typically interested in an in-depth study of some unique case, situation, or phenomena. Specific samples may be selected for study because the researcher has reason to believe that participants possess or reflect the very qualities that are the focus of study. Another variation of nonrandom purposeful sampling that is sometimes used by qualitativeresearchers is termed “snowball” or “chain” sampling. In this sampling method, the researcher obtains sample units from those individuals already sampled i.e. members of the sample become sources of referral for other potential sample members who are likely to be of value as research participants.
For example, a quantitative researcher might randomly survey 1000 high school students across the country to find out how many hours of T.V. high school students watch per week. A qualitative researcher, on the other hand, would probably approach high school student T.V. viewing with a different research focus. The qualitative researcher would be more likely to conduct in-depth interviews with a small number of purposefully sampled students. The researcher’s interest here might be to illuminate the role and meaning that T.V. viewing has in the lives of the students, and to fully understand the importance of T.V. from the student’s perspective.
6. Analysis
Quantitative and qualitative researches utilize different techniques and methods of analysis. The quantitative paradigm includes such methodologies as experimentation, quasi experiments, survey research, correlation research, time- series research, etc. These methods are often structured and include instruments such as questionnaires, inventories, tests, scales, etc. Data analysis generally occurs at the conclusion of data collection. Statistical analysis and tests based upon probability theory are often utilized to deductively test hypotheses.
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In qualitative inquiry, the researcher may use techniques of data collection such as observation, participant observation, in-depth interviewing, review of archives, documents, and records, etc. Analysis often begins with data collection and remains an ongoing process throughout the study. Extensive field notes are frequently used as data. Interviews are often transcribed. An initial step in analysis is the coding of data into categories, themes, and patterns. This may be followed by an attempt to identify relationships between categories. Other methods of analysis such as analytic induction and the constant comparative method may be used. These will be explained further as the course unfolds.
7. Quality Criteria
The main criteria for evaluating the quality of research of each of the paradigms are different. In fact, it would be inappropriate to use the same criteria for both types of research.
In quantitative research, the rigor and scientific value of research is often evaluated by the precisely defined criteria of internal validity, external validity, reliability, and objectivity. However, you will find that these criteria are not the standards by which qualitativeresearch should be judged. Qualitative research has a different set of evaluative standards. As this course develops, you will encounter more appropriate evaluative criteria for qualitative inquiry. Some of them are truth value (credibility), transferability (applicability), dependability (consistency), and confirmability (neutrality).
Despite the differences, there is much overlap in the fundamental properties of quantitative and qualitative research. Many research studies utilize a combination or “mixed methods” design which incorporates qualities of both research paradigms.
All research designs have strengths and limitations and no particular approach to
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conducting research is inherently “better“ than any other. The researcher needs to consider many factors when designing a study and choosing the most effective and useful methodology.
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