Quantitative and qualitative research each has distinctly different goals. As such, it is to be expected that each method of research will have its own distinct characteristics that are not found in the other. This paper will analyze some of those characteristics and discuss how and why they are unique to either quantitative or qualitative research.
Qualitative research, most often used in the social sciences, is used to answer the how and why of things. The nature of this research does not lend itself to statistical analysis, nor are the results easily measured. Qualitative researchers require more personal information and deeper responses.
Quantitative research, on the other hand, is used to determine things like efficacy, frequency and ratios. The results of this research are most often the results of an experiment and expressed through statistical analysis. Quantitative research must rely on simplistic results that can be easily quantified and categorized.
Because these two types of research are so different, they require the use of different and distinct methods of research. Every research project has its own goals and requires specific methods of data collection and analysis. Which research methods are used will be determined first by whether the research being performed is qualitative or quantitative.
QUALITATIVE RESEARCH METHODS
According to William Trochim, observation is probably the most common form of data collection used in qualitative research. (Trochim, 2006) There are two forms of observation, participant observation and direct observation. During participant observation, the researcher works to participate and experience things as their subjects do, while direct observation required the researcher to observe quietly, as unobtrusively as possible. (Trochim, 2006)
Observation is unique to qualitative research. Very few statistics can be gathered through observation, and the information that is learned cannot be easily quantified. Through observation, researchers can gather information on cultural beliefs and practices, how people react to different circumstances and the lifestyles that people have.
Another characteristic that is relevant to qualitative research is interviews. During an interview, researchers ask questions that allow subjects to answer freely and allow the researcher to gather data that is much more detailed and personal. (Donalek, 2004) This information, like that gathered through observation, cannot be measured with statistics.
A final element that is unique to qualitative research is the use of purposeful sampling. According to Julie Donalek, qualitative researchers do not use random sampling like quantitative researchers. Instead, they choose their subjects specifically for their knowledge or insight into the subject being studied. (Donalek, 2004) This allows the researcher to gain insight from the knowledge and experiences of the subjects.
QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH METHODS
Unlike qualitative research, quantitative research deals primarily with numbers and statistics. The purpose of this type of research is to prove a hypothesis through statistical analysis of results. Therefore, quantitative research, like qualitative research, has several elements that are unique.
George Lundberg, in 1960, talked about the importance for scientific generalization in the social sciences. (Lundberg, 1960) This type of generalization is unique to quantitative research because qualitative research is difficult to generalize by nature. Quantitative research, through its use of random sampling of larger populations, is easier to generalize across a much larger population.
As previously stated, random sampling is specific to quantitative research. Random sampling uses a random sample of subjects from a large population. (Gerring, 2008) Large samples and studies of large populations are not conducive to qualitative research, due to the amount and type of information being gathered. However, for a quantitative study, this is ideal.
A final method that is quantitative in nature is that of the mail survey. By mailing large numbers of surveys to numerous people in a population, researchers are more likely to receive a random sampling of answers that will provide large amounts of statistical data. (Trochim, 2006) Because quantitative data is relatively easy to process, a survey can be used to ask subjects questions that can be easily categorized and analyzed for statistical data.
Quantitative and qualitative research each has characteristics that are unique. It is these unique methods that provide scientists with the means of finding answers to some of the hardest questions. By relying on both types of research, we can gain a more balanced and informed insight into the social sciences and further understand how we, as humans, function.
Donalek, J. G., & Soldwisch, S. (2004, August). An Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods. Urologic Nursing, 24(4), 354-356. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. (14273848)
Gerring, J. (2008, June). Case Selection Techniques in Case Study Research: A Menu of Qualitative and Quantitative Options. Political Research Quarterly, 61(2), 294-308. Retrieved from JSTOR database. (20299733)
Lundberg, G. A. (1960, Fall/Winter). Quantitative Methods in Sociology: 1920-1960. Social Forces, 39(1), 19-24. Retrieved from JSTOR database. (2573569)
Trochim, W. M. (n.d.). Research Methods Knowledge Base (2nd ed.). (Original work published 2006) Retrieved from http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/index.php