There are two distinct types of data collection and study—qualitative and quantitative. While both provide an analysis of data, they differ in their approach and the type of data they collect. Awareness of these approaches can help researchers construct their study and data collection methods.
Qualitative vs. Quantitative Data Collection
As qualitative and quantitative studies collect different data, their data collection methods differ considerably. Quantitative studies rely on numerical or measurable data. In contrast, qualitative studies rely on personal accounts or documents that illustrate in detail how people think or respond within society.
Qualitative research methods include gathering and interpreting non-numerical data. The following are some sources of qualitative data:1
- Focus groups
- Personal accounts or papers
- Cultural records
In the course of a qualitative study, the researcher may conduct interviews or focus groups to collect data that is not available in existing documents or records. To allow freedom for varied or unexpected answers, interviews and focus groups may be unstructured or semi-structured.
An unstructured or semi-structured format allows the researcher to pose open-ended questions and follow where the responses lead. The responses provide a comprehensive perspective on each individual’s experiences, which are then compared with those of other participants in the study.
Quantitative studies, in contrast, require different data collection methods. These methods include compiling numerical data to test causal relationships among variables. Some forms of data collection for this type of study include:1
- Database reports
The above collection methods yield data that lends itself to numerical analysis. Questionnaires in this case have a multiple-choice format to generate countable answers, like yes or no, which can be turned into quantifiable data.
Qualitative vs. Quantitative Outcomes
One of the factors distinguishing qualitative from quantitative studies is the nature of the intended outcome. Qualitative researchers seek to learn from details of the testimonies of those they are studying, also called their informants. Over the course of a study, conclusions are drawn by compiling, comparing and evaluating the informants’ feedback and input. Qualitative research is often focused on answering the “why” behind a phenomenon, correlation or behavior.
In contrast, quantitative data are analyzed numerically to develop a statistical picture of a trend or connection. Such statistical results may shed light on cause-and-effect relationships. They may either confirm or disprove the study’s original hypothesis. Whether positive or negative, the outcome can spark awareness and action. Quantitative research is often focused on answering the questions of “what” or “how” in regards to a phenomenon, correlation or behavior.
Benefits and Limitations
Each form of research has benefits and shortcomings. Researchers must consider their hypotheses and what forms of data collection and analysis are likely to produce the most relevant findings.
Qualitative Studies: Pros and Cons
The qualitative method allows for creativity, varied interpretations and flexibility. The scope of the research project can change as more information is gathered.
However, qualitative studies are more subjective in their results and interpretation than are quantitative studies. The expertise and perspective of the researcher may strongly influence the interpretation of results and the conclusions reached, as personal bias can be hard to manage. In addition, qualitative studies often test a smaller sample size because of the costs and efforts associated with qualitative data collection methods.2
Quantitative Studies: Pros and Cons
Quantitative studies produce objective data, free from the subjectivity of a qualitative study. Results can be clearly communicated through statistics and numbers. Quantitative studies can be quickly produced with the benefit of data computing software.
Yet, while the objectivity is a benefit of the quantitative method, it can be viewed as a more restrictive form of study. Participants cannot tailor their responses or add context. Further, statistical analysis requires a large data sample, which calls for a large pool of participants.2
What Is a Common Goal of Qualitative and Quantitative Research?
Both quantitative and qualitative methods seek to find patterns in the data they collect that point to a relationship between elements. Qualitative and quantitative data are both instrumental in supporting existing theories and developing new ones. Ultimately, the researcher must determine which kind of research best serves the goals of the study.
Become a Qualitative or Quantitative Researcher
Some researchers choose to adhere to and hone a single methodological approach throughout their time as doctoral learners — or in their profession. Research skills are critical in a variety of high-level careers.
If you have a desire to conduct research, a qualitative or quantitative doctoral degree can support your initiative. Throughout your program, you will learn methods for constructing a qualitative or quantitative study and producing written research findings.
Interested in starting your doctoral journey? Grand Canyon University has a wide variety of qualitative and quantitative programs and resources to help you. Click Request Info above to learn more about your first step.
1Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU), Differences Between Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods, in April 2021
2Simply Psychology, What’s the difference between qualitative and quantitative research? in April 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.