When you decide to pursue a doctoral degree, there are many decisions you must make. This includes choosing a university that offers the type of doctoral degree you want to earn among many other important choices. One of the first decisions you will make is whether to pursue a quantitative degree or a qualitative degree.
The main difference between quantitative and qualitative research can be broken down to a simple difference in the type of data you’re collecting and analyzing for your dissertation. Keep reading to find out more about quantitative doctoral programs.
A quantitative doctoral degree is one that focuses on quantitative methodology instead of qualitative methodology. This means that your research will be more focused on collecting and analyzing numerical data.1 While this may seem like a small difference, you will mostly be conducting your own data collection while earning your degree. Before choosing this degree, ensure you are comfortable collecting this type of data.
Due to the significance of data collection and analysis for your dissertation, it’s critical to choose the right degree program. Quantitative research involves numerical datasets, graphs and charts. This type of research is favorable for doctoral candidates who are interested in testing or confirming a theory in order to establish proven facts about a particular topic.
Quantitative vs. Qualitative Degrees
One way to develop a greater understanding of quantitative research is by contrasting it to qualitative research. While a quantitative degree program will focus on numerical data, a qualitative program evaluates non-numerical data from sources such as text, focus groups or interviews.2
As you consider which type of program to enroll in, consider your personal preferences and interests in research. For example, a doctoral student who chooses a quantitative doctoral degree is interested in challenging or proving a theory using data. In contrast, someone who chooses a qualitative degree program is primarily interested in enhancing the academic field’s understanding of various concepts or experiences.
Looking at a Hypothetical Case Study
Let’s take a closer look at quantitative vs. qualitative degrees using a hypothetical case study. Matilda and Davonte are both studying for their Doctor of Education (EdD) degrees. They want to study the impact of parental support on student performance in low-performing school districts. Matilda’s design involves pulling archival data on student grades and comparing it to a Likert-scale survey she sent to students and parents to report their level of involvement. Davonte is taking a random sample of students in the district and conducting interviews and focus groups with them and their parents about achievement, motivation and involvement.
Both Matilda and Davonte are studying the same general topic, and they could come to similar conclusions. However, they are going about their respective projects in two completely different ways. Matilda’s quantitative research is looking to find a correlation between self-reported parental involvement and student grades. In contrast, Davonte’s qualitative research of interviews explores the student and parent experience, getting to themes and concepts tied to motivation and success.
This highlights another difference between quantitative and qualitative programs. Students conducting quantitative research generally begin with a hypothesis that they set out to challenge or confirm. In contrast, those conducting qualitative research won’t necessarily start with a hypothesis, but with broader research questions to provide a guide to gather deep insights into a concept.
Here’s a closer look at some of the main differences between quantitative and qualitative research. Quantitative research:
- Uses statistical analysis tools
- Is usually expressed in numbers, charts and graphs
- Requires a large group of study participants
- Gathers data using closed questions
In contrast, qualitative research:
- Uses categorizing, summarizing and interpreting to develop understanding
- Is usually expressed in codes, themes and narrative rather than numbers
- Can use a small group of study participants
- Gathers data using open-ended questions
How Is Quantitative Research Conducted?
One common challenge for doctoral students is figuring out exactly how they will conduct their original research. While it’s possible for one data collection method to support both a qualitative and quantitative approach to research, the types of data collection methods that are most often used by students in quantitative programs include the following:
- Surveys: Uses closed questions, such as multiple choice or “yes” or “no” questions, as well as rating scales.
- Experiments: Takes place in a laboratory, where variables can be carefully controlled.
- Observations: Differs from experiments, as observations take place in a natural environment without carefully controlled variables.
Let’s think back to the hypothetical case study from above. Matilda represents a quantitative degree program, so her work begins with a hypothesis and she collects her data to help either prove or reject this hypothesis.
Matilda will distribute a questionnaire to the young schoolchildren asking about their support networks. Since young children are unlikely to accurately understand the meaning of “support network,” her closed questions look like this:
- Do your parents/legal guardians often ask about your schoolwork?
- Do your parents/legal guardians ever help you with your homework?
- Have your parents/legal guardians ever attended a school play, recital or sports game?
These questions are designed to determine the extent the children’s parents are involved with their academic life. Using this data as well as data on the children’s grades, Matilda can challenge or confirm her hypothesis about poor grades being attributable to a lack of support network at home.
Which Type of Degree Program Is Right for You?
While the difference between a qualitative and quantitative degree program may be clearer now, it still may be difficult to choose which doctoral degree program is right for you. If you’re still wondering about this, it’s always a good idea to speak with an academic advisor at your school. You and your advisor can discuss your goals and expectations for the program and then choose a degree based on your needs. Some programs will also allow you to change your focus early on after you have learned more about the quantitative vs qualitative methodology and their respective designs.
You can also ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have a large number of study participants to work with?
If yes, choose quantitative.
- Am I trying to determine the “how” and “why” of a trend or the “what” behind it?
How and why equals qualitative; what or how much equals quantitative.
- Do I want to use measurable data to uncover patterns and trends?
If yes, choose quantitative.
The College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University offers a diverse range of academically rigorous doctoral programs, including options that emphasize either qualitative or quantitative research. Choose from our Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees, Doctor of Education (EdD) degrees or Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degrees in data analytics, management or marketing. To learn more about joining our academic learning community, click on Request Info at the top of your screen.
1Scribbr, An Introduction to Quantitative Research in February 2021
2Simply Psychology, What’s the difference between qualitative and quantitative research? in July 2019
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.