Researchers often have issues choosing which research method to go with: quantitative or qualitative research methods? Many incorrectly think the two terms can be used interchangeably.
Qualitative research is regarded as exploratory and is used to uncover trends in thoughts and opinions, while quantitative research is used to quantify the problem by way of generating numerical data or data that can be transformed into usable statistics.
At the end of this article, you will understand why you should consider using quantitative research instead of qualitative method in your research surveys.
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Qualitative research is a process of real-life inquiry that aims to understand social phenomena. It focuses on the "why" and “how” rather than the "what" of social phenomena and depends on the direct experiences of human beings as meaning-making agents in their everyday lives.
It is a scientific research method used to gather non-numerical data. Qualitative research focuses on human behavior from a participant's point of view.
The three major focus areas are individuals, societies and cultures, and language and communication – employed across academic disciplines, qualitative market research, journalism, business, and so on.
Qualitative researchers use varying methods of inquiry for the study of human phenomena including biography, case study, historical analysis, discourse analysis, ethnography, grounded theory and phenomenology.
The common assumptions are that knowledge is subjective rather than objective and that the researcher learns from the participants in order to understand the meaning of their lives.
Types of Qualitative Research
Just as quantitative, there are varieties of qualitative research methods. We shall look at five types of qualitative research that are widely used in business, education and government organizational models.
This method occurs over extended periods of time and garners information as it happens. It laces a sequence of events, usually from just one or two individuals to form a consistent story.
Narrative research can be considered both a research method in itself but also the phenomenon under study.
Businesses use the narrative method to define buyer personas and use them to identify innovations that appeal to a target market.
This method is one of the most popular and widely recognized methods of qualitative research, as it immerses samples in cultures unfamiliar to them. The researcher is also often immersed as a subject for extended periods of time.
The objective is to understand and describe characteristics of cultures the same way anthropologists observe cultural variations among humans.
"Ethnographic research allows us to regard and represent the actors as creators and execute their own meanings. The very way in which they tell us about what they do, tells the researcher a great deal about what is meaningful for and in the research. It adds richness and texture to the experience of conducting research." (Stuart Hannabuss).
The ethnographic method looks at people in their cultural setting; their behavior as well as their words; their interactions with one another and with their social and cultural environment; their language and its symbols; rituals etc. to produce a narrative account of that culture.
This method investigates past events in order to learn present patterns and anticipate future choices. It enables the researcher to explore and explain the meanings, phases and characteristics of a phenomenon or process at a particular point of time in the past.
It is not simply the accumulation of dates and facts or even just a description of past happenings but is a flowing and dynamic explanation or description of past events which include an interpretation of these events in an effort to recapture implications, personalities and ideas that have influenced these events (ibid).
The purpose of historical research is to authenticate and explicate the history of any area of human activities, subjects or events by means of scientific processes (Špiláčková, 2012).
Businesses can use historical data of previous ad campaigns alongside their targeted demographic to split-test new campaigns. This would help determine the more effective campaign.
The grounded theory research method looks at large subject matters and attempts to explain why a course of action progresses the way it did.
Simply put, it seeks to provide an explanation or theory behind the events. Sample sizes are often larger to better establish a theory.
Grounded theory can help inform design decisions by better understanding how a community of users currently use a product or perform tasks. For example, a grounded theory study could involve understanding how software developers use portals to communicate and write code.
Businesses use grounded theory when conducting user or satisfaction surveys that target why consumers use company products or services.
This involves deep understanding through multiple data sources. Case studies can be explanatory, exploratory, or descriptive.
Unlike grounded theory, the case study method provides an in-depth look at one test subject. The subject can be a person or family, business or organization, or a town or city.
Businesses often use case studies when marketing to new clients to show how their business solutions solve a problem for the subject.
Quantitative research is used to quantify behaviors, opinions, attitudes, and other variables and make generalizations from a larger population. quantitative research uses quantifiable data to articulate facts and reveal patterns in research. This type of research method involves the use of statistical, mathematical tools to derive results.
When trying to quantify a problem, quantitative data will conclude on its purpose and understand how dominant it is by looking for results that can be projected to a larger population.
This data collection method includes various forms of online, paper, mobile, kiosk surveys; online polls; systematic observations; face-to-face interviews, phone interviews and so on.
Researchers who use quantitative research method are typically looking to quantify the degree and accentuate objective measurements through polls, questionnaires, and surveys, or by manipulating an existing statistical data using computational techniques.
Summarily, the goal in quantitative research is to understand the relationship between an independent and dependent variable in a population.
There are four main types of quantitative research designs: correlational, descriptive, experimental and quasi-experimental. But there’s another one; survey research.
Descriptive research method is more focused on the ‘what’ of the subject matter rather than the ‘why’.i.e. it aims to describe the current status of a variable or phenomenon. Descriptive research is pretty much as it sounds – it describes circumstances. It can be used to define respondent characteristics, organize comparisons, measure data trends, validate existing conditions.
Data collection is mostly by observation and the researcher does not begin with a hypothesis but, creates one after the data is collected. Albeit very useful, this method cannot draw conclusions from received data and cannot determine cause and effect.
Correlational research is a non-experimental research method, where the researcher measures two variables, and studies the statistical relationship i.e. the correlation between variables. The researcher ultimately assesses that relationship without influence from any peripheral variable.
Let’s take this example, without classroom teaching, our minds relate to the fact that the ‘louder the jingle of an ice cream truck is, the closer it is to us’. We also memorize the jingle that comes from the speakers of the truck. And if there are multiple ice cream trucks in the area with different jingles, we would be able to memorize all of it and relate particular jingles to particular trucks. This is how correlational method works.
The most prominent feature of correlational research is that the two variables are measured – neither is manipulated.
A correlation has direction and can be either positive or negative. It can also differ in the degree or strength of the relationship.
Often referred to as ‘true experimentation’, this type of research method uses a scientific method to establish cause-effect relationship among a group of variables.
It is commonly defined as a type of research where the scientist actively influences something to observe the consequences.
It is a systematic and scientific approach to research in which the researcher manipulates one or more variables, and controls/randomizes any change in other variables.
Experimental research is commonly used in sciences such as sociology and psychology, physics, chemistry, biology and medicine and so on.
The prefix quasi means “resembling”. Quasi-experimental research resembles experimental research but is not a true experimental research. It is often referred to as ‘Causal-Comparative’.
In this type of research, the researcher seeks to establish a cause-effect relationship between two variables and manipulates the independent variable.
Although the independent variable is manipulated, participants are not randomly assigned to conditions or orders of conditions (Cook & Campbell, 1979).
Abraham & MacDonald (2011) states:
"Quasi-experimental research is similar to experimental research in that there is manipulation of an independent variable. It differs from experimental research because either there is no control group, no random selection, no random assignment, and/or no active manipulation."
Quasi-experimental involves ‘comparison.’ The study of two or more groups is done without focusing on their relationship.
Survey Research uses interviews, questionnaires, and sampling polls to get a sense of behavior with concentrated precision. Researchers are able to judge behavior and then present the findings in an accurate way.
Survey research can be conducted around one group specifically or used to compare several groups. When conducting survey research, it is imperative that the researcher samples random people. This allows for more accurate findings across a greater number of respondents.
This kind of research can be done in person, over the phone, or through email. They can be self-administered.
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Quantitative research is more preferred over qualitative research because it is more scientific, objective, fast, focused and acceptable. However, qualitative research is used when the researcher has no idea what to expect. It is used to define the problem or develop and approach to the problem.
"There's no such thing as qualitative data. Everything is either 1 or 0" - Fred Kerlinger
When to use Quantitative Research Method
Quantitative research ends with conclusions/recommendations, as it tries to quantify a problem and understand how prevalent it is by looking for results that can be projected to a larger population. It can help you see the big picture.
A researcher may want to determine the link between income and whether or not more people pay taxes. This is a question that asks “how many” and seeks to confirm a hypothesis.
The method will be structured and consistent during data collection, most likely using a questionnaire with closed-ended questions. The data can be used to look for cause and effect relationships and therefore, can be used to make predictions.
The results will provide numerical data that can be analyzed statistically as the researcher looks for a correlation between income and tax payers. Quantitative methodology would best apply to this research problem.
Use quantitative research methods such as A/B testing for validating or choosing a design based on user satisfaction scores, perceived usability measures, and/or task performance. The data received is statistically valid and can be generalized to the entire user population.
Basically, quantitative research is helpful when you get feedback from more than a handful of participants; need to present a more convincing case to an audience; you want to gather feedback from a diverse population of users NOT all located in the same place; you have a limited budget.
Qualitative research is explanatory and is used when the researcher has no idea what to expect. It is used to define the problem or develop and approach to the problem.
It is used to delve deeper into issues of interest. Qualitative data adds the details and can also give a human voice to your results.
Use this type of research method if you want to do in-depth interviews, want to analyze issues affecting focus groups, want uninterrupted observation and ethnographic participation.
You can use it to initiate your research by discovering the problems or opportunities people are thinking about. Those ideas can later become hypotheses.
Quotes from open-ended questions in qualitative research can put a human voice to the objective numbers and trends in your results. Many times, it helps to hear your customers describe your organization honestly which helps point out blind spots.
Choose qualitative research if you want to capture the language and imagery customers use to describe and can easily relate with a brand, product, service and so on.
Qualitative data consists of words, observations, pictures, and symbols. Analyzing received data typically occurs simultaneously with the data collection.
See qualitative research can be analysed and interpreted with the following steps:
Quantitative research methods result in data that provides quantifiable, objective, and easy to interpret results. Quantitative data can be analyzed in several ways.
The first thing to do for quantitative data is to identify the scales of measurement. There are four levels of measurement: nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio (scale).
Identifying the scale of measurement helps determine how best to organize the data. It can be entered into a spreadsheet and managed in a way that gives meaning to the data.
The next thing to do is to use some of the quantitative data analysis procedures - data tabulation, descriptive data, data disaggregation, moderate and advanced analytics.
Geramian et al considered the prevalent problem of drug abuse in Iran especially in adolescents and youth, and conducted a study to assess the status of drug abuse among high school students in Isfahan Province, Iran.
The study was conducted through a questionnaire in 2009 in 20 cities. Study population was high school students aged 14–18 years. The required sample size (considering α = 0.05) was calculated as 6489 students, which was increased to 7137 students with consideration of the dropout rate of 10%.
The study identified the degree of drug abuse according to age, gender and cities. There was also an assessment of the type of drugs used, the most common causes of drug abuse for the first time, the most important cause of drug abuse, mean age of abusers and mean age at first abuse, knowledge about short and long-term complications of narcotics and stimulants, common time and locations of drug abuse, and the most common routes of drug abuse according to gender as well as urban and rural areas of Isfahan Province.
Using the results of the research, the knowledge, attitude, and practice of students toward drug abuse were identified.
A good example of qualitative research is Alan Peshkin’s 1986 book God’s Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School published by the University of Chicago Press.
Peshkin examines the culture of Bethany Baptist Academy by interviewing the students, parents, teachers, and members of the community; and observing for eighteen months - to provide a comprehensive and in-depth analysis of Christian schooling as an alternative to public education.
Peshkin's work represents qualitative research as it is an in-depth study using tools such as observations and unstructured interviews, aimed at securing descriptive or non-quantifiable data on Bethany Baptist Academy specifically, without attempting to generalize the findings to other schools.
Peshkin describes Bethany Baptist Academy as having institutional unity of purpose, a dedicated faculty, an administration that backs teachers in enforcing classroom disciplines, cheerful students, rigorous homework, committed parents, and above all grounded in positive moral values and a character-building environment.
According to Peshkin, the school focuses on providing ‘wholesome’ lives for students, separate from a secular world, however interacting with the same world.
He adds that there is a lack of cultural diversity in the Academy and the counterproductive method of training students in one-dimensional thought, where students are not allowed to question the viewpoints of their teacher’s biblical interpretations; not forgetting the presence of a heavily censored library.
The school also ignores state regulations for schools, such as state assessments, certification and minimum wages for teachers, while enforcing compulsory volunteer tasks for teachers. Peshkin however paints the school in a positive light and holds that public schools have much to learn from such schools.
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Notwithstanding the kind of research you have chosen to do, Formplus offers you amazing features to make your experience simple and easy.
The world is more digital than ever and will become even more digital. Formplus understands this and is giving you a platform to collect store data received from your research, without having to look beyond your shoulders, worrying whether your data is safe or not.
On Formplus, you can create forms for any type of qualitative or quantitative research and you know what? There’s no limit to the amount of online forms you can create.
You can collect all types and sizes of data including typed documents, images, videos and so on.
After you have created the online form, you definitely will want to get it to more people so data collection is not restricted.
Use the email invitation feature on Formplus online form to invite people to fill the research form. You can add the emails one after the other, upload a CSV file or populate from an existing database.
You want to know where responses are coming from? Or concentration of responses from a particular location? Use the geolocation feature, so when responses are submitted, you see the longitude and latitude of the said response.
This will come in handy when you are doing qualitative research for a particular area and want to weed out data coming from other areas.
It does not end with email invitations, you could share your online forms to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn for more responses.
Embed on your website as a popup to make it easy for respondents to click and fill forms right away without leaving your website.
Export received data into another format – PDF or Microsoft Word – make information easy to digest.
Use the exported data to review responses for the research or make comparisons.
On your dashboard, you can view live analytics of responses including abandonment rate, total visits, average time spent and more.
Researches always come in with a lot of data but we got you covered. Formplus allows you store unlimited file types and sizes. Added to that are cloud storage integrations to give you options to choose from.
With Formplus, you can decide to use either Google Drive, OneDrive or Dropbox to store and share received data without hassles. All you need to do is connect an existing account you have with either of those three options and you are on your way. You can easily create an account with any of them, if you do not have in easy steps.
Manage teams for your research to delegate duties to departments or specializations. Add team members and assign roles to them. Restrict their access, also monitor their activities on your account.
Basically, Formplus allows you collaborate with members of the research team to ensure the data is well managed and positive results maintained.
One more thing, even if you give admin access to a team member, you are still in control of your account.
As much as qualitative data adds humanity to data, quantitative data usually comes at the end to use numerical data to make conclusions.
Both qualitative and quantitative research methods have their flaws. However, it is imperative to note that quantitative research method deals with a larger population and quantifiable data and will, therefore, produce a more reliable result than qualitative research.
We provided 15 reasons quantitative research outsmarts qualitative research but you still have doubts? Let’s talk about it.
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