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What is the difference between qualitative versus quantitative research?

What is the difference between qualitative versus quantitative research?

What is the difference between qualitative versus quantitative research?

Qualitative and quantitative research are often presented as two fundamentally different paradigms through which social research is undertaken. Each of these paradigms is associated with a distinct set of assumptions, theoretical approaches and methods making both distinct from the other.


Quantitative research methods

Nature of Data: Quantitative methods emphasize collection of data in the form of numbers.  Thus, the data collected is hard data i.e. numerical data and is used to facilitate an objective analysis using statistical, or numerical analysis of data collected through polls, questionnaires, and surveys, or by manipulating pre-existing statistical data using computational techniques. The two main types of quantitative research methodologies are surveys or experimental designs. The primary objective of quantitative data is hypothesis testing and for this it uses reconstructed logic.

Qualitative methods emphasize collection of soft data (i.e. conversations, images, videos etc.) and its analysis using a grounded approach to facilitate the discovery and development of empirical theories. Qualitative methods thus help explain, define, clarify, elucidate, illuminate," construct, and discover new perspectives on new and known social phenomenon using a variety of approaches like focus group discussions (ISS) and field research (ISS) or semiotics (anchored in CSS). The primary objective of qualitative data is hypothesis development and for this it uses logic in practice.

Assumptions: Quantitative research methodologies are based on anchored in PSS approach i.e. Positivist Social Science Approach that uses a deductive logic with precise empirical observations. Quantitative research assumes a realist ontology i.e. one that follows the physical world and assumes that human-beings are self-interested, pleasure seeking and rational.

Qualitative methodology uses an interpretative or critical approach (ISS or CSS). Interpretative Social Science uses an inductive logic to systematically analyze socially meaningful action through the direct, detailed observations of people in natural settings to arrive and understand and interpret how people create and maintain their worlds. The ISS approach is more concerned about getting an empathetic understanding and not about testing laws such as theories of human behavior. 

ISS approach thus employs a nominalist ontology i.e. essentially of a social world of meanings. This implies that humans never directly experience human reality ‘out there’; because individual cultural beliefs/ reality influence what we see and how we experience reality i.e. all reality is viewed through lens of interpretation and subjectivity. Accordingly, the proposed research would rely on a constructionist epistemology i.e.  Reality is constructed using grounded theory. All reality are interpretations; hence reality varies across individuals, place, and time. All interpretations and is based on their interpretation based on the use of a transcendent perspective by the researcher.

CSS on the other hand is a critical process of inquiry to uncover the real structures in the material world. Thus, researchers focus on underlying historical structures to uncover underlying structures that impact change. Thus, it employs a critical realist ontology (i.e. there is a fundamental essence to human that is clouded by power; human is shaped by social structures but retains the power to reshape- bounded autonomy).It employs a subjectivist epistemology i.e. meaning is imposed on the object by the subject.

Instrument & data collection:

Quantitative research seeks to test concepts that are stated at the beginning. Concepts are in the form of distinct variables. Thus, the focus is on variables. Measures are systematically created before data collection and are standardized. Research questions are pre-planned and structured.  Procedures are standardized and replication are frequent. The research path is linear and is based on neutrality and objectivity. Good recruitment, length of interview and question framing are key for ensuring good quality data. This uses probability and on occasion nonprobability methods (like quota sampling). Also sample sizes are large. This helps the researcher evolve a nomothetic, lawful understanding of the phenomenon e.g., harmoniously passionate people enjoy well-being, whereas obsessively passionate people don’t enjoy well-being.

Qualitative Research: seeks to develop based on the capture and the discovery of of meaning. Research questions are emergent, and the researcher uses a variety of techniques like linear inquiry, enabling & projective techniques, and discourse analysis to deconstruct meaning. Concepts are in the form of themes and motifs, generalizations, and taxonomies. Measures are created post immersion in data in an adhoc manner and are specific to the individual setting or the researcher. Research procedures are particular to the task on hand, and replication is rare. Also, openness and intimacy between the respondents and the interviewer are key to ensuring data quality. This uses nonprobability methods (like snowball, convenience, quota or judgement sampling). Also sample sizes are small. Hence, qualitative approach allows researcher to gain an idiographic, unique understanding of the phenomenon e.g., a member of this socio-cultural community (e.g., youths in modern-day Singapore) pursuits passionate activities in this particular way, which impacts his well-being thus (e.g., enjoying a game of football with friends in the soccer field as a way to relieve the stress of studying). 


Quantitative research focuses on data in the numeric form that is specific and precise. Thus, analysis proceeds by using statistics, tables, or charts and discussing how what they show relates to hypothesis. Analysis is objective and uses deductive logic; and is based on convergent reasoning.

 Qualitative research focuses on data in the soft data. Analysis is done by extracting themes or generalizations from evidence; and by organizing the data to present a coherent and composite picture. Analysis is subjective and uses inductive logic; and is based on divergent reasoning i.e. the generation of a variety of ideas about a research problem in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner.

Conclusions: Thus, the findings of a quantitative research are be generalized whereas those of a qualitative research are situation specific. Both qualitative and quantitative research tools help facilitate superior social research and should be used on a standalone or mixed methodology (triangulated designs) as appropriate.