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How to compare qualitative & quantitative research methods

Updated February 21, 2017

Qualitative and quantitative research methods represent two different means of collecting and analysing information. The qualitative research method involves obtaining insight regarding the whole picture. With the quantitative method, the researcher attempts to control variables, isolate one single factor and figure out why that factor changes. For example, in attempts to understand obesity, a qualitative research study may utilise a survey to collect information regarding eating and exercise habits of the average American, whereas a quantitative research study may attempt to comprehend the effects of one factor of obesity, such as the ways obesity risk varies according to the number of calories consumed per day.

Compare the research questions used for qualitative and quantitative studies. Every research study has a research question, and the research method (whether it's qualitative or quantitative) affects the nature of the question and how it's formed. Research questions for both qualitative and quantitative studies must specify what the study attempts to evaluate. A quantitative research question must mentions the single factor that's being isolated. For example, a quantitative research question might be, "How does the number of hours spent exercising per week affect obesity?" The research stemming from this question would have to follow a quantitative path, involving measuring the number of hours spent exercising per week by participants, and its correlation with obesity. A similar but subtly different research question, "How does exercise affect health?" would call for a qualitative study that would look at several various factors in the lives of the participants.

Compare the study designs of qualitative and quantitative research studies. Though the research approach varies between qualitative and quantitative studies, both utilise meticulously designed studies in order to obtain the most accurate and detailed results. Both qualitative and quantitative researchers have to decide what kind of study to undertake. A qualitative researcher may choose to do an historical study, ethnographic study or case study. A quantitative researcher mainly chooses between doing a descriptive study or an experimental study. Both types of research also require the researcher to determine the means by which she wants to collect data. In a qualitative study, they include looking at "the big picture" and assisting other researchers by narrowing in on points that can be followed up on by quantitative studies. For a quantitative research approach, methods of collecting data mainly include interviews, observation and surveys.

Compare the way the data is analysed in the two different methods. Analysis involves the evaluation and interpretation of the collected data. A qualitative study attempts to describe the results in detail, often by utilising photos and written descriptions. A quantitative study, since it has a narrower focal point, provides a detailed explanation of the focus using raw quantitative data and statistics obtained from the results, connected with variables of the study. Both research methods aim to reach a better understanding of an issue via the analysis.

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About the Author

Lindsay Haskell began writing fiction and nonfiction in 2008. Her debut novel, "Grace," is to be published in January 2011. Having lived in five different countries and traveled across five continents, Haskell specializes in Third World social and political issues, with a concentration in the Darfur conflict. She is currently a first-year student at Wellesley College studying history, Africana studies and English.