Qualitative and Quantitative Research

 

The article contains information about qualitative and quantitative research characteristics, benefits and drawbacks offered by quantitative and qualitative research, data collection methods used in these research methods, and the steps needed to analyze qualitative data.

  1. Qualitative and Quantitative Research Characteristics
  2. Qualitative Research Advantages and Disadvantages
  3. Quantitative Research Advantages and Disadvantages
  4. Research Data Collection Methods
  5. How to Analyze Qualitative Data in 4 Steps

 

Qualitative and Quantitative Research Characteristics

Technological developments and innovations within the different industries mean that research methods are also evolving constantly. There are three main types of research methods –qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-method, which uses both of them. When and why do we use these methods? Let’s look at each one separately to get answers to our questions.

Qualitative research may help to understand:

  • the feelings, perceptions, and values that influence the behavior
  • emotions and attitudes on social and public affairs issues
  • how people perceive particular marketing messages
  • what are customer needs
  • strengths and weaknesses of products/brands

Quantitative research may help to:

  • measure, count, or offer statistical validation
  • find patterns and averages
  • determine the best price point or product concept
  • make predictions
  • generalize results to broader populations

These two methods are sometimes used by the same areas.

The areas qualitative method is used:

  • anthropology, sociology, political science, psychology, health services, social work, business, and educational research.

And the quantitative method is widely used in these areas:

  • psychology, economics, demography, sociology, marketing, community health, health and human development, gender studies, political science, anthropology, and history.

Understanding the key differences between them lets you know which data you are going to use in your research.

Qualitative method

The qualitative method tries to find the reasoning behind the actions of people, societies, and cultures using open-ended, exploratory questions rather than describing the situation using numerical measurements.  This data can be observed but not measured by numbers. Qualitative research is much more personal, interactive, and creative. It takes place in “natural environments.” In this context, it means a place that subjects can freely discuss and provide answers to any question researchers ask. Qualitative research can be online or offline, depending on the available resources to a researcher. In recent years, however, most researchers are using online platforms to get a better representation. Different types of qualitative research methods include observation, focus groups, interviews, case study research, ethnographic research. In qualitative research, responses to questions may affect the next questions researchers ask.

Quantitative method 

The quantitative method uses information about quantities, and therefore numbers. This research method gathers data in a numerical form which can be put into categories, or in rank order, or measured in units of measurement.  This kind of information can be used to draw graphs, charts, or tables that consist of various numbers associated with the research topics. Using this method, the researcher makes a statistical analysis that contains numbers through polls, questionnaires, and surveys. Therefore, since it is mathematics, the quantitative approach is viewed as scientifically objective and rational. Mathematical principles also reduce the chance of biased research. This research usually uses online methods to reach a wider audience. Polls, questionnaires, and surveys (LINK) can be conducted quickly and easily using modern technologies. The quantitative method also lets you “manipulate” pre-existing statistical data, which means any new data can be added to statistics to give further insights into the research.

Let’s look at sample questions in both research methods to know the differences between them further.

Qualitative research questions:

  • How does the break-up affect the depression rate among young people?
  • What is it like to have a single-parent family growing up?
  • How does living in a war zone shape the behavior of the children?
  • How difficult is it to live in a particular country as a foreigner?

Quantitative research questions:

  • How often do you buy mobile apps for sport and weight-loss purposes?
  • What percentage of the population prefers the particular product?
  • How regularly do you visit another country for your holiday?
  • How much salary are you expecting from a company?

While it is possible to use one of these research methods, in some cases, one of them may not be enough to give you the whole picture. In this case, it is better to have a balanced approach to qualitative and quantitative research methods to get the best result out of the study.

 

Qualitative Research Advantages and Disadvantages

 

Qualitative research advantages

  1. One of the best sides of qualitative research is that it allows understanding different behavior, motives behind certain choices people make.  It means that it helps to study the changing attitudes of a particular group, which means it is possible to take measures according to those changes.
  2. The qualitative method mainly uses open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are different from close-ended questions in that open-ended questions don’t offer predefined answers like close-ended questions. Close-ended questions may be helpful to a certain extent, but they can’t offer a broader look into the issue. Open-ended questions aren’t limited to preset answers, so the participants can share any information they want. These answers can even lead to new findings.
  3. The qualitative method is more flexible. For instance, the researcher can change particular methodology, questions, etc., to extract information from participants.
  4. Qualitative research allows studying the issue in its natural environment, which is essential when it comes to researching specific issues.
  5. Qualitative research allows taking a different approach to different individual feedback. Having feedback on simple “Yes and No” questions doesn’t provide detailed information about why someone said yes or no to a question.

 

Qualitative research disadvantages

  1. Qualitative research can be time-consuming depending on the issue. With close-ended questions, it takes few minutes to get feedback, but open-ended questions may bring a large amount of data. In that case, gathering the data and analyzing it may take an extended amount of time. We will talk about analyzing qualitative data in four steps later in this article.
  2. Qualitative research mainly studies human behavior, so it is not always easy to collect data. In other words, it can be pretty challenging to predict what will happen during the interview, observation, etc. In some cases, the researcher may not understand the participant’s reaction to a specific question.   
  3. For the reasons above, it may be difficult to generalize the research results and apply them to other similar issues. Similar multiple problems may require totally different approaches.
  4. Researcher bias can affect the results of qualitative research. Open-ended questions may be open to interpretation so researchers can interpret the data the way they want to understand without acknowledging the other factors. The researcher may also influence the participants.

 

Quantitative Research Advantages and Disadvantages

 

Quantitative research advantages

  1. Quantitative research takes a shorter amount of time to conduct. It deals with numbers, so it is easier to collect and analyze data. Researchers can even analyze the data instantly if they use online data collection methods. Analyzing close-ended questions used in quantitative research is a straightforward task.
  2. Quantitative research is more anonymous. Participants usually provide feedback with only their name and surname or even without any personal information given to the researcher, especially in online surveys.
  3. The quantitative research method allows collecting data from a bigger number of participants because of the close-ended questions. You can distribute a paper or online sheet with questions to almost anyone who is the right demographic. 
  4. Quantitative research is more cost-friendly when compared to qualitative research, particularly when it comes to online data collection methods.
  5. Quantitative research depends less on in-person interviews, surveys, etc. Therefore it is not affected much by geographical restrictions.

 

Quantitative research disadvantages

  1. Quantitative research doesn’t offer deep insights into the issue the way qualitative research does. Questions are usually closed-ended questions, so it is impossible to know the participants’ motivation behind the answers.
  2. Because of the reason mentioned above, it is impossible to apply quantitative methods to many issues. Some issues need proper investigation to determine why they happen, in which case quantitative research isn’t that helpful.
  3. Because of the lack of thorough feedback, researchers may need to collect data from a larger sample size in order to reach a conclusion.

 

Research Data Collection Methods

 

We may perform research for academic or business purposes, and in both cases, we need to gather information using different data collection methods. These methods vary depending on the method availability or objectives of the research. The main research types – quantitative and qualitative research may require specific strategies, and in some instances, some of the methods may be used for both forms of research.

Here are the data collection methods that are used in research:

Interviews

This method is usually expensive and time-consuming but lets researchers get in-depth information on the subject.  The analysis of this data takes a certain amount of time, depending on the duration of the interview. Researchers use interview transcripts to better understand the data, and there is automatic transcription software that can be used in this case. In comparison, hiring a human transcriber is both costly and takes too much time. An interview is an essential data collection method for qualitative research.

Surveys

This method can be beneficial for both types of research. A survey lets researchers understand the patterns behind customer choices and opinions of people on socio-economic issues. While collecting quantitative data, researchers use close-ended surveys. Respondents pick from a list of predefined answer options. It can consist of simple “yes/no” and multiple-choice questions.

On the other hand, open-ended questions are more frequent for qualitative research. It offers respondents a chance to provide their opinions and feelings on a given topic without limiting them to a predetermined set of answers. Participants are free to give any feedback they are comfortable with.

Focus groups

It is a data collection method that involves a group of individuals. It is similar to a one-on-one interview, but the moderator (researcher) may also use questionnaires and surveys to get feedback on the topic. Although it is a challenging task to organize focus group discussions, it is a more cost-effective method as opposed to one-on-one interviews. Other than that, group opinion can be more useful, especially if the research should involve a large number of people. This method is generally used for qualitative research and asks open-ended questions.

Observations

Using this method, researchers gather information on a natural environment without interfering with individuals and events or asking questions. Data collected through observation can be biased because the observer’s approach to the information is mostly subjective. Researchers take notes, photos and record audio/video to analyze the situation. For example, you can determine the interest rate on certain movies by observing the moviegoers lined up in front of the movie theatre. It can either be counting the number of people in there or determining the reasons behind their anticipation.

All four methods mentioned above are primary methods for data collection.

Secondary data collection 

In this case, researchers use resources that already exist. Resources can be documents, journals, books, internet pages that are created by other individuals.  While these resources can be helpful in carrying research, researchers should not be dependent on them and use primary methods to get first-hand information on the topic. It is worth noting that some of these resources can offer data that individual researchers can’t get by themselves.  Information provided by government entities and big organizations is an example of this.

 

How to Analyze Qualitative Data in 4 Steps

 

In order to draw conclusions and publish the findings, researchers need to organize all the data, identify different trends and make a connection between them. Let’s look at the following steps needed to analyze qualitative data:

     1.   Transcribe the video/audio files

While doing research, you may receive a various amount of information. There will usually be audio/video interviews or observations you need to analyze, but listening to audio or watching a video for hours can be quite frustrating. What you need to do is transcribing it – converting it into text using automatic transcription software. Having a transcript makes it several times easier to analyze the data and scan through it. And it takes few minutes to transcribe hours of audio/video content. You can use Voicedocs to get your transcript in a fast, safe and cost-effective way.

       2.   Create and review codes

It is time to organize the data after having your transcript and other documents. Use colorful stickers, highlighters to make notes on the documents and transcripts. Highlight keywords, phrases in order to make everything easy to categorize. Afterwards, you can use a spreadsheet or different tools available to categorize the information to get a sense of what it contains. Each piece of data should be approached in its own context.

Coding is a process of analyzing the data by assigning different codes (labels, tags) to it. The codes can be numbers, words, and short phrases. In other words, anything that lets the researcher easily examine the data. That data includes interview transcripts, documents, photographs, artifacts, emails, etc. For instance, let’s check this sentence:

“I would like to have a police officer guarding the apartment I live in.”

This respondent wants to live in a safe environment. Therefore, we can code the entire sentence as “SAFETY.”

By coding the raw data, researchers can organize and categorize the content to draw conclusions. This process allows them to get comprehensive insights into the data they can’t acquire by merely reading it. It helps to distinguish between the essential data and the information that is not relevant to the research.

      3.    Look for trends

As soon as you categorize all the data, it is time to look for the recurring trends, opinions and themes. For instance, which problems are the main concern to people living in Central Africa? Is there any connection between these problems? What solutions are they suggesting?
When you start to get similar answers to the same questions from a majority of people, it means you see a trend. In other words, there is a connection between the opinions. It is worth noting that if you do not get any repeating opinions/trends, you may need to continue with the research until you have one.

        4.   Conclusion and Report

If you are sure the feedback you got covers your research topic, you can have a final report on it. It is important that you do not have any bias against the different opinions, so your final report is as accurate as possible. Do not forget to compare your report with other similar research projects if there are any. Again, do not rush to draw any conclusions if you feel like all the information you have does not meet the expectations. Instead, go on with research until you are confident with the conclusion.