Quantitative vs Qualitative Research Methods: Introductory Guide

ICT & Data Analysis

Quantitative vs Qualitative Research Methods: Introductory Guide

Posted 04 March

The differences between qualitative and quantitative research

These days, data is at the heart of almost every industry, as established companies try to identify trends and efficiencies, and tech start-ups look to design algorithms providing personalised experiences. Data scientists, analysts and researchers are increasingly in demand – in fact, it’s been said there’s a data scientist skills shortage

If you want to get ahead in today’s challenging job market, learning more about the intricacies and nuances of research and data will stand you in good stead and open up many exciting possibilities. Skilling up in these seemingly futureproof areas could also put you to the front of the queue for progression within a business even if data research isn’t the primary focus of your role. 

We’ve put together this introductory guide as an overview for you if you’re starting to learn about the world of data research.  

To gather data, you need to do research, and research can be divided into two distinct, yet often confused and misunderstood, areas: quantitative research and qualitative research. But what exactly are these different types of research? And how can we use them effectively? Our guide focuses on giving you an overview of these areas and answering these kinds of questions.

You can discover more about our introduction to quantitative methods course here, or continue reading to learn all about the key differences between quantitative and qualitative research.

What is quantitative research?

Quantitative research is used to measure quantifiable data – i.e. something that can be counted. It comes in the form of numerical data and statistics, which can be presented in graphs, tables and charts. 

When you collect data about a group, the sample size matters. The larger the sample size, the more reliable research is because anomalies in behaviour are seen in perspective and not allowed to skew the overall picture. The choice of sample can also be important, and polling companies who gather data work hard to select a sample demographic that is representative of the larger population so the data they collect and the trends they identify are free from bias.

Some basic quantitative research methods include: 

  • Surveys
  • Polls
  • Interviews with closed-ended questions 

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research, on the other hand, is the process of collecting data that is non-numerical, generally through text, video, photographs and audio recordings. Qualitative research is typically carried out on a much smaller sample size and used to understand concepts, thoughts, opinions and behaviours. It’s often useful to ‘flesh out’ the numbers, overcoming the limitations of quantitative research methods.  

Qualitative research methods include: 

  • Focus groups 
  • Observations
  • Interviews with open-ended questions

How to know if research is quantitative or qualitative

Quantitative research is useful when you’re looking to gather an overall opinion, given in cold, hard facts, and to prove or disprove a hypothesis. 

Qualitative research gives you more feeling and reasoning behind the facts, but it also generates answers that are less predictable and perhaps even off-topic. 

It all depends on the application: those carrying out studies in investment banking, scientific research and marketing will have very different requirements. 

Imagine you work for a company that wants to survey customers about a new product range. If you use an open, qualitative question such as “How do our products make you feel?”, you’ll invite a wide variety of unique answers that are difficult to quantify, but could be extremely useful if the sample is truly representative of your target audience.  

On the other hand, providing customers with a series of closed, quantitative questions (multiple choice, 0-10, yes/no) guarantees that you’re going to have data that is easier to draw more concrete, actionable conclusions from. 

Each method has its place and which you use depends on what you want to find out and why.

Why is the knowledge of different research methods important?

Scientists and academic researchers use quantitative and qualitative research to advance our understanding of our history, present and future, whether it’s research for medical applications, for scientific discovery, or literary analysis. 

These data research methods are also of enormous value to commercial organisations, as they can provide a greater understanding of customer preferences, current market trends, potential risks and opportunities. 

Gaining an understanding of different research methods is a great way to upskill and can help you get a new job or advance within your company.

Given there are numerous ways of acquiring and viewing data, knowing when to apply different research methods and how to analyse data is important. With the right knowledge in your locker, you could be responsible for moving your company in a new direction – it could be the catalyst for bigger and better things. 

What exactly is research?

What exactly is research?

Why is quantitative data more reliable than qualitative data?

There are advantages and disadvantages of quantitative and qualitative research, and the two are often used together, to complement each other. However, it’s generally the case that quantitative data is more objectively reliable. Benefits include:

Speed: Surveys and polls are generally quicker and less expensive than more open-ended interviews and focus groups. Quantifying and analysing this data using computer software is also much faster.

Objectivity: Closed-ended questions mean the data is more focused and comes without bias. This can also give your data more credibility. 

Sample size: With quantitative data, research can be carried out on large samples of the population. The larger the demographic, the more reliable the data and the more valuable the insights.

Control: The researcher can choose the questions that can help support or reject a theory.

Analytical: As quantitative data is presented in numbers and statistics, it lends itself to visualisation in the form of charts, figures and spreadsheets. This is important as we tend to understand and retain visual information better. 

What are some examples of quantitative data collection?

Quantitative data is all about numbers and statistics. This sort of data is often acquired through surveys with closed-ended questions such as “How often do you use this product?” or “On a scale of 0-10 how likely are you to recommend our business?”

Nowadays, surveys are increasingly undertaken online, but paper surveys can still be effective in the right circumstances. Surveys are generally answered by a specific demographic or subsection of the population. The larger the sample size, the more accurate the data.

 Data collection methods in quantitative research include:

Email: The most popular method for collecting data.

Surveys or polls on websites or social media: This could be a pop-up targeting existing and prospective customers, or one targeting a business’s followers.

SMS: High numbers can be collected via text message.

Interviews: Questionnaires are also often carried out face-to-face or over the phone.

How to study quantitative methods

This practical, hands-on level 6 QQI course is delivered part-time and presents learners with the most important methods involved in quantitative research. 

During the module, you’ll put together spreadsheets with VBA and basic Python to solve business-related problems, while looking into various forms of quantitative study and issues, including:

  • Exploring quantitative methods for business
  • How to use quantitative research techniques appropriately
  • How to formulate quantitative questions
  • Sampling methods
  • Validity process of quantitative research

You can find out more about our quantitative methods course here.


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