In social sciences, there are two main research disciplines. These include quantitative and qualitative research methods. Quantitative research method entails measuring variables in order to obtain numerical values which are used in undertaking statistical or numerical analysis and interpretation.
On the other hand, the basis of qualitative research method is making observations which are later summarized and deduced in a narrative report (Gravetter & Forzano 158).The philosophy of the two research methodologies differ significantly with regard to their models, methods, procedures and mode of inquiry.
However, in most cases the research methods complement each other in conducting a particular study despite their differences (Kumar 17). In order to develop a better understanding of the two research methods, this paper outlines the differences between the two research methods. A number of aspects are taken into consideration in comparing and contrasting the two research methods.
Underpinning philosophy – Quantitative research is based on the philosophy of rationalism. The method asserts that human beings gain knowledge because they have a capacity to reason. On the other, hand, qualitative research is based on the philosophy that human beings only acquire knowledge from sensory experiences (Kumar 17).
General framework- The general framework of the two research methods differs significantly. Quantitative research is used in confirming hypothesis of a particular phenomenon while qualitative research is used in exploring certain phenomena. The instruments used to obtain and categorize responses to research questions are more rigid in quantitative research compared to those used in qualitative research which is more flexible.
Data collection methods– Quantitative research takes into account highly structured methods for example surveys, structured observations and questionnaires. Observational checklists which have well defined categories may also be used to collect data. On the other hand, qualitative research methods use semi-structured methods of data collection for example use of focus groups, in-depth interviews, socio-metric charts, and participant observation (Bamberger 11).
Purpose– The main purpose of quantitative research is to quantify the degree of variation in a particular situation or phenomena. As a result, it enables the research to effectively predict and determine the cause-and-effect relationships. Qualitative research method is aimed at describing the difference in a certain phenomena. Therefore, qualitative research method enables the researcher to explain and describe relationships.
Sample size– In order to effectively undertake quantitative analysis, quantitative method takes into account a relatively larger sample size whereas only few cases are taken into consideration in qualitative research. It is assumed that the samples selected in quantitative method represent the entire study population while in qualitative research method study samples are purposefully selected.
Question format- The questions used to gather data in quantitative research methods are closed-ended while those used in qualitative method are open-ended. This means that quantitative method requires the respondent to select the answer to the question from a number of predetermined responses.
On the other hand, open-ended questions give the respondents an opportunity to respond in their own opinion (Johnson & Christensen 169). For example, the researcher may ask the respondents similar questions whereby the response categories are fixed.
This gives the researcher an opportunity to conduct a meaningful comparison of the provided responses. However, this research method requires the researcher to have a comprehensive understanding of the research questions and how to ask them in order to provide a wide range of possible responses.
Dominant research value-Reliability and validity are the main research values in quantitative research. In most cases, the research environment is usually controlled. As a result, they are determined using logical and statistical methods. For example, inferential statistical procedures may be used to demonstrate external validity. In qualitative method, the research values are explicated. Additionally, different sources of information (triangulation) are used to determine reliability and validity (Grady 6).
Dominant research topic- Quantitative research is used in research studies that are aimed at explaining prevalence, extent, opinion and attitudes, nature of issues and formulates theories. Qualitative research is used in studies whose objective is to explore experiences, feelings and perceptions (Kumar 159).
Data- The data collected in quantitative research method usually entails numbers which can be statistically manipulated. On the other hand, the data collected in qualitative method usually entails words, statements and phrases which are the responses to the research questions (Grady 7).
Analysis of data– Statistical procedures such as cross tabulations and frequency distributions are used in analyzing data in quantitative research while observations data or narratives are used in analyzing the research findings (Kumar 18).
Research design- In quantitative research, the research design to be used in the study is specified before commencement of the research study. However, in qualitative research there is a certain degree of flexibility which enables the researcher to develop the research design during the process of conducting the investigation.
Approach- Quantitative research method is objective in nature in that it is aimed at obtaining precise measurements of the subject under study. On the other hand, the approach used in qualitative research method is subjective. As a result, its objective is to develop a comprehensive understanding of human behavior and the factors that direct such behavior.
Research setting-Study of human behavior using quantitative research method can either be conducted in a natural or artificial setting. However, studying behavior using qualitative research method can only be conducted in the natural setting. Natural setting requires the researcher to intermingle with the study people or participate in the social activity under study while artificial setting entails conducting a study in an experimental environment (Blaikie 163).
Procedural bias- Quantitative research method relies on data collecting instruments and the research design used to control procedural bias while qualitative research method relies on the researcher to control procedural bias.
Measurement of variables – Quantitative research emphasizes on a method of classification or a form of measurement of the research variables while qualitative research stresses on description of the research variables.
From the above analysis, it is evident that there are significant differences between quantitative and qualitative research designs. Despite the differences between quantitative and qualitative research methods in social research, the two methods are similar in a number of ways.
For example, both quantitative and qualitative research methods can be used in testing a particular theory, explore a particular area of study, formulate hypothesis and develop relevant theories. In conducting a particular research study, the two research methods are used together.
For example, qualitative research methods usually integrate quantification of data by using numbers and statements such as less than and more than. Quantitative research methods can also incorporate qualitative methods of data collection by using open-ended questions. Additionally, the underlying philosophical positions of the two research methods are not necessarily different.
Bamberger, Michael. Quantitative and qualitative research in development projects, Washington, DC: Conference Publication, 2000. Print.
Blaikie, Norman. Designing social research: The logic of anticipation, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. Print.
Grady, Michael. Qualitative and action research: A practitioner handbook, Bloomington, Ind: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1998. Print.
Gravetter, Fredrick and Forzano, Lori-Ann. Research methods for the behavioral sciences, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.
Johnson, Burke and Christensen, Larry. Educational research: Quantitative, qualitative and mixed approaches, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2012. Print.
Kumar, Ranjit. Research methodology: A step-by-step guide for beginners, London: Sage, 2010. Print.