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Research Design Differences – Qualitative and Quantitative

The following paper is an insight into researching which is crucial in the field of social sciences. It seeks to define the two main methods used: qualitative and quantitative and their key characteristics. Finally, it will give comparisons of these two methodologies and how each is important and applicable in its own right.

Social sciences like psychology and sociology are classified as such because of the amount of scientific input it utilizes for example, experimenting and observation. These scientific principles are applied in researching into theories and various phenomena related to that field. The following paper discusses the various research methodologies, their features, and how each is important to research processes as well as the field, being researched (research subject).

According to Creswell (1994) “A qualitative study is defined as an inquiry process of understanding a social or human problem, based on building a complex, holistic picture, formed with words, reporting detailed views of informants, and conducted in a natural setting. Alternatively a quantitative study, consistent with the quantitative paradigm, is an inquiry into a social or human problem, based on testing a theory composed of variables, measured with numbers, and analyzed with statistical procedures, in order to determine whether the predictive generalizations of the theory hold true.”

Another definition of qualitative research is:

Qualitative research is multi-method in focus, involving an interpretive, naturalistic approach to its subject matter. This means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of or interpret phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them. Qualitative research involves the studied use and collection of a variety of empirical materials case study, personal experience, introspective, life story interview, observational, historical, interactional, and visual texts-that describe routine and problematic moments and meaning in individuals’ lives (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994).

According to Trochim (2006), qualitative research has the following key characteristics:

  1. It is exploratory in nature i.e. it is inductive meaning it uses general information to reduce the most important points in the research. It moves from all the available information on the research question into other areas that can and may not have been explored. It then particularizes this information into a new developed theory based on all the collected data.
  2. This is also true for the method of sampling whereby qualitative research uses the purposeful sampling of data that involves using vast number of data to make inductions on the key aspects of the research study. It follows the principle of abstraction (the process or result of deducing information in order to retain only the relevant or substantive information).
  3. It operates under an epistemological assumption of exploring a subject in its context and in its natural environment. The research questions should spring spontaneously and progressively from continued research rather than structured questions that are not obtained from immersing into the research subject, say, the life of adolescent youth in gangs. Piaget borrows this method in his research on developmental stages in case studies of children in their natural environment.
  4. It makes ontological assumptions about the world. It entails considering other points of views and in using the grounded theory approach of stressing the need for observation. It was developed by Strauss and Glaser.
  5. It mainly uses the qualitative forms of data such as interviewing, participant and direct observation and written document based on quantitative or statistical data.

The following are key features that define quantitative research:

  1. It uses randomized sampling methods in collecting data to make inductive inferences about the research area. This means that the specific observations form the basis of generalizations. In other words, abstraction does not apply here.
  2. The methodology uses quantitative research methods like statistical representation and measurements of the data obtained in conducting the research.
  3. It can be verified through validity, reliability (objectivity), precision and accuracy of the data collected. Qualitative analysis does not validate the research findings based on empirical justification but rather through credibility, transferability, confirmability and dependability of the findings of the researcher. This is the extent to which facts presented are believable, can be corroborated, generalized to another region or if they can be replicated. In respect to reliability and validity, triangulation which combines methods in a bid to achieve the forenamed. Mathison (!988) elaborates this theory by saying: Triangulation has raised an important methodological issue in naturalistic and qualitative approaches to evaluation [in order to] control bias and establishing valid propositions because traditional scientific techniques are incompatible with this alternate epistemology (p. 13).
  4. It tends to be objective such that different researchers have the same view and agree on what is being observed. Qualitative research tends to be subjective based on the researchers reality. This is why sampling must be done randomly.
  5. It mainly emphasizes the cause and effect of phenomena such that it is based on variables.
  6. It is deductive in its methodology as it springs from the specific amount of knowledge and uses this to deduce various points of the research findings to back up from the empirical findings by generalizing its structural consistencies.

Trochim further explains the key features of quantitative research that make it different from qualitative research. He argues there are very few differences in regards to data such that quantitative research, which is based on positivism and deduction, may borrow from qualitative research in its confirmatory approach and vice- versa where qualitative borrows deductive reasoning. These according to him are key misconceptions of the distinguishing characteristics of the two methodologies the level of data.

Each of these methodologies is important in its own right. Qualitative research is important in obtaining information about phenomena that needs an empirical basis. Statistical data on the population trends are useful in demographic research and interpretation. For example, statistics based on research of the infant mortality rate give insight into the demography of a state. Qualitative methods would not be applicable in this respect unless the causes of it are also o sough in the research.

On the other hand qualitative research calls for a more interpretive look into the research question. Patton (2001) calls for the researcher’s immersion into the world research. He says that the credibility of a research is based on the effort of the researcher and his ability. ” …the researcher is the instrument” Patton, 2001, p.14).

It is important to note the representation of qualitative research analysis and quantitative research analysis. In qualitative research, the report is informal and in narrative form while in quantitative it is in form of graphs and charts and tends to be formal.

In conclusion, this paper has espoused the differences between a quantitative and a qualitative research project. It has looked at their key features and how applicable they may be in regards to relating social phenomena and it has defined what qualitative and qualitative research is. It has also given various examples of how or where it can be applied in psychology among other disciplines. Lastly, it has outlined the methods of data collection and representation used in the two methodologies whereby quantitative data is mainly statistical while qualitative data tends to be non-empirical and unscientific thus ends up being subjective and impressionistic in its findings.


Creswell, J.W. (1994). Research Design: Qualitative & Quantitative Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Denzin, N.K., & Lincoln Y. S. (1994). Collecting and Interpreting qualitative Materials. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Mathison, S. (1988). Why triangulate? Educational Researcher, 17(2), 13-17.

Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (3rd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Trochim, W.M.K. (2006). Qualitative Measures. Web.


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