What do you mean the data doesn’t have any numbers?
This exact question was echoing through my mind when my mentor gave me half a dozen interviews to code during my summer internship.
Studying statistics in graduate school, I wasn’t too familiar with the term qualitative research. But during that summer internship, I quickly began to learn and appreciate the need for qualitative research. Today, I combine my statistical background – often termed as quantitative research – and qualitative research to better understand mental health.
But before getting into the 5 key differences between qualitative and quantitative research, let’s define these terms.
It is a process of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting non-numerical data. Qualitative research experts Denzin and Lincoln claim, “qualitative research involves an interpretive and naturalistic approach. This means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or to interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings of people to bring to them.”
Most people tend to be more familiar with quantitative research, which is a process of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting numerical data.
To do research, we often start with a question of interest. We are usually interested in finding out about the What, Who, Where, How, and Why of something or a situation.
For qualitative research, we want to understand the underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations. We ask questions around how and why of something or a situation.
When designing quantitative research, we are trying to understand the what, who, or where, of something or a situation.
Qualitative data is not defined in numerical values. It can be observed, but not measured in quantifiable terms. The data can be texts, images, audio recordings, or videos.
On the other hand, quantitative data – as the name suggests – can be quantifiable using numerical values.
Qualitative data collection uses open-ended questions. Examples for qualitative data collections methods are focus group discussions, in-depth interviews, written feedback from people, and case studies.
But quantitative data collection uses closed-ended questions. Some examples for quantitative data collection include surveys, questionnaires, etc.
Some common methods used in qualitative data are grounded theory, ethnography, and phenomenology.
Whereas, quantitative data uses statistical techniques such as independent t-test, Chi-squared tests, regression analysis, etc.
In qualitative research, we are only able to study a small group of people.
However, in quantitative research we are able to study a larger group of people.
|Qualitative data||Quantitative data|
|Reason||Why and how?||What, Who, where?|
|Data||Numbers||Images, audio-recording, videos, or texts|
|Data collection||Closed ended: surveys, questionnaires, etc.||Open-ended: in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, field notes, case studies, etc.|
|Methods||Statistical methods||Grounded theory, ethnography, phenomenology, etc.|
|Population||Generalizable to a larger population||Small population|
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Denzin N. and Lincoln Y. (Eds.) (2000). Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: Sage Publication Inc.