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The 5 Key Differences between Qualitative and Quantitative Research

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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.

What is qualitative research?

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.”

What is quantitative research?

Most people tend to be more familiar with quantitative research, which is a process of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting numerical data.

data analysis

1. Reason behind qualitative vs. quantitative research

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.

2. Qualitative vs. quantitative data

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

3. Methods used for data collection

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.  

4. Methods used for data analysis

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.

5. Population

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.

Summary table of qualitative vs. quantitative research
 Qualitative dataQuantitative data
ReasonWhy and how?What, Who, where?
DataNumbersImages, audio-recording, videos, or texts
Data collectionClosed ended: surveys, questionnaires, etc.  Open-ended: in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, field notes, case studies, etc.
MethodsStatistical methodsGrounded theory, ethnography, phenomenology, etc.
PopulationGeneralizable to a larger populationSmall population

Check out my other blog posts.


Denzin N. and Lincoln Y. (Eds.) (2000). Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: Sage Publication Inc.

1 Response

  1. Pratik says:

    Do you have any suggestions for which software to use for qualitative data analysis?