Scientific research methods fall into two broad categories: quantitative and qualitative. While the former focuses on the mathematical analysis of observable phenomena, qualitative research is based on language and aims at the deep understanding of its objects of study.

In this article we will analyze the 9 main differences between quantitative and qualitative research .

Differences between qualitative and quantitative research

The differences between qualitative and quantitative research occur in many different aspects, from the goals and applications of the studies to their psychometric properties. Each of them has, in turn, advantages and disadvantages that make it more appropriate in certain circumstances .

Although many people underestimate the usefulness of qualitative methods, as we will see they allow the analysis of phenomena different from those that are the focus of interest of quantitative ones, as well as allowing the same facts to be addressed from a more in-depth perspective.

1. Object of study

The object of study of the quantitative research is static data from which conclusions of a probabilistic nature are drawn. Qualitative methods focus mainly on processes , that is, on dynamic aspects, and focus on the subjective experience of phenomena from the perspective of the subjects of analysis.

2. Objectives and applications

The main objective of qualitative research is the initial exploration, description and understanding of a phenomenon. In this sense, we can say that qualitative methods focus on the generation of hypotheses around certain facts; sometimes conclusions can be drawn from these studies through induction.

In contrast, quantitative methods are often used at a more advanced point in the scientific process: in the testing of hypotheses, i.e. in their confirmation or refutation . Thus, they are mainly deductive in nature and in many cases are associated with the analysis of theory and the recommendation of courses of action around specific problems.

3. Analysis point of view

Since qualitative research focuses on exploring phenomena from the perspective of particular individuals, it is inevitably subjective in nature, although this need not imply a lack of methodological rigour. Quantitative methods, on the other hand, seek to analyse objectively measurable effects.

However, unlike what is often advocated, quantitative methods are not totally objective : they depend notably on the action of the researchers, who choose the variables to be studied, carry out the analyses and interpret the results. They are therefore clearly susceptible to human error.

4. Data type

The data from quantitative research are of a numerical type; this is why they are assumed to have a certain solidity and capacity for replication that will allow inferences to be made beyond the data itself. In qualitative research, priority is given to the depth and richness of information about a specific fact and inferences are limited to this fact.

5. Methodology

By focusing on numerical aspects, quantitative methods allow for the specific and controlled measurement of many concrete aspects of reality. Furthermore, this makes it possible to carry out statistical analyses using the data , which in turn will favour the comparison of different sets of information and the generalisation of results.

In contrast, qualitative research primarily uses language-based data, particularly narrative records. The methods of analysis are much more naturalistic in nature and greater importance is given to the context and relationships between the elements that make up the phenomenon under study, and not just to these separately.

6. Techniques used

Researchers using qualitative methodology employ methods such as in-depth interviews, participant observation or discussions and group discussions. These techniques have a lower level of structuring than the quantitative approach, which includes methods such as questionnaires and systematic observation records.

7. Level of analysis

While quantitative research analyses specific aspects of the objects of study, qualitative research is more holistic in nature, meaning that it attempts to understand the structure of facts and the dynamics between the elements that make them up in a global rather than a particularistic way.

8. Degree of generalization

In theory, quantitative methods use representative samples from a larger population in order to draw conclusions and generalize to this higher level; furthermore, there are techniques that allow for the measurement and reduction of the probability of error . The difficulty in generalizing results is the most characteristic defect of qualitative research.

9. Validity and reliability

The reliability and trustworthiness of quantitative research depends mainly on the techniques and instruments used to measure and process the data. In the case of qualitative methodology, these properties relate more to the rigour and ability of the researchers, and can be more subjective in nature.