Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research: An In-Depth Comparison and Analysis
Currently, in the field of scientific research, the authors distinguish two main approaches to the application of research methods and the acquisition of knowledge. A quantitative approach means a scientific or natural-scientific approach.
Methodological scientism considers the methods of exact and natural sciences to be universal and proposes to extend them to all other sciences as a means of identifying stable and objective characteristics of the object under study.
However, the absolutization of mathematical data statistics and experimental technologies with scientific criteria without taking into account individual differences reduces the image of a person as an object of research to a theoretical scheme to a set of observed reactions to proposed incentives.
In contrast to the quantitative approach, the qualitative one is defined as an intuitive approach, and it is understood as humanistic, humanitarian, experiential, phenomenological, clinical, case study, participatory observation, assessment, and ordinary knowledge.
Quantitative and qualitative traditions coexisted and were often in conflict. The popularity of each approach has been subject to fluctuations associated with changes in ideas about scientific knowledge’s nature, with scientific advances achieved within a particular tradition.
At present, the question is not which approach and the methods developed within its framework should be preferred by the researcher when solving specific research problems. The problem of the polarity of quantitative and qualitative approaches to research will not be solved if one approach is recognized as universal and more significant for all possible research situations than the other.
J. Campbell notes the following in this regard: “I cannot recommend either a qualitative-oriented social science or … a process … of a quantitative approach. But I highly recommend both approaches as necessary, complementary means of cross-validation”.
Thus, it is wiser to talk not about the opposition, but about a combination of two approaches – quantitative and qualitative, that is, about the principle of functional complementarity, through which these approaches are linked to each other. At the same time, the choice of certain quantitative or qualitative methods is determined by the specifics of the problem under study.
Quantitative Methods, Their Advantages, and Limitations
The main characteristics of quantitative methods are formalism and mass character. The developer sets the studied variables in advance, and it is no longer possible to deviate from them during the collection process, and the massive collection of data of the same type precedes their quantitative, digital processing.
Benefits of Using Quantitative Research
The advantages of this measuring method include a fairly objective nature of the research procedure and the possibility of rechecking the results obtained due to the fulfillment of the requirements of representativeness, reliability, and validity.
With the help of these methods, it is possible to study a large number of subjects and summarize the data obtained quickly and easily. The identification of stable and objective characteristics of the research object allows one to compare the individual research results obtained with the generalized research data of large samples.
In addition, the results of the application of these methods make it possible to construct a mathematical model of the object under study.
Disadvantages of Using Quantitative Research
However, a number of disadvantages inherent in these methods can sufficiently distort the data obtained as a result of the study:
- Limitation 1. One of the serious problems is that a necessary condition for the use of these methods is the presence of a system of concepts that form a theoretical description of the object under study. The very creation of such a system of concepts requires significant research procedures and efforts, and the methodological apparatus used to achieve this goal must have high mobility, sensitivity, and the ability to quickly change the set of studied variables. Obviously, these techniques do not possess this ability to the proper extent, and as a result, an inadequate conceptual apparatus is artificially imposed on the object under study;
- Limitation 2. When using these techniques, there is no necessary and effective feedback, which hinders the development of conceptual representations, necessary for the formation of an adequate conceptual apparatus. As a result, these methods are most effective in analyzing answers to standard questions and to study standard processes, but are often helpless in determining unique and variable traits;
- Limitation 3. Another limitation in the use of these data collection techniques is that not all phenomena are equally amenable to quantitative changes, and the very possibilities of their use are limited to a certain area of application, which is formed by the framework of measuring procedures and outside of which the researcher must rely on other data research methods.
Although theoretically an adequate measurement procedure can be selected for any phenomenon, nevertheless, the process of development of scientific knowledge follows a different path. The most successful studies, as a rule, implement a qualitative breakthrough strategy and measure only the most important characteristics of an object, and the result is both an expansion of the measurability area and the formulation of new conceptual concepts based on non-quantitative data. The lack of common sense inevitably leads to a decrease in the content of scientific results and often distorted, false, and divorced conclusions.
Such data research techniques are criticized, first of all, from the standpoint of methodology, since their ability to properly explain and understand the deep meaning of the phenomena and processes occurring is clearly insufficient. Where an already formulated hypothesis needs to be tested or where different options for action are to be evaluated, these data collection techniques can provide an appropriate tool.
Qualitative Methods, Their Distinctive Features in Comparison with Quantitative Methods
The authors noted that while quantitative data approches retain their undoubted primacy in public opinion polls and in media research, they are increasingly under pressure from more flexible, qualitative data collection methods.
Characteristics of Qualitative Research
The main distinguishing features of qualitative data research methods in comparison with such methods include the following:
- Firstly, in contrast to quantitative ones, qualitative data collection techniques, based on data procedures, are not standardized. They are aimed at a broad study of the entire spectrum of manifestations of an object and do not trace its quantitative patterns, focusing on the disclosure of cause-and-effect relationships and analysis of the very process of change and interaction of the studied object both within itself and with the surrounding reality.
- Qualitative data research techniques avoid a rigid formalized scheme for collecting data and do not present the results in the form of statistical, mathematical calculations, thereby providing an opportunity for a deeper and more complete understanding and explanation of phenomena;
- Secondly, the positive side of qualitative data research techniques is that the meaning of the questions proposed by any formalized questionnaires may not coincide with the categories in the mind of the respondent, which he operates in the perception and assessment of a particular mass media, a particular article or program. Although the respondent accepts and evaluates the proposed structure as a result of the research, the researcher nevertheless receives incomplete data. The respondent is given the opportunity to express himself completely freely only in qualitative non-formalized data research techniques;
- Thirdly, another advantage of qualitative data research approches is the appeal to the activity of the audience, as a result of which conditions are created for observing the values of an individual. In addition to the functional value of data, people endow it with meaning, that is, they somehow relate to it and to communicators.
In a qualitative research situation that is as close to live as possible, a respondent who freely expresses his opinion solves the creative problem of presenting his images in the way they affect motivation. The goal of the researcher is to discover the motivational aspects of human behavior, his expectations, perceptions, attitudes, values, etc., and make them available for the creative process. The use of group forms of work makes quality methods more economical and effective.
Benefits of Qualitative Research
Qualitative methods are complex research techniques that reveal in detail not data quantitative patterns but the real content of data perception’s motivational and emotional aspects. And these methods in a certain way allow to:
- overcome the subject-object dichotomy of the natural science paradigm of research, using both subjective and objective perception;
- overcome the discreteness of data obtained by quantitative data collection methods, i.e., achieve integrity in the description and understanding of the studied phenomenon;
- obtain data corresponding to the categorical apparatus used by the individual in the perception and evaluation of data;
- achieve an in-depth understanding of the phenomena under study, without focusing on the massive collection of data;
- present the results and give practical recommendations in an accessible, understandable form;
- get rich data faster and cheaper than using traditional quantitative data collection techniques.
Comparative Characteristics of Qualitative and Quantitative Research
The analysis of quantitative and qualitative research allows revealing their characteristic differences.
Difference in Data Collection and Receipt Procedure
These research techniques assume the presence of a specific standardized tool (questionnaire), which, in turn, involves standardized answers of the respondent to clearly posed questions. The availability of such a tool is a necessary component of such research because each question is a certain parameter that is subject to quantitative measurement.
That is why in this research, close attention is paid to the questionnaire and formulation of questions. And this is understandable: a question posed incorrectly, inadequately, abstractly, incomprehensibly, or ambiguously, a priori assumes the appropriate characteristics of the answer.
In addition, this is why this research focuses on the preparation, instruction, and training of interviewers, on whose help, explanations, and interpretations respondents’ answers often depend.
Qualitative research involves a structured but still free story (in the form of a monologue or dialogue, debate or discussion) on a given topic. Accordingly, despite the presence of a preliminary plan of discussion or conversation, the basis of the study here is the story itself as a product of independent activities of the respondent in a given semantic space.
That is why in qualitative research, the personality of the moderator and his various abilities are of great importance: communication (to ensure a free atmosphere of communication), leadership (to manage group dynamics and discussion), analytical-synthetic, the ability to empathize and understand (without which it is impossible to control the story in principle).
Difference in the Specifics of the Source Data
These data research methods deal only with obvious and up-to-date data for respondents. Moreover, the data of quantitative research are based on the self-report of respondents on the implemented behavioral patterns and stereotypes, as well as on subjective perceptions, expectations, and limitations. However, such data collection techniques do not allow to determine the degree of conformity of the received answers to what the respondent actually implements. That is, the self-report may not correspond to the actual behavior of the respondent.
Qualitative data research methods deal with the unconscious data revealed in the process of implementing certain activities by the respondent. That is, in qualitative data research methods, we are dealing with the objective result of subjective activity. Accordingly, in qualitative research techniques, the respondent’s story is accepted as a result of his activity, which is subjected to analysis and interpretation as an independent product.
Difference in Processing and Interpretation
Quantitative research involves the arithmetic calculation of the obtained data, followed by mathematical analysis and interpretation within the given mathematical models. Qualitative data research ways involve a meaningful analysis of respondents’ responses and reactions to the subject of discussion.
In this article, you learned what quantitative and qualitative research is, the advantages and disadvantages of using each data collection technique, and why their related use is considered appropriate. Apply the knowledge gained in practice and conduct good research!