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Quantitative versus Qualitative Approaches. © www.drcath.net , 2008. At the start of your research project…. After you have decided upon your research question, you need to decide what approach you are going to take: Quantitative? Qualitative?

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at the start of your research project
At the start of your research project….
  • After you have decided upon your research question, you need to decide what approach you are going to take:
    • Quantitative?
    • Qualitative?
    • Ask yourself are you seeking to prove or disprove a theory? Or are you trying to generalise your findings to a population?
      • If so this will be a deductive approach, a quantitative approach
    • Or are you hoping to elicit some understandings on what people think or feel about an issue? Is the topic an area that there is little information and so you must undertake an initial, exploratory study?
      • If so, this will be induction, a qualitative approach
deductive theory
Deductive Theory



Data Collection


Hypotheses Confirmed or Rejected

Revision of Theory


[General research question]


Theory Formulation

home exercise
Home Exercise
  • Deductive theory:
    • Test the theory that people who have never done research before will attend a research methods course to do research in the future
  • Inductive theory:
    • Why do people do a research methods course?
    • What is your theory on this?
  • What other information have you gathered?
  • Any demographics?
quantitative and qualitative methods


Tests hypotheses



Employs measurement


Detached researcher



Produces theories



Does not employ measurement


Involved researcher

Quantitative and Qualitative Methods
quantitative and qualitative methods7

Measures objective facts

Focuses on variables

Value free

Reliability is key

Independent of context

Many cases

Statistical analysis


Constructs social meaning

Focus on interactive processes

Values are present

Authenticity is key

Context constrained

Few cases

Thematic analysis

Quantitative and Qualitative Methods
common errors open ended questions in surveys
Common errors:Open ended questions in surveys
  • Sometimes people say that they use thematic analysis to analyze open ended questions on a questionnaire/survey. This is incorrect! Thematic analysis is a very specific form of analysis where the data is searched for recurring themes and theory then built from it.
  • For open ended questions, you post-hoc code. Quantitative by its nature, ‘quantifies’, so after you have collected your answers, you attach codes to responses. And so you can count the types of responses you received.
common errors generalising in qualitative research
Common errors: ‘Generalising’ in qualitative research
  • Sometimes you’ll come across people saying that the qualitative study was small scale and so the findings cannot be generalised to a population. This shows lack of understanding!
  • Qualitative research never seeks to generalise. It is important that when reporting findings that you use the terminology and methods appropriate to the approach - e.g. don’t use ‘hypothesis’ pertaining to qualitative and if using statistical analysis in quantitative, ALWAYS make sure your sampling is random! [Sampling is the most important step in quantitative work, yet so many get it wrong]
main steps in quantitative research
Main Steps in Quantitative Research:
  • Theory
  • Hypothesis
  • Research design
  • Devise measures of concepts
  • Select research site(s)
  • Select research subjects/respondents
  • Administer research instruments/ collect data
  • Process data
  • Analyse data
  • Write up findings and conclusions
main steps in qualitative research
Main Steps in Qualitative Research:
  • General research question
  • Select relevant site(s) and subjects
  • Collection of relevant data
  • Interpretation of data
  • Conceptual and theoretical work
  • Tighter specification of the research question
  • Collection of further data
  • Conceptual and theoretical work
  • Write up findings
examples of quantitative research methods
Examples of Quantitative Research Methods:
  • Experiments
  • Social surveys
    • Cross-sectional
    • Comparative (cross-national)
    • Longitudinal
  • Content Analysis
  • Secondary Statistical Analysis
  • Official Statistics
    • Demography
    • Epidemiology
  • Field stimulations
    • Structured Interviews and Observation.
examples of qualitative research
Examples of Qualitative Research:
  • In-depth Interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • Ethnography/Field Research
  • Historical-Comparative Research
  • Discourse Analysis
  • Narrative Analysis
  • Media Analysis
worth noting
Worth noting
  • Quantitative and qualitative research are often cast as opposing fields.
  • But sometimes they blur - qualitative research may employ quantification in their work or may be positivist in their approach. Some quantitative may employ phenomenology.
  • Both can be also be combined in a project
    • Qualitative can facilitate quantitative research (1) can provide hypotheses

(2) fill in the gaps, help interpret relationships

    • Quantitative can facilitate qualitative through locating interviewees and help with generalising findings
    • Together they can give you a micro and macro level versions and so you can examine the relationships between the two levels. They can complement each other.
final words
Final words
  • To make it easier to understand the two different approaches, I sometimes tell students to think of TV detectives.
  • Induction - this is the method that CSI use. They find the evidence and then produce the theory on what happened.
  • Deductive logic - this is your more traditional detective. They have a hunch that someone murdered someone else and seek to prove it. Think Columbo, Murder She Wrote or even Inspector Morse.