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Quantitative and Qualitative Research

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Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Differences between quantitative and qualitative methodologies

When you start to think about your research methodology, you need to think about the differences between qualitative and quantitative research.

Qualitative research explores attitudes, behaviour and experiences through such methods as interviews or focus groups. It attempts to get an in-depth opinion from participants. As it is attitudes, behaviour and experiences which are important, fewer people take part in the research, but the contact with these people tends to last a lot longer. Under the umbrella of qualitative research there are many different methodologies.

Quantitative research generates statistics through the use of large-scale survey research, using methods such as questionnaires or structured interviews. If a market researcher has stopped you on the streets, or you have filled in a questionnaire which has arrived through the post, this falls under the umbrella of quantitative research. This type of research reaches many more people, but the contact with those people is much quicker than it is in qualitative research.

Qualitative versus quantitative inquiry

Over the years there has been a large amount of complex discussion and argument surrounding the topic of research methodology and the theory of how inquiry should proceed. Much of this debate has centred on the issue of qualitative versus quantitative inquiry – which might be the best and which is more ‘scientific'. Different methodologies become popular at different social, political, historical and cultural times in our development, and, in my opinion, all methodologies have their specific strengths and weaknesses. These should be acknowledged and addressed by the researcher. Certainly, if you were to do so, it would help you to think about your research methodology in considerable depth.

Deciding which methodology is right for you

Don't fall into the trap which many beginning (and experienced) researchers do in thinking that quantitative research is ‘better ' than qualitative research. Neither is better than the other – they are just different and both have their strengths and weaknesses. What you will find, however, is that your instincts probably lean you towards one rather than the other. Listen to these instincts as you will find it more productive to conduct the type of research with which you will feel comfortable, especially if you're to keep your motivation levels high. Also, be aware of the fact that your tutor or boss might prefer one type of research over the other. If this is the case, you might have a harder time justifying your chosen methodology, if it goes against their preferences.

Qualitative research is used to explore and understand people's beliefs, experiences, attitudes, behaviour and interactions. It generates non- numerical data, e.g. a patient's description of their pain rather than a measure of pain. In health care, qualitative techniques have been commonly used in research documenting the experience of chronic illness and in studies about the functioning of organisations. Qualitative research techniques such as focus groups and in-depth interviews have been used in one-off projects commissioned by guideline development groups to find out more about the views and experiences of patients and carers.

Quantitative research generates numerical data or data that can be converted into numbers, for example clinical trials or the National Census, which counts people and households.

Quantitative and qualitative approaches to research.

Quantitative approaches deal with numerical measurements (i.e. quantities). They are typical of the mainstream scientific

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