Qualitative and Quantitative Research


Research Method is the systematic and scientific  process by  which a social phenomena is studied through the data collected  and its  analysis. It is broadly classified as Quantitative and Qualitative research based on the type of data collected and it’s analysis. The following section describes  both of these types:


Quantitative research

It involves collection of numeric data which is put to statistical analysis. It mainly studies the causal relationship between two variables. Commonly used research design for quantitative research is Quasi-experimental (Randomized Control Trial, pre-post etc.) 

Quantitative research is carried out mainly in natural sciences which is usually experimental in nature. The systematic process is derived in social sciences to study a social phenomena through large sums of data. For example if we want to study the percentage of households having toilets in a district. We would like to have numeric data on this, hence quantitative data would be collected and put to statistical analysis. Data is collected only from a sample of population and is generalized to the whole population.

Tools of data collection for quantitative research

In social sciences tools are referred to the types of questions which are administered to the sample population. These are categorised as

  • Questionnaire: These contain a set of questions which seeks “yes or no” as answer,  ratings on a scale 1-5 or 1-10 etc., or degree to which one  agrees or disagrees. 
  • Structured interview: These consist of questions which have specific answers like ‘yes’ ‘no’, ‘true’ ‘false’, ‘agree’ ‘disagree’ etc. 

Analysis of the data is done through statistical procedures like frequencies, correlation etc. The findings are generally objective, replicable and verifiable and can be generalised to a larger population. 

Advantages of quantitative research:

  • Large amount of data can be observed and analysed. 
  • Uses systematic and scientific approach due to which the findings can be replicated in various settings. 
  • It is mainly done to test a hypothesis and build on theory, therefore significant in broadening the knowledge base.
  • Chances of personal bias is negligible
  • Future events can be predicted (through survey and trend analysis)

Disadvantages of quantitative research

  • In-depth analysis of social phenomena cannot be done.
  • Does not provide understanding of complex social situations or perceptions and thought processes of the population under study.

Qualitative research

It involves in-depth understanding of any social phenomena (human behaviour, cultural dynamics, social organizations etc.). The data, which are mostly observations made by the researcher, is thematically analysed.

For example, we can study the number of households having toilets in an Indian village by quantitative methods but if we want to know the extent of the use of toilets or reasons or cultural beliefs for not having a toilet in the house then qualitative observations in terms of open ended questions and participant observations would give a deeper understanding of the sanitation issues in that particular locality.  Qualitative Data is usually collected from a small group of people.

Tools for data collection for qualitative research

  • In order to make qualitative observations the researcher uses unstructured interview guides having open ended questions which are administered to individual subjects and their views and perceptions are recorded. 
  • In yet another method the researcher becomes a part of the community under study and carries on participant observation.
  • Focus group discussion: In this method the researcher forms a small  group of participants and facilitates a discussion on the topic under study. As the discussion progresses the researcher notes down the insights from the participants which are later analysed.

Types of qualitative research

Participant observation

In this type of research design the researcher becomes a part of the small community under study and participates in its affairs like a member of the community. In this process the researcher gets an in-depth understanding of the socio-political affairs of the community which is later construed by the researcher during the analysis. 

For example: If a researcher wants to know about the tradition and culture of a tribe in eastern India, then he/she lives with the people and participates in their daily life and draws inferences as a member of that particular tribe.

The PRA/PLA techniques used in the development sector widely derive from this design. 

Case study

In this type of study an individual entity (institution, individual, geographic region etc. ) is identified and detailed analysis of all of its features is done. 

For example: a study of a popular political leader, a study of an Indian northeastern  tribe etc.

Ethnographic study

Ethnographic studies are mainly done to understand the cultural aspects of a community especially having  a historic significance. In this type of research the evolution of the unit under study is recorded along with other characteristics. It is to be noted that in this type of research the researcher does not become a part of the community but rather observations are made as an external agent. 

For example: A study of a kashmiri village along the India and  Pakistan border. The  study is significant since it is in the war prone area and always under threat of consequences of war. 

Advantages of qualitative research

  • Qualitative research gives in-depth information about the phenomena hence adds unique interpretation of the facts.
  • It allows understanding of complex situations which eventually leads to  finding solutions accordingly.
  • The analysis of observations are guided mainly by participants’ inputs. 

Disadvantages of qualitative research

  • There are chances of researcher’s bias in the analysis of the observations. 
  • In the absence of objective data, it cannot be generalized to a larger population.
  • Qualitative research is time consuming as compared to quantitative research. 
  • Only a small group or an individual can be studied over a long period of time. 

Quantitative and Qualitative research have distinct approaches to study. Quantitative research applies the deductive approach whereas qualitative research is guided by the inductive approach. 

In social work research generally a mixed method approach is applied where use of qualitative as well as quantitative data is made to arrive at conclusions. 


In order to find solutions to human problems a mix of both types of research is preferred especially in the development sector. Hence a mixed method comprising qualitative as well as quantitative data gives a better picture of any social situation. 

Quantitative research involves collection of numeric data which is put to statistical analysis. It mainly studies the causal relationship between two variables whereas qualitative research is an in-depth study of a social phenomena and analyses non-numeric data.

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