Qualitative Research vs. Quantitative Research

by Marianela Nunez


Without any doubt, being a graduate student involves mastering research methods. Research methods help us answer questions about the topics and things we want to understand. However, not all methods are meant to answer the same kinds of questions. Hence, researchers have developed two paradigms to do research that differ in their purpose and in their ways to do research. These two paradigms are called qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative Research vs. Quantitative Research

Qualitative research is very different from the quantitative research. The epistemological and ontological questions and assumptions of the qualitative paradigm hold mostly opposite values than those held by the quantitative. In qualitative research, as opposed to quantitative research, in which objectivity is the main focus, hermeneutics is what matters to produce trustworthy knowledge. When it comes to talk about ontology, qualitative scholars believe that there are multiple realities as opposed to one reality about the things they study. According to the quantitative paradigm, there is one reality that is waiting to be discovered by the researcher to reveal the nature of the world. However, the qualitative paradigm disagrees with this understanding and argues that there are multiple realities that are shaped by human interactions on earth.

The qualitative paradigm and its methods to conduct research constitute a humanistic body of knowledge that seeks for interpretation. Qualitative methods represent the assumptions of qualitative research, its concern with representing the other, acknowledging and being reflective of our positionalities and create valuable and ethical work (Conquergood).

The purpose of qualitative communication research is to gain a better understanding of human communication and realities without claiming generalized understandings of the world. As a result, they use thematic analysis, interpretation, and evaluation of the information gathered to produce very rich, detailed and very specific knowledge. On the other hand, quantitative research seeks to quantify and explain reality relying on statistical analysis, numbers, and pre-determined formulas and variables to produce knowledge.

Establishing credibility and trustworthiness is compared to validating a study in quantitative research. However, this is done totally different in qualitative research since we are not looking for generalizable claims to apply to all populations. As the qualitative researcher, Haraway (1988) argues, knowledge is partial and situated. Therefore, establishing credibility in qualitative studies depends on prolonged engagement, member checks, audits, peer reviews and some other factors.

Differently, in quantitative research, the validity of a study depends on the instrument and how well it measure what it was meant to measure. Qualitative methods measure objective facts; it is focused on variables and their relationships. It looks for cause and effect and it is value free. This type of research emphasizes reliability over authenticity.

Characteristics of Qualitative Research

  • It is an inductive method.
  • It is focused on the individual.
  • It is holistic.
  • It is important to use gender neutral language.
  • The use of first person is okay.
  • Cause and effect are not engraved in the QR vocabulary. They are actually words that should not be used when talking about qualitative studies. We are not measuring anything. We are just trying to understand the things we study. If we go away from this cause and effect type of thinking then we can gain an in depth understanding of fewer people.
  • Interpretation and understanding are at the very foundation of this method.
  • Qualitative research depends on the interaction of the researcher and his or her participants.
  • Samples are usually small.
  • Knowledge produced is mostly represented by words, images, and sounds.

Characteristics of Quantitative Research

  • It is deductive.
  • Use of first person in your writing is not allowed.
  • The quantitative vocabulary is like a new language.
  • Researchers use SPSS, a great software to analyze their statistical data.
  • Meant to produce generalizable knowledge.
  • The use of numbers, formulas, and graphs is at the core of this paradigm.
  • Samples are very big.
  • Research should be easily replicated.

Some Quantitative Research Methods       Some Qualitative Research Methods

Surveys Ethnography
Experiments Phenomenology
Interviewing Interviewing
Statistical Analysis Case Studies


Discovering your Preferred Paradigm

It is very important to find passion for what you are doing while you are in graduate school and in life in general. Therefore, I think that for those of you who have not discovered both ways of doing research, it is important to start thinking about the investigative questions you would like to answer, and how you would like to answer them to discover your favorite paradigm. Personally, I have done quantitative and qualitative research, and I have found pleasure in both methods. However, I like the idea of understanding the world using the values presented by the qualitative paradigm. Can you share what your favorite paradigm is and why?

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