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Quantitative and Qualitative Methods

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Quantitative and Qualitative Methods

How would you prefer to gather data if you were to carry out a research project? Through words, numbers, or a combination of both?

The type of data psychologists are collecting and how they subsequently process and analyse it is an important consideration when psychologists are planning their research design. Psychologists can choose between quantitative and qualitative research methods, and it affects many aspects of their research, including how both the psychologists and the readers can interpret the results.

Let's look at the different methods, consider some examples, and evaluate them.

Qualitative and quantitative methods, man hovering encircled by various types of data to choose from on graphs, StudySmarterResearchers can choose different methods when collecting data for their experiments, freepik.com/storyset

What are quantitative and qualitative methods?

Research methods can generate different types of data. Depending on the type of research, a kind of data may be preferable to another.

Quantitative research methods are methods that mainly generate numerical data. The aim is to collect objective data to look for trends, patterns or correlations between two or more variables. Statistics show common themes in quantitative data.

Quantitative methods measure by categorising and rating the data collected by the researcher, e.g., how many students in a class enjoy playing a musical instrument. It is great for objective and easy analysis of data.

Qualitative research methods are methods that mainly generate descriptive, worded data. The aim is to collect in-depth and detailed data to understand as much as possible. Thematic analysis is an example of a qualitative analysis of data.

Qualitative methods can explore ideas, motivations, or thought processes in more depth, with a more personalised reflection of the studied person, e.g. to understand why students have chosen to play musical instruments. It is excellent for detailed data analysis and identifying additional areas of research quantitative data may not highlight.

Quantitative research: examples

To better understand quantitative research methods, we can consider some examples. Examples of quantitative research methods include:

Structured interviews

Structured interviews are interviews with closed questions; neither the participants nor the researcher can add more to the question or answer. The questions are designed to produce concise answers. These are considered to be closed questions. Open questions produce qualitative data, so do not confuse the two.

An interviewer may ask, 'Do you enjoy playing sports?'. Acceptable answers may be 'Yes', 'No', or 'Sometimes'. There is no opportunity to add detail to the answer.

Questionnaires and surveys with closed questions

Questionnaires and surveys with closed questions may include multiple-choice or 'Yes or no' questions. They help the researcher obtain data that are easily collectable and analysable.

These methods may also include Likert scales, which use scaling responses to measure and collect data. A Likert scale provides a range of scaling responses a participant can choose from.

You've probably come across a Likert scale before; they are commonly used in customer satisfaction surveys. Consider the example in the image below.

Quantitative and qualitative methods, example of Likert scale represented by coloured dots, StudySmarterLikert scales can include a range of scaled responses, including the one above. StudySmarter Originals, Shikha Shah

Polls

Polls are an easy way to collect numerical data.

For example, a teacher may ask the class whether they would prefer to do a project in groups or individually. The teacher can set up a poll, and the students can submit their preferences. The data may be represented in numbers (e.g., 20 out of 30 students wanted to work in groups) or statistics (e.g., 65% of the class wanted to work alone).

Experiments

Experiments are good for generating numerical data as they are designed to establish cause and effect relationships between two or more variables. They generally have controlled environments, although this can differ depending on the experiment conducted.

What kind of data can be generated using quantitative research?

Quantitative research can generate a variety of objective, numerical data represented in the forms of:

  • Bar charts

  • Graphs, including correlational

  • Pie charts

  • Statistics

  • Tallies

Tables generally show the raw data before it is analysed and can also be used to show descriptive statistics.

Qualitative research: examples

To better understand qualitative research methods, we can consider some examples. Examples of qualitative research methods include:

Unstructured interviews

Unstructured interviews are interviews with open questions; the researcher and participant can follow up on questions and answers, respectively. They are designed to obtain in-depth and detailed data.

Case studies

Case studies focus on a single person, event, phenomenon or issue; the aim is to obtain detail to understand exactly why or how something or someone works. Case studies can generate a mass amount of qualitative data, primarily if carried out across several years or on complex issues.

Questionnaires and surveys with open questions

Similarly to unstructured interviews, questionnaires and surveys with open questions allow for follow-up and detail in questions and answers. They are good for uncovering and understanding the participants' preferences or motivations.

What kind of data can be generated using qualitative research?

Qualitative research can generate a variety of descriptive, worded data represented in the forms of:

  • Detailed answers or statements

  • Chronology of events

  • Reports

  • Opinions

  • Images or videos

Quantitative and Qualitative Methods, laptop showing statistical data, StudySmarterQuantitative and qualitative data have their advantages and disadvantages. Unsplash.com

Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approach

Now that you have information about qualitative and quantitative methods, we can briefly consider how a combination of these could work. This is called a mixed-methods approach.

There may be several different reasons for using a mixed-method approach. One reason may be that the research topic is too complex to only rely on one type of data; a second reason is that using a mixed-methods approach may give you a richer, more accurate picture of the research topic.

Combining quantitative and qualitative methods

Combining both types of research methods can have the following advantages:

  • Flexibility in research methods – they have more choice as to how they carry out the research

  • The 'best of both worlds' – using mixed methods can decrease the impact of any weaknesses of certain research methods

  • A wide range of data is produced

An example of a mixed-method approach

We can understand how a mixed-method approach works by considering a simple example.

A teacher wants to find out why her students have not done very well in their recent Geography exams. She suspects that it is because the students do not like the subject and, as a result, do not put effort into studying. To test her hypothesis, she posits the following question:

'To what extent do students' attitudes towards the subject of Geography affect their examination results?'

This is an example of a research question that would result in a mixed-methods approach. Let's break it down slightly to understand how this is the case.

'To what extent do students' attitudes (qualitative) towards the subject of Geography affect their examination results (quantitative)?'

The above example is likely to result in a mixed-methods approach. The teacher could use interviews, questionnaires with open or closed questions, polls and statistical analysis to determine whether there is a link between personal attitudes and examination results.

Evaluation of quantitative research

Let's consider the advantages and disadvantages of quantitative research.

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Quantitative data is easier to collect, analyse and interpretMany participants may be required to make generalisations or to establish trends, patterns and correlations - this may not always be possible
Research methods such as questionnaires are inexpensive and easy to set upQuantitative data lacks the detail and insight provided by qualitative data (although that's not to say quantitative data cannot provide detailed data overall)
Quantitative methods can be used to make generalisations, establish trends, patterns and correlationsQuantitative data may oversimplify human behaviours or thoughts
The data is objective, scientific and rationalSome quantitative methods, such as experiments, can lack validity if they are done in artificial settings.
As the data is numerical, it can be replicated and checked for reliability Researchers may be biased if they are too focused on testing an existing hypothesis; they may miss important details that require new hypothesis generation, known as confirmation bias.

Evaluation of qualitative research

Let's consider the advantages and disadvantages of quantitative research.

Advantages Disadvantages
Qualitative data can produce a lot of detail, depth and insight, which can help researchers find conclusive answers to their questions.Generating qualitative data can be very time-consuming and expensive at every stage: collection, analysis and interpretation.
Qualitative data is better for representing the complexities of human behaviour, thought and feelings.Qualitative data does not generally come from large sample sizes due to practicalities such as time and cost. This reduces the generalisability of the data.
It is high in validity as researchers can find out 'why' something happened.As the data is subjective, it cannot be easily replicated.
Researchers can spot details that can be missed by statistics or scientific analysis.Due to the subjectivity of the data, there is also the problem of interpretation; researchers may interpret data differently from each other, and this could decrease the validity

How to decide whether to use quantitative or qualitative methods

It can be difficult to conclude which type of method is 'better' with these considerations. However, the answer is that there is no 'better' method – it depends entirely on what type of research you want to do.

Generally, you could take this approach:

  • If you want to test an existing theory, hypothesis or relationship, use quantitative methods

  • If you want to understand or study an issue, person or event to conclude, use qualitative methods

As mentioned above, there is no right answer, and multiple factors should be considered, including whether mixed methods would be beneficial.


Quantitative and Qualitative Methods - Key takeaways

  • Quantitative research methods are methods that mainly generate numerical data. Qualitative research methods are methods that mainly generate descriptive, worded data.
  • Examples of quantitative methods are structured interviews, questionnaires and surveys with closed questions, polls and experiments.
  • Examples of qualitative methods are unstructured interviews, case studies and questionnaires and surveys with open questions.
  • A mixed-method approach can provide the 'best of both worlds' by combining numerical and worded data.
  • It is important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of quantitative and qualitative methods.

Frequently Asked Questions about Quantitative and Qualitative Methods

An example of quantitative data is a graph showing the correlation between two variables, e.g. the correlation between warmer temperatures and ice-cream sales. An example of qualitative data is a person's interview answers about their experiences during a traumatic event.

Qualitative data means the data is descriptive and worded rather than numerical.

Action research can use mixed-method approaches, which means that qualitative and quantitative methods are used. This may be because the research topic is too complex to rely on one type of data or that using mixed methods provides a richer, more accurate picture of the research topic.

Quantitative methods generate numerical data whilst qualitative methods generated worded data.

Quantitative methods are research methods that generate numerical data. This data can be represented in the form of bars, graphs, correlations, statistics and tallies. 

Final Quantitative and Qualitative Methods Quiz

Question

What is the definition of an interview?

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Answer

Interviews are a method of collecting data in psychological research by an interviewer directly asking the participants about their behaviours, thoughts and feelings. It involves direct contact, which can be either face-to-face or over a video/audio call.

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Question

What are the three main types of interviews used in psychology?

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Answer

Structured, unstructured, semi-structured interviews

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Question

How may interviews be carried out? 

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Answer

Face-to-face or over a video/audio call.

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Question

Can structured interviews be considered to have high reliability? 

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Answer

Since structured interviews have all of their questions pre determined and fixed, it's easy for other researchers to repeat the research and replicate the study by asking the same questions in the same order. Therefore, structured interviews have higher reliability. 

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Question

What is a structured interview?

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Answer

Structured interviews are when questions are fixed before the interview, and all participants are asked the same questions in the same order. 

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Question

What is a semi-structured interview?

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Answer

Type of interview with a combination of structured and unstructured questions. Some questions are predetermined, and others are determined by the interviewees answers. 

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Question

What is an unstructured interview?

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Answer

Type of interview where questions are not predetermined. Open questions are asked, and subsequent questions are determined based on the interviewees answers. 

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Question

What is the definition of open questions?

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Answer

Open questions produce longer, detailed, insightful, non-restricted answers, which give qualitative data, e.g. questions beginning with who, what, why, how, where, when, etc.

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Question

What is the definition of closed questions?

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Answer

Closed questions - produce short, limited, straight forward answers, which gives quantitative data, e.g. questions which require a yes or no response.

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Question

What are the advantages of unstructured interviews?

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Answer

  • Unstructured interviews provide detailed, insightful and rich information. The participants can explain their responses, which helps researchers understand why they behave, feel or think in the way they do. 
  • The interviewee and interviewers are more likely to build a rapport, the relationship between the interviewer and interviewee. A rapport is expected to be built because the interview is conversation-like. This is important as the responses are more likely to be truthful, increasing the validity of the findings.

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Question

What advantages do semi-structured interviews have?


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Answer

  • Since semi-structured interviews have some flow and the opportunity for the participants to explain themselves, the information obtained is valuable and more rich and detailed.
  • Since there is some structure and fixed questions, comparing participants' responses later when analysing the data makes it easier to draw conclusions (but not to the extent of structured interviews).
  • It is flexible and sensitive to each participant's individual experience and responses.

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Question

What is social desirability bias?

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Answer

Social desirability bias is when participants respond in a way they think others will find favourable rather than their actual response. 

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Question

What is the disadvantage of unstructured interviews regarding drawing conclusions?


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Answer

Since unstructured interviews mean every participant is asked different questions, it is difficult for researchers to compare participants' responses and draw conclusions from them. 

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Question

Why are structured interviews time-efficient?

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Answer

Structured interviews gather a lot of information quickly due to the ease of having a structure and fixed questions for every participant, so they can be considered time-efficient. 

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Question

What kind of disadvantages do semi-structured interviews have?

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Answer

semi structured interviews have the disadvantages of both structured and unstructured interviews. 

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Question

What is a case study? 

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Answer

Case studies are a type of research design that is used when a researcher is investigating a single person, group or event/phenomenon. This research method collects in-depth data on either of these. 

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Question

Which of the following are reasons that case studies are used in research?

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Answer

They are always better than laboratory settings 

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Question

Why was a case study used to investigate Phineas Gage? 

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Answer

As Phineas Gage's case was unique and his conditions could not be replicated using the experimental method (against ethical standards of research) a case study was the only appropriate method to use. As little was known about the function of the frontal lobe the research was also explorative. Therefore, it may have been difficult to form hypotheses.

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Question

Typically case studies use various methods to collect data, true or false?

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Answer

True.

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Question

What is triangulation? 

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Answer

Triangulation is when researchers use multiple methods to collect data. 

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Question

What type of data do case studies favour? 

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Answer

Qualitative 

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Question

What is a typical structure that case studies use for writing reports?

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Answer

A structure that researchers may follow to report a case study is that they may identify key themes or findings. Then, evidence of this is included such as an extract from a transcribed interview as evidence. 

The data will likely include quantitative statistical data too 

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Question

Case studies can use what forms of analysis?

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Answer

Content analysis

Statistics

Thematic analysis

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Question

What are the advantages of using case studies? 

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Answer

The advantages of using case studies are:

  • researchers can get an in-depth understanding
  • it can be used to help direct future research
  • it can be used to research unique situations or characteristics of people that cannot be replicated

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Question

What are the disadvantages of using case studies? 

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Answer

The disadvantages of using case studies are:

  • they lack reliability
  • they lack generalisability
  • it is time-consuming 
  • it can be expensive

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Question

Why are questionnaires useful in research? 

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Answer

Questionnaires are helpful in research because they can be used to learn about many things such as relationships, work-life, mental health, opinions etc. 

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Question

What are the important characteristics of questionnaires? 

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Answer

It is important to keep in mind the characteristics of questionnaires when constructing a questionnaire. For instance:

  • the researcher should determine what they are interested in investigating and how it will be measured, e.g. open- close-ended questions or both
  • questions asked should be simple and easy to follow 
  • questions asked should not be leading
  • questions should be presented in a logical way
  • the same questionnaire should be given to each respondent

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Question

What are the types of questionnaires in research? 

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Answer

The types of questionnaires in research are:

  • Online questionnaires 
  • Telephone questionnaires 
  • Post questionnaires 
  • Open-ended questionnaires
  • Close-ended questionnaires (including questionnaires that measure responses using Likert scales).

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Question

Can questionnaires collect prospective data? 

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Answer

Yes

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Question

What type of data does a mixed-design questionnaire collect? 

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Answer

Qualitative and quantitative 

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Question

What are the disadvantages of questionnaires? 

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Answer

  • Questionnaires require respondents to respond truthfully to ensure that the findings are valid. However, this may not always be the case, especially when the questions are regarding sensitive areas (Social desirability bias). 
  • There may be a low response rate of questionnaires, especially when sent via post; this can affect the generalisability of the results. 
  • If questionnaires are not carefully constructed, then the validity of the measure can be lowered. 

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Question

What are the advantages of questionnaires? 

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Answer

  • Questionnaires allow researchers to collect data in a short time frame in a cost-effective way from a large sample.
  • As there are many methods to send questionnaires, the researcher can send the questionnaire to a large and representative sample; this means the results of a study are more likely to be generalisable.
  • Questionnaires in research are useful because they can be used in conjunction with other techniques to provide a more rounded and comprehensive understanding of a phenomenon. 
  • Questionnaires are flexible; this means that the researcher has control over the type of data they will collect, e.g. qualitative, quantitative or mixed.

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Question

How can researchers ensure that their research is reliable? 

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Answer

To ensure reliability, the same questionnaire should be given to each participant, and this means that the order of the questions should also remain the same. Moreover, the questionnaires should be given to a large and representative sample. 

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Question

What is a Likert scale? 

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Answer

A Likert scale assigns a numerical value to understand how strongly someone feels about a phenomenon. 

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Question

How can researchers improve the validity of their questionnaires? 

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Answer

Factors that can improve the validity of a questionnaire are that the order of questions should be logical and should be written in a simplistic and easy to understand way. The purpose of this is to prevent respondents from getting confused. 

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Question

What is a valid questionnaire? 

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Answer

A valid questionnaire is a questionnaire that measures the phenomena that the researcher intends to measure.

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Question

Are questionnaires in research often used alongside other research techniques? 

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Answer

Yes

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Question

Why are questionnaires considered flexible? 

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Answer

 Questionnaires are considered flexible because they can be posted, sent via email, completed over the phone or online and handed out to whoever is available at the time. This is useful because it makes it easier for researchers to collect data from a large sample. Furthermore, the researcher can ask various types of questions depending on their interest. 

Show question

Question

What type of data do questionnaires measuring responses on a Likert scale collect? 

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Answer

Quantitative 

Show question

Question

What is the definition of questionnaires? 

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Answer

Questionnaires are a self-report technique used in research to learn about participants' opinions and experiences of a phenomenon that the researcher is interested in investigating. 

Show question

Question

What is the difference between quantitative and qualitative methods?

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Answer

Quantitative methods generate numerical data whilst qualitative methods generated worded data.


Show question

Question

What is the aim of quantitative data?

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Answer

The aim is to collect objective data to look for trends, patterns or correlations between two or more variables. 

Show question

Question

What is the aim of qualitative data?

Show answer

Answer

The aim is to collect in-depth and detailed data, in order to understand as much as possible about the research topic.

Show question

Question

Quantitative methods can be used to explore ideas, motivations or thought processes. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

What kind of data can be generated using quantitative research?

Show answer

Answer

Quantitative research can generate a variety of objective, numerical data represented in the forms of:


  • bar charts
  • graphs, including correlational
  • pie charts
  • statistics 
  • tallies 

Show question

Question

What is a Likert scale?

Show answer

Answer

A Likert scale provides a range of scaling responses that a participant can choose from as a way to measure and collect data.

Show question

Question

What kind of data can be generated using qualitative research?

Show answer

Answer

Qualitative research can generate a variety of descriptive, worded data represented in the forms of:


  • detailed answers or statements
  • chronology of events
  • reports 
  • opinions
  • images or videos

Show question

Question

What is it called when someone used both quantitative and qualitative methods?

Show answer

Answer

Mixed method approach

Show question

Question

What are some advantages of using mixed methods?

Show answer

Answer

Combining both types of research methods can have the following advantages:

  • flexibility in research methods - they have more choice as to how they carry out the research 
  • the 'best of both worlds' - using mixed methods can decrease the impact any weaknesses of certain research methods
  • a wide range of data is produced

Show question

Question

Which type of data is easier to collect, analyse and interpret?

Show answer

Answer

Quantitative 

Show question

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