Qualitative Data VS. Quantitative Data: Easy Ways to Determine the Best for your Research Study

April 8 2018, By Solomon Adeyera

This article is not for everybody. It is for the student confronted with the dilemma of knowing which research data suits their study: Qualitative or Quantitative.

Sometimes, the confusion seems so large like it would take forever to know where to begin. How do we then understand the complexities of the two?

Pull up a chair and hear me out. The detailed analysis is coming in the next lines.... Brace yourself.

First tip: Begin with the end in mind.

Your choice of the research approach to employ for your study sits on the questions your study would answer at the end of the day. In simple words, qualitative data, answers the “Who?” “What?” and “Why?” questions. Quantitative data approach takes it to another level with, “How many?” “When?” and “How much?” questions in numerical forms.

But, how?

Let me make it even simpler.

Recently, I was watching one of the traditional street interviews; where presenters jump on people and some will just rave in rage. It was one of those funny ones.

“Hello, can I meet you?” The presenter asked a young man.
"See, my opinion is that the government is just bad!" The man continued ranting, leaving the main question behind.

“The politicians are just embezzling our money! Garri is expensive and blah, blah, blah....”
As the man runs his mouth, the presenter and the people around started laughing after an awful jolt. He abruptly moved to the next person.

I told that little story to paint a clear picture of a qualitative researcher at work: He meets a few people, interviews them, and based on their opinions, he hands us his theoretical verdicts. You get the idea?

But, on the contrary, a qualitative researcher would rather approach the subject matter, measuring data or things of significance with numbers. He would attribute numbers to the price of goods in the market and give it a time frame. He would then make an analysis of the collated data and establish his objective, numerical conclusions.

And it's really that simple!

We can still dissect it to make it even easier. Anytime I write on this topic, it always brings up a feeling that echoes this metaphor:

“Qualitative data is like an unfinished court case. You can always make an appeal”.
-Solomon Adeyera.

Ponder on that before scrolling to the next line. 

Now, get another thing straight, if you are to follow a qualitative data approach in your study, you'll be in the frame of explaining all the why's, based on the interviews you’d conducted with the participants. But, if your research question demands close-ended conclusion, don't worry yourself further. Quantitative data is your best fit. Go ahead and carry out experiments. Print out enough survey questionnaires, or conduct structured and controlled polls. With all that in place, you then generate a statistical analysis of the data. You're set to come out with your interpretations and conclusions in mathematical expressions. But mind you, this method costs and needs more people.

Nonetheless, as opposed to the quantitative data method; if  the goal of your study is just to develop an initial understanding of a subject matter, without in depth analysis, then, qualitative data is the best for you. Sure, it means your study will only pose open-ended questions. So, subjective explanations will be the end you'll have in mind.

Although qualitative data takes more time to gather, but one of its major advantages is, you'll only need a few participants. While on the other hand, the larger the number of objects in a quantitative study, the more accurate and precise the results.

Alone and together, the two-methods can be combined to make a better research study.

To further reinforce, qualitative research develops hypothesis and sparks the possibility of a new theory. Qualitative research picks it up from there. It tests it, proves it, and turns it into a theory, or a law. You'll probably like another example.

Let's assume this: You're on a research team with NASA, you're given a study on how to send men to a new planet, and time their landing with the precision of a fraction of a second. Apparently, qualitative data would be off-the-rail. You wouldn't want to play the piano with boxing gloves, would you? Your data in this case must be presented objectively, with the highest mathematical accuracy the world has known.

Qualitative data would only give you insights; perhaps if the planet exists or not. But, only with the ship of quantitative data can you set on such a journey.

Have you noticed yet that the key to choosing the research approach to use for your study is “questioning” –understanding the stakes, and the results you want to arrive at.

In a nutshell, those are the things you must consider the next time you scratch your head and wonder which research approach suits your study.

And finally, to get it crystal clear, go to the top of this page and read this article over again. I will be waiting for you here at the finish-line to respond to your comments and questions.

Thanks for reading.


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