Qualitative research refers to a form of research that deals with the understanding of the people’s characters, mannerisms, characteristics, meanings to certain elements, et cetera in a society (Babbie 2010). On the other hand, quantitative research is the form of research that carries out an analysis on measurements, physical counts among others. Different people in various scientific fields may have varied understanding of the two forms of research discussed. While, in most cases, those involved in social sciences use qualitative research in their work, those who work in laboratories and other experimental fields use quantitative research. Other people in other fields outside science use these scientific researches to understand nature. Some understand the concepts more deeply than others while others just use the application part of the research findings (Goodwin & Godwin 1996). Therefore, there are different views regarding the differences between quantitative and qualitative data depending on the person who is giving them. One conventional statement that has been agreed upon by most people across different fields is that ‘The difference between quantitative and qualitative research revolves entirely around the concern with numbers in the former and with words in the latter.’ Some regard this statement as true while others agree with it to a certain degree. The explanation behind the statement is based on the methods of presentation of the research findings. The presentation methods of these two forms of research create the major difference since qualitative research presents its ideas in a descriptive way, while quantitative data presents its research in numerical forms. The counterarguments opposing the statements demand that the statement is only correct with several amendments. They say that the statement, the way it is, disregards all the other differences. Apart from this major difference in the form and mode of presentation of research findings, those opposed to the statement have pointed out other striking differences between qualitative and quantitative research. However, there has been a perception that the difference mainly lies on the fact that qualitative research is entirely based on its concern with words while quantitative research deals with numbers. This paper will attempt to delve deeper on the other differences that exist between the two forms of research. The differences are well looked into from all the stages of these forms of research. It will attempt to oppose the existing convention among many people regarding the main difference is entirely based on the fact that quantitative and qualitative research deals with numbers and words respectively.
Differences between quantitative and qualitative research
Quantitative research deals with hard science (Anderson 2006). This means that the issues that are investigated are very scientific and the hypotheses are accurately tested. On the other hand, qualitative research is perceived to deal with soft science. Soft science deals with social fields such as social trends. Soft sciences are actually defined as social sciences or fields that are related to them. Hard sciences rely on empirical data that is quantifiable. The process uses scientific methods and accuracy is a vital element in this field. According to graphism thesis the research findings in quantitative research are presented mostly in the form of graphs as opposed to the soft sciences (Babbie 2010). On the other hand, soft sciences do not use empirical data. Hey rarely have any control experiments since control experiments are the first indication of hard science. Fields such as economics are considered soft. They use models but these models cannot be accurately used to predict the future trends. Other examples of social or soft sciences are paleontology and natural sciences. Another major difference between the two is the numerous variables that are involved in soft sciences (VanderStoep & Johnstone 2009). There are many external factors that affect the results and there is little hat can be done to eliminate them. This is because there is little that can be done on natural settings. On the other hand, there are few identified variables that are, in most cases, controlled in the research. This means hat there are few errors and the results obtained are accurate and highly reliable. The causative elements to a prevailing condition are in this case easily identifiable (VanderStoep & Johnstone 2009).
Quantitative research tests already existing theories (Goodwin & Godwin 1996). They are used to test the strength of these theories or their weaknesses. Precision on the findings that explain the theory in question is vital since mistakes would lead to wrong inferences being made. Through quantitative research, existing theories are refuted due to new information or are made better. In some cases also theories are left unaffected. On the other hand, qualitative research is used to develop theories (Anderson 2006). This is done through the observation and the response of the society or any other natural setting to a certain trend. Once this trend is determined, a theory to explain why it moves in that direction is developed from its findings. This way, new theories are developed to explain unknown phenomena in nature.
In quantitative research, one major reality is put to test (Goodwin & Godwin 1996). A precise and narrow variable is tested to determine their effect n a certain trend. For instance, a farmer may wish to precisely determine the effects of increase in the use of a certain fertilizer X and its effects on the yield. This objective is very precise and narrow. On the other hand, quantitative research is broader and its focus is broad and full of complexities. Several realities are examined and many variables are put into consideration. However, these considerations are not controlled in most cases and the results have many external effects that can only be assumed to have no effects on the research. The areas of focus are intertwined to each other and it is almost impossible to alienate the research from the rest of the surroundings. The planning of these forms of research is therefore very complex and puts into considerations numerous variables in orders to arrive at the actual variable that the research is meant to determine (John 2008).
Quantitative research is mechanistic while qualitative research is organismic (Anderson 2006). This means that the individual parts of the research are more important than the whole research. This is because the accuracy needed at each stage of the research would affect the findings by far which would in the long run lead to biased and wrong conclusion. Qualitative research searches to get the best results regardless of the methods that would be followed. The final result is more important than the research process (McBurney & White 2010).
Quantitative research uses statistical analysis to make their interpretations and draw conclusions. In the modern computerized world, there are different programs and software that have been developed to ensure that the data obtained is analyzed with the highest accuracy level (Goodwin & Godwin 1996). Such programs and software include SAS, Analysis of Variance (ANOVA), and Microsoft Excel among others. Selection of the sample to be used in a research or a large population requires care that ensures that the correct sample to represent the whole population adequately is used. The sample sizes have to have 95% confidence interval and a margin error of only 5% (Goodwin & Godwin 1996). In some researches the margin of error is even reduced to smaller percentages. Such precision is impractical in qualitative data since there are many immeasurable variables that affect the research (Babbie 2010). The analysis is made using the inferences drawn from the research and the results are made in the form of narrations and interpretations that explain the findings of the research. There is no way to quantify the research findings with precision as in the case of quantitative research (John 2008).
In quantitative research, the researcher is treated as a different entity from the research (Anderson 2006). This means that the research is not influenced by the researcher. For instance, if measurement of a certain volume is made by one researcher, the same result would be obtained if another researcher made the readings. The person taking the data does not influence the outcome at any level. This is one of the key advantages of quantitative data since it is not biased. Qualitative research is biased (Babbie 2010). This is because the researcher is part of the research and he can easily influence the findings. This means that different researchers can obtain different results from the same population. Gender, age, physical appearance, language fluency and politeness of the researcher would highly influence the response of an interviewee. Therefore, quantitative research can in other words be termed as objective while qualitative research can be termed as subjective to the researcher. At the same time, quantitative research involves subjects of measurements from where the instruments are used to measure the desired parameter (John 2008). Since it is precise and narrow, a certain known aspect under investigation is measured. In qualitative analysis, participants are used. No measurements are made and participants respond to the questions that the researcher puts across to them (McBurney & White 2010).
In quantitative research, hypotheses are put forward and the research is geared towards supporting or nullifying the hypothesis. The hypothesis is precise and measurable and a successful research should nullify or support the hypothesis at the end (Babbie 2010). Qualitative research uses research questions in the place of hypothesis and it should be answered by the end of the research. Research questions are different from hypothesis in the sense that a hypothesis is not a question, but is a clear and testable statement that gives the possible answers that the research should answer at the end. Research questions are literal questions that the research is supposed to answer at the end.
Quantitative research uses instruments to obtain data (John 2008). Since empirical data is used, specific instruments are used to obtain the data such as length increase of a certain plant in experiment. Data acquisition is very accurate and degrees of error are reduced to the lowest probability. This means that the instruments used are accurate and suitable for the job they are used to carry out. Factors that can bring disparities are known and avoided. For instance, water in a burette has to be measured below the meniscus. If the contrary is done, the result would be inaccurate. Such a source of error has therefore been known and has been predetermined. Chances to reduce its effect on the results of the research are made. In qualitative research, communication and observations are made to obtain data (Anderson 2006). In this case, the use of instruments such as questionnaires and interviews are used to determine the responses that a certain phenomenon brings to the people in a certain society, or a certain general trend such as immigration into a certain country without political and social peace.
Generally, quantitative research is involved in the counting of certain elements in a society while qualitative research is involved in determining the elements to be counted.
It is evident that the nature of the two forms of research discussed above can be shallowly and effectively described as: one revolving around words as the other revolves around numbers. However, this criterion is very shallow and can only be used when differentiating the two forms of research on very fundamental basis. This can be allowed since there are many people who depend on scientific research findings in their work. They however do not have an idea on how such research findings are arrived at. This way, it is always advisable to give such people the easiest but true definition and understanding to the different phenomenon to allow them to use scientific findings effectively. Such fundamental differences are therefore allowed. However, they are not accurate or satisfying to people who have a deeper scientific research understanding. To people with their knowledge regarding research, the statement describing the differences between quantitative and qualitative research is inadequate.
As it has been observed, there are many other differences that range from the mode of preparation during the development of the objectives of the research, data collection and sources, data analysis and interpretation. It has been determined that the two forms of research differ greatly at all levels. Therefore, the assertion that the difference between quantitative and qualitative research revolves entirely around the concern with numbers in the former and with words in the latter’ can only be true with the exception of the word ‘entirely’ from the assertion statement. It would take a deeper understanding to clearly determine the clear lines that these two methods draw apart from the one the statement asserts. Therefore, more knowledge should be sought before a conventional agreement on their differences is starkly stated. A deeper and informed understanding of the stages and processes involved during the research process in both cases should be made in order for one to correctly state that there are many differences between quantitative and qualitative research.