Qualitative and quantitative research

Qualitative and quantitative research refers to two research models typical of the social, humanistic and administrative sciences.

Quantitative research aims to determine universal laws that explain a phenomenon from numerical (quantifiable) data.

Qualitative research (which cannot be quantified) seeks to explain the meaning of a phenomenon through the analysis, evaluation and interpretation of information collected in interviews, records, conversations, etc.

These two research models have important differences regarding the object of study, the approach, the method of approach, the method and, finally, the relationship between the researcher and the object of study. However, they are not mutually exclusive, but rather complement each other.

What is quantitative research?

Quantitative research is a research model whose purpose is to determine universal laws that explain the object of study, which is why it is based on direct observation, verification and experimentation or experience that aims to generate numerical, quantifiable and verifiable.

Characteristics of quantitative research

Next, we explain the main characteristics so that you better understand what quantitative research is and how it is done.

Researcher subject / study object relationship

The quantitative approach assumes a clear and defined separation between the subject and the research object. The researcher proposes himself as an external agent to the observed reality and declares not to interfere in it as a participant.

Even if they are social agents, the researcher approaches them as objects, from whose observation he extracts data, analysis and results.

Approach mode to the object of study

Likewise, the quantitative approach analyzes its object of study from a previous theoretical body, validated by the scientific community.

On the basis of this, he constructs a hypothesis and, later, tries to demonstrate it from the collection of quantitative data, collected through instruments and / or experiments of different tenor.

Relationship between objectivity and subjectivity

The quantitative method aims to achieve objectivity in the conclusions of the study thanks to the use of numerical or empirical data.

This validates the authority of the knowledge obtained, insofar as it favors the establishment of general laws. In this sense, in the quantitative approach the principle of neutrality dominates.

Methodological process

Regarding the methodological process, quantitative research proposes the following:

  • Research objectives: the quantitative method prefers the objectives of explaining or describing.
  • Formulation of the problem: quantitative approaches choose to establish causal or functional relationships.
  • Variables and categories of analysis: in quantitative research we usually talk about variables, which can be measured numerically.
  • Hypothesis: the hypothesis will be empirical in quantitative research. In this way, this type of research can be described as hypothetical-deductive.


Regarding measurement techniques, the quantitative approach goes to:

  • Questionnaires;
  • surveys;
  • statistics;
  • checklists;
  • experiments;
  • quantitative observation.


In terms of data and measurement, in quantitative research, numerical data are essential, since they fulfill the role of corroborating hypotheses and allowing the monitoring of effects. Numerical data constitute the main, though not the only, element of measurement.

Indeed, quantitative research supports the report on actions and attitudes that can be documented in questionnaires or files. The important thing is that the data provide objective and verifiable information.

You can also see What is Quantitative Research?

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is that research model that studies social practices, which it understands as complex and symbolic realities that cannot be reduced to numerical values. Likewise, it assumes that certain realities can only be understood from participant observation (action research).

Qualitative research characteristics

The characteristics that define qualitative research and the way it is carried out are as follows.

Researcher subject / study object relationship

In the qualitative approach, there is no barrier between the subject and the research object. The researcher understands that there is no true separation between reality and the subjects who experience it, and is also aware that he himself participates and affects the phenomenon studied.

Thus, this study model pays attention to the way in which social agents interact with reality, that is, it pays attention to social or symbolic practices.

Approach mode to the object of study

Qualitative research studies the construction of social reality from the imaginary of the subjects, which implies that it sees the subjects under study as a participant in the research. The theoretical body results, most of the time, from the study of reality.

Relationship between objectivity and subjectivity

Likewise, qualitative research takes into account the subjective universe, modeled by the values, beliefs, preferences, opinions, feelings, codes and patterns inherent to the social order. All these elements provide data for the knowledge of the analyzed reality.

Within this approach, the value neutrality of quantitative studies is openly questioned. On the other hand, the participant dimension of the subject who seeks to know is admitted. In this case, what makes the researcher's method scientific is the transparency of its process.

Methodological process

Regarding the methodological process, the quantitative research model proposes the following:

  • Research objectives: the qualitative method prefers those of analyzing and understanding.
  • Formulation of the problem: qualitative approaches seek the study of relationships of meaning.
  • Variables and categories of analysis: in qualitative research, we speak of categories of analysis that allow describing and reflecting on the phenomena studied.
  • Hypothesis: hypotheses in qualitative research are related to meaning. The predominant method in this approach is deductive.


Some of the techniques used in qualitative research are:

  • Interviews;
  • open questionnaires;
  • life stories;
  • participant observation;
  • focus groups;
  • field notes.


In qualitative research, the data come from the word, both spoken and written, and from sociocultural practices. Therefore, they cannot be measured, they are unquantifiable.

All types of information are valued as data in terms of values, feelings, expectations, interests, social practices, etc. To interpret these data there are tools such as the Likert scale.

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Difference between qualitative and quantitative research

We present below a comparative table on the characteristics of qualitative and quantitative research, which summarizes the essential aspects.

APPEARANCEQUANTITATIVE INVESTIGATIONQUALITATIVE RESEARCHSubject-object relationshipDistantInvolvedTopicsDerived from specialized literatureDerived from the identification of a social problemgoalsTest a hypothesisUnderstand a complex processSpotlightsSpecific and exclusiveBroad and inclusiveTheoriesPrevious theories determine the research designThe theory is built from the researchScientificityChecking and verificationCredibility and completenessType of dataNumerical or precise dataRelative data (testimonials, feelings, emotions, opinions, social practices, etc.)Data manipulationStatisticsIdentification of patterns with significanceData analysis methodDeductiveInductiveImpact on the object studiedIrrelevant or undesirableRelevantTypes of research

Experimental, quasi-experimental, ex-post-facto, historical, correlational, case study

Ethnographic research, participatory research, action research

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