Introduction to Research Methods and Methodologies

3. The difference between quantitative and qualitative methods

Research methods can be broadly categorized as fitting into two categories: quantitative and qualitative research paradigms.

Quantitative methods are often concerned with producing numerical data that aims to measure or quantify aspects of the social world.

Qualitative methods are concerned with the eliciting the meaning behind data through detailed examination and interpretation of social phenomena.

In some research project a mixed methods approach, including both quantitative and qualitative methods, may be used to provide a more complex picture across multiple scales and dimensions of inquiry (see Hesse-Biber 2014, pp. 363- 388).

There are similarities between qualitative and quantitative paradigms. They both:

  • Are concerned with data reduction.
  • Are concerned with answering research questions.
  • Are concerned with studying variations.
  • Treat frequency as a springboard for analysis.
  • Aim to avoid distortion.

The following table provides an overview of differences between qualitative and quantitative paradigms (Peake 2018):


Qualitative paradigm Quantitative paradigm
Advocates qualitative methods (words) Advocates quantitative methods (numbers)
Naturalistic and uncontrolled observation Obtrusive and controlled measurement
Subjective; point of view of the participants Objective; point of view of the researcher
Close to the data: the ‘insider’ perspective Removed from the data: the ‘outsider’ perspective
Theory emergent: Grounded, discovery-oriented, exploratory , descriptive and inductive Theory testing: Ungrounded, verification-oriented, confirmatory, reductionist, inferential, and hypothetico-deductive
Process-oriented Outcome oriented
Valid ‘real’, ‘rich’ and ‘deep’ data Reliable: ‘hard’ and ‘replicable’ data
Ungeneralizable: usually single case studies Generalizable: usually multiple case studies
Assumes a dynamic reality Assumes a stable reality
Answers ‘how’ questions: how does or how did something come about? Answers ‘what’ and ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘where’ questions
Methods: Interviews, focus groups, ethnographic research Methods: surveys, experiments
You analyse the data as you go along…so your data collection can lead you in new directions. You collect the data then analyse it.




  • Hesse-Biber, S. N. 2014. Feminist Approaches to Mixed Methods Research. In: S. N. Hesse-Biber (ed), Feminist Research Practice: A Primer, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC: Sage, pp. 363-388.
  • Peake, L. 2018. Presentation at the ‘Workshop in Urban Feminist Research: Ethnographic Research Tools’, Ramallah, Palestine, July 2018.
  • Stanley, L and Wise, S. 1990. ‘Method, methodology and epistemology in feminist research processes’. In: L. Stanley (ed.) Feminist Praxis: Research, Theory and Epistemology in Feminist Sociology, London and New York: Routledge.