Return to MAIN (index) page Return to ASPECTS of LEARNING page Qualitative & Quantitative research




Non-numerical data.


Numerical data.



Qualitative research is predominantly used in the social sciences in order to gain an in-depth understanding of human behaviour, its causes and effects.


Used in psychology, sociology, etc. and also in market research (to gauge customer satisfaction).


Quantitative research is predominantly used in the natural sciences, physics, biology, etc. and in the applied sciences (engineering, technology, etc.) where it is often referred to as "research and development" - but can also be used in the social sciences, education, etc.




May depend upon eliciting opinions (though sometimes attempts are made to quantify these - "8 out of 10 people ..."


Depends on observation and recording of phenomena ("8 out of 10 cats ...")



May employ a "case study" methodology - and is more likely to focus on smaller samples (selected purposely because they exhibit particular traits or behaviours of interest to the researcher).


More likely to call upon a wider, random sample - or a sample that is statistically representative of a wider population - and to emphasis the importance of iteration ("repeatability" of an experiment).



The role of the researcher needs to be taken into consideration as there is more likelihood of bias during the collection of data.  This can apply particularly with questionnaire and survey design and implementation.

During the collection of data, the role of the researcher may be little more than an observer - though it is still important to demonstrate impartiality when analysing and interpreting data.




More useful for understanding HOW and WHY


More useful for determining WHAT, WHERE, WHEN.










Quantitative research is often given more credibility because it is perceived to be more "scientific" - which can lead to researchers (or those commissioning the research) giving preference to methodologies that utilise quantifiable/measurable data.  This can have serious repercussions in certain fields of enquiry (eg: education) where certain "outcomes" (such as numerical test results) might be considered to be more easily measured and given preference despite them not being the most appropriate indicators of desired outcomes.


Quantitative research employs the scientific method - which may involve setting up experiments; manipulating variables; observing and measuring effects; collecting and analysing data.  Because there may be ethical implications in carrying out certain kinds of experiments in the social sciences, the methodological approach employed will likely depend upon observation of differing but naturally occurring variables and their effects.