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Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research

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  • 0:05 Research in the Social…
  • 0:54 Quantitative Research
  • 3:12 Qualitative Research
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
In this lesson, we identify the differences between quantitative and qualitative research methods in the social sciences. We also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

Research in the Social Sciences

Research is an extremely important part of sociology, psychology and all of the other social sciences. Researchers strive to systematically collect information in order to create accurate and objective descriptions of the social world. This allows them to draw conclusions about why people act the way they do in all types of situations and in relation to other people.

Research occurs in many different forms and can be divided into two basic types: quantitative and qualitative. The focus of this lesson is to explain the difference between quantitative research and qualitative research and discuss their respective strengths and weaknesses.

Quantitative Research

The first type of research that social scientists use is quantitative research, which is based on numerical data, which can be analyzed using statistics. This type of research focuses on pinpointing what, where, when, how often and how long social phenomena occur. For example, imagine you wanted to research jaywalking at a certain intersection. If you were to conduct quantitative research, you could count the number of people who jaywalk.

Quantitative research includes experiments in which certain variables are manipulated and the outcomes measured. It also includes studies conducted in the natural world - the U.S. Census is a good example. Numerical data can be collected through machines, surveys, inventories and more. Again, the numbers can be analyzed using statistics. The analysis can tell us the relationship between certain variables.

This leads us into a discussion about the advantages of quantitative research. One advantage is the fact that we can use statistics to extrapolate the data collected in order to predict how people will behave in the future. For instance, let's say you not only counted the number of people who jaywalked, but also collected other information, such as age and gender. If you recorded 20 people jaywalking, and 15 of them were men, you might predict that a man would be much more likely to jaywalk than a woman.

Quantitative research produces statistics that can be used to predict behaviors.
Quantitative Research Data From Statistics

There are certainly other advantages to quantitative studies. Many researchers prefer quantitative methods because they provide objective, hard facts. Variables are easy to identify and results can be generalized to larger populations. However, there are also disadvantages to quantitative methods. For instance, they can't explain why social phenomena occur - they just quantify the fact that they do. They don't take into account the emotions, motives, imagination, beliefs, etc. of the subject.

Qualitative Research

Of course, there's also the fact that not all social phenomena can be counted or measured in quantifiable ways. For instance, how would you describe a funeral ceremony using numbers? In situations like this, social scientists use qualitative research, which is based on data that cannot be measured or counted, but can be collected and interpreted through observation. This type of research focuses on why and how social phenomena occur.

Instead of numbers that can be analyzed using statistics, the data is in the form of descriptive words that can be examined for patterns or meaning. For example, imagine you wanted to study the behavior of monkeys that live in the zoo. Using qualitative research, you might watch the monkeys every day and write your observations in a journal. When the study was over, you would go back through the journal to try and find patterns of behavior, such as daily habits.

Qualitative research is performed by observation and descriptive note taking.
Qualitative Research Descriptive Notes

Qualitative research is also called descriptive research because its purpose is to describe social occurrences. It can be conducted in focus groups, interviews or simple observation of social events as they happen in real life. The data is collected by the researcher himself or herself instead of through the inventories, questionnaires and other means used for quantitative research. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. The researcher can gain an empathetic understanding of the behavior of others, but the data collection is bound to be subjective and can even include bias. Due to the personal involvement of the researcher, it's practically impossible to stay impartial.

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