Quantitative research

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What is it?

Quantitative research is an investigation that aims to quantify attitudes, behaviours or measure variables. Unlike qualitative research, quantitative research uses measurable data to form facts and patterns. Many argue that both types of research go hand in hand and a thorough investigation of a particular topic will cover both methods of research. Qualitative Vs Quantitative

Quantitative research is typically conducted through surveys, telephone interviews, web surveys and intercepts. Questions are highly structured in this research and tend to be closed as opposed to open, to allow for measurable data rather than long responses. Quantitative research is performed on a far larger scale compared with qualitative research (in terms of the Sample size) and helps to provide accurate statistical data from which conclusions can be drawn.

Quantitative research generates numerical data or data that can be converted into numbers, for example clinical trials or the National Census, which counts people and households. Another example whereby quantitative research has been used to establish a relationship is between smoking tobacco and developing lung cancer. Researchers have been able to identify numerical patterns through statistical methods between the two to make justified Hypotheses.

Unlike qualitative research, whereby data often contains the participant’s personal beliefs, concerns and ideas in long responses, quantitative research gains numerical statistics, which can be greatly relied on in giving reliable data. Qualitative research is sometimes not as reliable, as opinions are not numerical and do not necessarily possess factual substance.

For example:

• Quantitative: 97 per cent of participants were happy with the outcome.

• Qualitative: Many participants believed that the success of the event was due to the good media coverage.

According to Wikipedia, approaches to quantitative research were first modeled on quantitative approaches in the physical sciences by Gustav Fechner in his work on psychophysics, which built on the work of Ernst Heinrich Weber.


Quantitative research is said to have 11 steps when it comes to it's process:

  1. Theory
  2. Hypothesis
  3. Research Design
  4. Devise measures of concepts
  5. Select research site/s
  6. Select research subjects/respondents
  7. Administer research instruments/collect date
  8. Process Data
  9. Analyse Date
  10. Findings/Conclusions
  11. Write up findings/conclusions


“Quantitative research is used to support claims made by qualitative research”

• McBride and Schostak claim that: Quantitative research is not enough on its own as we need to ask, why? When placed alongside qualitative evidence, quantitative evidence is both clear and powerful. Unfortunately it sometimes appears so powerful that it overpowers the opinions of the people involved and this is a danger we have to watch. In addition there are still many researchers, especially the less experienced ones, who are not prepared to 'go the extra mile' and add the extra understanding to the figures they have collected. • Smith argues that researchers sometimes favour one method over the other and their research tends to obfuscate more than it clarifies. Researchers can jump on a band wagon then forget about making their research durable. • Trochim argues that there has probably been more energy expended on debating the differences between and relative advantages of qualitative and quantitative methods than almost any other methodological topic in social research. The "qualitative-quantitative debate" as it is sometimes called is one of those hot-button issues that almost invariably will trigger an intense debate in the hotel bar at any social research convention. I've seen friends and colleagues degenerate into academic enemies faster than you can say "last call." • Trochim also argues that fundamentally, qualitative and quantitative research produce similar results for the following reasons: All qualitative data can be coded quantitatively, All quantitative data is based on qualitative judgment

"Quantitative Methods are easier to use than Qualitative methods"

Bernard argues that “Assigning numbers to things makes it easier to do certain kinds of statistical analysis on qualitative data”. This may not be fact but it definitely has some type of validity as quantitative research methods construct statistical models in attempt to explain what is being observed.

He also states that in science when ever a research problem can be investigated with quantitative measurement numbers are more than just desirable they are required. This backs up the importance of quantitative research.

Bryman believes that quantitative research methods can be repeated by others which is extremely important in physical and biological sciences. He argues that “in quantitative and experimental research the methods section will provide enough detail for the research to be replicated, and provide reassurance that you are using the best method to get the best (valid, generalisable) results”.

Piekkari and Welch argue that quantitative research is easier to understand and translate for the results, as it is a common way of doing research. “I think the underlying point is simply that writing up qualitative research is harder than writing up quantitative research. The reviewer does not just reject qualitative study he/she just imposes strict standards that most researchers are not well equipped to meet. It is far easier by comparison, to write up a quantitative study because there are well understood techniques and norms around how it is done”

Image:Graph1.gif www.intelligen.com.au/page/measurement.html

Sample surveys

A sample surveys used in Johnston and Zawawi’s book uses a combination of qualitative and quantitative questions to determine “the satisfaction level of students regarding the services of the university canteen”.

The questions with multiple choice answers include:

- What year are you in?

- In which faculty are you studying?

- During semester do you buy anything from the canteen?

- If yes, how often?

- Between what times?

- How would you rate the following from 1-5? (service, range, quality etc.)

These questions are followed up by broader answer ones, including:

- Why don’t you shop at the canteen?

- What would you like to see at the canteen?

Some of the earlier questions are aimed at aggregating the survey.

To do such a survey, there must have already been some sense of students being unhappy with the canteen, or business owners complained about the lack of custom. So it is possible that a qualitative survey had already been done and established a fact that caused a second survey (the above example) to be done to provide more specific feedback. creating a qualitative survey is a good way to address the issue of the canteen because it allows the information to be put into easily accessible chunks and perhaps makes it more actionable.

Image:517742732_0386152429_m.jpg http://flickr.com/photos/santos/517742732/sizes/s/ from Manila Food pt. 2, By Chotda

Problems with Quantitative research

In summary, problems can arise with:

  • Small sample size
  • No other studies/stats to build on
  • Different methods of gathering stats
  • Prejudice on part of researchers/funding
  • Competition from other researchers
  • Statistics sound like facts, but can be twisted
  • Research methods can be flawed



  • Journal: Bryman, A. (2008) Research Methods and Organization Studies. pg 9 Accessed 20 March 2008. Available at:


  • Journal: Piekkari, M.R and Welch,C.(2004) Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods for International: Publishing qualitative research in international business pg 573. Accessed 18 March 2008. Available at


  • Understanding the Influencers: An Analysis of Analyst Relations Effectiveness in Asia/Pacific December 2006. Available at: www.intelligen.com.au/page/measurement.html

Social Research Methods: Alan Bryman *http://faculty.rcoe.appstate.edu/jacksonay/brymanquant.pdf

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