Quantitative research is concerned with measuring the prevalence of certain attitudes or behaviours. It is used to gather data that can be clearly measured – it seeks to answer how many people feel or behave a certain way as opposed to qualitative research, which analyses why or how they do so in a more subjective way. By speaking to a representative sample of a population, quantitative research aims to provide an indication of the views of the wider population as a whole. It provides objective and measurable data and is used to provide hard facts about people’s attitudes and behaviour, using statistical techniques to supply causal explanations and predictions. Quantitative research tends to involve:
- Structured questionnaires with predominately closed questions
- Little face-to-face contact between respondents and primary researchers (as the surveys are usually conducted by trained interviewers)
- Use of large samples
- Results subjected to statistical analysis
Data from quantitative research is provided in the form of numbers and statistics.
Qualitative research is concerned with understanding rather than measuring. It aims to explain why and how people make decisions, as opposed to what, where and when. Qualitative research is often subjective and interpretive, and can be used to contextualise and understand people’s motivations, attitudes, behaviour, values, feelings and beliefs. Qualitative research tends to involve:
- Direct face-to-face contact between the primary researchers and those being researched (often through focus groups and depth interviews)
- In-depth examination of a small sample of participants
- Unstructured interviewing guides which are responsive to context and may be amended throughout the project
- Subjective analysis, meaning the researcher and their interpretative input is key
- Secondary research involves reviewing existing literature and evidence sources (such as previous research reports, newspaper, magazine and journal content, and government and NGO statistics) as opposed to conducting new primary research. Secondary research may be the only research technique required to address a research objective, or it can be used in the preliminary stages of a research project to determine what is known already, what new data is required, to develop hypotheses or to inform research design.