Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches and Ethical Considerations

Research methodology


Scientific research is utilized in diverse fields and has increasingly contributed to knowledge in the respective fields. The health and social care field has also witnessed growing research which has led to among others, discoveries of new approaches to managing health and medical conditions. Additionally, research has also been used in testing hypothesis and inquiring on the manifestations of the phenomenon. The evolutions in health and social care have been fostered by scientific discoveries based on research. In health and social care, two predominant research methodologies have been used in scientific inquiries. These methods are qualitative and quantitative methods of research. This essay elicits the pertinent features and differences between qualitative and quantitative approaches and provides insights in the ethical considerations in research.


Qualitative vs. Quantitative research

Qualitative and quantitative research paradigms are arguably the most used approaches in conducting health and social care research. These two approaches present unique features of the research and differently shape the design of the research, data collection and analysis as well as presentation of the findings (Silverman 2012).

Qualitative research can be defined as naturalistic approach which provides understanding of the explorations of social or human problems (Ritchie et al 2013). This is achieved through structured methodical inquiries. The focus of qualitative study is pegged largely on social and human problems that are best understood through descriptive information. To achieve this, the researcher concentrates on developing holistic picture through analysis of words, reports, and detailed view of informants and study participants (Munro 2005). Qualitative studies can either be solely conducted or supplement the quantitative study. In the stand alone context, the study independently explores a question and collects data from the subjects which is then analysed into reports that are descriptive in nature. In the instance where the qualitative study is conducted as a supplement to quantitative study, the study can be used to obtain the questions and choices used in a survey to help explain a phenomenon established from the quantitative study (Brink et al 2006).

On the other hand, Quantitative research can be defined as a positivism approach of conducting inquiries into the phenomenon of interest (Franklin 2012). This study entails the computation of numerical values that present a phenomenon. Thus, the quantitative study is considered objective where the researcher presents the reports from data collection using statistical tools and is thus often also referred to as scientific method of research. Scientific method can be defined as the process of formulating hypothesis, conducting objective experiments to test the hypothesis and engaging in sound reasoning backed by collected data (Munro 2005).

There are peculiar differences between qualitative and quantitative methods of research and they provide a clear distinction between the two research paradigms. To begin with, the questions that direct the research vary between the two paradigms of research. Qualitative studies adopt open ended questioning where the perspective of the subjects as well as that of the researcher significantly shapes the findings of the research (William 2017). On the other hand, quantitative studies adopt focused questioning aimed at answering specific questions set by the researcher (Ritchie et al 2013). The researcher design specific sets of questions that set the measurement tools for the study.

Secondly, qualitative studies differ from the quantitative approach in terms of the focus of the study. Qualitative studies focus on lived experiences of individuals, groups of cultures with a view of revealing the meaning of the phenomenon (Portney and Watkins 2009). These experiences form the main findings of the study. On the other hand, quantitative study is focused on statistical differences which predict the phenomenon and measures the effects of the interventions (Brink et al 2006). The statistical focus of quantitative study is manifested in the findings presented from the research.

Often, sampling method and the sample size between qualitative and quantitative studies significantly differ. Qualitative studies are characteristically designed to accommodate small, purposeful sampling with integration of emergent or serial selection of participants. Since the findings of qualitative studies are generally descriptive, it is often hard to compile the views of large samples of the participants (Ritchie et al 2013). However, quantitative studies generally obtain large samples that are preferably acquired randomly without any consideration of the intervention (Brink et al 2006).

The other difference between qualitative and quantitative research is manifested through the role adopted by the researcher in the study. In qualitative studies, the researcher actively engages with the participants and the phenomenon. However, in quantitative studies, the researcher often has no or little engagement with participants and phenomenon since the subjects and the instruments are the main sources of data, not the researcher (Silverman 2012). The design of the study is also another aspect presenting the difference between qualitative and quantitative paradigm. Qualitatively, the research is often dynamic and utilizes no set intervention allowing the study to be guided by data as it proceeds. On the other hand, quantitative study is designed in a fixed and predetermined, thus utilizing one or more interventions pre-set by the researcher (Berg 2009). Data analysis in qualitative studies is often presented in thematic, narrative or content-analytics procedure while quantitative study utilized descriptive or inferential statistics.

Application of qualitative and quantitative studies in health care

Qualitative and quantitative paradigms of research can be applied in healthcare to examine different problems in the healthcare system. Conducting research in health and social care helps to gain insights on various aspects of healthcare such as treatment, patient experience and service delivery.

Qualitative approach can be used to describe the phenomenon in health and social care. Studies examining the impacts of illnesses and treatment can be best understood through qualitative approach since the participants largely describe their experiences in these contexts and quantifying such experiences can limit the study and fail to capture a holistic picture of the experiences (Franklin 2012).

A host other topics in health and social care can be best described through the qualitative approach. These topics include sales and marketing, patient education, patient and provider behaviour, patient satisfaction and healthcare ethics. These topics are suitably addressed through the qualitative paradigms since they elicit the information from the respondents that can be difficult to quantify (Munro 2005). Aspects such as experience, feedbacks and behaviour are sufficiently presented through a naturalistic approach.

However, it must be appreciated that application of qualitative study in healthcare is hampered by the limitations of this paradigm; qualitative study is time consuming with the works of data collection and analysis being tedious and laborious (Portney and Watkins 2009).

Quantitative research can as well be applied to health care settings to answer a number of questions and to explore various topical issues. This paradigm is predominantly used in healthcare research topics and can be used to examine the prevalence of disease and associated risk factors, survival longevity, accuracy, harm and side effects of diagnostic procedures and screening tools (William 2017). Other topics which can be appropriately examined by quantitative studies are complications and effectiveness of treatment modalities, cost of care, quality of life and patient satisfaction level. However, quantitative study paradigm has limitations too. Time and costs are the main limitations associated with both quantitative as well as quantitative study (Berg 2009). Furthermore, the probability of bias occasioning from sampling and measurement methods in quantitative study limits the credibility of the outcome of the study.

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Ethical considerations in research

Ethical considerations are crucial aspects of the research methodology. These prescribe good practice standard for conducting research and are intended to avoid bias in the study. Researches involving data collections from primary sources are largely guided by ethical issues that should be addressed by he researched in conducting the study (Silverman 2012). There are prescribe standards of behaviour in research and they guide the researcher through the data collection, analysis and presentation of findings. For instance, considering the sensitivity of health and social care, the researcher may be obliged to seek approval; from relevant regulatory bodies before conducting their data collection (Ritchie et al 2013). This binds the researcher to adhere to the set standards of practice in conducting research.

During data collection, it is ethically required that the researcher obtains consent from the participants before issuing the data collection tools to them and give the participants liberty to withdraw from the research at any stage of the study (Franklin 2012). These are some of the ethical issues considered during research. Confidentiality is another principle of ethical practice which binds the researcher to ensure anonymity of the participants and not to disclose their information to unauthorised people (William 2017; Brink et al 2006). Ethical considerations are crucial in both quantitative and qualitative paradigms of study.


Research methodology is a crucial aspect in guiding the research data collection and analysis. Qualitative and quantitative approaches are the main paradigms of the research methodology utilized in most researches in diverse fields, health and social care included. It is however prudent to emphasize that there are distinct differences between qualitative and quantitative approaches of study and each study leads to different interpretation and presentation of data. While both paradigms can be used in health and social care studies, there are differences in the topical areas of healthcare ideal for either of the studies with qualitative studies focusing more on human behaviour and experiences while quantitative study focuses on topics that which can allow statistical inferences to be drawn from the data analysed. However, in order to conduct an effective research, there are ethical considerations biding the researchers that can be relied upon to enhance the reliability, credibility and validity of the research.


Berg B (2009): Qualitative research methods for the social sciences. 7th ediction. Boston M.A. Pearson Education Inc.

Brink H, Van der Walt C & Van Rosenburg G (2006): Fundamentals of research methodology for health care professionals. Juta and Company Ltd.

Franklin M (2012). Understanding research : coping with the quantitative-qualitative divide. London and New York. Routledge

Munro B (2005): statistical methods foe health research. (Vol.1). Iippincott Williams and Wilkins.

Portney G & Watkins P (2009): foundations of clinical research: applications to practice (vol 892). Upper Saddle River NJ. Pearson/Prentice Hall

Ritchie J, Lewis J, Nicholls C & Ormston R (Eds) (2013). Qualitative research practice: A guide for social science students and researchers. Sage Publishers

Silverman D (ed) (2011): Qualitative research: issues of theory, method and practice. Third edition. London. Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, Sage Publications

Willaim N (2017): Research methods: the basics. Rutledge

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