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Skills for the Social Sciences

  • 12 Pages
  • Published On: 21-11-2023

Every kind of academic inquiry follows either quantitate or qualitative methodology in its quest to explain a particular phenomenon or answer a particular question. The following paper is concerned with exploring the differences between the difference between quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, in the context of the different approaches that academic research takes. Quantitative research is undertaken when the researcher is dealing with data that cab be compiled in a definite fashion, mathematically. These kinds of research usually deals with variable which are empirically tested in the context of something and the results of such data is statistically presented (Yilmaz, 2013). The defining factor of quantitative methodology is the ability of the results of be replicated, hence giving it a scientific reliability and backing that establishes the legitimacy of the results. The point of quantitative research is attaining that legitimacy. Qualitative research, on the other hand, is more commonly used to inquire into phenomenons which cannot be quantified in numbers, more commonly, the social sciences. The purpose of qualitative data is not establish figures, rather to inquire into something in an attempt to gain certain insight which are not captured in numbers or empirical research (Gay and Airasian, 2007). A good example explaining both would be an academic study of the causes of poverty in a certain region. A quantitative inquiry would look into the numerical extent of people below the poverty line in the region, but to understand why certain people do not engage in activities which alleviate poverty, like, further education, government benefits and so on, one needs to engage in open-ended questioning, which is a part of qualitative study. The following sections will systematically look at both these approaches to academic inquiry and explore what they consist of.

Theoretical Approaches: Quantitative vs Qualitative

Quantitative and qualitative forms of inquiry are tools which are used in academic inquiry. Academic inquiry is rarely done without any context of some theory. A large part of how one understands and classifies a particular theory is based on what methodology the proponents of the particular theory follow.

An accurate example of the differentiation between the two of them would be the difference between positivism and Interpretivism. Logical positivism is a theory which believe that society consists of facts and that human behaviour is governed by certain laws which are universal. Moritz Schlick, a positivist scholar believes that the pursuit of truth always began with observation, and ended with an experience which confirmed the fact emerging out of the observation (Schlick, 1930). Interpretivism, on the other hand, defy the objectivity of reality that positivists advocate. They argue that individuals in a society are complex and societal relationships are a result of these complex relationships which need to be understood subjectively. They understand reality from the perspective of the individual experience which is unique.

Positivist inquiry may make use of quantitative research methods in order to capture the macro-view of a certain development in the society, for example, a new law which forbids people from working more than two jobs. It could make rational connections between poverty and education and accurately predict behaviour in sections of people. However, interpretivist methods of qualitative inquiry are required to look into how this law may affect sections of society and what will be the long term implications.

Difference Between Quantitative and Qualitative Approach

Quantitative and qualitative research both seek to explain the world as we know it, but using different methods. Methodology, however, is a is a theoretical and philosophical subject, not conditional to the presence or absence of what we understand as ‘scientific’ methods of inquiry.

Guba (1987) relays that the central difference between qualitative and quantitative methodology is ontological and epistemological. In the ontological explanation, quantitative research derives from the fact that everything is scientifically explainable. This is because everything in society possess one truth that is objective and closest to the truth. It seeks to establish explanatory relations between different kinds of phenomenon in the society through the usage of tools and methods which they consider value-free and holistic and considerate of the context (Yilmaz, 2013). The qualitative perspective comes from the idealist tradition, which understands the world subjectively. They argue that there is no one, singular reality and the conditions we see around ourselves are constantly being interfered with by individuals. Hence, reality is not static and hence, the methods for studying it cannot be universal as well . Qualitative research starts with the very premise that it is impossible to understand the absolute truth and hence research should only attempt to find out the subjective truth (Slevitch, 2011).

In terms of methodology, quantitative research uses tools like questionnaires with close ended questions, surveys and other forms of research methods, the results of which can be quantified. In contrast to that, qualitative research uses several non-quantifiable methods, like critical textual study, open-ended questionnaires, interviews and focus groups and so on. The methodological study of qualitative studies are cognizant of the fact that since everything is subjective, any previous research cannot be taken out of the context in which it was originally studied in. Hence, it becomes the responsibility of the researcher who is undertaking qualitative research to give disclaimers with regards to their own research (Patton, 2002).

Although there is no definitive ranking of which kinds of inquiry are most appropriate to quantitative research and which are most appropriate to qualitative research. Usually, descriptive studies which rely on individual experiences and acknowledge the fact that goals and interests are different in the given scenario are studies which would rely more on qualitative studies (Ibid). A good example of this would be examining how war affects a particular country. To understand the full extent of the devastation, a researcher needs to, at times, rely on personal accounts of violence and deprivation as well. If he/she doesn’t do that, the research becomes a mere collection of facts and figures. Similarly, if a researcher wants to find out how to increase tourism in a nation, he will need to find out the major factors acting as hindrance to tourism inflows, like expense and customs. In this case, he/she cannot get caught up in individual reasons because the objective is to find an all-encompassing theory. This is also the reason sample sizes are different in qualitative and quantitative studies. It would be impractical for the researcher to handle enormous amounts of data if they are undertaking qualitative data. Additionally, compilation of that data would lead to unnecessary points irrelevant to the project. Conversely, to maintain accuracy, quantitative research should consist of a large enough group to adequately represent all sections of the society, but shouldn’t be so big that data becomes unmanageable.

Case Studies: Understanding the Difference in Context of Research Studies

The following section explores the difference between quantitative and qualitative study further, by delving into some previously conducted research. The section will contextualise the usage of qualitative and qualitative study in the following papers and examine their arguments and use of methodology.

Undergraduate and Graduate Students’ Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic by Chirikov et al, 2020

This paper examines the effect of COVID on students, classifying them according to their progress in education, race, sexual preference, sexual identity, parental status and other such paradigms. The research discovered that undergraduate students who were studying literature, psychology and physical sciences were more prone to mental health disorders and graduate students who were studying literature, medical sciences, sociology and anthropology were more prone as well. Sexual identity and preference and racial minorities and caregivers were also more prone.

The study made use of quantitative methods of survey, where five areas were the main areas of enquiry, namely; effect of remote education, financial impact on students by the pandemic, the health of students during the pandemic, their engagement and their future prospects. The sample size was roughly 30, 725 students who were undergraduate and 15, 346 graduate students. The data was compiled quantitatively and represented through the usage of bar graphs and numerical figures. This method was chosen to adequately quantify the extent of mental health issues in college students, because of the lack of previous study like this.

Mental Health amongst Obstetricians and Gynaecologists during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Results of a UK-wide study by Shah et al, 2020

This paper examines the mental health of gynaecologists and obstetricians during the COVID pandemic. Among the 207 doctors that were surveyed in this project, it was revealed that, relative to the other specialisations in the UK, gynaecologists and obstetricians reported a higher number of mental health issues. Other results that were revealed suggests that female doctors were more prone to mental health disorders than men, but that could be because the sample size consisted of predominantly women.

The methodology followed in the paper was quantitative, whereby a cross-sectional survey was done. The surveys consisted of scalar-level questions which were compiled statistically using the t-test. Quantitative study was appropriate for this study to fill an important literature gap and also to collect insightful data of a large sample group without taking up excessive time.

Public perceptions and experiences of social distancing and social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic: A UK-based focus group study, Williams et al, 2020

The paper concentrates on finding the effect of social distancing on people’s perception of it and its subsequent effect. The research discovered that social isolation and distancing has had a significantly negative effect on the general population of UK, emotionally. People have experienced low self-esteem and have become unmotivated and most have expressed a fervent desire to end the status-quo as soon as possible.

The methodology that has been used in this particular study was qualitative, whereby purposive sampling techniques were used to ensure adequate representation and data was collected by organising focus groups. The method of conducting the focus group was through online participation, for social distancing concerns. The usage of focus group was important for this inquiry as the research’s primary inquiry was understanding the emotional impact of social-isolation in the UK.

Older people’s early experience of household isolation and social distancing during COVID-19, Brooke, 2020

The paper inquires into the emotional vulnerability of seniors during the pandemic due to isolation and social distancing in the UK. The findings of this study were positive, indicating that older people, in the early weeks of lockdown, adhered to the rules of the lockdown and took every protective measure that was recommended. Regarding distancing and the lack of socialising, the sample agreed that while loneliness is a issue, they feel lucky and blessed to have other means of virtually seeing their loved ones and social media to keep in touch with their friends and family.

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The method of research used in this study was qualitative, where a total of 18 individuals were chosen for personal interviews. The interviews were semi-structures and the data analysis was done in two steps. First, the interviews were holistically read to gain knowledge of the broad areas of interest in results, second the interest areas were elucidated and the responses were then compiled in a tabular manner. Considering the sample size and the informal nature of the research inquiry, qualitative method through telephonic interview was a good choice for research methodology in this paper.


The objective of this paper was to critically and insightfully examine the quantitate and qualitative modes of research, separately and comparatively.

We find that quantitative modes of research are best suited for projects where the researcher is trying to answer a question statistically and which will contribute to one of many findings. They are also useful for policymaking purposes or to serve as a backdrop for further research. Conversely, qualitative research is suitable for subjects which require a subjective understanding of an event or a phenomenon, where figures or facts can clarify to a certain extent, but wider explanations are needed to understand them. Many research projects make use of both these methodologies for a single project, it affords the researcher the advantage of both and lends a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

  1. Yilmaz, K., 2013. Comparison of quantitative and qualitative research traditions: Epistemological, theoretical, and methodological differences. European journal of education, 48(2), pp.311-325.
  2. Gay, L.R. and Airasian, P., 2007. A. The Research Design.
  3. Schlick, M., 1930. The turning point in philosophy.
  4. Guba, E.G., 1987. What have we learned about naturalistic evaluation?. Evaluation practice, 8(1), pp.23-43.
  5. Sale, J.E., Lohfeld, L.H. and Brazil, K., 2002. Revisiting the quantitative-qualitative debate: Implications for mixed-methods research. Quality and quantity, 36(1), pp.43-53.
  6. Slevitch, L., 2011. Qualitative and quantitative methodologies compared: Ontological and epistemological perspectives. Journal of Quality Assurance in Hospitality & Tourism, 12(1), pp.73-81.
  7. Patton, M.Q., 2002. Two decades of developments in qualitative inquiry: A personal, experiential perspective. Qualitative social work, 1(3), pp.261-283.
  8. Chirikov, I., Soria, K.M., Horgos, B. and Jones-White, D., 2020. Undergraduate and Graduate Students’ Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  9. Shah, N., Raheem, A., Sideris, M., Velauthar, L. and Saeed, F., 2020. Mental Health amongst Obstetricians and Gynaecologists during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Results of a UK-wide study. Authorea Preprints.
  10. Williams, S.N., Armitage, C.J., Tampe, T. and Dienes, K., 2020. Public perceptions and experiences of social distancing and social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic: A UK-based focus group study. MedRxiv.
  11. Brooke, J. and Clark, M., 2020. Older people’s early experience of household isolation and social distancing during COVID‐19. Journal of clinical nursing, 29(21-22), pp.4387-4402.

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