Is Quantitative Research more Reliable than Qualitative Research? Mystery Resolved!

By | January 20, 2019

Data serves as a fuel powering (and controlling) major contributing sectors of the economy including business, education, research, medicine, etc. The first thought that pops up in a research scholar’s mind on seeing data, is to find patterns, connections, and relationships between and within numbers.

Broadly speaking, in research, data is considered to be of two types; Quantitative data and Qualitative data. Scholars can either use quantitative data/ qualitative data or both of them for the study purpose. But the choice is easier said than done.

Simply put, Quantitative research is used to validate the hypothesis, quantify attitudes, opinions, behaviors, and generalize results from a larger sample population. Whereas, qualitative research to formulate the hypothesis, provides insights into the problem or helps to develop ideas/hypotheses.

Although quantitative and qualitative research differ radically, their objectives overlap in numerous ways. This makes it confusing for scholars to judge when to use a qualitative approach and when to use a quantitative approach for research purposes.

Tip: A quantitative research is apt to answer questions like ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, and on the other hand, qualitative research answers questions like ‘why’ and ‘how’.

For example, consider the question- How does the image of the ideal man influence the male population between the ages 23 and 38? This question, cannot be answered using one among qualitative or quantitative research. Instead, it makes use of both the methods. Firstly, one needs to know ‘what’ the image of the ideal man is. Next, find out ‘how’ this influences a particular segment of the male population.

To successfully conduct quantitative research:

  • Identify the research problem.
  • Prepare the research questions.
  • Review existing literature.
  • Develop a research plan.

Steps included in qualitative research are

  • Identifying a research problem/stating the problem.
  • Reviewing the literature.
  • Specifying a purpose and research questions.
  • Collection of data.
  • Analyzing the data.
  • Determining the quality of data

Now another question that arises is which approach is more reliable than the other?

This is a long-standing argument in research. It is important to understand that quantitative and qualitative research methods do not work against each other. Each research method has its own specific objectives.

Rule of thumb: Qualitative research methods are used to explore ideas, designs, or processes that do not require a concrete hypothesis. Qualitative methods are particularly useful for serendipitous discovery and often provide more in-depth insights.

At times, some studies make use of both the research methods which stand to complement each other. The advantage of a mixed methodology is, you get both projectable or predictive data and explanatory or contextual insights. Each research method has its own strengths and weaknesses. A combination of qualitative and quantitative research is typically best for most of the studies. By using both methods one can achieve a deeper level of insight through the exploratory nature of research in addition to the statistical evidence to support decisions.

To conclude, none of the methods can be stated as ‘more reliable than the other’. Quantitative research and qualitative research have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the research problem, research objective, and research questions, one can use the suitable type of data.   

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