Word Choice: Qualitative vs. Quantitative
  • 2-minute read
  • 15th October 2016

Word Choice: Qualitative vs. Quantitative

If you’re studying at college, you’ll hear the terms “qualitative” and “quantitative” used at some point. These describe two approaches to research, each of which is associated with different techniques and methods.

Mixing up “qualitative” and “quantitative” can, therefore, detract from the clarity of your written work. As such, knowing how to use these words correctly is essential.

Qualitative (Related to Quality)

One sense of the term “quality” is “a distinctive characteristic of something.” As such, “qualitative” means “related to the quality of something.” In research, this means focusing on the subjective meaning or character of something.

Social science researchers, for instance, are often interested in people’s opinions or motivations. A paper in this field might therefore say:

This research used a qualitative approach to assess intention to quit among teaching staff.

Methods associated with qualitative research include interviews, direct observation, and case studies.

Quantitative (Related to Quantity)

At this point, you won’t be surprised to find out that “quantitative” means “related to quantity.” In academic research, this involves working with numerical data (i.e., things that can be counted or analyzed statistically).

Quantitative approaches are often associated with the sciences, but they’re also used in everything from marketing research to anthropology. The key factor is that these methods use numbers:

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We estimated population change using quantitative techniques.

The methods used to gather quantitative data vary, though they range from using hi-tech measuring instruments to statistical analysis of survey data.

Qualitative or Quantitative?

“Qualitative” and “quantitative” look similar on paper. However, since they cover different types of research, you must use the correct term when writing up a study, even for a mixed-methods approach.

The important thing is that qualitative research is concerned with subjective meanings (i.e., the quality of something), while quantitative research deals with numbers (i.e., the quantity of something). Remember:

Qualitative = Related to subjective human understanding

Quantitative = Related to numerical data and statistical analysis

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