What is qualitative and qualitative research

Qualitative versus quantitative researchDr. Petra Scheibler

Every researcher will have to decide at the beginning of the research process which research method he wants to use to achieve his research goal. Numerous methods and procedures are available in this decision-making process, which can be characterized as qualitative or quantitative research methods. The decision for one or the other direction is always accompanied by a specific methodological approach to the research subject.

1. Qualitative methods

In the field of qualitative social research, there are now numerous survey and evaluation methods, e. B. Interviews, qualitative observation methods, individual case analyzes or qualitative content analysis. They have developed in different temporal contexts, technical disciplines and based on different objectives. Accordingly, qualitative methods do not represent a homogeneous group, although they have a lot in common. Fundamental to all of them is the much more open approach to the subject of research compared to quantitative methods, which can change even during the research process.

The reason for this lies in dealing with the subject of research, which the researcher would like to deliberately approach with great openness. This openness and flexibility in the research process should give space to the discovery of new, previously unknown phenomena or facts. This applies equally to the individual case as well as to research into group phenomena.

The focus of the qualitative research process is the desire to let the target group of interest have their say as far as possible in order to be able to grasp the subjective point of view. The basic assumption here is that people are self-reflective subjects who act as experts of themselves and should be understood as such.

The goal of qualitative research is the exploration of unknown phenomena and the development of new theories and models. For this reason, qualitative research shows strong tendencies towards an inductive approach. However, since this cannot be fully implemented on the part of the researcher due to already existing assumptions and (everyday) theories, one speaks nowadays of so-called "analytical induction". It represents a combination of induction and deduction logic steps. Its characteristics are shown in most hermeneutic procedures, but are also reflected in some other procedures such as eg. B. the qualitative content analysis or the grounded theory clearly reflected.

Procedures such as the qualitative content analysis according to Mayring (2010) enable the connection of qualitative and quantitative analysis steps and in this way offer interesting ways to bridge the now traditional gap between the two methodological forms of access.

2. Quantitative methods

Ideally, the quantitative research process follows a predefined pattern compared to qualitative research. For this, theories and models about the subject of the research must already be available at the beginning of the research process. Subsequent to this, hypotheses are deductively derived, which are then checked in the research process. For this purpose, an operationalization and the formation of measurable indicators take place. On the basis of an investigation design, the procedure for data collection (including experiment, trial), the dependent or independent variable and the measurement operations are determined in advance. As part of the subsequent data collection, measurements are taken on test subjects in order to be able to record the degree of severity of the indicators defined in advance.

The evaluation of the data is carried out using statistical methods and with recourse to control groups in order to be able to control possible disruptive influences. The degree of knowledge gained is secured by significance tests and the findings are then related to the theoretical model and interpreted.

3. Overview of the differences between qualitative and quantitative methods

4. Implications for one's own approach

The decision for a certain research method should be carefully weighed up in advance against the background of the respective advantages and disadvantages. Basically, a method must always be adapted to the research subject. The state of research represents a further decision criterion: the selection of the research strategy and thus also the research method should always take into account the current state of scientific research.

Recommended reading

Flick, U., Kardorff, E. v., Keupp, H., Rosenteil, L. v. & Wolff, S. (2011). Handbook of qualitative social research. Fundamentals, concepts, methods and applications. Weinheim: Beltz.

Glaser, B. G. & Strauss, A. (2010). Grounded Theory, Qualitative Research Strategies. 3rd edition, Bern: Huber.

Wolf, W. (1995). Qualitative versus quantitative research. In E. König & P. ​​Zedler (eds.), Qualitative research results. Vol. I: Basics of qualitative research (Pp. 309-329). Weinheim: Beltz.