Research Methods

research methods

There are two categories of research methods: qualitative and quantitative. Quantitative data collection usually involves numbers, graphs and charts, whereas, qualitative data collection methods deals with feelings and other non-quantifiable elements.

The most popular qualitative methods of data collection and analysis in business studies are interviews, focus groups, observation, case studies, games and role playing etc.

Popular quantitative methods of data collection and analysis, on the other hand, include correlation analysis, regression analysis, mean, mode and median and others.

Questionnaires can be used as qualitative, as well as, quantitative method. Specifically, if open-ended questions are used qualitative methods will be used for data analysis. Alternatively, if questionnaire consists of closed-ended questions, then quantitative approach is adopted for data analysis.


Differences between Qualitative and Quantitative Methods

The main differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods can be summarised in the following points:

Firstly, the concepts in quantitative research methods are usually expressed in the forms of variables, while the concepts in qualitative research methods are expressed in motives and generalisations.

Secondly, quantitative research methods and measures are usually universal, like formulas for finding mean, median and mode for a set of data, whereas, in qualitative research each research is approached individually and individual measures are developed to interpret the primary data taking into account the unique characteristics of the research.

Thirdly, data in quantitative research appears in the forms of numbers and specific measurements and in qualitative research data can be in forms of words, images, transcripts, etc.

Fourthly, research findings in quantitative research can be illustrated in the forms of tables, graphs and pie-charts, whereas, research findings in qualitative studies is usually presented in analysis by only using words.

Commenting on the differences of the qualitative methods from the quantitative methods Monette et al (2005, p.428) point to the advantage of the former method which recognizes the abstraction and generalisation as a matters of degree, acknowledging that they may be less important in some studies.

Similarities of both qualitative and quantitative forms of data are drawn by Neuman (2003, p.439) as a use of inference and the involvement of a public method of process for both types of data in both styles.

The following table presents the main differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods as suggested by VanderStroep et al (2010):

Characteristic Quantitative research Qualitative research
Type of data Phenomena are described numerically Phenomena are described in a narrative fashion
Analysis Descriptive and inferential statistics Identification of major schemes
Scope of inquiry Specific questions or hypotheses Broad, thematic concerns
Primary advantage Large sample, statistical validity, accurately reflects the population Rich, in-depth, narrative description of sample
Primary disadvantage Superficial understanding of participants’ thoughts and feelings Small sample, not generalisable to the population at large

Source: VanderStroep et al (2010)

Alternatively, the main differences between qualitative and quantitative research tools are provided by Ledgerwood and White (2006) as taken from Brand (2003) in the following table.

Method matrix Qualitative research Quantitative research
Objective To gain in-depth understanding of consumers’ attitudes and behaviour To measure the degree and extent of the attitudes
Confidence level Explorative, anecdotal Conclusive, with a specified degree of certainty
Techniques Unstructured or semi-structured Structured
Tools Focus groups, in-depth interviews, mystery shoppers Simple and complex surveys, database analysis (cross tabulation)
Participants Small and homogeneous groups Samples with a statistical representation of the population
Results Words and descriptions Codified results, compiled as statistics
Training and preparation Understanding objectives of the study Consistency and precision of questions usedComputer analysis
Strengths In-depth exploration of questionsBetter understanding of underlying behavioursUsually can implement with staff Conclusive; its results can be inferred to the rest of the populationBetter for costly investment because it measures degree and frequency of behaviours
Weaknesses Subjective; bias can be introduced in the execution and analysis of resultsNot conclusive; research cannot be inferred to the population Bias on the form and the questionnaireCan be costly and time consumingUsually implemented by outside marketing research firms


Cohen et al (2007), and Denscombe (2010) illustrate the main differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods:

Quantitative methods Qualitative methods
Main elements Numbers, formulas, calculations Words, feelings, emotions, sounds, vision
Approach Mainly deductive Tend to be inductive
Measures Standard measures exist Individual measures are created taking into account unique aspects of the study
Procedures Research procedures tend to be standard and can be replicated for other studies Research procedures are unique for each study and usually can not be replicated
Presentation Tables, graphs, charts, and statistics are often used Presentations tend to be in the form of texts
Relevant data collection methods Survey Interviews, focus groups
Size of the sample Usually large samples  Tend to be small


Denscombe, M, 2004, The Good Research Guide for small-scale social research, 2nd edition, Open University Press.
Monette, DR, Sullivan, TJ, DeJong, CR, 2005, Applied Social Research. A Tool for the Human Services, 6th edition
VanderStroep, S.W & Johnson, D.D. (2010) “Research Methods for Everyday Life: Blending Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches” John Wiley & Sons