Qualitative and Quantitative Data Collection


This paper touches upon the two data collection techniques namely the qualitative and the quantitative methods - Qualitative and Quantitative Data Collection introduction. Both have their merits and demerits and their place for usage.  Qualitative data collection is helpful when deep and rich information is needed from the subjects to understand the mental processes behind the apparent behavior. It is used when the context is expected to be very important to the subsequent behavior.  Qualitative methods are often known as “touchy feely” by nature and are not objective.  They are time consuming can become distorted easily.

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Quantitative data collection on the other hand is objective, reliable and accurate.  They are subsequently used in statistical analysis.  Quantitative collection can address large population bases with ease and can surpass local and geographical boundaries and they can be administered online.

So the selection of the collection method depends largely on the problem at hand and the resources at the researcher’s disposal.
Qualitative Vs Quantitative Data Collection

Data collection is the mechanism for gathering answers for some questions from various sources which is then analyzed to provide more information depending on the answers.  Data collection is needed for making decisions analytically. Each “answer” is called a data point and whatever the specific reason, data have to be collected to provide information.  Before the data collection steps the goals and the objectives of the data collection must be clearly understood.   There should be consensus on the operational definitions and methodology for the data collection plan. This is where the qualitative vs quantitative methodologies come into play. The next step is to ensure the repeatability stability, accuracy and reproducibility of the data collection.  The nature of the problem being studied provides the first clue on whether there should be qualitative of quantitative data collection.  A Qualitative research is needed to gain an understanding of the underlying reasons and motivations, to provide insights into the setting of the problem; generating ideas and/or hypotheses for later quantitative research and to uncover prevalent trends in thought and opinion (Snap surveys).  Quantitative research on the other hand is needed to generalize results from a sample to the population of interest and to measure the incidence of various views and opinions in a selected sample (Snap Surveys).

Some of the qualitative methods are:

Observations:   Observational techniques are used when the evaluators conducting the data collection perform first hand studying of the processes or behaviors.  Observations are useful during both formative as well as during the summative phases.  Observations provide direct information on the processes or behaviors within the context that they are being observed.  Observation method tends to be expensive and time consuming.  Individual perceptions may distort the data especially during the formative stages.

Interviews:  Interviews provide very different data from observations.  This allows the perspectives of the project participants to be captured and in fact the basis of using this method in the first place.  In structured interviews questionnaires are administered whereas in indepth interviews the interviewer does not follow a rigid format and the goal here is to elicit rich and detailed material from the subject by using open ended questions and probing subsequently.

Interviews also tend to be expensive and depend on the perspectives as well as the knowledge of the subject.  This should be reserved for highly sensitive subject matter.

Focus Groups:  To overcome the drawbacks of personal interviews, marketers can use focus groups where there are a group of respondents (8 to 12) who are guided through a discussion by a moderator.  Focus groups are typically used when the environment is created by the interaction of the participants.

Other qualitative data collection methods include document studies, public records and personal documents.

Quantitative data collection is used when there are a large number of cases representing the population of interest. Some of the methods are:

Surveys:  This method captures information through input of responses to a questionnaire which can be administered either in person or online.

Tracking:  Researchers track the behaviors of the subjects as they engage in regular activities.

Experiments:  Researchers often undertake experiments to gauge the effect of the marketing variable over another.

Qualitative and Quantitative Methods: A Comparison

Social marketers have arrived at the conclusion that rigorous data collection by means of surveys are not necessarily comprehensive and need to be complemented by the less precise but useful semi-quantitative methods.  Quantitative research methods are designed to ensure objectivity, generalizability and reliability.  The strengths of the quantitative paradigm lie in the quantifiability of the results and numerical interpretations.  The disadvantage is also in its ability to decontextualize human behavior in a way that may be necessary to understand the context of the results themselves.

Qualitative research methodologies are designed to provide the researcher a complete context in terms of the human perspectives to understand the behaviors and the responses.

In conclusion, both qualitative as well as the quantitative data collection methods are powerful and helpful arsenal for a researcher. The criterion for selecting one over the other depends on the scenario at hand.  If the number of subjects is not large and the data is needed to characterize the problem further for analysis then a qualitative method is most useful.   Personal interviews or focus groups provide valuable information on the deep mental processing through a context that results in specific behavior.

If the problem is well understood and the decision making depends on sheer numbers from a large population then quantitative collection methods provide a reliable and objective way of gathering statistical conclusions from such a source.


Snap Surveys, Qualitative Vs Quantitative Research, Referenced on January 28, 2009, http://www.snapsurveys.com/techadvqualquant.shtml

Overview of Qualitative Methods and Analytic Techniques, Referenced on January 28, 2009, http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/1997/nsf97153/chap_3.htm

Nedra Kline Weinreich, Integrating Quantitative and Qualitative Methods in Social Marketing Research, Referenced on January 28, 2009,  http://www.social-marketing.com/research.html


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