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Research methods: Qualitative vs. quantitative What is the difference?

Introduction: The academic world of research methods

At the heart of every scientific discovery lie the methods researchers use to explore their questions, test hypotheses and gain new insights. Not all research tools are the same. In the world of science, we have two fundamentally different approaches at our disposal: qualitative research methods and quantitative research methods. Each approach has its own strengths, areas of application and challenges that make it particularly suitable for certain types of research. But what exactly is behind these terms? Why do some researchers consciously decide against the apparent precision of numbers and statistics and prefer interviews or observations instead? And in which cases is it the other way around? The answers to these questions are crucial to effectively exploring and understanding the world around us. In this article, we introduce you to the academic world of research methods.


We’ll explain the differences between qualitative and quantitative approaches, their respective benefits and challenges, and the situations in which each approach is most appropriate. We will also introduce the exciting mixed methods approach, which combines the strengths of both methods to provide even deeper insights. Our goal is to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of these methods so that you can better understand the science behind the scenes.

Prepare to immerse yourself in a world where questions are asked, hypotheses are made and answers are sought that expand our understanding of everything around us. Whether you are a budding researcher preparing for your next project or simply curious about the mechanics of science, this article will equip you with the knowledge necessary to appreciate the complexity and beauty of research methods. Stay with us as we begin this journey through the world of qualitative and quantitative research methods and discover what makes each approach unique. And who knows? Maybe by the end of this article, one or two readers will feel inspired to pursue a career in academia.


What are qualitative research methods?

Qualitative research methods aim to understand and interpret phenomena in their natural environment in order to gain deep insights into human behavior, social structures and cultural patterns. These methods differ fundamentally from quantitative approaches in that they do not prioritize the measurement or quantification of data, but rather the collection of qualitative, often non-numerical data. They strive to reveal the meanings behind observed phenomena, to capture the complexity of human experience, and to understand the ways in which individuals perceive and interpret their world.

Qualitative research is defined by a set of methodological principles that aim for openness, flexibility and a deep understanding of the phenomena studied. Characteristic features include the use of open, unstructured or semi-structured data collection techniques such as interviews, observations, document analysis and focus groups. These methods allow researchers to gather detailed and rich descriptions of social processes, attitudes and experiences. Qualitative research methods are often used in the social sciences and humanities, but are also used in market research, educational research, health science and many other fields. They are particularly suitable for investigating complex social phenomena, for exploring new fields of research, for developing theories and for studying contexts and processes in specific situations. A classic example of the use of qualitative research is ethnography, a method in which researchers immerse themselves in the lifeworld of the study participants in order to understand their culture and social practices first-hand. Another example is grounded theory, an approach that aims to develop theories directly from the data collected in the course of research.

The strengths of qualitative research lie in its ability to capture complex phenomena in all their depth and complexity. Through direct contact with study participants, researchers can gain nuanced insights into human behavior and social dynamics that might not be visible in quantitative data alone. These methods enable a flexible adaptation of the research design to the object of investigation and promote the discovery of unexpected aspects and correlations. Nevertheless, qualitative researchers also face challenges. The interpretation of qualitative data can be subjective and requires careful reflection and critical analysis. The generalizability of results is often limited, as qualitative studies usually work with smaller samples that are not necessarily representative of a larger population. In addition, the process of data collection and analysis is time-consuming and requires a high level of expertise.

What are quantitative research methods?

Quantitative research methods represent a systematic approach to studying phenomena by using measurable data to test hypotheses, identify relationships and perform statistical analysis. These methods are characterized by their ability to collect and analyze data in numerical form, which makes it possible to identify patterns, compare variables and draw universal conclusions. Quantitative research is based on the philosophy of positivism, which assumes that reality is objectively ascertainable and can be described by measurable characteristics. At its core, quantitative research methods aim to quantify phenomena and investigate the relationship between variables using statistical methods. This is done by using standardized measuring instruments that enable the objective collection of data, such as surveys, questionnaires, standardized tests and the use of existing databases. A key feature of quantitative research is the ability to test hypotheses using deductive approaches and to validate the results using statistical methods. Quantitative research methods are widely used in the natural sciences, economics, psychology, sociology and many other disciplines where it is important to identify causal relationships, analyze trends and make predictions. They are particularly useful in studies that aim to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, measure the prevalence of characteristics in a population or compare differences between groups. One example of the use of quantitative methods is conducting a large-scale survey to gauge public opinion on a particular topic. Another example is experimental research, where researchers manipulate one or more independent variables to examine their effect on a dependent variable. The strengths of quantitative research lie in its ability to collect and analyze data in an objective and systematic way. By using statistical methods, researchers can ensure the reliability and validity of their results and draw generalized conclusions about large populations. The reproducibility of quantitative studies is another important advantage, allowing other researchers to repeat the study under similar conditions and verify the results. However, quantitative research also brings challenges. The need to use standardized measurement tools can limit the depth and context of the data collected. In addition, designing and conducting quantitative studies requires a high degree of methodological care to avoid systematic errors. The interpretation of statistical results can be complex and requires a sound understanding of statistical methods.

Combination of methods: The mixed methods approach

The mixed methods approach represents a methodological innovation that combines qualitative and quantitative research methods to gain a more comprehensive understanding of research questions. This approach recognizes that both qualitative and quantitative methods have their own strengths and limitations and that their integration can lead to deeper and richer insights than would be possible by using only one method. Mixed-methods research aims to utilize the advantages of both approaches to shed light on complex phenomena from different perspectives, thereby increasing the validity and robustness of research findings.


The advantages of the mixed-method approach are primarily flexibility and expanded perspectives.mixed-methods research refers to research designs that collect, analyze and integrate both qualitative and quantitative data. This can take various forms, such as conducting both methods sequentially or in parallel, transforming qualitative data into quantitative (or vice versa) or combining both types of data in the analysis phase. A key feature of the mixed methods approach is the integration of the data in a way that goes beyond simply adding qualitative results to a quantitative study (or vice versa) to create a deeper understanding.


The mixed methods approach offers several advantages:


  • Broader perspectives: By combining qualitative and quantitative data, researchers can gain a more complete picture of the subject under study.
  • Strengthening validity: Using both methods can help to balance the weaknesses of one method with the strengths of the other.
  • Flexibility: Mixed methods research enables flexible adaptation of the research design to the specific requirements of the study.
  • Innovation: The combination of methods can generate new insights and understandings that might not have been achieved with a single methodological approach.

An example of successful use of the mixed methods approach is a study in the field of educational research that uses both survey data to measure student achievement and interviews with teachers and students to understand the underlying factors of that achievement. Another example is a health science study that combines quantitative data on the prevalence of a disease in a population with qualitative interviews of patients to understand their experiences and coping strategies. Although the mixed-methods approach offers many advantages, it also brings challenges, particularly in terms of the complexity of data integration and the need to have skills in both methodological approaches. Researchers need to carefully consider how to combine qualitative and quantitative data in a coherent and methodologically sound way. In addition, planning and conducting mixed-methods studies often requires more resources and time than studies that follow only one methodological approach.

Decision guidance for researchers

Selecting the appropriate research method is one of the fundamental challenges when designing a research project. The decision whether to pursue qualitative, quantitative or mixed-methods approaches depends on various factors, including the nature of the research question, the objectives of the study, the type of data available, and time and financial resources. This chapter is intended to guide researchers in choosing a suitable method for their project. The starting point for selecting the research method is the research question. Qualitative methods are particularly suitable for exploratory questions that aim to gain deeper insights into social processes, human behavior or cultural phenomena. Quantitative approaches, on the other hand, are more suitable when it comes to testing hypotheses, measuring the frequency of characteristics or investigating causal relationships between variables. Mixed methods approaches are considered when a combination of these objectives is sought or when the research question requires both deep insights and measurable data. The availability and accessibility of data also play an important role in the choice of research method. Quantitative studies often require access to large amounts of data or the ability to generate this data through surveys or experiments. Qualitative research, on the other hand, can be conducted with a smaller amount of data, but often requires direct access to the study participants or to specific social contexts. Conducting qualitative research can be very time-consuming, especially when it comes to data collection and analysis. Quantitative research projects can also be resource-intensive, especially if large samples or expensive equipment are required. Mixed methods approaches usually require even more time and resources as they involve conducting both types of research. Researchers should therefore carefully consider their time and financial resources before making a decision. The choice of method should also take into account the expertise and skills of the research team. Qualitative research requires specific skills in data collection and interpretation, such as interview techniques and thematic analysis. Quantitative research requires knowledge of statistics. Mixed methods approaches require a broad range of skills and a deep understanding of both methodological paradigms. The choice of research method is a critical step that influences the overall research design. Researchers should carefully consider the research question, weigh the available resources, and consider their own skills and those of their team to select the most appropriate method. By carefully considering these factors, researchers can ensure that their method fits well with their research objectives and that they are able to produce valid and meaningful results.



The choice of the appropriate research method – be it qualitative, quantitative or a combination of both in the form of the mixed methods approach – is crucial to the success of a research project. Each approach offers unique perspectives and tools for investigating the world around us and contributes to the scientific discourse in its own way. Qualitative methods allow for a deep dive into individual experiences and social phenomena, while quantitative methods allow for the measurement and analysis of data on a large scale. The mixed methods approach, in turn, combines the strengths of both by combining deep insights with broad, generalizable data. We hope that this article has helped to clarify the differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods and demonstrate the advantages of the mixed methods approach. If you are at the beginning of a research project and need support in choosing the appropriate research method, we invite you to get in touch with our experts. Our team is ready to support you in planning and conducting your study. Do not hesitate to fill out the form below to make a free and non-binding inquiry. Together we can ensure that your research is based on solid methodological foundations and that you find the answers you are looking for.


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