Jamal El Ouahi

Helping researchers. Posts about scientific research & its process. Academia/Government Consulting.

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Jamal El Ouahi

Helping researchers. Posts about scientific research & its process. Academia/Government Consulting.

#6 Quantitative vs. Qualitative: Which method for your research?

Read time: 4 min.

In one of my previous posts, I described the research process and listed the selection of research methods as one of its important steps.

Think of research methods as tools or ways to collect and analyze data to answer your research questions.

Here, I want to go over qualitative and quantitative research and how they’re different.

Let me start with the differences:

Quantitative research allows you to test hypotheses. For instance, you get data through experiments, measurements, controlled observations, or longitudinal studies. The collected and analyzed data will be in the form of numbers, and graphs.

Your data sample needs to be relatively large to make objective conclusions.

The data is then analyzed, for example mathematically, with statistical analyses and specific tools (more on this in upcoming newsletters).

On the other hand, Qualitative research allows you to formulate a hypothesis.

This method will give you data expressed in words.

For instance, you get such data from interviews, case studies, or online surveys. Here, the sample size does not need to be as big as in quantitative research. Any information you manage to get is good.

Your data is then coded, analyzed by categorizing and interpreting it (More on this too in future newsletters).

So, these are the main differences. Now, let me give you some concrete examples.

One of my recent papers is about funding in science. In scientific papers, researchers would often write funding acknowledgments where they thank funders for supporting their research.

I used a quantitative method to analyze millions of scientific publications, focusing on these acknowledgments to analyze the funding structure of science.

I got some interesting information such as:

Number and proportion of papers with/without funding acknowledgments, by country, with a classification of funders by type and origin (foreign vs domestic) as well as the recent trends.

In the future, I could also decline this data by field.

But, that was not enough. There was an opportunity to get more information.

So I used a qualitative approach to better understand how funding works, by asking authors for more information about the funding they received. I contacted a few hundred authors by email with a series of open/closed-ended questions.

Some patterns and recurring themes emerged from the authors’ answers that I then categorized. This is where I gained new insights and can come up with a hypothesis.

For instance, I found that there were some requirements from funders to collaborate with researchers from specific countries through some programs, but also an important distinction between external and internal funding (salary). With such data, there is room for debate, interpretation, and discussion.

This combination of quantitative with qualitative methods is called the mixed method approach.

It’s like getting the best of both worlds 🙂

With an Engineering and Maths background, I was naturally into numbers, statistics, and graphs. But, now, I realize that qualitative research provides some very rich and unique information.

That’s it. This is a quick overview of the differences between quantitative and qualitative research approaches.

If you have any questions, ask away and I will reply.

See you in the next newsletter.


My favourite things this week

1- I had lots of follow-ups after my webinar on December 6th about preprints, dissertations and theses. I’m a big fan of preprints as a good medium to share research. And dissertations/these are a gold mine of valuable findings that do not often get published. It’s good to see this content getting more traction and attention.

2- I spoke with a major research institution in Uganda interested in evaluating their research output and benchmarking it with their peers. Interesting discussions as always when it comes to research management and evaluation!

Quote of the Week

“In God we trust; all others must bring data.” – W. Edwards Deming


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