Qualitative versus Quantitative versus “Mixed Methods” Research

Quantitative research involves collecting and analysing words and numbers; qualitative research means interpreting and generalizing data gained mainly from oral interviews in and beyond the research context.

Quantitative and qualitative research are just two of a number of existing research methodologies.

A quantitative research methodology typically encompasses:

  • an objectivist ontology
  • a positivist epistemology
  • deductive research that quantifies the process of collecting and analysing mostly figurative but also textual data
  • conclusive statements of truth

A qualitative methodology typically encompasses:

  • a constructivist ontology
  • an interpretivist epistemology
  • inductive research that explores specific examples of a phenomenon
  • interpreting and generalizing data derived mainly from oral interviews in and beyond the study's research context

While most business and management students choose qualitative research, many stumble into it based on a mistaken belief that research is about “interviews.” Not having thought through their choice of methodology, students then claim to test variables and verify hypotheses with a qualitative research design. This is a confused research design, not a mixed methods design as is often claimed!

When you make your choices of worldview, approach, methodology and data analysis, if you confuse research language in this way it will come across as a lack of understanding of the principles of business research – and will likely attract a low mark.

Instead, you should make your choice of a qualitative, quantitative or other methodology based wholly on your research question and the choices you made in developing it.