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Nursing Resources: Qualitative vs Quantitative

Differences between Qualitative & Quantitative Research

"Quantitative research," also called "empirical research," refers to any research based on something that can be accurately and precisely measured.  For example, it is possible to discover exactly how many times per second a hummingbird's wings beat and measure the corresponding effects on its physiology (heart rate, temperature, etc.).

"Qualitative research" refers to any research based on something that is impossible to accurately and precisely measure.  For example, although you certainly can conduct a survey on job satisfaction and afterwards say that such-and-such percent of your respondents were very satisfied with their jobs, it is not possible to come up with an accurate, standard numerical scale to measure the level of job satisfaction precisely.

It is so easy to confuse the words "quantitative" and "qualitative," it's best to use "empirical" and "qualitative" instead.

Hint: An excellent clue that a scholarly journal article contains empirical research is the presence of some sort of statistical analysis

See "Examples of Qualitative and Quantitative" page under "Nursing Research" for more information.

Quantitative research

 

Qualitative research

 

 

 

Considered hard science

 

Considered soft science

Objective

 

Subjective

Deductive reasoning used to synthesize data

 

Inductive reasoning used to synthesize data

Focus—concise and narrow

 

Focus—complex and broad

Tests theory

 

Develops theory

Basis of knowing—cause and effect relationships

 

Basis of knowing—meaning, discovery

Basic element of analysis—numbers and statistical analysis

 

Basic element of analysis—words, narrative

Single reality that can be measured and generalized

 

Multiple realities that are continually changing with individual interpretation

Examples of Qualitative vs Quantitiative

Research question

Unit of analysis

Goal is to generalize?

Methodology

 

 

 

 

What is the impact of a learner-centered hand washing program on a group of 2nd graders?

Paper and pencil test resulting in hand washing scores

Yes

Quantitative

What is the effect of crossing legs on blood pressure measurement?

Blood pressure measurements before and after crossing legs resulting in numbers

Yes

Quantitative

What are the experiences of black fathers concerning support for their wives/partners during labor?

Unstructured interviews with black fathers (5 supportive, 5 non-supportive): results left in narrative form describing themes based on nursing for the whole person theory

No

Qualitative

What is the experience of hope in women with advances ovarian cancer?

Semi-structures interviews with women with advances ovarian cancer (N-20). Identified codes and categories with narrative examples

No

Qualitative