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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




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?






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



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

Blood pressure measurements before and after crossing legs resulting in numbers



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



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