Difference Between Qualitative and Quantitative Social Research

Quantitative and Qualitative Social Research: This article defines the purpose of social research and its impact on day-to-day life. It also explains various research methodologies and tools that are used to analyse the different aspects of society and the research topic. Since the inception of Sociology as a discipline, research has been used at every step to frame theories and explain phenomena with the help of observations, interactions and experiments. The article expounds on the concept of Quantitative and Qualitative Social Research methodologies, their usage and their difference. Further, it explores different tools and methods used in the respective research.

At various points in our lives, we have come across the word Research. It is the systematic or methodical study of a subject. Different research aims can serve different purposes, such as proving a hypothesis or understanding complex phenomena.

Many of us conduct research in our daily activities without even realizing it. As an example, when we need to purchase a new mobile phone. Thanks to technology, everyone nowadays searches for it on Google first. We review different models and try to select the most promising one. But before we finalize it, we examine its features, qualities, battery life, customer reviews, etc. At the end of all this, we conclude. The answer can be yes, no, or still to be decided.

Quantitative and Qualitative Social Research

Research is done in every sector and it has a different purpose. Technical research is conducted while inventing an entirely new device or technology, and medical or scientific research is carried out before producing a novel medicine. A significant amount of research was conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic to develop a vaccine.

How does social research work?

To understand the structure of society, professionals conduct social research. The purpose of this research is to better comprehend human behaviour and interactions in society. Through it, one can better understand the human perspective. Individuals, groups, and communities can be more deeply studied through social research. Organisations and governments use it to analyze societal trends and dynamics. Conducting social research is the first and most prominent step when it comes to the formulation of policies or schemes which are focused on society or stakeholders. It gives an understanding of how people think. There are multiple types of tools and methodologies which a researcher follows according to the need and requirements of his topic.

There are various types of research methods which one can take into consideration while designing their research methodology. To begin, it is necessary to collect the data that will play an indispensable role in it. The collection of data is further divided into two parts- primary and secondary research.

Primary Research-

A primary research approach involves interacting directly with stakeholders and is based on no previous data. The purpose of fieldwork is to obtain first-hand data that is relevant and original. Interacting with people enables us to understand the dynamics of the situation much better. Primary research gives the researcher leverage over the data and information collected since it is not limited. It is conducted by every organisation or business enterprise before launching a newly developed product or introducing a novel service. Primary research helps to understand the needs and requirements of the customer and helps the researchers to understand how to fulfil them. It is time-consuming since it is conducted with the help of tools like surveys, interviews or focus groups. Observations are essential to primary research since they show what no document can do. The findings are also useful for directly addressing and solving the problem at hand.

Secondary Research

Secondary research is when no new data is collected and the findings from already published documents or journals are taken into consideration. Generally, it is done to understand the relations between topics and problems or the history of the problem at hand. It is less expensive than primary research since no direct involvement or fieldwork is involved in it. The data from secondary research assists the researcher to get a grasp of various factors involved but it doesn’t necessarily tackle the problem at hand. Data is collected from various sources like books, newspapers, published magazines, periodicals or reports from various organisations. The internet also gives easy access to such data. Sometimes they are free of charge, while other times the researcher might have to pay for them. But it is solely the researcher’s responsibility to make sure the data are accurate and relevant for the research. The researcher needs to verify the data before proceeding with the research to avoid any fallacy

There are multiple research methodologies from which a researcher can choose. But the researcher needs to understand the problem at hand before choosing a methodology. There are two main types of research methodologies, quantitative social research method and qualitative social research method. A researcher uses primary and secondary data to collect information and data. However, the research method is also determined by the study’s hypothesis and purpose. One must choose wisely since there is a stark contrast between the two types of research. Let us understand the difference between quantitative and qualitative social research.

Difference between Quantitative and Qualitative Social Research-

Quantitative research –

The quantitative research method is often used to interpret the data in numbers and statistics. It is conducted to prove a hypothesis or an outcome with the help of data that is collected. It is interpreted with the help of numbers, bar graphs and charts. Quantitative research analyses the data collected from the participants with the help of maths and statistics.

Sample Set-

  • Quantitative social research is used when the sample set at hand is big. That means the number of participants in the research is more and quantitative research helps to analyse the huge amount of responses easily
  • Quantitative research is conducted when the researcher wants to prove the hypothesis.
  •  It is conducted to get the desired result and outcome. It can be assertive or negative concerning the hypothesis.
  •  A hypothesis is a sentence framed by the researcher based on existing and limited information. It is neither true nor false unless and until it is proved.
  • For instance, if the hypothesis at hand is- the excess use of social media is impacting the youth, then the researcher can use this method to derive answers.
  • The researcher can take a huge sample set in consideration. For example, 100 participants ranging from 16 to 25 years of age can be interviewed or surveyed to understand the impact of social media on them.
  • From the findings, the researcher can understand the variable and prove whether the hypothesis is right or wrong. And to find it, various tools are used.


  • This research method is particularly used when there is a prediction or hypothesis which needs to be tested, proved or confirmed.
  •  A hypothesis is a statement or supposition which is based on the existing amount of knowledge the researcher has of a particular topic. This hypothesis is neither true nor false unless and until it is proven.
  • For instance, “mobile phone addiction has increased in children post-covid-19 induced pandemic can be a hypothesis. It is a generic hypothesis and a large sample set will help the researcher to understand a greater section of society
  • Qualitative research gives the result and suggestions for the issue at hand. Its purpose is to prove the hypothesis and that data can be used for further purposes.

Tools used-

  • As the answers to the hypothesis are limited (yes/no/maybe), objective questions are asked so that the numerical data can be derived from it
  • These questions are close-ended. It has limited options to choose from so that the answers and conclusions derived are clear and definite.
  • . The researchers mostly use tools like surveys or questionnaires to interact with people and collect data.
  • It can be an on-ground survey which enables interaction with the subjects, if it’s a remote area then online surveys can be used or telephonic surveys and interviews can be conducted.
  • Researchers can also conduct experiments and derive their data through observations.
  • If the research topic is, “hybrid education mode is better than the completely online mode of education”,then a questionnaire can be formulated to understand the viewpoints of participants.
  • Sometimes the questions are crafted according to the age group of the sample set. The age group is also decided based on the requirements of the research. In this case, participants who are currently pursuing education in any mode would be more helpful in finding the conclusion. The findings are easier to present in numbers and statistics.

Example of how Quantitative Research takes place:

With the help of quantitative social research, researchers can drive the research in the direction they prefer. The findings in numbers help the researcher to understand a large section of society easily. If a researcher wants to learn more about the role of media in spreading false news, he/she will begin the research by formulating a hypothesis. For instance, if the hypothesis is, that“social media paves way for fake news”, it needs to be proved. For that, the researcher will prepare a survey or questionnaire for the sample set. It will have close-ended questions with options for the participants to choose from. There can be questions like, “do you think social media is an apt platform for news and information?” or “do you think people believe social media more than print media?”. Once the participants fill out the form, the answers are analysed with the help of math and statistics and it helps the researcher to arrive at a definite conclusion. The result can be supporting the hypothesis or completely against it.

Qualitative research-

Qualitative social research is done to avail findings in depth. It is not collected and presented with the help of numbers. It is analysed and categorised with the help of words. It is further interpreted in words, pictures and objects. Qualitative research allows the researcher to express thoughts and ideas which are discovered during the process. In-depth, discussions pave way for broad answers which help to interpret the topic.

Sample Set-

  • Qualitative social research is done to understand the context of a subject or topic or discover the complexity and subjectivity of a certain issue or phenomenon.
  •  For this, a small amount of sample set is usually preferred to have an in-depth outlook of the topic.
  •  A case in point. “Youth nowadays prefer online dating. This topic can be broadly understood only by interacting with the youth and understanding their perspectives.
  • The researcher can interact with 10 to 15 people and ask them about their opinions and experiences. It can’t be defined in the terms of graphs or numbers but can be analysed and interpreted with the help of words. These findings can also help to formulate a research hypothesis or theory in future.


  • Qualitative social research is conducted when the researcher wants to understand specific phenomena or processes or human behaviour in society under specific circumstances.
  •  It is conducted to understand the thoughts and ideas of an individual or a group or the entire community. It is process oriented and a hypothesis is generated but it is not tested, it is analysed and interpreted.
  •  For instance, if the hypothesis at hand is – Artificial Intelligence is impacting future careers,then the researcher can understand the significance of this topic with the help of this method. It will give the researcher a broader understanding of why things are happening. It gives an in-depth understanding of the hypothesis, it is not done just solely to prove the hypothesis but to explore it.

Tools used-

  • It is conducted with the help of interviews or observations which are later interpreted into words.
  • Literature reviews are studied to give a deeper insight.
  • Researchers also attend focus groups which help to conduct an open discussion pertinent to a topic and even try to participate to understand the process better.
  • There are open-ended questions which are asked during the qualitative research to understand the beliefs, thinking or mindset or perspective of individuals or society regarding a social issue or even a simple fact. The interviews can also be conducted with the help of voice calls or video calls.
  • Group discussions are conducted and the researcher also participates in community programmes to understand various social aspects.
  • Other tools like experiments and observations are used to study the subject in real-time and not in a fabricated or artificial nature
  • The research is mostly conducted by a researcher in a known environment so that the participant doesn’t feel awkward. Discomfort or awkwardness in participants’ answers might impact the findings and in turn the research.
  •  The researcher even tries to manipulate the participants sometimes to understand the cause-and-effect relationship. Once the research is done, the findings are presented with the help of various themes and are mostly in long-form rather than objective format. Research on the stigma revolving around “ex-inmates” and why they find it difficult to get a job after serving their sentence can be understood in depth with the help of quantitative social research.

Example of how Qualitative Research takes place:

If a researcher wants to discover and understand more about the“hesitancy among the parents towards adoption”, then he/she can follow the qualitative assessment route to learn more. There is no compulsion on the researcher to prove the hypothesis right or wrong. But the aim here is to understand the complexities and find answers to the “whys?”. The researcher can interact with a group of people who have adopted a child or those who haven’t but are thinking to. The interaction can involve various stakeholders so that the researcher can observe more. Open-ended questions will be asked, which will give the participants a chance to express themselves. Once the researcher gets a grasp of the topic and explores various segments, he/she presents the findings in a worldly and organised manner. These findings can even help the researcher to find another hypothesis or design a theory. Qualitative research develops an initial understanding of the topic and explains the topic in a broader sense that might help to postulate a hypothesis in the coming future.

Many researchers try to combine these two types of research methods to get a better understanding of their topic or hypothesis. Data interpretation and in-depth analysis of the topic help to figure out the topic in an efficient manner and sometimes lead to noteworthy discoveries.




Share on:

Isha Rane is a sociology graduate with a keen interest in research and analysis, focusing on areas such as Corporate Social Responsibility, Human Resources, and Public Policy. She is an avid reader, particularly enjoying books about the history and political scenario of India. Isha also likes to write about pressing issues and topics that require a voice in the conversation. Her career aspirations lie in the development sector. Additionally, she has a passionate interest in mythology and calligraphy.