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Qualitative and Quantitative Research Studies

Definitions and examples of, and strategies for finding, articles with these methods.

Librarian Tip

Differentiating between types of sources, especially research types is challenging and an important skill to develop. This guide will help you practice differentiating between qualitative and quantitative research articles. Use it for definitions, search strategies, and evaluation techniques

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research

  Qualitative Quantitative

To understand and interpret social interactions.

Research that seeks to provide understanding of human experience, perceptions, motivations, intentions, and behaviours based on description and observation and utilizing a naturalistic interpretative approach to a subject and its contextual setting.

To test hypotheses, look at cause & effect, and make predictions.

Research based on traditional scientific methods, which generates numerical data and usually seeks to establish causal relationships between two or more variables, using statistical methods to test the strength and significance of the relationships.

Involves: Observations described in words of behavior in natural environment. Observations measured in numbers of behavior under controlled conditions; isolate causal effects.
Starts with: A situation the researcher can observe. A testable hypothesis.
Scientific Method: Exploratory or bottom up: the researcher can generate a new hypothesis and theory from the data collected. Confirmatory or top-down: the researcher tests the hypothesis and theory with the data.
Nature of Reality: Multiple realities; subjective. Human behavior is dynamic, situational, social and personal. Single reality; objective. Human behavior is regular and predictable.
Goals of study design: Participants are comfortable with the researcher. They are honest and forthcoming, so that the researcher can make robust observations.

Others can repeat the findings of the study.

Variables are defined and correlations between them are studied.

Drawbacks: If the researcher is biased, or is expecting to find certain results, it can be difficult to make completely objective observations. Researchers may be so careful about measurement methods that they do not make connections to a greater context.
Variables: Study of the whole, not variables. Specific variables studied.
Group Studied: Smaller and not as randomly selected. Larger and more randomly selected.
Some methods:

Open-ended interviews

Focus groups


Participant observation

Field notes

Close-ended interviews

Surveys and other instruments

Clinical Trials

Laboratory Experiments

Final Report Narrative report with contextual description and direct quotes from research participants. Statistical report with correlations, comparisons of means, statistical significance of findings.


Mixed Methods Research

Mixed-methods is more than simply the ad hoc combination of qualitative and quantiative data in a single study. It involves the planned mixing of qualitative and quantitative methods at a predetermined stage of the research process, be it during the initial study planning, the process of data collection, data analysis or reporting, in order to better answer the research question. 

Dictionary of Nursing Theory and Research

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