Qualitative and quantitative research: What it is and its Characteristics

What is qualitative and quantitative research?

Qualitative and quantitative research refers to two research models of the social, humanistic and administrative sciences.

They imply important differences in terms of the object of study, the approach, the approach, the method and, finally, the relationship between the researcher and the object of study.

These research paradigms are not excluded, but complement each other. In the following sections, let us know in greater depth what are the characteristics of each of these types of research.

Characteristics of quantitative research

The purpose of quantitative research is to determine universal laws that explain the object of study, which is why it is based on direct observation, verification and experimentation or experience that aims to generate numerical, quantifiable and verifiable data. Let’s know its essential characteristics.

Relationship research subject/object of study

The quantitative approach implies a clear and definite separation between the subject and the object of investigation. The researcher is proposed as an agent external to the reality observed and declares not to interfere in it as a participant.

Even if they are social agents, the researcher approaches them as objects, from whose observation he extracts data, analysis and results.

Approach to the object of study

Likewise, the quantitative approach analyzes its object of study from a previous theoretical body, validated by the scientific community.

On the basis of this, it constructs a hypothesis and, subsequently, attempts to demonstrate it from the collection of quantitative data, collected through instruments and/or experiments of different tenors.

Relationship between objectivity and subjectivity

The quantitative method aims to achieve objectivity in the conclusions of the study thanks to the use of numerical or empirical data.

This validates the authority of the knowledge obtained, to the extent that it favors the establishment of general laws. In this sense, the principle of neutrality dominates the quantitative approach.

Methodological process

Regarding the methodological process, quantitative research proposes the following:

  • Research objectives: The quantitative method prefers the objectives of explaining or describing.
  • Problem formulation: Quantitative approaches choose to establish causal or functional relationships.
  • Variables and analysis categories: In quantitative research, we usually talk about variables, which can be measured numerically.
  • Hypothesis: The hypothesis will be empirical in quantitative research. In this way, this type of research can be described as hypothetical-deductive.


Regarding measurement techniques, the quantitative approach goes to:

  • Questionnaires;
  • surveys;
  • statistics;
  • checklists;
  • experiments;
  • quantitative observation


Regarding data and measurement, in quantitative research, numerical data is essential, since they fulfill the role of corroborating the hypotheses and allowing the monitoring of the effects. Numerical data is the main, but not unique, measuring element.

Indeed, quantitative research admits the report on actions and attitudes that can be documented in questionnaires or files. The important thing is that the data provide objective and verifiable information.

Qualitative research characteristics

Qualitative research studies social practices, which it understands as complex and symbolic realities that cannot be reduced to numerical values. It also assumes that certain realities can only be understood from the participant observation (action research).

Relationship research subject / object of study

In the qualitative approach there is no barrier between the subject and the object of investigation. The researcher understands that there is no true separation between reality and the subjects who experience it, and is also aware that he himself participates and affects the phenomenon studied.

Thus, this study model pays attention to the way in which social agents interact with reality, that is, it pays attention to social or symbolic practices.

Approach to the object of study

Qualitative research studies the construction of social reality from the imaginary of the subjects, which implies that it sees the subjects under study as a participating part of the research. The theoretical body results, more often than not, from the study of reality.

Relationship between objectivity and subjectivity

Likewise, qualitative research takes into account the subjective universe, shaped by the values, beliefs, preferences, opinions, feelings, codes and patterns inherent in the social order. All these elements provide data for the knowledge of the analyzed reality.

Within this approach, the neutrality of quantitative studies is openly questioned. On the other hand, the participant dimension of the subject that seeks to know is admitted. In this case, what makes the researcher’s method scientific is the transparency of his process.

Methodological process

Regarding the methodological process, the quantitative research model proposes the following:

  • Research objectives: The qualitative method prefers to analyze and understand.
  • Problem formulation: Qualitative approaches seek the study of meaningful relationships.
  • Variables and analysis categories: In qualitative research, we talk about categories of analysis that allow us to describe and reflect on the phenomena studied.
  • Hypothesis: The hypotheses in qualitative research are referred to as meaning. The predominant method in this approach is the deductive.


Some of the techniques used in qualitative research are:

  • Interviews;
  • open questionnaires;
  • life stories;
  • participant observation;
  • focus groups;
  • field notes


In qualitative research, the data comes from the word, both spoken and written and from socio-cultural practices. Therefore, they cannot be measured, they are unquantifiable.

All types of information are valued as data in terms of values, feelings, expectations, interests, social practices, etc. To interpret this data there are tools such as the Likert scale.

Comparative chart between qualitative and quantitative research

We present below a comparative chart on the characteristics of qualitative and quantitative research, which summarizes the essential aspects.

Subject-object relationship Distant Involved
Topics Derivatives of specialized literature Derived from the identification of a social problem
Goals Test a hypothesis Understand a complex process
Spotlights Specific and exclusive Broad and inclusive
Theories Previous theories determine the research design The theory is constructed from research
Scientific Checking and verification Credibility and completeness
Type of data Numerical or accurate data Relative data (testimonies, feelings, emotions, opinions, social practices, etc.)
Data manipulation Statistics Identification of patterns with significance
Data analysis method Deductive Inductive
Impact on the object studied Irrelevant or undesirable Relevant
Types of research Experimental, quasi-experimental, ex-post-facto, historical, correlational, case studies Ethnographic research, participatory research, action research