Combining qualitative and quantitative methods

In practice, most researchers agree that combining quantitative and qualitative techniques (sometimes called “mixed method” research) produces a richer and more comprehensive understanding of a research area.

For example, an investigation into the relationship between the spread of cholera and household water use would require that you use quantitative approaches to identify both cholera cases and to measure water quantity in a cohort of an appropriate size. However, when designing an intervention, it will be critical to understand what influences water availability in the community and the choices people make in times of water stress. This kind of in-depth understanding is well suited to qualitative approaches. Together, this combined approach provides a more comprehensive understanding of the risk relationship between water availability and the spread of cholera in the community under study.

The table below summarizes the two types of approaches:

Qualitative Quantitative
The aim is a complete, detailed description The aim is to classify features, count them, and construct statistical models in an attempt to explain what is observed
Researcher may only know roughly in advance what he/she is looking for Researcher knows clearly in advance what he/she is looking for
Recommended during earlier phases of research projects Recommended during latter phases of research projects
The design emerges as the study unfolds All aspects of the study are carefully designed before data is collected
Researcher is the data gathering instrument Researcher uses tools, such as questionnaires or equipment to collect numerical data
Data is in the form of words, pictures or objects Data is in the form of numbers and statistics
Subjective – An individual’s interpretation of events is important (e.g., uses participant observation, in-depth interviews, etc.) Objective – Seeks precise measurement & analysis of target concepts
Qualitative data is more ‘rich’, time consuming, and less able to be generalized Quantitative data is more efficient, able to test hypotheses, but may miss contextual detail
Researcher tends to become subjectively immersed in the subject matter Researcher tends to remain objectively separated from the subject matter

Learn how to collect data in the following.

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