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Qualitative and quantitative research methods. A comparison using the example of the survey

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In this paper, qualitative and quantitative social research will be contrasted. First, the term qualitative social research will be clarified. Then its characteristics are explained in more detail. As a representative of qualitative social research, qualitative interviewing is then presented. This is followed by the clarification of the term and the characteristics of quantitative social research. Here, the written survey is briefly presented as an example. In the last chapter both methods are contrasted and compared on the basis of different criteria.
This thesis is mainly intended to serve as an overview of qualitative and quantitative social research.


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2.The qualitative method

3.The quantitative method

4. Comparison of qualitative and quantitative methods


1. Introduction

In this paper, qualitative and quantitative social research will be compared. First, the concept of qualitative social research is clarified. Their characteristics are then explained in more detail. As a representative of qualitative social research, the qualitative survey is then presented. The following is the disambiguation and the characteristics of quantitative social research. Here, the written survey is briefly presented as an example. In the last chapter, both methods are compared on the basis of different criteria.

This paper is primarily intended to serve as an overview of qualitative and quantitative social research.

2.The qualitative method

In the following points, the concept of qualitative social research is clarified. Furthermore, features and basics are explained. Finally, the method of qualitative survey is briefly presented.

2.1 Disambiguation of qualitative social research

Qualitative social research is characterized by a theory-discovering research logic. The aim is to discover or generate new theoretical statements based on empirical data. (cf. Brüsemeister, p. 21)

In qualitative social research, man is regarded not only as an object of investigation, but also as a discerning subject. Thus, qualitative social research cannot establish objectivity in the scientific sense, which should not be the goal of a qualitative researcher either. The study of social action presupposes the knowledge and meaning of the language symbols used, which in turn depend on the situational context. (cf. Lamnek, p. 30)

In qualitative research, the observed reality is not depicted with the help of numbers, but by texts (e.g. observation protocols, interview texts, letters) or by other objects (e.g. photographs, drawings). In order to collect this data, it is not necessary to standardize the examination process. As a result, you get different statements, which may still be justified. The qualitative material is thus much more detailed than a simple measured value. (cf. Bortz, p. 297)

"Qualitative data are those that describe social objects of research in a scientific way in such a way that they capture the relationships inherent in the object, especially their meaning, structure and change." (Heinze, p. 12)

2.2 Characteristics of qualitative social research

Qualitative research requires more time. In most cases, fewer people can be interviewed as a result. Individual statements of the respondents are difficult to compare. In order to make this possible, qualitative research makes use of interpretative methods. With their help, the texts are structured and the most important basic ideas are worked out. This makes the thoughts and experiences of the respondents transparent. Comes the

Interpretation by several researchers to the same result, so this speaks for the validity of the interpretation. The results can now lead to the formulation of a hypothesis[1] stimulate. (cf. Bortz, p. 297)

The research goal of qualitative research is the reconstruction of processes that meaningfully produce social reality. This results in special demands for research.

Social reality is not understood as objectively predetermined in qualitative research. The meaning of social reality is constructed through interpretations and assignments of meaning. The natural world is recorded and described with the help of naturalistic methods. The methodological rules are closely related to the primary rules of the everyday communication process. The methods of social research imply communication. Qualitative research should reflect critically on itself and distinguish itself from standardized methods. (cf. Lamnek, p. 30f)

Central principles of qualitative research according to LAMNEK (cf. Lamnek, p. 19ff)

LAMNEK describes six central principles of qualitative research: Openness, research as communication, process character of research and object, reflexivity of object and analysis, explication and flexibility.

In standardized social research, only information can be included and processed that has been formulated in advance and anchored in hypotheses. This can lead to the loss of important information. For example, in a questionnaire with pre-formulated answers, the participant is forced to choose one of these answers. A willingness to provide information that goes beyond this is simply slowed down. the frankness qualitative social research, on the other hand, means that the researcher is open to what may be new. This may allow new hypotheses to be formulated. Qualitative social research is therefore described as a hypothesis-generating approach.

Qualitative research is research by communication. Above all, communication between researchers and researchers. This interaction relationship is not seen as a disruptive factor, but rather as a constructive part of the research process. However, the researcher should adhere to the universal rules of communication.

"Qualitative Social Research considers the behaviors and statements of those examined as processual excerpts of the reproduction and construction of social reality." (Lamnek, p. 22) The research act and the subject of the research are a process because social reality is not static either.

The subject of the research and the act of research are: reflexive. The introduction or the beginning of a qualitative analysis is arbitrary. A reflective attitude of the researcher is also required. He should be able to adapt his research structure to changes.

Qualitative studies very flexible. The researcher investigates exploratively, i.e. endemic. It must be able to adapt its instruments, definitions and approach to changing conditions and constellations or change its entire line of research. The investigation can also move in a direction that was not thought of before. Nevertheless, the investigation is not without a goal, but rather with a broad perspective.

The social researcher is expected to be able and willing to disclose his individual steps of the investigation process. The data collected should be comprehensible and interpretable for everyone. (cf. Lamnek, p. 22f)

The methods of qualitative social research include qualitative observation, qualitative survey and non-reactive methods (here researchers and study participants do not come into contact).

2.3 The qualitative survey

One method of qualitative social research is qualitative survey. This goes beyond the limits of the non-standard interview.

An interview is "[...] a conversation situation that is deliberately and purposefully established by the participants, so that one asks questions that are answered by the other." (Lamnek, p. 301) An interview under methodological criteria of qualitative social research means that the researcher proceeds according to plan with scientific objectives. He asks the subjects a series of specific questions, which are intended to induce verbal information.

Open surveys are actually not interviews in the narrower sense, since the question answer pattern is missing. They are often referred to as research and field discussions. (cf. Bortz, p. 308) First, the non-standard interview is described, as this represents the basic framework of the qualitative survey.

In surveys, communication is usually asymmetrical. The interlocutor to be interviewed will be in the role of the respondent and the interviewer will take on the role of the questioner. However, this division of roles is not rigid. The interviewer shows empathy. He responds to what has been said and then develops his further questions. The respondent then formulates his own thoughts in his own words. But the interviewer can also be asked questions, which he then answers. As a result, the conversation situation is open and free. The existing asymmetry is thereby mitigated. A non-standard interview usually takes much longer than standardized interviews. On average, it takes 22 minutes, but can also drag on for several hours. It does not seem long-winded, boring or even annoying. However, this creates a disadvantage, as the long interview duration increases the costs. A non-standard interview does not begin with a specific question that requires a short answer. It begins with an invitation to comment on the subject under discussion in as much detail as possible. The interview interview largely has the character of a natural conversation. With the help of an interview, you not only get more information, but also more details. The respondent tells everything that is important to him. Only open questions are asked. Overall, the non-standard interview is very flexible and is not subject to predetermination by the researcher. In particular, it pursues the exploration of facts and the determination of reference systems of the respondents.

Since interviews are generally conducted orally, a distinction is made between telephone interviews and personal interviews. Telephone interviews are inexpensive, have good accessibility, are repeatable and there is an opportunity to demand. However, they are not used in qualitative surveys, as the personal aspect is particularly important here. It lacks the visual element and yet it is relatively impersonal and anonymous. (cf. Lamnek, p.301ff.)

A qualitative survey is also characterized by special methodological characteristics. These characteristics are strongly based on the characteristics of qualitative social research:

"The explication and process character of the qualitative interview are manifested in the principle of the reflexivity of object and analysis.

Qualitative interviews try to realize the character of everyday conversation.

Principle of restraint by the researcher: Qualitative interviews allow the respondent to have his say. It is not only a data supplier, but as a subject it determines the conversation qualitatively and quantitatively.

Principle of the relevance systems of those affected. There is no predetermination by the researcher, but a definition of reality by the respondent.

Principle of communicativity. The communicative system of rules of the respondent applies; the interviewer has to adapt to it.

Principle of openness: The interview is available for unexpected information.

Principle of flexibility. In the interview situation, the researcher reacts variably to the needs of the respondent.

Principle of processuality. The qualitative interview preferentially determines the interpretation and action patterns of the respondents, which develop in the course of the interview.

Principle of data-based theory. The qualitative interview serves more for genesis than for testing theories.

Principle of explication. The statements in the interview become a theory (type formation) by being interpreted in the interview process." (Lamnek, p. 320f.)

In the following, the methodological-technical aspects of qualitative surveys will be briefly explained.

In order to create a situation that is as natural as possible and to obtain authentic information, qualitative interviews take place in the everyday milieu of the respondent. The questions are not formulated in advance and no specific sequence has been defined. The interviewer may be provided with guides. The basis of trust is very important when accessing the interviewees. There should be trust between the researcher and the respondent. There are not many interviews. It is just a question of presenting a few typical cases. Qualitative surveys require higher competencies from the interviewer. As a rule, the interviewer remains relatively passive and only intervenes if the respondent can no longer think of anything on the subject under discussion. As a rule, the interviewer is also the researcher. The interview is recorded using a tape or videotape. The use of a videotape enables the researcher to filter out even more information from the survey, as facial expressions, gestures and motor skills can also be recorded and evaluated here. (cf. Lamnek, p. 316ff.)

3.The quantitative method

In this chapter, the concept of quantitative social research is clarified. Here, too, the characteristics of quantitative social research will be explained in more detail. As an example of quantitative social research, the basics of the written survey are briefly presented.

3.1 Disambiguation of quantitative social research

"Quantitative research is characterized by the fact that it works theory-driven with content that can be represented in numbers and reduces the complexity in order to make generalizing - i.e. valid for many cases - statements. Within quantitative research, hypothesis-testing and population-describing studies can be distinguished." (Uhlendorff/ Prengel, p. 137)

In quantitative social research, social reality is considered to be objective. It is recorded using controlled methods and can then collect theory-led data on social reality. These data meet the criteria of reliability, validity, representativeness and intersubjective verifiability. Quantitative social research is primarily used to test the preceding theories and hypotheses. The researchers are independent scientific observers who should record social reality as objectively as possible. (cf. Atteslander, p. 83)

KROMREY characterizes quantitative social research as "[...] a strictly goal-oriented approach that strives for the "objectivity" of its results by standardizing all sub-steps as far as possible and that postulates the intersubjective verifiability of the entire process as a central standard for quality assurance." (Kromrey, p. 34)

3.2 Characteristics of quantitative social research

Quantitative social research is carried out with large numbers of cases. The survey of larger population groups results in large data sets. The aim of quantitative research is to examine the statistical relationship between certain variable characteristics. (cf. Brüsemeister, p. 21f)

In quantitative social research, mainly experimental[2] and quasi-experimental[3] Research designs. This tempts us to equate quantitative approaches with experimental designs, which is not necessarily the case. For the most part, only numerical data are collected using electronic or mechanical devices (e.g. psychological tests, questionnaires). In quantitative studies, it is asked whether or how often the participant of an item[4] Agrees. It does not ask for the "Why?" and "How?". In quantitative studies, formal hypotheses are largely statistically tested. They are based on existing findings, which were discovered at some point in the past through interpretations, explanations and generalizations. They thus consist of knowledge foundations that make it possible to formulate scientifically derived hypotheses about specific relationships between events or states. (cf. Cropley, p. 62ff)

In order to carry out a representative survey, it is necessary for the researchers to select a statistically representative selection of the population group of interest if possible. This selection should, if possible, have the same social fabric as the whole of the corresponding social group. This selection will usually include several hundred people. Since theories are to be tested in quantitative research, it is of great importance to the researcher that these theories, which they base their measurements on, cover the interpretation and action patterns of the study population. "According to the verification logic of quantitative research, data sets are assigned explanations that are known from the outset." (Brüsemeister, p. 30) With the help of empiricism, a decision is made between different hypotheses as to which theory can be confirmed or refuted. (cf. Brüsemeister, p. 23ff)

The scientific criteria such as reliability, validity, representativeness and intersubjective verifiability also apply to the quantitative methods of social research. The reliability indicates the measurement accuracy, i.e. the precision of a measuring instrument. (cf. Bortz, p. 196) Internal validity means that the results of the investigation are unambiguous. (cf. Bortz, p. 33) Representativeness (external validity) means that the results can be generalized and thus also applicable to other researchers. (cf. Bortz, p. 53) The criterion of intersubjective verifiability (objectivity) ensures that each researcher can repeat the study using the same methods and arrive at comparable results. (cf. Bortz, p. 326)

Methods of quantitative social research are counting, judging, testing, questioning, observing and physiological measurement. In the following, the quantitative survey, more precisely, the written survey, will be explained in more detail.

3.3 Quantitative survey

In the written survey, the survey participants answer the questions submitted to them in writing independently. This survey method is particularly cost-effective, but requires a high degree of structuring of the survey content. The most common method of the written survey is that the questionnaire is sent to the previously selected study participants by post beforehand. The questionnaires can have three different tasks: On the one hand, they can capture clearly defined personality traits or attitudes. On the other hand, they can record specific behaviors of the participants or ask the participants to provide information about the behavior of other persons or about general conditions and facts. Another possibility is that the interviewees describe or evaluate concrete facts. It is particularly important in the design of the questionnaire that its language is always geared to the habits of the target group to be examined. In written surveys, the use of closed[5] Response formats the open[6] Response formats preferable. Only with very long questionnaires can open questions loosen up the content. In addition, closed questions facilitate the evaluation and lead to a higher objectivity. There is also no need for time-consuming and costly categorization and coding work. If the questionnaires are presented electronically, there is also no need for the time-consuming input of the answers into the computer. Distortions caused by computer-aided questionnaires are not to be expected. (cf. Bortz, p. 252f)

The questionnaire items can be formulated as a question or as an assertion. If one wants to examine positions, opinions and attitudes, the use of assertions is always preferable. For the exploration of concrete facts, the question form is more suitable. With the question form, the preliminary work is more complex, since reasonable alternative answers have to be formulated. Only in the case of figures is the use of this type of questionnaire item unproblematic. (cf. Bortz, p. 254)

A clear and guiding instruction is very important in written surveys. It must also be adapted to the group of people to be examined. Social statistical data are usually collected at the beginning of the questionnaire. The literature reports fluctuating response rates between 10% and 90%. The topic of the study is decisive for the response rate. Interesting and up-to-date questionnaires are answered faster and more completely than boring and uninteresting questionnaires for the respondent. The formal and linguistic design is also important for the response rate. An announcement letter can also increase the response rate. If it can still be seen that only a few questionnaires are answered, a second wave of surveys can be triggered by sending a reminder letter. (cf. Bortz, 2006, p. 256ff)

4. Comparison of qualitative and quantitative methods

In the following chapter, qualitative and quantitative social research are compared on the basis of criteria. Table 1 clearly shows the differences between the two methods:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 1: Comparison of qualitative and quantitative methods (source: own presentation)

The qualitative and quantitative methods of social research will be compared on the basis of the following criteria: Goal, form of thought, participant, process, procedure, information content, role of the participant, proximity of the participant to the researcher, result, type of method, extent of control over the participant, cost.

that goal qualitative research is the description and explanation of a "new" situation or a "new" phenomenon. It is used to develop theories, hypotheses or the research process, which means that it can also be understood as an inductive process. Quantitative social research, on the other hand, is used to test existing theories and hypotheses and is also referred to as a deductive method.

In qualitative social research, each respondent is described and evaluated as an individual case. In quantitative research, on the other hand, a sample is drawn from a population.

In order to achieve the goal of qualitative social research, it is necessary to observe and describe cases. In quantitative social research, the inferred statistics are applied. thereto procedure the researchers different. In the qualitative methods, the participants themselves describe their experiences, which the researcher then interprets and derives his theories. In the quantitative methods, the statistical relationship between the observation and the existing theory or hypothesis is tested.

In qualitative social research, the researcher receives many and detailed information by the participants in the study. He asks only a few people about this. In quantitative social research, only superficial information is obtained from many study participants.

the Role of participants is almost opposite in both methods. While in qualitative research the participants in the study are regarded as subjects, i.e. as partners of the research leaders, in quantitative research they are only objects where one participant is only one of many. This can also be used to closeness of the participant to the researcher. In the qualitative methods, the researcher can identify with the study participant. In the case of quantitative methods, this is identification not possible and therefore there is a distance between the head of the examination and the study participant.

that result qualitative social research is the description of the general characteristics of the investigation situation, which must then be interpreted by the researcher.

In the qualitative methods, he receives a confirmation or a rejection of his hypotheses.

In the research process, the qualitative methods are very flexible. They can change depending on the development and course of the examination. Quantitative methods, on the other hand, are hardly flexible due to their high degree of standardization.

In qualitative social research, the head of the study has hardly control about the study participant, since the observation or survey is carried out in the natural environment of the participant. The researcher can control the study participant well in the quantitative methods, since the examination conditions are artificially produced and tailored to the research process.

It can be assumed that the costs in qualitative social research are rather high. Only a few subjects are interviewed, but these surveys are more time-consuming. The researcher and the participant have to meet in person and the evaluation is also more complex. A survey in quantitative social research takes an average of only 22 minutes and researchers and participants do not have to meet in person. As a result, the costs are rather low.


Atteslander, Peter (2003[10]): Methoden der empirischen Sozialforschung. Berlin: de Gruyter Verlag.

Bortz, Jürgen/ Döring, Nicola (2006[4]): Forschungsmethoden und Evaluation. Heidelberg: Springer Medizin Verlag.

Brüsemeister, Thomas (2000): Qualitative Forschung - Ein Überblick. Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag GmbH.

Cropley, Arthur J. (2008[3]): Qualitative Forschungsmethoden - Eine praxisnahe Einführung. Frankfurt am Main/ Magdeburg: Verlag Klotz GmbH.

Heinze, Thomas (2001): Qualitative Sozialforschung: Einführung, Methodologie und Forschungspraxis. München/ Wien/ Oldenburg: Oldenburg Wissenschaftsverlag GmbH.

Kromrey, Helmut (2006[11]): Empirische Sozialforschung. Stuttgart: Lucius & Lucius Verlagsgesellschaft.

Lamnek, Siegfried (20 1 0[5]): Qualitative Sozialforschung. Weinheim/Basel: Beltz Verlag.

Uhlendorff, Harald/ Prengel, Annedore: Forschungsperspektiven quantitativer Methoden im Verhältnis zu qualitative Methoden. In: Friebertshäuser, Barbara/ Langer, Antje /Prengel, Annedore (Hrsg.) (2010[3]): Handbuch Qualitative Forschungsmethoden in der Erziehungswissenschaft. Weinheim/ München: Juventa Verlag.


1 "Scientific hypotheses are assumptions about real facts [...] in the form of conditional sentences. They point beyond the individual case [.] and can be refuted by experience data [...]." (Bortz, p. 4)

2 Experimental investigations are investigations with a randomized assignment of the study participants. (cf. Bortz, p. 547)

3 Quasi-experimental investigations are investigations in which the study participants are questioned at different times. (cf. Bortz, p. 550ff)

4 A test item is an exact, definitional determination of the characteristic of interest in the study. (cf. Bortz, p. 213)

5 In closed response formats, the study participant is given various response alternatives. He must choose one or more of these alternatives. (cf. Bortz, p. 215)

6 Open response formats completely leave it up to the study participant how to solve the task posed to him. This solution can be activated verbally. (cf. Bortz, p. 213)


Institution / Hochschule
Universität Erfurt
2022 (Mai)

Titel: Qualitative and quantitative research methods. A comparison using the example of the survey