Quantitative vs Qualitative Research in Sociology

Feb 8 / Sudipta Nandi
Most students have to weigh up the pros and cons of quantitative vs. qualitative research in sociology at some point when they get to university. This is because students need to critically understand the course-based research papers to decide on the befitting methodology for future assignments.
Quantitative and qualitative research are two distinct methodologies used in various disciplines to study different types of phenomena. Both methods have unique strengths and weaknesses, and choosing between them often depends on the research question being asked and the nature of the phenomenon being studied.

The Characteristics of Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Quantitative research tests hypotheses with computable datasets and statistical analyses.  The goal is to establish cause-and-effect relationships and generalise findings for a larger population. Statistical methods like regression analysis, chi-square tests, and t-tests are used.
Conversely, qualitative research involves non-computable datasets, namely open-ended responses, observations, and interviews. The aim is to gain in-depth knowledge about phenomena by exploring human attitudes, beliefs, and experiences, and to understand how people make sense of their surroundings. Qualitative data analysis usually applies coding and categorisation to identify patterns and themes.

The Key Differences

Type of Data Collected

An important difference between sociological quantitative and qualitative research is the collected data types. Quantitative research collects easily quantifiable/numerical data, whereas qualitative research gathers less easily quantifiable datasets such as open-ended responses, observations, and interviews. The qualitative research-gathered data is contextually enriched and detailed allowing the researcher to deeply comprehend the studied phenomena.

Level of Control

Another divergence is the study's exercised level of control. Quantitative research is highly controlled and strictly procedural for bias minimisation, ensuring target population-representing results. Standardised instruments such as surveys, questionnaires, and tests gather data and statistical software analyses the results.

In contrast, qualitative research is usually less structured or more open-ended, allowing the researcher to explore emerging new ideas following the data.

Sample Size

The sample size is another key difference between the research methodologies. Quantitative research often involves larger sample sizes for population-based statistical generalisation. Probability sampling methods, namely simple random sampling, stratified random sampling, or cluster sampling are usually used to select samples.
In contrast, qualitative research involves smaller sample sizes to understand particular group experiences. Non-probability sampling methods such as purposive sampling, snowball sampling, or convenience sampling are employed.


Quantitative research seems more objective and reliable than qualitative research. This is because the quantifiable collected data can be analysed with rigorous statistical methods. The result presentations are usually in tabular, graphical, and various statistical formats so that the findings become easily comparable to other studies. However, some arguments for this approach indicate oversimplification of complex phenomena and poor event-based contextual understanding.
In contrast, qualitative research is more subjective but viewed by some as less reliable due to its dependence on the researcher's interpretation of the data. The data analysis and concluding presentation formats include coding and categorisation, themes, patterns, and narratives respectively. Nevertheless, proponents argue that this approach offers a refined understanding of complex phenomena with an enriched, comprehensive picture of individualistic experiences.

Making Your Choice

If you are choosing between quantitative and qualitative research in sociology, then much of this choice is about how you think we can best gain knowledge about and understanding of the world we live in.
If you believe in a worldly objective truth then you are more likely to choose quantitative methods. If, however, you are attracted to the idea of a more complex subjectivity and individualistic experiences then you will choose qualitative methods. Often though, research is mixed methods, which means a researcher combines the two.

To learn more about these two differing views of the world, you need to understand 
positivist and anti-positivist approaches to social science research.

Sudipta Nandi

Sudipta has been working as a scientific content writer for more than 7 years. She loves languages and has earned diploma certificates in Spanish and Russian. She is hard working and believes in honest communication.
Created with