The term 'Quantitative Research' is included in the Economics edition of the Financial Dictionary. Get your copy on Amazon in Kindle, Paperback or Audio edition. Choose your edition here...
Quantitative Research refers to methods of performing research in social sciences (and natural sciences) such as economics, sociology, and education. It stands out in contrast to its opposite form of research called qualitative methodology. Many individuals have a certain image in mind when they contemplate quantitative methods. This usually involves concepts of numbers, percentages, and statistics. People also typically assume that this form of research is exceedingly complex and difficult. This is not necessarily the case.
A detailed definition of Quantitative Research is that it is explaining phenomena by gathering numerical data which will be analyzed utilizing mathematically based methods, especially statistics. This sounds more challenging than it is. The definition becomes easier to understand when dissected one section at a time. Explaining phenomena simply means that the issues or concepts must be explored and then finally expressed.
In economics, these phenomena to be explained could be through a variety of questions. How does supply and demand determine prices and how can GDP growth reduce unemployment rates are both sample questions this Quantitative Research could attempt to explore and answer.
It is through collecting numerical data that this disciplined approach proceeds. Numerical data is critical for pursuing an approach that will work with methods which are ultimately mathematically and statistically based. Without numerical representations of data, it is impossible to do this approach. This is what separates Quantitative Research so sharply from qualitative research. Statistics can only analyze information which is in numerical form.
This also means that the approach of Quantitative Research works best with topics which involve numbers in the data and in the question. For example, the discipline might query how many females obtain their bachelors’, master’s, and doctorate degrees in American universities as compared to their male counterparts. How much money do male minorities in different parts of the United States make on average as compared to their white male colleagues would be another good question. Such are the questions that economists might analyze using quantitative methods. The reason is because the data necessary for the answer is strictly available to researchers in a number based format.
It is a valid consideration as to whether this limitation to questions which involve numbers, statistics, and numerically based data reduces the utility of the quantitative research approach. The answer to this is that it depends on the sociological discipline with which users are working. Economics lends itself ideally to this type of numerically based data, research, and questions, since it is ultimately a science of numbers. Other disciplines might not be so fortunate. Education or politics for example often involve questions which might be better served by approaching them from an alternative qualitative approach.
The ultimate goal of this quantitative research is to come up with theories and hypotheses which are based upon mathematical models that relate to the phenomena and questions the researchers originally asked. These researchers are able to effectively analyze the information utilizing the study and practice of statistics. Researchers like this methodology because they believe (or at least hope) that the numbers will lead to a result which is free of innate human bias. They can then take these results and apply them to a larger group, called a population.
With qualitative research though, researchers are able to ask broader questions and gather a wider range of data from both participants and research sources. These researchers will seek out themes to describe the information utilizing patterns which are unique to the given group of participants.