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What is quantitative research?

Last updated

20 February 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Hugh Good

Quantitative research is a method of collecting numerical data that can be consistently compared and analyzed. It can be used to collect and analyze data to answer a broad range of research questions.

Quantitative methods and data are used by some business owners, for example, to evaluate their business, diagnose issues, and identify opportunities.

Quantitative research is used throughout the natural and social sciences, including economics, sociology, chemistry, biology, psychology, and marketing. 

Researchers use quantitative research to get objective, robust, and representative answers from individuals. Researchers gather quantitative data from sample groups of people and generalize it to a larger population. This is to, in some instances, explain a given phenomenon and answer questions about the population, such as product preferences, political persuasion, or demography.

For example, a hotel owner in the US can conduct quantitative research, perhaps via a questionnaire, on a small sample of their customers to understand their opinions about their products and services. The analyzed quantitative data from this questionnaire can be generalized to the larger population of their customers. The hotel can use these opinions to maintain or improve its service provision.

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Quantitative research methods

Researchers employ various quantitative research methods to determine certain phenomena.

Observation

This method involves gathering information by simply observing behaviors or counting subjects relevant to a study. For example, a researcher could sit in a classroom and observe students when a teacher is teaching, recording those who are and are not paying attention.

Survey

Survey is one of the most popular and well-known quantitative methods. It involves asking individuals questions either physically or, most typically nowadays, online. These questions are usually in the form of a questionnaire that individuals can respond to, using a mix of single, multichoice, ranking, rating, and occasionally open-ended questions.

For example, a researcher could administer a questionnaire to first-year international college students about their college experiences using various question formats.

Experimental

This scientific approach is conducted with two sets of data, i.e., independent and dependent variables. Usually, researchers approach experimental studies with specific hypotheses to test. They may use two groups of participants: one who would receive the “treatment” and one who would not.

For example, a researcher might wish to test a short-term mindfulness treatment for individuals with depression. In this case, the independent or manipulated variable would be the mindfulness treatment group. One group would receive the mindfulness treatment, and another would not. In this case, the “experiment” would be to see if the individuals who received the mindfulness treatment experienced fewer depressive symptoms than those who did not.

What is quantitative analysis?

Quantitative analysis is a process that involves manipulating and evaluating collected, measurable data. The goal is to understand the behavior of a given phenomenon and answer a research question (and, in a scientific setting, prove or disprove a hypothesis).

A business owner, for example, may analyze quantitative sales data and consumer quantitative data using a questionnaire. By doing this, the owner can figure out if their business is doing well or if they need to make changes to improve.

If you are a business owner, you could consider quantitative analysis to better understand your business's past, present, and potential future.

What do quantitative analysts do?

A quantitative analyst is an expert in designing, developing, and implementing algorithms to answer research questions. They use quantitative research methods to help companies make appropriate business and financial decisions.

The primary responsibility of a quantitative analyst is to apply quantitative methods to identify opportunities and evaluate risks.

Quantitative analysts are important to staff in any business because:

  • They manage portfolio risks

  • They test a new trading strategy

  • They program and implement a new trading strategy

  • They improve signals used to evaluate trade ideas

Understanding quantitative analysis

Analysts use quantitative analysis to analyze a business's past, present, and future. You can also use quantitative analysis to determine the progress of your business.

State governments also use quantitative analysis to make monetary and other economic policy decisions. It is used in the financial services industry to analyze investment opportunities. For example, a business owner can use quantitative analysis to determine when to sell or purchase securities based on macroeconomic conditions.

Quantitative analysis versus qualitative analysis

If you are pursuing a career in research or business analysis, it is essential to understand the two concepts—quantitative and qualitative analysis.

Quantitative analysis, at a very basic level, relies on using numbers and discrete values collected from the research. In contrast, qualitative analysis relies on content (e.g., language or text data) that either can’t be expressed in numbers or doesn’t have sufficient scale to be counted or coded.

A business owner wanting to better understand their business might use a representative quantitative sample of customers to generate insight by completing a questionnaire. A website owner could analyze quantitative metrics associated with their website to understand which aspects of the site are working well and which elements need to be optimized. These include the length of visit, number of links clicked, and areas of the site visited.

Various measures could be correlated by sales (or other outcomes) to determine the UX and marketing strategy linked to the site.

Businesses might use qualitative analysis to get a greater depth of understanding or look at the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’ For example, they might ask customers, who gave a low quantitative score for a provided product, why they gave that rating and how they might improve the said product.

Advantages of quantitative research

Quantitative research, done right, can help drive a business's success and generate a general understanding of key business metrics and customer behavior, wants, and needs. Quantitative research should be considered for the following reasons: 

It is efficient and fast

An experienced quantitative researcher can complete the reporting and analysis phase efficiently and quickly with a defined reporting structure and outputs while taking some time to define and structure questions (versus unstructured qualitative data).

It is objective and requires limited interpretation

Quantitative research relies on standardized statistical processes and rules to answer research questions. If performed correctly, data generated from small sample groups can be extrapolated to represent the views of larger populations.

It is focused

Owing to its structure, the goals of quantitative research are determined at the beginning of the study, forcing researchers to clearly understand and define the objectives of their studies.

Disadvantages of quantitative research

It’s only appropriate in certain cases

This method is only relevant when data can be captured and reflected in numbers. It cannot be used in situations where data is non-numerical, e.g., long-form verbal or textual responses that are not easily coded down into numerical responses.

It’s challenging to analyze the data collected

When quantitative research is collected, it can be difficult to make sense of the numbers without knowing statistical methods. Knowledge of research methods and data analytic techniques is essential for drawing conclusions about the study questions. These programs and methods take time to learn and can be time-consuming and complicated.

What are the limitations of quantitative research?

Requires vast resources

This method requires a considerable investment of time, energy, and finance. One needs to prepare and structure questions, test their understanding and relevance, and determine how to distribute them to the respondents. Some respondents may expect payment or incentives to respond to the questions (this may be in the form of entry into a prize draw.)

Requires many respondents

Quantitative research generally requires access to (relative to other methods) large samples to ensure inferences made from the research are robust and reliable. Finding this audience, especially where the incidence is low can be both time-consuming and expensive.

Research is limited in its scope

What quantitative research can explore is limited due to the need to agree on the specific questions to be asked and analyzed versus qualitative research. The latter doesn’t define specific numbers and forms of questions in advance.

FAQs

Why is it called quantitative research?

It is called quantitative research because it involves the use of ‘quantities’ of things—things that can be expressed in numbers or measured.

What does quantitative research answer?

Quantitative research answers questions measuring value or size, which can be expressed in numbers. It answers questions such as how many, how much, and how often.

For example, you can study the number of individuals who wish to study at American universities and their traits. Questions can include how many come from low, medium, or high socio-economic brackets, how many want to study law versus humanities, and what proportion feel excited versus anxious about the prospect of undertaking higher education.

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