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Quantitative Versus Qualitative Data

You feel ready to collect data. You’ve figured out what question/s you need to answer are ready to select a method (i.e., survey, interview) to collect your data. Before taking this important step, let’s talk a bit more about qualitative and quantitative data. The previous post What is Quantitative and Qualitative Data? focused on the differences and similarities between each type of data. This blog post describes the pros and cons of working with quantitative and qualitative data.

Pros and Cons
In nonprofit research and evaluation, there are pros and cons to each type of data. Specifically, qualitative approaches tend to provide rich data on topics that are not well-understood, need to be culturally sensitive, and may come from vulnerable populations. For example, if your organization serves undocumented workers, a qualitative approach would likely be the best method. This approach helps give the people you serve a voice. However, analyzing qualitative data can be a bit tricky for some!

Quantitative methods are great for topics that are better established in the literature (e.g., youth resilience, job satisfaction). In fact, with quantitative data, there are typically a number of validated and reliable measures and tools that you can use. Quantitative methods also tend to be easier to implement and interpret. For instance, it is easier to measure how many people your organization serves versus describing the overall experiences of your clients. Below are some general pros and cons of both types of data.


Including Both Quantitative and Qualitative Data
You collect richer data when you include both quantitative and qualitative data. One common way in which to incorporate both types of data is to have a survey that mostly asks quantitative questions, but at the conclusion includes a few open-ended questions where you allow the participant to freely make comments. Similarly, integrating some kind of rating system within a qualitative interview or focus-group could help by bringing some quantitative data into the research. When you understand the differences between qualitative and quantitative data, you can better determine what method of data collection makes sense to answer whatever questions you need to answer.

Additional Information
For additional information on qualitative and quantitative data, check out these resources:

Feel free to contact me with any research and evaluation needs at annette@researchevaluationconsulting.com

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