Nursing Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methods

Nursing research is broadly classified into two; quantitative and qualitative methods. Each bears its own features which make it applicable in various nursing studies. However, in some cases both methods are used depending on the nature of the study.

Qualitative research is characterized by several types namely ethnography, phenomenology, grounded theory, life history, and ethnomethodology whereas quantitative research is based on experiments. Qualitative research is concerned with the analysis of codes, themes and patterns in the data (Polit & Beck, 2006). Quantitative research, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with statistical analysis. Qualitative research usually involves the use of a small sample of data whereas quantitative research involves use of a large sample of data. The fact that qualitative and quantitative research approaches are different play a crucial role in ensuring that clinical nurses are aware of what technique to be used when need arises (Polit & Beck, 2006). An understanding of both techniques is vital for the acquisition of nursing knowledge and ultimate enhancement of the nursing profession. Qualitative research is based on purposive and non-probability samples. Quantitative research is based on random and probability samples.

Qualitative research is process-based while quantitative research is outcome-based (Morse & Field, 2005). More emphasis is placed on words for qualitative research whereas quantitative research employs the use of numbers/numerals. A lot of questions have been raised on whether nurses can indeed manage quantitative research which is merely a game of numbers. Practical examples of both techniques in nursing are available. A nurse who is in need of information regarding the effects of a kidney transplant will place much emphasis on qualitative data as opposed to another who will be interested with temperature variations in a person who has flu. According to Streubert and Carpenter (2000), qualitative research is very specific in addressing various concerns while quantitative research applies a generalized approach. This is due to the size of the sample used. Small samples yield detailed and more specific descriptions of the area of concern under study.

Quantitative nursing researchers are always objective compared to their qualitative counterparts. A good example to illustrate this is an observation of people undergoing a HIV test. It is quite easy to count the number of people present rather than collect varying reasons as to why people turned out to get tested. Qualitative research is usually subjective hence the results so obtained may really not show the position at a particular time. Quantitative research on the other hand is objective and its application can be recommended in many circumstances (Streubert & Carpenter, 2000).

Qualitative research is associated with the generation of theory hence known to be inductive. Quantitative research, on the contrary, is associated with the testing of theory. A hypothesis testing on the fact that too much sugar intake may cause diabetes is quite obvious. Otherwise, a qualitative study of the same phenomenon may yield a theory; too much sugar intake may cause diabetes since the body systems are overworked. This makes it deductive. Quantitative research is associated with pre-specified research questions. The research questions are also out-come oriented. Qualitative research, on the other hand, is characterized by open-ended and process-oriented research questions (Miles & Huberman, 2004).The growth of the nursing profession has made it possible for the nurses to learn the various qualitative and quantitative techniques in order to broaden their understanding of the profession and also set research precedence for the upcoming generations (Morse & Field, 2005). Whether a research is qualitative or quantitative should not be used as deterrence in the acquisition of knowledge.

In conclusion, the fact that differences exist between qualitative and quantitative techniques should not be mistaken for superiority battles. In fact, both methods are systematic, a fact that makes both of them conventional research methods. The nature of the research being conducted may dictate the most convenient method to be used.


Miles MB, Huberman, A. M. (2004). Qualitative data analysis (4th ed). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications

Morse, J. M. & Field, P. A. (2005). Qualitative research methods for health professionals (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications

Polit, D. F, Beck, C.T. (2006). Essential in Nursing Research: Methods, appraisal, and utilization (6th ed). Philadelphia: JB Lippincott Company.

Streubert, H. J, Carpenter, D. R. (2000). Qualitative research in nursing: advancing the humanistic imperative. Philadelphia: Lippincott

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