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Qualitative vs Quantitative Research Questions

Qualitative vs Quantitative Research Questions

Your research question guides your study and determines whether you are going to use a quantitative or qualitative research methodology. It reflects the direction and epistemological underpinnings of your research path. Both methodologies have merit, but you need to decide which one is more appropriate to use for your specific research problem.

By looking at your research question(s), you should be able to determine whether you are looking at causal relationships (quantitative study) or exploring a phenomenon (qualitative study). The wording and structure of quantitative and qualitative research questions differ significantly.

Start by asking yourself if your area of inquiry has a qualitative or a quantitative purpose. Then, design your question accordingly.

Here are some guidelines that can help you develop the right question for your study.

Quantitative Research Questions:

  1. Usually start with ‘ how,’ ‘what’ or ‘why’.
  2. Contain an independent and a dependent variable.
  3. Look at connections, relations or comparisons between variables.

Types of quantitative research questions with examples:

  1. Descriptive questions are usually simple questions that ask about ‘how much’ or ‘how often’ or look for a list of things/factors.

Example: How often do people aged 30 to 40 visit their parents?

These type of questions are useful for simple studies, but would not be robust enough for a dissertation.

  1. Causal questions try to determine a relationship between two variables or they compare two variables.

Example: How does stress at work relate to quality of life in people working night shifts? (a relationship question)

Example: How do lean participants compare to obese participants in their frequency and intensity of food cravings? (a comparison question)

  1. Predictive questions try to forecast an outcome. Studies that result from these questions are often controversial as it is hard to single out one variable and unquestionably link it to an outcome. You need to be confident that you can indeed ensure a controlled environment, one in which you are able to control for other variables and observe only the effect of your chosen variable.

Example: Does a stressful work environment lead to higher turnover rates?

Qualitative Research Questions:

  1. Usually start with ‘what’ or ‘how’ (avoid beginning qualitative questions with ‘why’ as this implies cause and effect).
  2. Identify the central phenomenon you plan to explore (tell in your question what you are going to describe, explore, generate, discover, understand).
  3. Avoid the use of quantitative words such as relate, influence, effect, cause.

With qualitative research, you will usually have one central question and possibly also some sub-questions to narrow the phenomenon under study further. The sub-questions will generally be more specific.

Examples of qualitative research questions:

  1. What is it like growing up in a single-parent family in a rural environment?
  2. What are the experiences of people working night shifts in health care?
  3. How would overweight people describe their meal times while dieting?

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