Statistics are all around us. They drive the decisions which are made across our everyday lives, whether that be by ourselves or by people in work, in the shops, and on the television. For example, an organisation may use sales statistics to make a business decision, or you may look to buy your plane tickets for a holiday based on the prices available with different airlines.
Even socially, statistics are important - even when they may seem like they are not. They make clear whether projects are succeeding, whether decisions are effective, and illuminate many other issues in the workplace and outside.
Quantitative or Qualitative
This is exactly where quantitative research becomes important. Quantitative research - the relative of qualitative research, but not to be confused - is the process of empirically gathering statistics through various organised processes, and analysing it in a specific, appropriate process, to draw accurate conclusions and make decisions with regards to observable phenomena.
The major advantage of quantitative research methods is the objectivity of the studies. Analysing strictly numerical data can allow for far less interpretation (and misinterpretation) than would be present in qualitative research. This generally leads to more conclusive and objective answers to well-defined research questions. Also, if reputable and tested methods of sample, collection and analysis are utilised, quantitative research can generally be considered more accurate. And finally, if the sample sizes are large enough, the conclusions drawn from quantitative research can be applied to general populations as a whole.
The major drawback of quantitative research is that it does not take into account people's thoughts, perceptions, beliefs, and opinions with regards to the matter that is being investigated. Nor does it often consider the context of the data, and the "why" and "how" of the phenomenon which may or may have occurred.
How to use it
The aim of quantitative research is to gather numerical data from people, objects or phenomena, then apply those results to decision-making or to a wider group in order to draw accurate conclusions and design appropriate actions. Quantitative research is generally the chosen method within the "hard sciences", but can be utilised across any field when appropriate, and is used to develop conclusive and objective answers.
For organisations, quantitative methods can be used in order to perform market research, monitor KPIs, manage sales figures and evaluate the potential success or likelihood of success for a project.
Unlike qualitative research, which is often used in the early stages of a project to examine the aspects such as the scope of a problem and potential solutions, quantitative research is used to develop concrete answers to well-defined questions.
Here is a basic framework to designing quantitative research:
Identify the research problem
. An example: how much success is our recent project having?
- Prepare research questions . These need to be specific and will obtain the exact answers needed to find an answer to the research problem. An example: How many sales have we made in each country this year?
- Examine the existing literature . Check for duplication - if someone has already answered this question (particularly in scientific research), then you do not have to go ahead with your plan.
- Develop your research plan . Prepare an exact plan to answer your research questions. This may include sample size, sampling method, the target of the study, data collection methods, data analysis. Use this, and existing literature, to draw a conclusion.
There are a number of different ways by which one can go about gathering information, though these generally fall under two broad categories: Interviews/Questionnaires and Observation/External Records .
Interviews and questionnaires are utilised to collate data from individuals regarding opinions, experience, and knowledge. However, results can be subjective and unclear, and are often difficult to then analyse in a quantitative manner.
Fixed sets of questions allow more ease with regards to this; however, observation is the more common of the techniques, as this can allow immediately objectifiable data, capable of statistical analysis. However, the data can be difficult to interpret without context and may be lacking the depth of the other methods. External records (i.e. data collated by another source previously) can also be used for statistical analyses, and removes the process of sampling (though this should still be considered) and collection of data itself.
With any methods, the sampling of observations or candidates must be considered carefully, and whether or not this can be used to draw accurate conclusions with regards to phenomena. The data itself can be analysed in any number of ways, from simple methods, to complex statistical software, dependent on the information and depth of analysis required.
Quantitative Research is a useful tool for objectively analysing data in accordance with specific research questions.
Steps to plan:
- Identify the research problem
- Prepare research questions
- Examine existing literature
- Develop a plan for research and analysis