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The distinction between qualitative and quantitative research methods is problematic

Journal article
Authors Carl Martin Allwood
Published in Quality & Quantity
Volume 46
Issue 5
Pages 1417-1429
ISSN 0033-5177
Publication year 2012
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages 1417-1429
Language en
Keywords The qualitative–quantitative distinction – Qualitative approach – Quantitative approach – Research approach
Subject categories Psychology


The distinction between qualitative and quantitative research is abstract, very general and its value is usually taken for granted. In contrast, this article attempts to show that the distinction between qualitative and quantitative research is unclear, poor and therefore of limited value and that its popularity risks leading to unfortunate consequences. Various arguments are presented for this conclusion. For example, it is argued that the heterogeneity of different stand-points on important issues among qualitative researchers (for example with respect to the use of quantification and causal analysis) makes the distinction as such unstable. Moreover, the presence of substantial overlap between many features of qualitative and quantitative research often makes it difficult to separate qualitative and quantitative research. It is also shown that three obvious ways of making the distinction between qualitative and quantitative research are unsatisfactory. Use of the distinction may restrict creativity in the development of new research methods and create confusion and unnecessary work. In general, it may be preferable not to conceptualize research approaches at such abstract levels as done in the context of qualitative or quantitative approaches. Instead, it is suggested that it is more fruitful to discuss the pros and cons of specific research methods, preferably in the context of specific research problems.

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