Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Research Methods Information: Quantitative Research

A comprehensive resource for faculty and students who are teaching and conducting research.

Quantitative Research

What is Quantitative Research?

Quantitative Research

Quantitative methods emphasize objective measurements and the statistical, mathematical, or numerical analysis of data collected through polls, questionnaires, and surveys, or by manipulating pre-existing statistical data using computational techniques. Quantitative research focuses on gathering numerical data and generalizing it across groups of people or to explain a particular phenomenon.

Babbie, Earl R. The Practice of Social Research. 12th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage, 2010; Muijs, Daniel. Doing Quantitative Research in Education with SPSS. 2nd edition. London: SAGE Publications, 2010.

Labaree, Robert. Types of Research Designs. Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Papers: Types of Designs research guide. USC Libraries, 2016.
The content of this section was created by Dr. Labaree and used with his permission.

Characteristics of Quantitative Research

Your goal in conducting quantitative research study is to determine the relationship between one thing [an independent variable] and another [a dependent or outcome variable] within a population. Quantitative research designs are either descriptive [subjects usually measured once] or experimental [subjects measured before and after a treatment]. A descriptive study establishes only associations between variables; an experimental study establishes causality.

Quantitative research deals in numbers, logic, and an objective stance. Quantitative research focuses on numeric and unchanging data and detailed, convergent reasoning rather than divergent reasoning [i.e., the generation of a variety of ideas about a research problem in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner].

Its main characteristics are:

  • The data is usually gathered using structured research instruments.
  • The results are based on larger sample sizes that are representative of the population.
  • The research study can usually be replicated or repeated, given its high reliability.
  • Researcher has a clearly defined research question to which objective answers are sought.
  • All aspects of the study are carefully designed before data is collected.
  • Data are in the form of numbers and statistics, often arranged in tables, charts, figures, or other non-textual forms.
  • Project can be used to generalize concepts more widely, predict future results, or investigate causal relationships.
  • Researcher uses tools, such as questionnaires or computer software, to collect numerical data.

The overarching aim of a quantitative research study is to classify features, count them, and construct statistical models in an attempt to explain what is observed.

 Things to keep in mind when reporting the results of a study using quantitative methods:

  1. Explain the data collected and their statistical treatment as well as all relevant results in relation to the research problem you are investigating. Interpretation of results is not appropriate in this section.
  2. Report unanticipated events that occurred during your data collection. Explain how the actual analysis differs from the planned analysis. Explain your handling of missing data and why any missing data does not undermine the validity of your analysis.
  3. Explain the techniques you used to "clean" your data set.
  4. Choose a minimally sufficient statistical procedure; provide a rationale for its use and a reference for it. Specify any computer programs used.
  5. Describe the assumptions for each procedure and the steps you took to ensure that they were not violated.
  6. When using inferential statistics, provide the descriptive statistics, confidence intervals, and sample sizes for each variable as well as the value of the test statistic, its direction, the degrees of freedom, and the significance level [report the actual p value].
  7. Avoid inferring causality, particularly in nonrandomized designs or without further experimentation.
  8. Use tables to provide exact values; use figures to convey global effects. Keep figures small in size; include graphic representations of confidence intervals whenever possible.
  9. Always tell the reader what to look for in tables and figures.

NOTE:  When using pre-existing statistical data gathered and made available by anyone other than yourself [e.g., government agency], you still must report on the methods that were used to gather the data and describe any missing data that exists and, if there is any, provide a clear explanation why the missing data does not undermine the validity of your final analysis.

SOURCES: Babbie, Earl R. The Practice of Social Research. 12th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage, 2010; Brians, Craig Leonard et al. Empirical Political Analysis: Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Longman, 2011; McNabb, David E. Research Methods in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches. 2nd ed. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2008; Quantitative Research Methods. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Singh, Kultar. Quantitative Social Research Methods. Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2007.

Labaree, Robert. Types of Research Designs. Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Papers: Types of Designs research guide. USC Libraries, 2016.
The content of this section was created by Dr. Labaree and used with his permission.


Selected Books on Quantitative Research

Selected Journals on Quantitative Research

Selected Books on Quantitative Research Data Analysis

Quantitative Text Analysis for Social Scientists | SAGE Video

Quantitative Text Analysis for Social Scientists A talk by Nicole Rae Baerg

Nicole Rae Baerg, lecturer at the Department of Government at the University of Essex, discusses qualitative text analysis in this SAGETalks webinar. Text analysis has a long history in the social sciences and has been commonly used to analyze media coverage. Historically, it involved the human coding of text and this has inherent issues. The digital age has made huge amounts of data available for analysis in the form of newspapers, blogs, social media feeds, government documents, the list goes on! As the technology to automate the analysis and coding of texts has become more available we are able to go beyond this and treat text as quantifiable data. Watch this webinar to learn about the role that quantitative text analysis plays for social scientists when working with such vast amounts of data, as well hearing about ‘QTA in action’ and how social scientists are using text analysis for their research.

Posted Feb 21, 2018 | 59:33 min | Transcript available at YouTube site