On the misuse of the terms qualitative and quantitative research

Researchers often use the term “qualitative research” to mean research without substantial empirical data, and use “quantitative research” to mean research with substantial empirical data. That doesn’t make sense to me, as most “qualitative researchers” will quickly point out, because qualitative research utilizes as much data in a structured way as it can. Everything else would not be research.

I prefer the term exploratory research instead of qualitative research and confirmatory research instead of quantitative research. The pair exploratory/confirmatory points to the purpose of the research:

  • To explore and formulate possible theories (exploratory research), and
  • to test and validate proposed theories (confirmatory research).

The original pair of qualitative/quantitative indicates that too:

  • To create new quality points to developing a new theory (qualitative research), and to
  • utilize quantity points at using statistical methods to validate a theory (quantitative research).

However, I find the confusion discussed in the first paragraph to often overshadow the more reasonable definition given in the previous sentence. Hence I’m sticking to exploratory and confirmatory as the distinguishing markers of the two main purposes of research.



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