When thinking about quality information for critical writing, we always want to ensure that we use a mix of facts and figures. We do that most effectively by using both quantitative and qualitative data. Primarily, we tend to use these terms only when we’re dealing with primary research we carry out ourselves (sending out questionnaires or conducting interviews etc), but we should be making better use of them in our writing generally.
As well as thinking about the sources and quality of your resources, which I explored in my previous post from this critical practice series, you do want to make sure you are using a range of quantitative and qualitative data as it will give your work more credibility.
You can access the first post in the Critical Practice Course through the link provided.
Quantitative data is making use of numbers – providing information so we can provide facts and figures as evidence. For example, how many people are absent from work due to illness on a Monday; how many people are absent on a particular day? Quantitative information allows us to look at the numbers, we can look at specifics and answer these questions.
Sometimes my students will write “many people” or “the majority of employees”. Think how much better it seems if we say 80% of people. Equally, saying the majority is fairly vague – the majority could be anything over 50% – we don’t know if the majority is 54% or 94% – so whenever possible, its much better to be as specific as you can.
An example that I think provides quite a good illustration is: – imagine we have a company researching how many of their employees are happy and engaged or unhappy in the workplace, they will want to see that their employees are engaged. If their research tells us that the majority of their workforce are engaged, they might be happy with that. But imagine what it says if the majority is only 54% – that means 46% of their workforce are unhappy and not engaged. 46% is a still a significant part of the workforce. So you can see, hopefully, that using specific figures can have more impact.
Quantitative data gives us some very good and useful information. it provides numbers, but it doesn’t provide us with any explanations. Looking at my hypothetical statistics above, the data tells us that 46% are unhappy, but we don’t know why. Qualitative data complements the quantitative data by providing us with explanations.
Numbers might tell us how many people are buying new Smartphones (or not buying them) but we can only find out the reasons behind their purchasing behaviours through qualitative data. This type of data is usually collected by asking open questions (this gives the respondents the chance to give detailed explanations about why they did something or have a particular opinion) so we can understand the reasons behind the numbers/statistics.
Using both data types
Using qualitative data without quantitative information is also less effective – for example we can provide the reasons why customers are unhappy but without the numbers we don’t know whether the reasons are widespread (lots of customers) or just one or two who are complaining loudly. Using both together is definitely the way to go if you want to provide well reasoned critical writing, supported with strong evidence.
I’m not planning to look at primary research methods as part of this current series on Critical Practice, but may return to review this topic in the future. In the meantime, here’s a link to the University of Southampton’s guide on primary research.
In my next post of the series, I plan to go into more depth on the specifics of critical thinking. If you want to ensure you don’t miss the next post, or any of my future posts, then please sign up to my blog using the subscribe button.