Qualitative and Quantitative Data

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

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.

Qualitative Data

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.


  1. Great post. We writers make a big mistake when avoid quantitative and qualitative data. We get scared of numbers. We make a big mistake avoiding them. I’ve found the best method is to find the story in the facts, what’s the smaller story that you can use to tell a bigger one, use that information and then support your story with the data and figures. The story becomes much more compelling. It’s not just a bunch of numbers being thrown at the reader, but a story with a foundation. You have the emotional pitch and the numbers to back it up. Thanks for sharing.

    • I was just thinking about the numbers part when I read Brian’s comment. Sometimes I tend to use things like “the majority of” when I’m unsure how accurate my source(s) are, but you’ve made me think better of doing that. You’re both right in that it’s much more impactful to share numbers, statistics, etc. Great info, Brenda – thank you!

      • I don’t mind using phrases like “majority of” as long as you give some sense of the size. And yes, I can relate, I know exactly what you’re talking about when you talk about writing around something I don’t quite understand!! Ha, ha.

      • It can even interesting sometimes when working with numbers. Occasionally I’d have a single student sit an exam. It’s great to.say 100% passed … but it also needs to be looked at in context.

      • Well said! Was it 100% of one or 100% of a million? This has been very helpful, and it’s something I’ll remember better now.

  2. Thanks Brian, I’m typical of my management (HR) profession in hating numbers, but I know they’re important. You’re right, we need to contextualise them so they’re easier to handle.

  3. I remember learning about some of this in school/sixth form. This is such a helpful and informative post about using these types of data. Thank you for sharing.

    Lauren – bournemouthgirl

  4. Good old horses for courses research base. I fondly remember marrying the 2 ‘Q’s’. The medical medicine base and anatomy, physiology and pathology always measured with Quantitive though. Sociology, Psychology was more Qualitative feedback opinions. I found that Complementary Therapies were more ‘people responding effectiveness’ and with no base in measuring to gold standards had only a Qualitative aspect inherent in the written literature. Hence the NHS reluctance to take on specific types of therapy. They like hard facts. Aromatherapy? Essential oils differ due to weather, soil, etc. conditions that change inherent properties of the plant, flower, leaf, bark, etc. Different in their chemical analysis depending on where they come from on this amazing planet. Mindfulness? Despite the type of evidence, the NHS are very happy to adopt it for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Activating Life to treat pain, depression, anxiety, OCD and stress. All the best.

    • Very true. Much of HRM is qualitative too, but numbers and data analytics are becoming much more important, so being able to manipulate all forms of data are becoming important.

      • It does change then. Also. Interesting that a lot of bloggers are highlighting your concerns re: computer generated answers and avoidance of plagiarism. It’s on YouTube too. That ‘app’ you linked to sounds hopeful.

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