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MSN/DNP Online Orientation Guide: Qualitative vs. Quantitative

Information covered in the online orientation for the MSN and DNP programs.

Quantitative Studies

Quantitative Studies are, " scientific investigations in which numbers are used to measure variables such as characteristics, concepts, or things" (CINAHL).

This type of research approach is much more common than the qualitative approach in scientific and medical research. Clues about the type of study you are looking at can potentially be found in the abstract, but the main sections  you will want to look at will be the methods and the results section.


Sometimes, you will be fortunate enough to find the word, "quantitative" in the abstract or in the methods section, but most likely you will need to scan the abstract and methods section for words that you know are associated with the quantitative approach to research. 

Some examples are:

  • clinical trial
  • case-control study
  • cohort studies
  • randomized controlled trials
  • experimental
  • hypothesis
  • structured questionnaire
  • statistical


Quantitative data will be expressed as numbers and will be associated with a scale measure. Natural language description will not be used to express quantitative data.



Qualitative Studies

Qualitative Studies are, "investigations which use sensory methods such as listening or observing to gather and organize data into patterns or themes" (CINAHL).

Clues about the type of study you are looking at can be found in the title, abstract, methods section, and results section.


Sometimes, you will be fortunate enough to find the word, "qualitative" in the title of an article. Other words to keep an eye out for are:

  • perceptions
  • attitudes
  • opinions
  • beliefs
  • experiences
  • phenomenological


When you scan through the methods section, look for terms such as:

  • focus group
  • interview
  • narrative
  • unstructured observation
  • open-ended



Data gathered in a qualitative study will usually be presented in a way that include text-based results, such as a descriptive interpretation, narrative, or quotes. Do not be confused if you see statistical expressions of qualitative data. This will be categorical data and is not the same as numbers associated with a scale measure as found in quantitative data.

Mixed Methods

You will find that some studies indicate that they are both qualitative and quantitative. This is a mixed methods approach to research. You should check with your instructor to see if a mixed methods article will be acceptable for your assignment.