Table 4: Strengths and limitations of quantitative and qualitative research methods
Strengths Limitations
Quantitative methods Provide wide coverage of a range of situations. The methods can be inflexible and artificial (e.g. RCT).
Can be fast and economical. Not effective for understanding processes or the significance that people attach to actions.
Statistics from large samples can provide considerable relevance for policy decisions. They are not very helpful in generating theories.
Qualitative methods Data gathering methods seen more as natural than artificial. Data collection can be tedious and require more resources.
Ability to look at change processes over time. Analysis and interpretation of data may be more difficult.
Ability to understand people’s meaning. Harder to control the pace, progress and end-points of the research process.
Ability to adjust to new issues and ideas as they emerge. Policy makers may give low credibility to result from qualitative approach.
Captures a wide range of relevant themes through purposive sampling. Lack of external validity/generalizability.

(Adapted from Amaratunga D et al 2002)8