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NURS 4160: Health Policy and Ethics for the Professional Nurse: Nursing Research

Quantitative Nursing Research

Quantitative research involves quantities or numbers that allows investigators to quantify data. This is measurable research that researchers can statistically analyze to gain deeper understanding. 

The benefits of using quantitative methods to understand a topic better is that it provides numerical opportunities to explore the relationships between quantifiable data, or to provide a comparison between data relationships. 

Dr. Liz Fitzgerald at the Institute of Educational Technology provides a great explanation of quantitative approaches: 

  • Attempts to explain phenomena by collecting and analyzing numerical data
  • Tells you if there is a “difference” but not necessarily why
  • Data collected are always numerical and analyzed using statistical methods
  • Variables are controlled as much as possible (RCD as the gold standard) so we can eliminate interference and measure the effect of any change
  • Randomization to reduce subjective bias
  • If there are no numbers involved, its not quantitative
  • Some types of research lend themselves better to quantitative approaches than others

Fitzgerald, 2016, 

Four Types of Quantitative Research: 

  • Descriptive Design seeks to describe the current status of a variable or phenomenon. The researcher does not begin with a hypothesis, but typically develops one after the data is collected. Data collection is mostly observational in nature.
  • Correlational Design explores the relationship between variables using statistical analyses. However, it does not look for cause and effect and therefore, is also mostly observational in terms of data collection.
  • Quasi-Experimental Design (often referred to as Causal-Comparative) seeks to establish a cause-effect relationship between two or more variables. The researcher does not assign groups and does not manipulate the independent variable. Control groups are identified and exposed to the variable. Results are compared with results from groups not exposed to the variable.
  • Experimental Designs, often called true experimentation, use the scientific method to establish cause-effect relationship among a group of variables in a research study. Researchers make an effort to control for all variables except the one being manipulated (the independent variable). The effects of the independent variable on the dependent variable are collected and analyzed for a relationship.


Types of Research Tools

Quantitative data collection tools, or instruments are focused on random sampling and collecting data that can be easily "summarized, compare, and generalize" ("Data Collection Methods", n.d.) Researchers can collect quantitative data in a variety of ways but there are some broad categories under which some instruments fall: 

  • Experiments/Clinical Trials 
  • Closed-End and Structured Interviews 
  • Structured Questionnaires
  • Quantitative Observations of Well-Defined Environments/Situations
  • Data retrieval from systems, etc. 

"Data collection methods". (n.d.) Retrieved from; Marczyk, G. R., DeMatteo, D., & Festinger, D. (2005). Essentials of research design and methodology. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.

Qualitative Research Research

Qualitative researchers assess the qualities of something; if the qualities are measured at all, they do not measure quantity, amount, intensity, or frequency. The data collected is more abstract and express itself in words, and not necessarily numbers. 

The benefits of using qualitative methods is the rich and detailed results it can produce. Researchers can use the data to then understand the social impact and influence of the research topic. 

Dr. Liz Fitzgerald at the Institute of Educational Technology provides a great explanation of qualitative approaches 

  • Any research that doesn’t involve numerical data
  • Instead uses words, pictures, photos, videos, audio recordings. Field notes, generalities. Peoples’ own words.
  • Tends to start with a broad question rather than a specific hypothesis
  • Develop theory rather than start with one; inductive rather than deductive 

Five Types of Qualitative Research

  • A Phenomenology study attempts to explain life experiences, or phenomenon. 
  • Narrative/Historical study investigates a person, event, or era to find meaning for current day issues, or to tell the story of the research item. 
  • Grounded Theory study allows for the exploration of existing issues/problems, and examine how society, groups of people, or individuals handle them. Researchers use this when they want to create a theory "grounded in observations. 
  • A Ethnography study examines different cultural, social, or ethnic groups to help understand the group more comprehensively
  • A Case Study allows researchers to analyze a specific organization/company, a singular event, or a multiple events. 

Center for Innovation in Research & Training. (n.d.) Retrieved from; University of Missouri-St. Louis. (n.d.) Retrieved from

Types of Research Tools

Qualitative data collection tools, or instruments, are focused on collection the experience, understanding, perspectives, emotions, and/or opinions of their research subjects. As these items are not adequately measured with numbers or stats, the instruments will need to collect word-based data, as opposed to numerical extraction. 

Some common qualitative instruments that are utilized frequently by researchers are: 

  • In-depth and open/fluid interviews 
  • Observation 
  • Document/Literature Review
  • Focus groups 

"Data collection methods". (n.d.) Retrieved from; Marczyk, G. R., DeMatteo, D., & Festinger, D. (2005). Essentials of research design and methodology. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.