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Finding Quantitative and Qualitative Research

how to search for and identify basic research methods

Quantitative vs Qualitative

What's the difference anyway? 



cannot be counted numerically can be counted numerically, quantifiable
focuses on description of qualities over measurement focuses on measurement over description 
often takes place in a naturalistic environment  often takes place in a controlled environment 
does not employ statistical analysis  employs statistical analysis 

Examples: focus groups, interviews, open-ended surveys 

(unstructured responses)

Examples: close-ended surveys, data analysis

(structured responses) 

Finding Articles in CINAHL

Temporarily use this link for an in-depth description:

Below is an example of an advanced CINAHL search for a peer-reviewed nursing research article using qualitative research methods: 

You still need to look at the Methodology section of the paper and the methods used in the research study to see if they are qualitative or quantitative.


Using Other Databases

Not every database has the option to limit to qualitative or quantitative measures. In fact, most do not. There are other, more reliable ways to find out what research method is being used in an article, but it takes a little work on the part of the researcher. 

Most people will start out searching for their topic and quantitative research methods. (See pictures below.) 

In most cases, this searching method will not give your good results.




You can add "quantitative" or "qualitative" to your search as keywords in the advanced search (see the example below). However, doing this will usually limit the results that you get too much. 

Why? It will only find articles that have these terms as keywords and not all articles will include their research methods as keywords. 

You are usually better off narrowing down a search for your specific topic and then looking through the search results for clues about the research methods used. After you select a few articles, you will need to look at the Methods or Methodology section of the article to determine for sure whether research is quantitative or qualitative. 

Here are some other clues to help you determine whether the research presented in an article is qualitative or quantitative:

What to Look for in Quantitative Research:

  • the word "quantitative" and no statistical analysis methods
  • descriptive words and/or feelings
  • narration (reads more like it tells a story)
  • lack of numerical data
  • case studies, histories 
  • trying to develop an understanding of something that cannot be quantified

What to Look for in Qualitative Research: 

  • numbers
  • charts and graphs
  • the word "quantitative" or specific statistical analysis methods
  • trying to compare two variables using numerical data 

Some research will include both quantitative and qualitative research methods, also known as mixed methods. (For a more complete definition of mixed methods go to this link.) 

Below are examples of abstracts with "clues" that hint at a quantitative or qualitative methodology. 

This abstract (sometimes called a summary) includes numerical data. This article might use quantitative methods. It also uses the words "quantitative analysis" in the title and/or description. 

The following article abstract/summary uses the term qualitative, but also has other clues. It does not include numerical data, but provides a description of what is being studied that cannot be described numerically. Looking at the methodology section of this article will help determine further what types of research methods are used, but it looks like a qualitative study. 


In order to determine what research methods are used in a study, you must look at the full-text article and find a section of the article that is titled "Methodology" or "Methods" or a portion of the article that describes how the researchers conducted the study (what they did, what they intended to find, etc.). 

Other Guides to Reference

Moye Library, University of Mount Olive, 2017