Types of Data
There are two basic types of data you will come across in your research: quantitative and qualitative. It is fairly simple to differentiate between these two types, and once you can you will understand how to use each type. To ensure that your research is robust, you should use both types of data whenever possible.
Quantitative, or numeric, data refers to data that measures something. This type of data consists of numbers instead of words. It is more often thought of as hard, scientific data that is easier to report, but harder to interpret. Most often it backs up qualitative data, but occasionally you might find that it contradicts such data. That is where some interpretation is required.
Some of the results of your research could be quantitative, producing numerical data that measures something related to your topic. For example, your research may involve collecting data on the number of traffic accidents involving drivers of various age groups. As part of your project, you not only present the data, you interpret it. Your job is to uncover the reasons why certain drivers are involved in more, or fewer, accidents.
You can gather quantitative data much more quickly than you can qualitative data. You can survey a large amount of responses for quantitative data, and then easily sort and analyze the responses by using computer software programs. Gathering qualitative data is a much slower process, and it's followed by an analysis that is sometimes impossible to automate.
Qualitative data refers to data represented by words, text, photos, sound recordings, films, and basically anything else that is not numeric. This type of data may be more open to interpretation, depending on the topic. It requires more description to report, because it is less factual. You can gather qualitative data in several different ways. You could use historical research that involves interviewing witnesses or analyzing documents, photos, and other artifacts from the time in question. You could use case studies, in which you interview or observe the people or person that the research is about. You could use personal interviews or focus groups, in which the people involved have the opportunity to answer direct questions. You also can use questionnaires, which give people the chance to add their thoughts about a specific issue.