Observation is a major part of scholarly research incorporating qualitative or quantitative approaches to data collection and analysis. Both methods have their place in research and the gathering of information, and in many cases they are combined to create a comprehensive result. Certain types of research lend themselves more to qualitative observation while others better lend themselves to quantitative observation.

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Scientists learn much about the world by observing how people, animals and objects react and interact in various situations. Nearly all areas of scientific research use observation as one of many tools for making new discoveries and increasing understanding of the world. Research that relies on a wide variety of tools for scientifically manipulating variables, measuring reactions, interpreting results and drawing conclusions involves quantitative observation.

Quantitative research involves observations using tools and methods that allow results to be quantified in objective ways, usually using numbers or measurements. Quantitative research can be used in nearly all areas of research but is less common in the social sciences, where subjective human reactions are being observed. Observing anything that can be measured, such as changes in size, color or number, is considered quantitative observation.

The qualitative observation definition is not as clear cut. That is because the qualitative observation definition is more subjective as it relies on the gathering of information that is less easy to quantify, such as research involving human behavior. Qualitative observations are often made through interviews, participant observation where a scientist is immersed in the situation being observed, and passive observation. Psychologists, sociologists and other social scientists often rely on qualitative research because the phenomenon being observed cannot be measured in any other way. Human emotion, cultural differences and lived experiences are common examples of that fit the qualitative observation definition.

The most basic difference between qualitative and quantitative observation is the way in which research data are collected and analyzed. Qualitative observation examples are generally more subjective, such as a biography based on recorded interviews. Quantitative observation examples are more objective like a study on the effectiveness of a new blood pressure medicine. Qualitative observations go through a constant process of analysis while being gathered; quantitative observations are commonly analyzed after data are collected. Qualitative observations are most often performed in field observations using natural settings, whereas quantitative observations are commonly performed in a controlled laboratory environment.

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