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The Difference Between Objective and Subjective Data

Updated on September 26, 2013

Scientific Data Collection

All research whether in the Social or Physical sciences require the collection of data in order to test a hypothesis as valid or invalid. A simplified view of the two essential types of data and the differences they engender in type of data collected, method of collection, and types of conclusions that can be drawn from each method is what follows.

Subjective, otherwise know as qualitative, data is derived mainly through sensory observations and overall impressions of a particular phenomena. It necessitates a researcher to count himself as one of the measuring instruments in that his or her phenomenological perspective will be colored by perception, bias, and personal meaning attributed to events observed. This method of collecting data is seen in field observations, unstructured subject interviews, and narrative investigation. This research methodology tends to work with fewer subjects decreasing the statistical significance of the data but lending a deeper more nuanced understanding to what is under study. It is employed more heavily in the Social sciences.

Objective, or quantitative, data is primary numerical information derived from statistical interpretations of data collected either through the use of high tech machines (spectrometers, electrophoresis, or large hadron colliders) or through numerical analysis of self report surveys with scaled answers that can be mathematically manipulated and understood. These tend to be exact quantitative comparisons implicating certain claims that can be made about the nature of physical reality. This data is used most heavily in Physical Sciences. When used in Social Science it is able to example larger sample groups of test subjects and establish statistical trends and anomaly's that may require further, perhaps subjective this time, research.

An easy way to remember this distinction is to think of objective measurements and quantitative research as describing physical objects with numerical quantities and to think of subjective data and qualitative research as phenomenological experience partially dependent on the subject observing and in need of his or her qualifications to be made full sense of.

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