EDUR 7130
Educational Research On-Line

Quantitative Research Types

Quantitative Research Methods

Quantitative research is generally defined as four types: true experimental, quasi-experimental, ex post facto, and correlational. A brief overview of the differences and similarities of each type is presented below. A more detailed description of various components of experimental research is presented in Experimental Research: Control, Designs, Internal and External Validity

True and Quasi-Experimental Research

True Experimental

True experimental research can be identified by three characteristics: randomly formed groups, manipulation of the treatment (the IV), and comparisons among groups. These will be discussed in the context of the following example. We wish to know whether cooperative learning produces better achievement among 10th grade students in mathematics than a traditional lecture approach. A group of students, n = 50, will be randomly assigned to a classroom using cooperative learning or to a classroom using lecture, with 25 randomly assigned to each classroom. At the end of a semester, a final achievement test on mathematics will be administered to determine which groups scores, on average, higher in mathematics.

In true experimental research, the groups studied will be randomly formed. Recall from the section on sampling that random means a systematic approach is used assign people to groups, but the systematic approach used to assign has no predictable pattern. A table of random numbers gives this result; a flip of a coin also accomplishes this. For example, if we are assigning people to one of two groups, flipping a coin and deciding group membership for each person based on whether a head or a tail shows is random since one cannot predict accurately whether the head or tail will show.

It is easy to confuse randomly formed groups, or random assignment, with random sampling. The two are certainly not the same thing. Random sampling is one method for selecting--picking--people to participate in a study. Random assignment is a method for assigning people to groups--it is not a method for selecting study participants. Also note that random sampling is not required for a true experiment. Randomly formed groups are necessary for a true experiment, but one could use convenience sampling to select study participants and still have a true experiment. For the example study, students may have been selected based on who was available--based on convenience, then they were randomly assigned to one of two groups.

The second requirement, that the treatment be manipulated, means that the researcher has control of who receives which treatment. Manipulation in this sense is similar to the definition of politics--who gets what. If the researcher decides who gets what, then manipulation occurred. In the example, the researcher randomly assigned students to one of two groups, so the researcher manipulated who would receive which treatment, cooperative learning or lecture.

The third requirement, well, more of a characteristic than a requirement, is that groups are compared. In most experiments, there will be at least two groups, perhaps more, which will be compared on some outcome of interest, some dependent variable. In the example, the two groups are cooperative learning and lecture, and they will be compared on performance on the final achievement test.


Quasi-experimental research is just like true experimental with the only difference being the lack of randomly formed groups. Of the two types of experimental research, quasi-experimental is most commonly used in education. It is difficult to find schools that will allow a researcher to select students from classes and assign them randomly to other classes. So, in most educational research situations, intact classes are used for the experiment. When intact classes or groups are used, but manipulation is present--the researcher determines which group receives which treatment--then quasi-experimentation results. For example, a researcher uses his to classes for an experiment. He randomly assigns cooperative learning to class B, and randomly assigns lecture to class A. Following the treatment, an instrument is administered to all participants to learn whether the treatments resulted in differences between the two classes. Note in this example the groups were not randomly formed, but the treatment was manipulated and groups were compared, so quasi-experimentation resulted.

Non-experimental Quantitative Research: Ex Post Facto and Correlational

Both true and quasi-experimental research are distinguished by one common characteristic: manipulation. No other type of research has manipulation of the independent variable. Two other forms of quantitative research, which are not experimental due to lack of manipulation, are ex post facto (sometimes called causal-comparative) and correlational. Often both of these types are grouped into what researchers call non-experimental research or simply correlational research. Thus, correlational research can be understood to include both of the two types I discuss below: ex post facto and correlational. For our purposes, we will make a distinction between these two types.

Ex Post Facto (Causal-Comparative)

Ex post facto looks like an experiment because groups are compared; there is, however a key difference--no manipulation of the independent variable. With ex post facto research, the difference between groups on the independent variable occurs independent of the researcher. For example, suppose a researcher contacts a school's principal and asks for two teachers, one who uses cooperative learning and one who uses lecture. The researcher's goal is the compare student's scores on a test to determine which method produces better achievement. This is very similar to the example given above for experimental research, but the key difference is that the researcher did not manipulate the independent variable. The researcher did not determine which class, or which teacher, would use cooperative learning or lecture. Rather, the researcher asked which teachers use which instructional strategy, and then selected the groups for comparisons.

Another example of ex post facto is the analysis of differences in any quantitative outcome and by sex (male vs. female). For example, if one is interested in learning whether differences exist between males and females in ITBS scores, that is an ex post facto study since the independent variable cannot be manipulation, and since there are group comparisons.

So the keys to an ex post facto study are group comparisons and non-manipulated independent variables. Groups may be randomly formed in ex post facto research, such as through random sampling of males and females, but randomly formed groups alone is not enough for an ex post facto study to be confused with a true experimental study.


A correlational study is the examination of relationships among two or more quantitative variables. Both the independent and dependent variables will be quantitative. It is possible to have multiple independent variables and possibly multiple dependent variables. For example, I wish to know which of the following variables independent variables (High School GPA, SAT scores, HS Rank) predict the following dependent variables (GRE mathematics, GRE verbal, college GPA).

Sometimes there is a distinction made between types of correlational studies. A predictive study is done simply to learn which, among a set, of variables best predicts the dependent variable. The goal here is simply to maximize prediction. A second type of study is relationship. With relationship studies, the goal is the understand, as best as possible, those variables that theoretically related a dependent variable. With this type of study, researchers are interested in testing and confirming theories or hypotheses concerning relationships among variables.

 Matrix of Distinguishing Characteristics Among Quantitative Research Methods

The key differences among the four types of quantitative studies are outlined below in the matrix. Understanding this matrix will assist you in determining which methods are used in most quantitative research.

Distinguishing Characteristics

Research Method

True Experimental

Quasi- Experimental

Ex Post Facto (Causal Comparative)


Causal Relationships

Can Establish

Only Identify Only Identify Only Identify

Randomly Formed Groups

Yes No maybe, through random sampling maybe through random sampling

Manipulation of Independent Variable

Yes Yes No No

Group Comparisons

Usually Yes Usually Yes Yes No

1. One can only establish the existence causal relationships through repeated experimentation, i.e., replication of an experiment. A single experiment cannot be used to establish either the presence or absence of a relationship between two or more variables.

2. Note the emphasis on randomly formed groups, not randomly selected groups. To have a true experiment, one does not need to have randomly selected groups, but one must have randomly formed groups.

3. Manipulation is the single characteristic that differentiates experimental from non-experimental research.

4. The characteristic of group comparisons represents a trivial and archaic distinction between ex post facto and correlational research. In practice, this characteristic is only reflected in the scale of the independent variable used. For ex post facto studies, the independent variable will be nominal, while for correlational studies the independent variable will be ordinal, interval, or ratio.