Quantitative & Qualitative Research COMPARISON OF QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE RESEARCH METHODS Introduction This paper compares and contrasts qualitative and quantitative research methods in three basic areas. These are the of their: epistemological foundations, data collection methods, and data analysis methods. The paper ends with a brief summary of the primary points made. Comparison
Gall, Borg and Gall (1996) discuss several similarities and differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods. With respect to similarities, both kinds of research formulate epistemological positions regarding the nature of causation and reality and both comprise a set of methods for designing research, collecting data, analyzing data, and deriving information from data collection and analysis.
However, they differ in terms of the epistemological positions they advocate and in the methods they hold to be appropriate for meaningful scientific inquiry. One primary difference between the two research methods according to Gall, Borg and Gall (1996) involves their epistemological assumptions about the nature that causality. The quantitative method, according to the authors, rests on a view of causation as an external, measurable force that occurs independently of the observer and can be used to explain diverse phenomena.
On the other hand, the conceptual foundation of qualitative research holds that causation itself is predominately a human interpretive process. The foregoing assumptions have implications for how scientists should study reality. Quantitative research roots its methods of acquiring information in a view that holds that reality is external to the observer whereas the qualitative method grounds its methodological principles and practices in the notion of reality as an interpretative construct.
This point has been discussed by Wainwright (1997) who states that typically qualitative research seeks to discover information about any given phenomenon by obtaining an in-depth understanding of the meanings and definitions of the phenomenon that are conceptualized by informants; moreover, these need not be many informants; a simple case study of one individual is said to yield much given the subjective element of reality.
Quantitative research, based on its assumptions of causation and reality, attempts to arrive at an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon by measuring “it” in some fairly objective manner with results that can be established as valid by a set of formal scientific/methodological principles of inquiry and set criteria for reliability and validity. It seeks for results that are stable across time.
Thus, while qualitative research aims at discovering how a very small collective interpret a phenomenon, quantitative research looks at some objective index of the phenomenon attempting to produce information that is stable and valid for large populations and samples. Gall, Borg and Gall (1996) note that for some domains such as education, the existing knowledge base consists of information obtained by both quantitative and qualitative research.
The authors point out that many research experts believe it is quite acceptable to use both kinds of research to collect information about a given phenomenon despite their differing assumptions—-provided that the two methods are assigned differing roles in terms of the contribution they make to understanding the phenomenon being studied. With respect to the foregoing, qualitative methods are assigned the role of intensively observing some small sample and conceptualizing possible themes, patterns, processes, and/or structures as being involved in the phenomenon of interest.
Quantitative methods are then called upon to determine whether the conceptualized constructs are supportable or confirmed. For example, a quantitative study might be conducted of three special education students’ responses to inclusion with possible patterns of response being conceptualized based on this small sample. Quantitative methods would then be used to determine whether this pattern of response is present in a much larger collective of special education students.
Thus, qualitative and quantitative research can be seen as working together in complementary fashion. Gall, Borg and Gall (1996) report that the extent to which the two types of research can work to complement each other, in actual practice, is dependent on two contingencies. First, the phenomena being studied must be stable across time. Second, qualitative researchers must provide constructs that can be operationalized which is to say that can be measured in some objective way using a numerical system of some sort.
If these conditions are satisfied, quantitative measures can then be used to support whether what is present at the individual or case level is also present for larger populations and samples. Gall, Borg and Gall (1996) further report that some researchers do not believe the two research approaches can actually work together in a complementary fashion; this because of their differing epistemological views of causation and reality — views which make for not only conceptual but also profound methodological differences.
For example, quantitative research stipulates that a researcher must state what can be expected to be revealed by his data analysis based on existing research (hypothesis formulation and testing). Qualitative researchers, however, believe that theories and concepts are only meaningfully derived AFTER the data has been collected. Similarly, the two research types differ in the methods they use to derive meaningful information from the data. Quantitative methods hold that the data should be analyzed statistically while quantitative research holds that it should be analyzed using formal methods of reasoning and interpretation.
Gall, Borg and Gall (1996) have also listed some of the differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods in terms of the reports each side outputs following their investigations. In this regard, the authors state that the reports of quantitative research tend to be impersonal and objective write-ups of research findings. Qualitative research reports, on the other hand, are said to reflect the researcher’s analytical reconstruction and interpretation of data provided to readers with an awareness that the readers themselves will, in fact, reinterpret what is reported.
However, since it is likely that the epistemological structures of both research methods have some truth and some error in their epistemological frameworks, Gall, Borg and Gall (1996) state that it is quite possible that both methods can contribute valid data and so edify scientists’ attempts to understand a given phenomena when used together in a complementary fashion. Given the foregoing, it seems reasonable to suggest that the determination as to whether a given researcher should use qualitative or quantitative methods, or use both conjointly, may depend upon the nature of information he desires and the use to which it shall be put.
For example, Crowl (1996) states that if a researcher desires to focus on some complex issue and to use it in a pragmatic way, then it is wise to conduct research using both qualitative and quantitative methods. Both methods are said to provide a broader examination of the phenomenon and thus yield a fuller understanding of its complex structure. This broader look, in turn, is said to foster greater insight into the ways the information can be practically applied. Mertes (1998) states that there are certain kinds of information needs that are better suited to being answered using qualitative methods than quantitative methods.
These are said to include: (1) the need to understand in detail why an individual does something; (2) the need to determine what aspects, components, or elements of a given issue or phenomenon are important and why they are important; (3) the need to identify a full range of responses or opinions existing in a given collective; and (4) the need to find areas of consensus in patterns of response. On the other hand, Mertes (1998) states that quantitative research is probably the best choice if there is a need to determine “how many” or to measure some volume-related characteristic of a collective.
In other words, quantitative research should be used when there is an interest in how many people in a population have a particular characteristic or response. Further, Mertes (1998) reports that quantitative research is appropriate for measuring attitudes and behaviors, for profiling certain groups, and for formulating predictions. One particularly interesting point about qualitative and quantitative research methods is to note that the distinguishing characteristics are actual differences only to a certain extent.
For example, McKereghan (1998) notes that qualitative and quantitative research can be distinguished in several ways and goes on to list some of these differences. Specifically, it is noted that quantitative research is objective; qualitative research is subjective. Quantitative research seeks explanatory laws; qualitative research aims at in-depth description. Quantitative research measures what it assumes to be a static reality in hopes of developing universal laws. Qualitative research is an exploration of what is assumed to be a dynamic reality.
It does not claim that what is discovered in the process is universal and, thus, replicable. However, what McKereghan (1998) points out is that when actual research studies are examined in methodological detail, they seldom fit the sharp clear models of differences that are provided in written discussions of the two research approaches. Rather, in most any given study, elements of quantitative and qualitative procedures can be found. Because of this, McKereghan argues that discussing research using this dichotomy may not be especially applicable to what actually goes on in the world of research.
Thus, while the two methods can be distinguished, it is probably important to note that this clarity of distinction is present far more in theory than in practice. Finally, it can be noted that quantitative methods help to make generalizations to larger groups and follow a well-established and respected set of statistical procedures, of which the properties are well-understood. However, in terms of practice, there is again an important issue related to whether practice actually meets the standards set for this research approach.
As noted by Gall, Borg and Gall (1996), many studies are designed poorly, i. e. , many studies cannot find a significant difference when one exists, due to insufficient sample sizes or to extremely small effect sizes. Further, quantitative methods are often misinterpreted. Summary In this paper’s comparison of qualitative and quantitative research methods, several points were made. It was noted that the two research approaches differ in terms of their epistemological positions on causation and reality and this in turn makes for a number of methodological differences in the approaches.
For example, it was noted that qualitative research typically entails in-depth analysis of relatively few subjects for which a rich set of data is collected and organized. Quantitative research, on the other hand, was said to entail the proper application of statistics to typically a large number of subjects. Further, the points were made that while quantitative research is objective; qualitative research is subjective. Also, it was noted that quantitative research seeks explanatory laws; qualitative research aims at in-depth description.
In addition, quantitative research was said to measures what it assumes to be a static reality in hopes of developing universal laws while qualitative research is an exploration of what is assumed to be a dynamic, shifting, interpretative reality. It was noted that due to the differing nature of the two research approaches, it is likely that the selection of which to use will depend upon the nature of the information sought by the researcher and the use to which this information will be put. Examples were offered showing the kind of research to which each method or a combination of methods are particularly suited.
Finally, the point was made that while there appear to be large differences between the approach from a philosophical/conceptual position, in actual research, methods from both approaches are often used. Further, the standards set for conducting each particular type of research, especially quantitative research, are often not met. References Crowl, T. K. (1996). Fundamentals of educational research (2nd ed. ) Madison, WI: Brown and Benchmark. Gall, M. D. , Borg, W. R. & Gall, J. P. (1996). Educational research: An introduction (6th ed. White Plains, NY: Longman. McKereghan, D. L. (1998). Quantitative versus qualitative research: An attempt to clarify the problem. Document available at:http://socrates. fortunecity. com/qvq. html. Mertes, D. M. (1998). Research methods in education and psychology: Integrating diversity with quantitative and qualitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Wainwright, D. (1997). Can sociological research be qualitative, critical and valid? The Qualitative Report, 3(2). Document available: http://nova. edu/ssss/QR/QR3-2/wain. html.
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