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Qualitative Research

COMPARE AND CONTRAST THE QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH METHODS The quantitative and qualitative research traditions can be thought of as distinct cultures marked by different values, beliefs, and norms. Qualitative research methods are complex meaningful analyses characterized by processes and meanings that are not measured in terms of mathematical measurements. Quantitative research however, relies and builds on mathematical procedures and methods, such as frequency, quality, amount and statistical procedure. There are unique characteristics which distinguish one research process from the other.

In the simplest terms, it’s about the nature of the data you collect and analyze. Quantitative research uses data that are associated with quantity — some measure with numbers that can be assessed through comparisons of means, frequencies, and usually statistical tests. Qualitative research collects and analyzes data that are descriptive in nature — think of anything that can take the eventual form of a text, such as interviews or descriptive observations of behavior. In Miles and Huberman’s 1994 book Qualitative Data Analysis, quantitative researcher Fred Kerlinger is quoted as saying, “There’s no such thing as qualitative data.

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Everything is either 1 or 0″. To this another researcher, D. T. Campbell, asserts “all research ultimately has a qualitative grounding” (p. 40). This back and forth banter among qualitative and quantitative researchers is “essentially unproductive” according to Miles and Huberman. They and many other researchers agree that these two research methods need each other more often than not. However, because typically qualitative data involves words and quantitative data involves numbers, there are some researchers who feel that one is better (or more scientific) than the other.

Another major difference between the two is that qualitative research is inductive and quantitative research is deductive. In qualitative research, a hypothesis is not needed to begin research. However, all quantitative research requires a hypothesis before research can begin. The primary aim of a Qualitative Research is to provide a complete, detailed description of the research topic. Quantitative Research on the other hand focuses more in counting and classifying features and constructing statistical models and figures to explain what is observed.

Qualitative Research is ideal for earlier phases of research projects while for the latter part of the research project, Quantitative Research is highly recommended. Quantitative Research provides the researcher a clearer picture of what to expect in his research compared to Qualitative Research. Many qualitative researchers have long criticized laboratory based research as ‘artificial’ and noted that people react differently in other contexts. There are also criticisms about those researched being influenced by the researchers so that conclusions are not sound, especially when compared to research in ‘natural’ settings.

One response to these arguments are criticisms about the artificiality of structured interviews which qualitative researchers carry out. Of course, interviews need not be structured though the central issue is about the extent to which the research act interferes with what is researched. In other words are the conclusions valid, do they reflect what they believe they are reflect or are people responding, above all, to the researchers? Hammersley argues: [p231] “In my view this distinction between natural and artificial settings is spurious.

What happens in a school class or in a court of law, for example, is no more natural [or artificial] than what goes on in a social psychological laboratory. ” To us this is simply wrong. There is an enormous difference. If Hammersley had argued that there is some form of reaction to all forms of research we could have accepted that. He is, however, going much further. In qualitative research we seek to minimise the impact of our interventions [see triangulation below, for example] but also recognise that there are other ways in which we do intervene.

This is not too much of a problem if we remember that we are not trying to create objective knowledge. Our knowledge is much softer. We cannot be certain that practical work will always make learning easier. We cannot prove that a pupil will respond positively to using a word processor. Yet we can have a pretty good idea that these maybe helpful to us in certain situations. More importantly we endeavour to ‘build’ theory from the ground of experience or practice. For qualitative researchers the context in which practice takes place has an important bearing upon that practice and research should be rooted accordingly.

Another major difference between qualitative and quantitative research is the underlying assumptions about the role of the researcher. In quantitative research, the researcher is ideally an objective observer that neither participates in nor influences what is being studied. In qualitative research, however, it is thought that the researcher can learn the most about a situation by participating and/or being immersed in it. These basic underlying assumptions of both methodologies guide and sequence the types of data collection methods employed. Hamersley [op. cit. accepts that qualitative researchers seek to articulate the views of people studied but adds that qualitative researchers often analyse the data in ways that are likely to be alien to those studied. He also asserts that much quantitative research concerns itself with the ‘attitudes’ of those studied and is therefore grounded in the realities of people. Quantitative research remains, more interested in what people do without a very complete understanding of those actions. It tends, therefore, to be concerned with behavior as an end in itself without paying sufficient attention to understanding that behavior.

This is behaviorism. Even where ‘attitudes’ are explored it is usually through pre-structured questionnaires which do not allow respondents to provide their own agenda. The researcher decides on the important questions. One observes this sort of practice especially amongst those who are not experienced researchers. A Professor of Education at UEA once argued, in a discussion about the researcher and objectivity, that by the end of an evaluation the evaluator tends to lose his/her personal views about the project being evaluated.

Instead the evaluator becomes an information broker on behalf of others, adopting an even-handed impartiality. This, he thought, was the best we could expect as somebody has to carry out evaluations. The listening brief and the intentions of quantitative researchers is far more ‘people centered’ than that of quantitative evaluators. The qualitative researcher seeks to understand and to relate the subjective understandings and the actions of those being studied. Moreover, in some cases, the relationship between the researcher and the researched can be a very close one even to the point of collaboration.

The researcher serves as the primary data gathering instrument in Qualitative Research. Here, the researcher employs various data-gathering strategies, depending upon the thrust or approach of his research. Examples of data-gathering strategies used in Qualitative Research are individual in-depth interviews, structures and non-structured interviews, focus groups, narratives, content or documentary analysis, participant observation and archival research. On the other hand, Quantitative Research makes use of tools such as questionnaires, surveys and other equipment to collect numerical or measurable data.

Although there are clear differences between qualitative and quantitative approaches, some researchers maintain that the choice between using qualitative or quantitative approaches actually has less to do with methodologies than it does with positioning oneself within a particular discipline or research tradition. The difficulty of choosing a method is compounded by the fact that research is often affiliated with universities and other institutions. The findings of research projects often guide important decisions about specific practices and policies.

The choice of which approach to use may reflect the interests of those conducting or benefiting from the research and the purposes for which the findings will be applied. Decisions about which kind of research method to use may also be based on the researcher’s own experience and preference, the population being researched, the proposed audience for findings, time, money, and other resources available (Hathaway, 1995). Another tendency among quantitative researchers is to see their studies as centrally concerned with testing an initial hypothesis.

It is rarer but not unknown among qualitative researchers. One contrast drawn in this respect is that between explanation and understanding. It is argued that the quantitative researcher seeks to explain an initial hypothesis but the qualitative researcher strives to understand the views of the ‘actors’ in a school or a project, for example. Initial hypotheses tend to be poorly informed and that after a period of ‘immersion’ in a situation the researcher is better able to draw hypotheses [mature hypotheses] which emerge from experience in a setting.

By way of example we know of a teacher who was told by her head teacher to ensure that all of her classes were engaged in silent reading for twenty minutes every Tuesday afternoon. It worked particularly badly in her class; two statemented pupils were especially fractious in this time. Her initial hypothesis was concerned with explaining how her colleagues, who she took to be good practitioners, were making this activity work well. To her surprise she found that most teachers in the school were largely ignoring the head teachers instruction and not eally doing silent reading at all. She found then that her hypothesis became more concerned at understanding how the policy was formed and how best a school might embrace and influence the actual practice of teachers. Her first hypothesis was rooted in her rather limited early grasp of the situation rather then the better informed understanding she acquired after her first round of research. While qualitative researchers are more concerned with understanding then explaining this is not always the case.

It is sometimes radically suggested that a thorough understanding requires the researcher to have direct contact with the social reality to the point of actually taking part. This is often stressed in the ethnographic literature and opens up the issue of whether the researcher can be or is an ‘insider’ or an ‘outsider’ or some mixture of the two. Qualitative research does aspire to an ‘insider’ view and this requires the researcher to mix in in some way rather than adopting a detached stance.

Some researchers believe that qualitative and quantitative methodologies cannot be combined because the assumptions underlying each tradition are so vastly different. Other researchers think they can be used in combination only by alternating between methods: qualitative research is appropriate to answer certain kinds of questions in certain conditions and quantitative is right for others. And some researchers think that both qualitative and quantitative methods can be used simultaneously to answer a research question.

Qualitative Research is primarily subjective in approach as it seeks to understand human behavior and reasons that govern such behavior. Researchers have the tendency to become subjectively immersed in the subject matter in this type of research method. In Quantitative Research, researchers tend to remain objectively separated from the subject matter. This is because Quantitative Research is objective in approach in the sense that it only seeks precise measurements and analysis of target concepts to answer his inquiry.

To a certain extent, researchers on all sides of the debate are correct: each approach has its drawbacks. Quantitative research often “forces” responses or people into categories that might not “fit” in order to make meaning. Qualitative research, on the other hand, sometimes focuses too closely on individual results and fails to make connections to larger situations or possible causes of the results. Rather than discounting either approach for its drawbacks, though, researchers should find the most effective ways to incorporate elements of both to ensure that their studies are as accurate and thorough as possible.

Qualitative researchers are interested in answering those why? questions and are not prepared to simply accept the quantitative answers. That is not to suggest that the quantitative data is not important for to know that fifteen out of twenty have one view rather than another is useful. It is just not enough on its own. We could go further and say that when placed alongside qualitative evidence, quantitative evidence is both clear and powerful. Unfortunately it sometimes appears so powerful that it overpowers the opinions of the people involved and this is a danger we have to watch.

In addition there are still many researchers, especially the less experienced ones, who are not prepared to ‘go the extra mile’ and add the extra understanding to the figures they have collected. This course is centered upon the qualitative element in research and while it is not without problems qualitative research is the major form of educational research now practised. It is important for researchers to realize that qualitative and quantitative methods can be used in conjunction with each other. In a study of computer-assisted writing classrooms, Snyder (1995) employed both qualitative and quantitative approaches.

The study was constructed according to guidelines for quantitative studies: the computer classroom was the “treatment” group and the traditional pen and paper classroom was the “control” group. Both classes contained subjects with the same characteristics from the population sampled. Both classes followed the same lesson plan and were taught by the same teacher in the same semester. The only variable used was the computers. Although Snyder set this study up as an “experiment,” she used many qualitative approaches to supplement her findings.

She observed both classrooms on a regular basis as a participant-observer and conducted several interviews with the teacher both during and after the semester. However, there were several problems in using this approach: the strict adherence to the same syllabus and lesson plans for both classes and the restricted access of the control group to the computers may have put some students at a disadvantage. Snyder also notes that in retrospect she should have used case studies of the students to further develop her findings. Although her study had certain flaws, Snyder insists that researchers can simultaneously employ qualitative and uantitative methods if studies are planned carefully and carried out conscientiously. Debates have been ongoing, tackling which method is better than the other. The reason why this remains unresolved until now is that, each has its own strengths and weaknesses which actually vary depending upon the topic the researcher wants to discuss. This then leads us to the question “Which method should be used? ” The goals of each of the two methods have already been discussed above. Therefore, if your study aims to find out the answer to an inquiry through numerical evidence, then you should make use of the Quantitative Research.

However, if in your study you wish to explain further why this particular event happened, or why this particular phenomenon is the case, then you should make use of Qualitative Research. Some studies make use of both Quantitative and Qualitative Research, letting the two complement each other. If your study aims to find out, for example, what the dominant human behavior is towards a particular object or event and at the same time aims to examine why this is the case, it is then ideal to make use of both methods. Qualitative methods are used when the meaning of something needs to be found.

Exploring the question: ‘Who owns a child in hospital? ’ (Shields et al 2003), or examining the meaning of an experience, illness, or condition, for example, of what it means to be a mother whose child has died (Laakso and Paunonen-Ilmonen 2001), are all forms of qualitative research. Qualitative research usually has no measurements or statistics but uses words, descriptions and quotes to explore meaning. It can even use arts techniques, such as dance (Picard 2000). Bibliography Kristjansdottir G (1995) Perceived importance of needs expressed by parents of hospitalized two-to-six-year-olds.

Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences. 9, 2, 95-103. Laakso H, Paunonen-Ilmonen M (2001) Mothers’ grief following the death of a child. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 36, 1, 69-77. Picard C (2000) Pattern of expanding consciousness in midlife women: creative movement and the narrative as modes of expression. Nursing Science Quarterly. 13, 2, 150-157. Shields L (1999) A Comparative Study of the Care of Hospitalized Children in Developed and Developing Countries. Doctoral thesis. Brisbane, University of Queensland. Shields L et al (2003) Who owns the child in hospital?

A preliminary discussion. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 41, 3, 1-9. Schostak, J. F. (2002) Understanding, Designing and Conducting Qualitative Research in Education. Framing the Project. Open University Press Schostak, J. F. , and Schostak, J. R. (2008) Radical Research. Designing, Developing and Writing Research to Make a Difference, Routledge Schostak, J. F. (2006) Interviewing and Representation in Qualitative Research Projects, Open University press David L. Morgan, Practical Strategies for Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Methods: Applications to Health Research


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