Qualitative and Quantitative research methods Monique Gowans Charles Stuart University Compare and Contrast Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods Qualitative research methods are complex meaningful analysis characterised by processes and meanings that are not experimentally examined or measured in terms of mathematical measurements (Lincoln, 2003; Sarantakos, 2005). Quantitative research however, relies and builds on mathematical procedures and methods, such as frequency, quality, amount and statistical procedure.
This paper will compare and contrast both qualitative and quantitative research methods endeavouring to highlight differences and similarities between the two methods. Qualitative analysis is a detailed, focused and deep process that seeks to find meaning in social experience (Burton 2007/2010). Qualitative analysis adds emphasis to questions that stress ‘how’ or ‘what meaning’ is created and given to certain situations. This is done using ethnographic style, first person accounts, and biographical and autobiographical materials (Sarantakos, 2005).
Qualitative research has an interpretative approach and is subjective. This style of research often sees the researcher spending many hours in direct personal contact with those being studied. This style of research is often referred to as an interpretative researcher; observing and recording amounts of information and understanding the meaning in regards to everyday life (Neuman, 2006). Quantitative research methods involve data that has numerical meaning, a measurement, such as height, weight, blood pressure or a particular score (Howell, 2008).
The emphasis in this research method is on measurement and the understanding of the relationship between variables (Lincoln, 2003). Quantitative analysis therefore relies and builds on mathematical procedures, such as frequency, mode, median, amount and statistical procedure. The research is then usually reported in an impersonal, third person style (Sarantakos, 2005). Quantitative, statistical analysis is usually computed using electronic processes such as SPSS (Lincoln, 2003).
Quantitative researchers normally base their research on large sample sizes which are to represent a greater population (Burton 2007/2010). This research is usually able to be replicated, this placing a greater amount of reliability on the given results. Evidence is abundant of the similarities and differences in qualitative and quantitative research methods. Both qualitative and quantitative methodologies are able to find empirical details or pass a judgement about social life.
In both forms of analysis the researcher examines a body of information to identify multiple processes, cause and effect, properties and patterns in data and reach a conclusion based on the reasoning and complexity in the data (Neuman, 2006). However, qualitative analysis examines the patterns of similarities and difference across the data gathered and pulls conclusions from this; while quantitative analysis examines the differences among the data, with the main goal being to compare one variable with another. In both qualitative and quantitative research methods the researcher strives to avoid error and draw false conclusions.
Quantitative research takes more of a deductive and objective approach (Burton 2007/2010), conclusions on the hypothesis are drawn from the results of scientifically controlled testing where as qualitative research involves the researcher making more of a subjective judgement about what the data means. Qualitative research differs from quantitative research in many diverse ways, for instance, quantitative research methodologies are specialised, standard sets of data analysis techniques that do not begin analysis on the data until it has been collected and condensed into numerical form.
Quantitative analysis then looks for relationships and patterns in the data. Qualitative research looks for patterns and relationships within a research project while the data is still being collated, thus qualitative analysis has a less distinct final stage. Often a researcher undertaking qualitative research will not commence their research with a hypothesis but rather develop one based on the outcome and information of the research (Burton 2007/2010). Both qualitative and quantitative research methods are concerned with an individual’s point of view.
Qualitative analysis tends to get closer to an individual’s perspective through the use of interviews and observation (Lincoln, 2003). Quantitative methods are unable to achieve and capture an individual’s perspective as they focus more on remote standardised procedures. Qualitative analysis provides explanations that tend to be rich in detail and capable of showing sensitivity and sequences in social life (Lincoln, 2003). Although qualitative researchers are more likely to come up against the constraints of everyday social life, qualitative research embed their findings within the action of the social world (Lincoln, 003), in contrast quantitative research seldom studies the world directly. Quantitative research is diverse and complex in that it employs many advantageous processes in its research. Quantitative research provide fast data processing and analysis of huge amounts of data, being a relatively inexpensive way to process and analyse data while attaining high reliability in the research project (Linclon, 2003; Srantakos, 2005). Quantitative research thus, is a benefit in research with time and cost constraints as it simplifies the diversity of the data without neglecting the quality of data.
Coding, a process involved in the process of quantitative data analysis is the procedure of converting verbal responses into numerical codes. For example, ‘male’ can be given the code 1, and ‘female’ can be given the code 2. The process of coding is advantageous as it converts qualitative styles of data into numerals that become suitable for quantitative analysis. This process, however does not allow for much detail in the data as the open-end questions only have so many answers and therefore may not be suitable or appropriate to each individual.
This form may also account for inaccurate responses and assume that social life can be measured by numbers. This process does not consider; which may be a disadvantage for the research in that such detail may interfere with the process of developing generalisations in the data. Unlike quantitative research where the analysis of data is conducted after all data is gathered, in qualitative research the timing of analysis varies (as discussed above). This process is advantageous in that it takes the form of a spiral that goes from data analysis and reduction, to data organization and interpretation.
This process allows the researcher to link generalisations together, test, re-test and compare before leading to an eventual theory (Lincoln, 2003). This also allows for more data collection if more data analysis is needed. Qualitative research can eliminate one explanation by showing that a wide arrangement of evidence and data contradict it. Qualitative research, although it is an in-depth, complex analysis that provides much detail and information in research, there are also disadvantages within this methodology. A disadvantage of qualitative nalysis is that it can be time consuming and expensive. For example when recoded data, such as video or audio tapes are used, interpretation and the production of scripts can be both time consuming and expensive. Recorded data (video or audio tapes) may also elicit ethical issues and may stop a participant from speaking out about their true feelings. Researchers rarely know the specifics of the data analysis before they begin a project (Neuman, 2006). In conclusion, quantitative and qualitative research methods are from very different schools of research.
On the surface it seems that quantitative research deals with simple numerical research where as qualitative research concerns itself to the quality of research and the reasoning behind the results of the research. Throughout this essay I have established this is not solely the case. Quantitative researchers seek to provide answers in a balanced scientific way; they do not make assumptions from their findings rather they endeavour to understand them. Qualitative researchers aim to evaluate things as they stand, an attempt to look at a natural picture, providing a more profound understanding.
The fact that qualitative research is not a ‘hard science’ allows open to criticism from quantitative researchers and opens the question of validity and reliability (Burton 2007/2010). Neither methodology is better than the other, rather more suited to a certain genre of research. One would suggest that when placed alongside qualitative research, quantitative research is clearer and more powerful making them at times complimentary to each other.
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