Examining Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods
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This paper is about the examination of the qualitative and quantitative research method. The paper consists of definition and examples of each type of research method. As each method is defined, the use of questionnaires and interviews are related to each type. Aside from the two tools, other features of comparison are discussed and contrasted. With the extensive differentiation of each method, the advantages and disadvantages in the use of questionnaires and interviews in each method is discussed. Finally, a summary is presented, tabulating the side-by-side comparisons and how best to maximize the use of both methods in a research.
A cliché once told us, “There are several ways to skin a cat.” The same is true for research. Depending on the researcher’s theory, anticipated outcome or personal circumstances, various research methods are available to aid the gathering of information. Two of the most common tools used in gathering information are questionnaires and interviews. The former is written, while the latter is spoken, but both are opportunities for the researcher to interact with the intended respondents. The ways the responses are gathered, analyzed and exploited differ as well. In the over-all research design, two methods stand out, the qualitative and quantitative research method, which differ in approach, analysis and research point-of-view.
Qualitative Research Method
Qualitative research involves gathering of data from resources in its natural setting, as the phenomenon naturally unfolds to enable the interpretation of results in a form that is descriptive of the occurrence. According to Denzin and Lincoln (1994), qualitative research involves the studied use and collection of a variety of empirical materials case study, personal experience, introspective, life story interview, observational, historical, interactional, and visual texts-that describe routine and problematic moments and meaning in individuals’ lives (quoted in “Qualitative Paradigm”).
The objective of qualitative research is to show the resources’ behavior, awareness and opinion on the topic at hand. It aims to show the natural reaction, perception and occurrence of things surrounding the source. The results of the qualitative research are descriptions of the information gathered, as perceived and interpreted by the researcher.
Types of Qualitative Research
The main instrument of qualitative research is the researcher, as he or she interacts directly with the source of information. The researcher builds a complex, holistic picture, analyzes words, reports detailed views of informants, and conducts the study in a natural setting (Cresswell (1994), quoted in “Qualitative Paradigm”). Because the researcher directly gathers the information, the most effective tool by which the research is conducted is through interviews. There are several ways of conducting interviews and are as follows:
In-depth interview (IDI, one-on-one)
An IDI is a dialogue with an individual, conducted in a research facility, at his home or office or at a public location, depending on the type of information that is required. Typical and most effective IDIs are conducted in person, as a qualitative research involves the interpretation by the researcher on the response of the interviewee. With the cliché, “action speaks louder than words,” the gestures or manner of speech of the respondent contributes significantly to the IDI. Thus, the skill and familiarity of a researcher comes into play, in this type of method, as he should be able to fully interpret the meaning of the interviewee’s response, both in words and action.
With the emergence of technology, virtual one-on-one interviews have been conducted through the telephone, video communication and online communications. Such virtual modes can compromise the accuracy of the research when the actions and manner of speech of the interviewee affects the outcome of the information gathered.
When two or more are interviewed simultaneously or consecutively, this is called group interviews. Focused groups involve respondents that share a common qualities or circumstances, as prescribed in the research. The discussion is led by a moderator, which is typically the researcher.
From the Greek words duad and triad , respectively, dyads and triads are in-depth interviews of two and three individuals that represent a larger group or team. For example, triads from each department are conducted to determine if the work in the departments contribute to the employee satisfaction. Interviewing a married couple on their decision to purchase real estate of a certain type or neighborhood, is an example of a dyad.
Group interviews are traditionally conducted face-to-face, but can also be done virtually, with the use of technology.
In all the methods above, the underlying element for qualitative research is unrestricted discussion; It uses exhaustive probing to reveal the thoughts and feelings behind initial responses; and it applies insights and learning to the research process in real time.
Quantitative research is the collection and processing of numerical information to confirm or negate a specific hypothesis. Data collected from the research is interpreted by applying various mathematical and statistical methods. The result is a definite conclusion, the lucidity of which has been anticipated since the beginning of the research.
The traditional form of quantitative research is through a questionnaire. Sets of structured questions are given to the respondent, and the responses are tabulated. This will comprise the raw data of the research. Interpreting the results with the use of statistics then processes the raw data. Charts, diagrams and narrations of the definite outcome as evidenced by the numerical data.
Due to the structured and numerical nature of its data gathering, quantitative research usually takes less time to complete. Respondents have an easier time to answer because they are usually presented with ready choices as answers to the questionnaire, rather than scribbling or articulating long responses. In addition, because of the ease of response it offers, the amount of data gathered at a certain period is much greater, than with interviews. With the aid of computers, analysis of quantitative data has also become much faster and more accurate, than in the past, and in other forms of research. Questionnaires can be administered in person, by mail, telephone, or more recently, online through the Internet.
There are two types in quantitative research, and are as follows:
Sometimes called observational research, this type obtains data without any intervention or change in its natural condition. The tool for gathering the data does not affect the results and will objectively display the direct outcome of the participation by the respondents
In this method, interventions to the natural occurrence of the information are introduced. For example, data gathering before and after a certain event or occurrence, will constitute an experimental method. Repetition can also be another form of intervention that is if a survey is conducted and taken repeatedly, the results will vary from the earliest response to the latest response.
Comparing Qualitative and Quantitative Research
Qualitative and quantitative researches share the same tools as a means of gathering data, such as questionnaires and interviews. When researching employee satisfaction, for example, qualitative research can be conducted by sending out essay questionnaires inquiring how an employee feels about his or her work. Interviews can be conducted to get first-hand information about employee happiness. On the other hand, quantitative data from a survey of employees’ attendance, leaves and absences can also be measured to gauge employee satisfaction. Thus, the tools are the same, but format, content and interpretation of results of questionnaires and interviews will differ between the two research methods.
In the sciences, both qualitative and quantitative can be used when doing observatory research. It should be stressed that the result being arrived at is observatory, in that it desires to capture reality, without any intervention or experimentation from the researcher. Natural sciences tend to lean towards quantitative research, mainly because of its experimental disposition, but medical and health sciences have proven various theories through qualitative experimentation.
Contrasting Qualitative and Quantitative Research
As the age old battle continues, qualitative and quantitative methods differ. The first point being the form of information gathered in each. Qualitative data is descriptive, narrative and immeasurable. Essay-type questionnaires are typical in qualitative research as the responses narrate and describe the anticipated outcome. Interviews are fundamental means of gathering qualitative data.
Quantitative information is numerical, mathematical and measurable. Due to its statistical nature, more data gathered during quantitative research only strengthens the findings. Thus, questionnaires are created in order to obtain measurable data from as many respondents as possible. Thus, typical quantitative questions are answerable by yes or no, or a condition of one or the other.
Interpretation of data is another point of contrast, mainly due to the point-of-view taken when processing information. Qualitative research takes an emic point of view (Seigle), where the information gathered is placed in context with the topic or situation, thus an “insider” perspective. Quantitative, on the other hand separates the data from all other factors that can influence it, taking the etic point of view (Seigle), and thus the objectivity of the quantitative result.
The researcher plays different roles in the two methods. In a qualitative research, the researcher is the main tool to gather information, and a big part of which is the researcher’s interpretation or perspective of the information volunteered. In quantitative research, objectivity dictates that the researcher stay in the background, while tools like questionnaires generate the data he needs, and is left to oversee the process of the research. In this aspect, the skill of the researcher comes into play for both methods. Unfamiliarity of the researcher on the topic of a qualitative interview will sacrifice the quality and extent of the responses that he will generate. In quantitative research, on the other hand, his ability to exploit all available mathematical and statistical tools applicable will be key to the thoroughness of his investigation.
Because of the differences in the form of data gathered, research design differs as well. Qualitative research begins with a preliminary hypothesis, a general idea from which questionnaires and interviews maybe conducted to further refine the idea. As ideas are shared among respondents, a simple research can already draw a simple conclusion, or further iterate the investigation, for complex topics. In trying to understand the reaction of tweens to peer pressure, e.g., qualitative research may begin at hypothesizing that tweens do not feel peer pressure at all.
As the research unfolds, responses between male and female may show a significant difference, thus can refine the hypothesis by gender reaction and later on, by specific reactions. The research may iterate to finally prove that female tweens feel peer pressure towards sex while male tweens feel peer pressure towards vices such as smoking and drinking. In quantitative research, the study begins with a definite hypothesis and the journey taken is towards the confirmation or negation of the hypothesis. There is no likelihood to modifying or iterating the hypothesis, as that would constitute another research, altogether.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods
As the previous sections have elaborated, variations in the research method have a tendency to be polar to data gathering tools. Qualitative research, due to its exploratory and descriptive methodology benefits the most from in-depth and robust interviews. When the right forum is created, interviewee rapport is well established, and when the atmosphere of free and unbounded discussions is present, extensive qualitative data is obtained from an interview. Under the directive of a skilled interviewer or moderator, comprehensive narrations focused on the researcher’s topic is obtained as planned. However, the disadvantages of a qualitative method of interview are time consuming and exhaustive to the respondents.
Though interviews are a primary means of gathering qualitative data, questionnaires offer an effective tool as well, when designed properly. Essay-type questionnaires are ideal for qualitative data gathering because it allows the respondent to take the time to think through the answers, without the invasiveness of a point-blank interview. The disadvantage is the lack of opportunity to probe and follow-through. Similar to an interview, qualitative questionnaires are time-consuming as well.
However, questionnaires work well with quantitative research. When designed to be well structured, uncomplicated and appealing, respondents tend to volunteer full participation. And so, large volumes of data can be gathered in a short period of time. And with the help of modern technology, data processing, interpretation and analysis are as swiftly completed. The limitation lies on the subject of the research as well as the skill of the research designer to maximize the tools available that will exploit the data and results.
Quantitative research by means of interview is advantageous when in adjunct to questionnaires or surveys, for response clarification or probing. As a main source of data generation in quantitative research, it is not ideal because of its invasive nature and time requirement.
Below is a table summarizing the pros and cons for each research method, by research tool.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Qualitative Research in Questionnaires and Interviews
Research Tool Advantage Disadvantage
Questionnaires – Responses without boundaries – Respondent-intensive: needs time and effort to answer
Interviews – Allows for in-depth understanding of the respondent/ response – Time-consuming; process responses to allow for follow-ups
– Allows for clarification, and closure in a single session – Success depends on skill of researcher/ interviewer
Advantages and Disadvantages of Quantitative Research Method in Questionnaires and Interviews
Questionnaires – high volume of responses in little time – Responses are specific and numerical, subject to interpretation
Interviews – Ideal for follow-up or verification of questionnaire responses – May not cover as many responses as in questionnaires
As the table below, summarizes the similarities and differences, between the two research methods, one is left to ask which one is better of the two. The author is of the opinion that neither. The most advantageous of all is to use both in combination, exploiting each of their strengths as befitting to the research topic. In the early stages of a study, for example, when a definite theory has not been formulated, it is ideal to use qualitative research to begin the investigation with a general hypothesis.
As the research develops, qualitative results can describe a definite theory that arose. As the entire research nears conclusion, quantitative research can be used to affirm the theory and strengthen the results. A comprehensive analysis of the whole process (beginning from the qualitative phase up to the quantitative conclusion) will show a complete picture of the study. The quest for the study’s encompassing conclusion ends; a battle won by both qualitative and quantitative research.
Comparison Summary between Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods
Features Qualitative Quantitative
Questionnaires – Both uses questionnaires and interviews as a mode of gathering information
– Essay-type questionnaires – Structured-type questions
Interviews – In-depth, focused, interactive – Broad-based, general
Application – Both types are used in the sciences
– More popular in social sciences – More popular in natural sciences
Contrast Between Qualitative and Quantitative Research Method
Features Qualitative Quantitative
Form – Explanatory, narrative forms – Numerical form
Method – Interacting with the sources – Tools and equipment that will generate the data or information
Design – Guided the flow, hypothesis refined as information unfolded – Finalized plan at the start, results generated in a pre-determined form
Stage of Research – Beginning, when hypothesis is being formulated or anticipated outcome is unknown – Later, when specific, measurable data is required to strengthen hypothesis or anticipated outcome
Anticipated Outcome – Starts with an idea of the outcome, the final results upon completion – Specific results of the research
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