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Introduction to Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods

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There are generally two kinds of research: qualitative and quantitative. For any research project the researcher needs to be clear about which type of research will provide the information required. The role of qualitative research is to tell you why; quantitative research tells you how many. The methods are quite different.

Definition of Quantitative research?
“There’s no such thing as qualitative data. Everything is either 1 or 0”- Fred Kerlinger Different researchers and educators have given different definitions to “quantitative research.” Below are a few of them: Quantitative research refers to the numerical representation and manipulation of observations for the purpose of describing and explaining the phenomena that those observations reflect. It is used in a wide variety of natural and social sciences, including physics, biology, psychology, sociology and geology (Wikipedia Encyclopedia, 2005). According to Cohen (1980), quantitative research is defined as social research that employs empirical methods and empirical statements. He states that an empirical statement is defined as a descriptive statement about what “is” the case in the “real world” rather than what “ought” to be the case.

Creswell (1994) on the other hand, has given a very concise definition of quantitative research as a type of research that explains phenomena by collecting numerical data that are analyzed using mathematically based methods (in particular statistics). In studying this definition step by step, the first element to consider is explaining the phenomena. This is a key element of all research, be it quantitative or qualitative. When we set out to do some research, we are always looking to explain something. In education this could be questions, for example, `Does motivation affect work productivity in the public institutions in Gambia?’, or `What factors influence the high rates of unemployed graduates in Ghana today?’ The specificity of quantitative research is clearly spelt out in the next part of the definition. Numerical data is collected in quantitative research. This is closely connected to the final part of the definition: analysis using mathematically-based methods. In order to be able to use mathematically based methods our data have to be in numerical form. This is not the case for qualitative research. Qualitative data are not necessarily or usually numerical, and therefore cannot be analyzed using statistics.

The last part of the definition refers to the use of mathematically based methods, in particular statistics, to analyze the data. The mathematical aspect of quantitative is often regarded as a very important part of quantitative research. However, the use of statistic to analyze data is the element that discourages a lot of people from doing quantitative research because the mathematics underlying the method seems complicated and frightening. The objective of quantitative research is to develop and employ mathematical models, theories and/or hypotheses pertaining to phenomena. The process of measurement is central to quantitative research because it provides the fundamental connection between empirical observation and mathematical expression of quantitative relationships. Quantitative data is any data that is in numerical form such as statistics, percentages, etc.

The primary reason for conducting quantitative research is to learn how many people in a population share particular characteristics or like a particular idea. It is specifically designed to produce accurate and reliable measurements that permit statistical analysis.

Quantitative research is appropriate for measuring both attitudes and behavior. If you want to know how many people use a product or service, then quantitative research is what you need. It is also used to size a market, to estimate business potential or volume, and to measure the size and importance of segments that exist in a market.

The key features of quantitative research are:
* It is usually based upon numerical measurements and thus tends to use numbers and statistical methods as key research indicators and tools. * It is associated with analysis.
* It tends to be associated with large-scale studies and with a specific focus. * It tends to be associated with researcher detachment, producing ‘objective’ numerical data that is independent of the researcher; it is a very controlled, exact approach to research. * It tends to be associated with pre-determined research design, using measurements and analyses in a systematic and logically ordered fashion that may be replicated relatively easily by other researchers.


Descriptive Research:
Descriptive research involves collecting data in order to test hypotheses or answer questions concerning the current status of the subjects of the study. It determines and reports the way things are. Descriptive research seeks to describe the current status of an identified variable or phenomenon. The researcher does not usually begin with a hypothesis, but is likely to develop one after collecting data. Systematic collection of information requires careful selection of the units studied and measurement of each variable in order to demonstrate validity. Examples:

* A description of the drug use habits of adults.
* A description of how nursing mothers feel about the three month maternity leave in Ghana.
* A description of the attitudes of employees regarding low income wages.

Correlational Research
Correlational research attempts to determine the extent or degree of a relationship that exists between two or more quantifiable variables using statistical data. However, it never goes further to establish a cause-effect relationship. The relationships between and among a number of facts are sought and interpreted to recognize trends and patterns in data. The relationship is expressed by correlation coefficient, which is a number between .00 and 1.00. Data, relationships, and distributions of variables are observed only. Variables are identified and studied closely as they occur in a natural setting but they are not manipulated. In some cases, correlational research is considered a type of descriptive research since no variables are manipulated in the study.

* The relationship between team work and high productivity at the workplace.
* The relationship between stress and mental disease
* The relationship between obesity and depression
* The covariance of smoking and lung disease

Cause-comparative: research
Casual-comparative educational research attempts to identify a causative relationship between an independent variable and a dependent variable,” according to Professor John Wassen of Minnesota State University. It establishes the cause-effect relationship among variables, compares the relationship, but the cause is not manipulated, such as “age.” These types of design are very similar to true experiments, but with some key differences. An independent variable is identified but not manipulated by the experimenter, and effects of the independent variable on the dependent variable are measured. The researcher does not randomly assign groups and must use ones that are naturally formed or pre-existing groups. Identified control groups exposed to the treatment variable are studied and compared to groups who are not. Examples:

* The effect of gender issues on the economic development of a country. * The effect of full-time employment on the achievement of graduate students. * The examination of the social interaction of impoverished students as compared to affluent students.

Experimental Research
An experimental research study, according to Gay and Airasian, can be defined as being “guided by at least one hypothesis that states an expected casual relationship between two variables. The experiment is conducted to confirm (support) or disconfirm the experimental hypothesis.” Experimental research, often known as true experiment, establishes the cause-effect relationship among variables. The cause or independent variable is manipulated, makes the difference and determines the effects on the dependent variables. Subjects are randomly assigned to experimental treatments rather than identified in naturally occurring groups.

* The effect of a new treatment plan on infertility. * The effect of the alarming rates of illiteracy on the social and economic growth of a nation. * A comparison of the effect of classroom learning vs. home schooling on the social development of a child.

When do we use quantitative methods?
* Recommend a final course of action
* Find whether there is a consensus on a particular issue * Project results to a larger population
* Identify evidence regarding cause and effect relationships * Describe characteristics of relevant groups of people
* Test specific hypotheses and examine specific relationships * Identify and size market segments

In summary, a common perception of quantitative research is that the emphasis is on proof rather than discovery. Additionally, quantitative research is neither appropriate nor cost effective for learning why people act or think as they do. The questions must be direct and easily quantified, and the sample must be quite large (200 is an absolute minimum) so as to permit reliable statistical analysis.

“All research ultimately has a qualitative grounding”- Donald Campbell Definition of Qualitative Research
Denzin and Lincoln (1994) define qualitative research as a multi-method in focus, involving an interpretive, naturalistic approach to its subject matter. This means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of or interpret phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them. 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.

According to Creswell (1994) “A qualitative study is also defined as an inquiry process of understanding a social or human problem, based on building a complex, holistic picture, formed with words, reporting detailed views of informants, conducted in a natural setting. Ethnographic, naturalistic, interpretive, grounded, phenomenological, subjective, and participant observational are all forms of “qualitative research.” Alternatively a quantitative study, consistent with the quantitative paradigm, is an inquiry into a social or human problem, based on testing a theory composed of variables, measured with numbers, and analyzed with statistical procedures, in order to determine whether the predictive generalizations of the theory hold true.”

Qualitative Research is almost the opposite of quantitative research. Researchers who use this type of data collection are more concerned with trying to gain an insight into the human perception of the world. Despite some differences in their approaches there are several similarities that distinguish these methods from traditional quantitative approaches to research. The primary aim of a Qualitative Research is to provide a complete, detailed description of the research topic. It is usually more exploratory in nature.

* In this type of study, the researcher involvement is a key peculiarity, with the researcher immersing him/herself totally in the setting and acting as a measurement tool. Events can be understood adequately when they are put in context. * Qualitative research is not based upon numerical measurements and does not use numbers and statistical methods as key research indicators and tools. Instead, it uses words as the unit of analysis and often takes an in-depth, holistic or rounded approach to events, issues and case studies. * It is associated with description.

* It tends to be associated with small-scale studies and a holistic perspective, often studying a single occurrence, a small number of occurrences or case studies in great depth. * It does not investigate causal hypotheses; instead it develops and tests theories as part of an ongoing process. * It tends to be associated with emergent research design, using a wide range of approaches and analyses in a fashion that is sometimes impossible to replicate; however, this does not invalidate the research. * A common perception of qualitative research is that the emphasis is on discovery rather than proof. * The contexts of inquiry are not contrived; they are natural. Nothing is predefined or taken for granted. * Those studied under Qualitative research speak for themselves, and provide their perspectives in words and other actions. Therefore, qualitative research is an interactive process in which the researcher learns about the life experiences of the individuals under study. * For many qualitative researchers, the process entails appraisal about what was studied.

Creswell (1994) divides qualitative research into five main Qualitative Research Types and identifies the key challenges of each mode of inquiry.
1. The Biography
2. Phenomenology
3. Grounded Theory
4. Ethnography
5. Case Study

The researcher needs to collect extensive information from and about the subject of the biography. To do this, the investigator needs to have a clear understanding of historical, contextual material to position the subject within the larger trends in society or in the culture. Going back to history allows one to discuss past and present events in the context of the present condition and also to reflect on and provide possible answers to current issues and problems. It takes a keen eye to determine the particular stories, slant, or angle that “works” in writing a biography and to uncover the “figure under the carpet” (Adel, 1984). The writer, using an interpretive approach, needs to be able to bring him or herself into the narrative. Uncovering the figure under the carpet helps us in answering questions such as: Where have we come from, where are we, who are we now and where are we going? A phenomenological study

This is a form of qualitative research in which the researcher attempts to understand how one or more individuals experience a phenomenon. This may be challenging to use because the researcher requires a solid grounding in the philosophical precepts of phenomenology. The participants in the study need to be carefully chosen to be individuals who have experienced the phenomenon. Bracketing personal experiences by the researcher may be difficult. The researcher needs to decide how and in what way his or her personal experiences will be introduced into the study. Example: Interviewing 10 widowers and asking them to describe their experiences of the deaths of their wives. A grounded theory study:

This is a qualitative approach to generating and developing a theory form data that the researcher collects. The investigator needs to set aside, as much as possible, theoretical ideas or notions so that the analytic, substantive theory can emerge. Despite the evolving, inductive nature of this form of qualitative inquiry, the researcher must recognize that this is a systematic approach to research with specific steps in data analysis. The researcher needs to recognize that the primary outcome of this study is a theory with specific components: a central phenomenon, causal conditions, strategies, conditions, context, and consequences. Example: Collecting data from employers who have laid off their employees and developing a theory to explain how and why this phenomenon occurs, ultimately developing a theory of employee layoffs. Ethnography:

This is a form of qualitative research that focuses on describing the culture of a group of people. Note that a culture is the shared attitudes, values, norms, practices, language, and material things of a group of people. The researcher needs to have grounding in cultural anthropology and the meaning of a social-cultural system as well as the concepts typically explored by ethnographers. The time to collect data is extensive, involving prolonged time in the field. In many ethnographies, the narratives are written in a literary, almost storytelling approach, an approach that may limit the audience for the work and may be challenging for authors accustomed to traditional approaches to writing social and human science research. In this form of research, the researcher is likely to “go native” i.e. be compromised and will be unable to complete the study. This is but one issue in the complex array of fieldwork issues facing ethnographers who venture into an unfamiliar cultural group or system. Example of ethnography: Deciding to go and live in a Mohawk community to study and learn their culture and educational practices.

The Case study
This form of qualitative research is focused on providing a detailed account of one or more cases. The researcher must identify his or her case. A case study focuses on a bounded system, usually under natural conditions, so that the system can be understood in its own habitat (Stake, 1988). The researcher must decide what bounded system to study, recognizing that several might be possible candidates for this selection and realizing that either the case itself or an issue, for which a case or cases are selected to illustrate, is worthy of study. The researcher must consider whether to study a single case or multiple cases. The study of more than one case dilutes the overall analysis; the more cases an individual studies, the greater the lack of depth in any single case. Case studies are a good method for individual researchers as they give an opportunity for a thorough study over a limited period of time. Although findings from this type of research cannot be seen as true for all similar situations, case studies are often used successfully to probe issues identified by large surveys. Example: Studying the time management skills of three mothers, who are gainfully employed and pursuing a full time master’s degree programme.


* Developing an initial understanding of an issue or problem. * Looking for a range of ideas and feelings about something. * Understanding different perspectives between groups and categories of people. * Uncovering underlying motivations and factors that influence decision making and options. * Providing information needed to design a quantitative study * Explaining findings from a quantitative study.

Qualitative research is not designed to collect quantify able results. After learning why one person would buy or respond in a certain way through qualitative research, it is relatively straightforward to count how many other individuals there are like him or her through quantitative research. Thus, qualitative research is often followed by a quantitative study. 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. Qualitative research is the type of research people use to gain insight into a problem, issue or theory. Unlike quantitative research, which is concerned with objectively measurable variables, qualitative research seeks to build a narrative about the issue; qualitative research tries to understand the reasons why something is the way it is. It is more naturalistic or anthropological, whereas quantitative research is more scientific. While this means qualitative research is more subjective, it also supplies a way to examine variables in their natural setting as opposed to the clinical conditions required in quantitative research methods.

In a nutshell, to undertake qualitative research requires a strong commitment to study a problem as well as a strong demand for time and resources. Qualitative research shares good company with the most rigorous quantitative research, and it should not be viewed as an easy substitute for a “statistical” or quantitative study. Qualitative inquiry is for the researcher who is willing to engage in complex, time consuming process of data analysis.

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 to the question of “Which method should be used?”If the study aims to find out the answer to an inquiry through numerical evidence, then Quantitative Research should be used. However, if in the study there is the wish to explain further why a particular event happened, or why a particular phenomenon is the case, then Qualitative Research is used. However, some studies make use of both Quantitative and Qualitative Research, letting the two complement each other. If the 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. Over the last few years, there has been a growing belief that the two methods complement one another and now researchers frequently use both in the same research.


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