Comparing Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods

Published: 2019-12-10 07:30:00
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In the current world, research is fundamental aspect across all realms from the corporate sector to learning institutions. An essential topic in research is methodology also identified as data acquisition which is described in two main forms: theoretical and numerical approach. In this regard, two main approaches are used which are qualitative and quantitative. Research approach has formed a major debate on which type to use and why. An essential aspect to note is that research approach selected is the core foundation to achieving ardent results. In research also, there is flexibility of using both approaches which have become a difficult but an imperative strategy. This is attributed to the need to have both theoretical and numerical results in a study to provide satisfactory findings. Essentially, the mixed method has been noted as effective to achieve all objectives of the research. This paper thus aims at exploring research approaches by first understanding what qualitative and quantitative approaches entail and later comparing the two methods while using examples.

Understanding the qualitative and quantitative approaches

Various definitions have been developed to distinguish the two research approaches. Defining the terms and what they can offer, Skinner, Tagg and Halloway (2000) describes the quantitative approach as that which focuses on measuring aspects that are countable using predetermined categories. The definition further describes the term as the process of treating the variables as ordinal data and using statistical analysis. In any case such as the organization or in education research aspects used to collect data include surveys, tests, and questionnaires (Tagg, Skinner and Halloway, 2004). According to this definition, the obtained results are easily comparable and precise. In contrast is the qualitative approach which is a social approach focusing on peoples experiences and their influence or meaning on processes, events or structures. Further description is based on the continuous interaction with groups and people in everyday life (Creswell, 2013). The qualitative approach is further described as a holistic method which makes use of the participants perceptions and words.

Another definition to distinguish the two approaches is based on the content used to quantify the results. Differentiating the quantitative and qualitative approaches begins with the use of numerical and non numerical data respectively (Sukamolson, 2010). While quantitative method uses numbers, qualitative approach uses images, words or video clips. Based on this distinction, quantitative is associated with the data collection synonym such as questionnaire. Considering the contrary, qualitative approach uses any data collection technique, for instance, interview. Notably, this distinction has been the most used although it is narrow and problematic (Bryman, 2007). Using an example to understand this distinction further, we consider a study aimed at understanding the impact of performance appraisal in an organization. Using both approaches, quantitative method would involve the use of a questionnaire to evaluate the level to which people consider performance appraisal as an effective tool to motivate the employees. Taking such data will entail the participants rating on a scale of one to five where one represent 20%, and five indicates 100%. Reporting and analyzing such data would involve identifying the number of people who believe performance appraisal is an effective tool to motivate workers to perform better. On the other hand, qualitative approach would involve the use of live interview to obtain an explanation from the participants. Collection of data using this method entails questions such as What are other options that can be used in performance appraisal? Responding to such a question would involve answers such as the use of money and recognition.

Another distinction is based on the research philosophy describing each approach. Here, quantitative approach is affiliated with positivism (Amaratunga and Baldry, 2001). This is particularly the case when the approach is used with data collection techniques. On the other hand, there is a need to have a clear distinction between data and people attribute or data based on the opinion. Considering the theoretical approach, quantitative method is associated with a deductive strategy. This implies the use of the data to prove a theory (Gray and Milne, 2015). On the other hand, it may be used to develop an inductive approach where the data is used to devise a given theory. An example at this point will involve understanding the effect of a drug or research-based practice on patients. Taking an example of the impact of exercises therapy to reduce falls in the oncology units; quantitative approach will evaluate the number of falls before using the intervention and also after employing the therapy. On the other hand, the research philosophy of qualitative approach involves an interpretive aspect where the research aims at evaluating the social and subjective meaning of the phenomenon under study (Neuman and Robson, 2012). In the qualitative research, there is evaluation of natural aspects which is aimed at establishing trust and accessing an in-depth understanding of the topic being studied. Taking the example of using exercises to reduce the number of falls, some of the convincing information in the study includes falls being the cause of increased medical condition and time while staying in the hospital. Essential to note is that qualitative approach begins with theory development where the researcher will build on existing literature.

Lee (1992) distinguishes the two approaches based on six categories as indicated in the table below.

Distinguishing aspect Quantitative Qualitative

Ontological Assumption Objective Subjective

Epistemological Assumption Positivism Phenomenology

Inquirys Aim Universal Particularity

Role of the research Outsider Insider

Relationship between the research and respondent Detachment Involvement

Method of research Statistics Description

Source: Lee (1992 pg. 89)

Describing objectivity in a quantitative approach, Lee (1992) suggests that it is an ontological assumption and the external social world is made up of tangible but hard structures. Subjectivity, on the other hand, is described as the external social world being made up of concepts, labels, and names that are used to describe, convince and negotiate in the external world. Regarding the role of the research, a positivist believes that the knowledge is validated by use of logic and methodological procedure. The researcher, in this case, will be guided by facts that are constructed in a law-like a manner. Before the study, the researcher will select a given set of variables phrased in the hypothesis framework. Taking the example of performance appraisal, positivism would involve selecting several variables including testing the effect of performance appraisal based on motivation, demotivation, workforce diversity and employee output. At this point, the hypothesis would suggest performance appraisal is a motivation tool and improves performance output of the various employees. Considering the inside factor, it entails experimental approach and the lack of analytical categories. This approach involves understanding the respondents world. In this regard, it is characterized by involvement with the respondent to understand where they are coming from (Bryman, 2007). While quantitative approach entails the researcher claiming to understand everything forcefully thus described as detached. While quantitative approach in the example of research-based intervention will involve observing the patients and counting the number of falls, a qualitative strategy will be based on evaluating the patients integration with the proposed procedure.

Another difference between the two approaches is flexibility. In the qualitative approach, it is characterized as more flexible than the quantitative method. Flexibility is described in the aspect of discovering and identifying new concepts (Sofaer, 2002). In the qualitative approach, flexibility is present since it aims at identifying unanticipated findings. Further, there is an option of altering the plans to discover novels and experience serendipitous occurrences (Lee 1992). In contrast, quantitative approach emphasises on fixed measurements, hypothesis and testing. Taking the example of reducing the number of falls in the oncology units, flexibility in qualitative approach is manifested through the identification of other factors such as exercises causing injuries which may also affect the patient negatively. Other factors that can be identified alongside the research include the effect of the intervention on different patients. On the other hand, quantitative approach is fixed with the only research variables being reducing the number of falls among the different patients. Considering the method of representing the research results, he difference between quantitative and qualitative also exists based on the approach. In the quantitative method, reporting is done through comparing the variables in the study (Smith, 1983). On the contrary, the qualitative approach only allows the listing and description of the results. There is also an aspect of using the image to express more results according to what the research is trying to communicate. While the quantitative approach uses aspects such as graphs, qualitative will present the data through the use of words (Sukamolson, 2010). Taking the example of performance appraisal, qualitative approach will use graphs that are comparing different variables. An example of the graph would include that comparing the number participants and the motivation aspect of the process. Following this is a description of what the respondents think can replace performance appraisals such as the use of recognition and salary increment

Considering the skills or every approach, there is a difference in what is required to achieve the desired results. In a qualitative approach, imperative skills are those that concern the researcher (King and Horrocks, 2010). Some of the skills include ardent communication and listening ability. Additionally, the researcher is required to be flexible and adaptive to all cultures. As noted earlier, qualitative approach is based on the interaction between the respondent and researcher. It is, therefore, essential to note that there are different cultural backgrounds thus the researcher is required to devise ways through which they can interact and integrate effectively with the respondents (Mangan, Lalwani and Gardner, 2004). Other important skills include grasping of issues and avoiding being biased. It is necessary that the investigator be open to any findings including those contrary to the hypothesis which was describe earlier as expecting the unanticipated. On the other hand, the requirements to conduct a quantitative analysis are based on advanced skills and abilities by the investigator (Sukamolson, 2010). However, since the analysis of the acquired data is based on numerical figures and concept, imperative to consider is the use of software and other aspects such as computers which are used to draw graphs and grouping of data. Among the technology-based elements used in the qualitative analysis include encoders which are used to translate the recording of interviews to words. Considering an example of evaluating the impact of exercises in the oncology units, the qualitative approach will use a computer and other data analysis software such as SPSS and STATA to analyze the data. Interacting with the patients will, however, make use of the above-mentioned skills imperative for the investi...

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