Research design is the process through which the research questions are turned into a testing project. The suitability or the effectiveness of a research design depends on the research questions. As a blue print for the study, a research design is concerned with the following issues.
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First, it identifies the questions to be studied by the researcher. Second, it helps the researcher to identify the relevant data that needs to be collected. Finally, it is concerned with how data should be analyzed in order to achieve the desired results. Research design can be qualitative or quantitative.
A quantitative study involves systematic and empirical investigation of social phenomena with the aid of statistical techniques. Qualitative study on the other hand is “a method of inquiry that facilitates an in-depth understanding of human behavior, and the factors that influence such behavior”. This paper focuses on the differences between qualitative and quantitative research designs.
Characteristics of a Qualitative Study
A qualitative study uses naturalistic inquiry. This means that real-world situations are studied as they occur without manipulating or controlling them. A qualitative study is based on emergent design flexibility. Thus, it allows the research to adapt to changes in situations, and enables the researcher to adopt new techniques as they emerge.
The study also uses purposeful sampling to recruit participants. Selection of the sources of information or the participants is based on the ability of such participants to provide useful information on the subject under study.
In qualitative studies, qualitative data is collected through observations that give details about the research topic. Other methods of collecting data include interviews, case studies and document review. Personal experiences and insights of the researcher are an integral aspect of the inquiry.
They help in understanding the phenomenon under study. Empathic neutrality, as well as, mindfulness must be maintained during data collection to avoid bias. Change in the phenomenon under study is assumed to be on-going. Thus, attention must be given to system and situation dynamics during data collection.
The analysis process is based on unique case orientation. Thus, the first step in analysis is “being true to, respecting, and capturing details”, of each case being studied. The study uses inductive analysis, as well as, creative synthesis to analyze data. The analysis starts by exploration, and then confirmation is made based on analytical principles instead of rules.
A creative synthesis ends the analysis process. A holistic perspective must be developed by understanding the phenomenon as a complex system that is greater than its constituent parts. The analyst focuses on the complex interdependencies, as well as, system dynamics that can not be conceptualized as separate, and linear cause-effect relationships. The analyst aims at being in control of, and reflective about his voice and perspective. A reliable voice expresses authenticity and trustworthiness. This enables the researcher to understand and depict the world authentically “in all its complexity while being self-analytic and reflexive in consciousness”.
Characteristics of Quantitative Study
A quantitative study aims at classifying facts, counting facts, and developing statistical or mathematical models in order to explain the phenomenon under study. The researcher normally has a clear understanding of what he is interested in prior to the study. Consequently, the various aspects of the study are properly designed prior to data collection.
However, designing all aspects of the study in advance limits the researcher’s ability to adopt emergent techniques during the study. Besides, it makes it difficult to adapt the study to systems or situation dynamics. Measurement is an integral aspect of quantitative study.
Quantitative studies use quantitative data in order to facilitate mathematical analysis. Quantitative data are usually in numerical or statistical form. Thus, the first step in data collection is to ensure that the variables considered in the study are measurable. A measurement instrument has to be developed to help the researcher to collect quantitative data.
In experimental quantitative studies, the researcher has to control, and manipulate the variables in order to obtain the desired information. The methods used to collect data include surveys and interviews. In most quantitative studies, only part of the population (sample) is selected to provide information. However, the sample must be representative of the population in order to improve the credibility of any generalizations made on the population. Consequently, random sampling is used to ensure representativeness.
In quantitative studies, analysis involves modeling the data by mathematically expressing the relationships between variables. The collected data is then analyzed using statistical techniques in order to provide insights on the phenomenon under study. The results of the statistical analysis are used to test the research’s hypothesis. Quantitative studies can be purely analytical or predictive. However, both cases focus on determining cause and effect relationships.
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In analytical studies, the analyst concentrates in analyzing how various factors (variables) contribute to the situation. In predictive studies, the analyst establishes how the variables influence the phenomenon under study in different situations or circumstances. In this case, the analyst aims at using the results for generalization. The researcher tends to be objective throughout the analysis process in order to avoid bias.
Discussion and Comparison of the Differences
Both qualitative and quantitative research designs aim at establishing cause and effect relationships. However, the approaches adopted by the two designs are fundamentally different. The two research designs can, thus, be compared as follows. First, the primary aim of a qualitative study is to provide a detailed and sufficient description of the study topic.
Quantitative studies on the other hand concentrates on counting and classifying variables, and use statistical models to explain observations. Second, qualitative studies are suitable for initial stages of a research project while quantitative studies are suitable for the later stages. In this regard, quantitative research gives a clearer picture of the entire study compared to qualitative research.
Third, the researcher acts as the main instrument for collecting data in qualitative research. The researcher uses methods such as individual in-depth interviews, documentary analysis and focus group discussions. In quantitative studies, tools such as surveys are the main instruments of data collection.
Fourth, the data used in qualitative studies are presented in the form of words, images and artifacts. On the other hand, the data used in quantitative studies are presented in terms of statistics and numbers. Finally, qualitative studies tend to be subjective in approach since they aim at understanding “human behavior and reasons that govern such behavior”. Quantitative research on the other hand is objective in approach since it only focuses on precise measurements, and analysis.
Agrawal, N. (2009). Quantitative Research Methods. New Delhi: Prateeksha Publications.
McBurney, D., & White, T. (2009). Research Methods. New York: Cengage Brain.
Weinbers, N. (2009). Qualitative Reserach Methods. New York: John Wiley and Sons.