Proponents of using quantitative or qualitative methodologies in the research process are inclined to point at advantages of their preferable paradigm while ignoring strengths of the other methods. Nevertheless, debates on the problem seem to be groundless because today researchers choose methodologies while focusing on the purpose of their studies, and they often mix methods to receive the most valid results.
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In this context, inquiry concerns proposed by Patton to discuss the qualitative studies seem to be relevant to evaluate the quantitative methodology. From this perspective, it is rather difficult to determine the paradigm that can be discussed as more credible than the other one.
That is why, modern debates are not as active as decades ago, and proponents of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies propose to combine their features in one credible methodology.
Current debates on the acceptability of using quantitative and qualitative methodologies and methods in science are based on the traditional opposition in the views of researchers who declare the advantages of different methodologies. According to Patton, the observed debate on selecting methodologies has its origin in the “long-standing debate in science over how best to study and understand the world” (Patton, 2001, p. 571).
The debate is grounded not only on the problem of selection of methods but also on the opposition in theories and philosophies on which methodologies are based. Thus, the quantitative methodology refers to ideas of positivism, where the focus is on empirical factors and a distant researcher.
According to Sale, Lohfeld, and Brazil, “the investigator is capable of studying a phenomenon without influencing it or being influenced by it” (Sale et al., 2002, p. 44). The opposite situation is observed with references to the qualitative methodology because it is based on constructivism, the main idea of which is the construction of the knowledge based on the analysis of multiple realities (Sale et al., 2002, p. 45).
Although the debate between proponents of qualitative and quantitative methodologies is still present in the scientific world, this debate is transformed into the discussion of possibilities to combine the qualitative and quantitative methods in order to receive the integrated inquiry which has strengths of both methodologies.
From this point, the purpose of this research paper is to evaluate the current debates on the acceptability of using quantitative and qualitative methodologies and to discuss the possibility of creating the effective integrated inquiry to overcome weaknesses and biases associated with using quantitative or qualitative methodologies.
Assessment of typical inquiry concerns
Developing the evaluation of the debates, it is necessary to discuss how researchers determine trustworthiness in relation to their methods and findings. Validity and reliability are the basic concepts which are used to discuss the effectiveness of quantitative methodologies.
Boudah notes that these categories and concepts are not appropriate for discussing the qualitative methodologies because the qualitative data are usually presented in abstract notions (Boudah, 2010, p. 76). As a result, the main focus is on assessing credibility of the qualitative research based on three inquiry concerns formulated by Patton.
The first important concern is the focus on “rigorous methods for doing fieldwork”; the second component is “credibility of the researcher”; and the third one is the “philosophical belief in the value of qualitative inquiry” (Patton, 2001, p. 570). At this stage, it is important to state why these aspects are determined as basic ones for discussing methodologies used by scientists.
The focus on “rigorous methods for doing fieldwork” means using the most accurate methods and precise techniques in order to collect and analyze the data to receive credible and supported results (Patton, 2001, p. 570). From this perspective, the quality of the research directly depends on the quality of selected methods, tools, and techniques, thus, the quality of a methodology.
This aspect is important to be referred to while developing the research because it creates the fundament for the investigation. The role of the researcher is also important because the quality of findings depends on the researcher’s training and experience in the field (Boudah, 2010, p. 76; Sale et al., 2002, p. 46).
Patton concentrates on the discussion of the qualitative methodology, and the third criterion can be explained as the necessity of appreciating qualitative methods as primary techniques (Patton, 2001, p. 570). In this case, the third aspect cannot be discussed to evaluate quantitative methods. Still, the other two criteria can be used to discuss the appropriateness of the quantitative methodology.
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Inquiry concerns related to qualitative versus quantitative inquiries
The criteria proposed by Patton are the fundament to direct the researcher’s activities regarding his work with the qualitative methodology. Differences in working with the qualitative data are discussed by Boudah who states that “the researcher processes the data in a unique way, based upon training, experience, bias, and other factors.
This is different from the processing of statistical data” (Boudah, 2010, p. 76). In this case, the choice of methods and the researcher’s experience affect the research process significantly. As it is mentioned in the assessment of traditional inquiry concerns, such two aspects as the quality of methods and credibility of the researcher should also be discussed in the context of the quantitative methodology because two paradigms have not only differences but also similarities.
According to Sale, Lohfeld, and Brazil, two methodologies are similar because “they share the tenets of theory-ladenness of facts, fallibility of knowledge, indetermination of theory by fact, and a value-ladened inquiry process” (Sale et al., 2002, p. 46). It is important to state that modern experimental and exploratory studies focus on collecting not only quantitative data but also qualitative data.
As a result, to evaluate evidence, researchers need to use elements of the qualitative methodologies in addition to quantitative techniques (Sale et al., 2002, p. 45). Consequently, such traditional quantitative methods as experiments receive the features of qualitative studies. In this situation, the focus on inquiry concerns formulated by Patton is helpful for scientists who were traditionally discussed as users of quantitative methodologies.
The most credible methodology
The active debates develop round the question of the methodologies’ credibility or validity. In order to support their vision of methodologies’ credibility and determine the most credible and acceptable paradigm, researchers discuss methodologies’ strengths and weaknesses.
In this context, the qualitative methodology is often discussed as less credible than the quantitative paradigm. Patton claims that there is “a lingering bias” against the qualitative methodology in the scientific world, and as a result, the qualitative data seems to “carry the stigma of ‘being soft’” (Patton, 2001, p. 573).
The researchers support their ideas while stating that qualitative methods are rather ‘subjective’ in contrast to ‘objective’ quantitative methods based on logic and facts because the quantitative data are presented in easily generalized numbers when the qualitative data are presented in abstract notions (Bryman, 2007, p. 9; Sale et al., 2002, p. 47).
Dependence of the qualitative data on the researcher’s interpretation is considered as a main challenge for discussing the paradigm as providing the objective data. Patton states that “qualitative rigor has to do with the quality of the observations made by an evaluator” (Patton, 2001, p. 575).
In addition, according to Kerlinger, numbers extremely matter in the research because “everything is either 1 or 0” (as cited in Berg & Lune, 2012, p. 4). From this perspective, the researchers are inclined to discuss the qualitative researches as dependent on a range of subjective factors.
Berg and Lune state that “qualitative researchers need to be more precise, more careful in their definitions and procedures, and clearer in their writing than most other scientists” (Berg & Lune, 2012, p. 4). It is a strategy to make the qualitative methodology more appropriate for using in the scientific world.
In this context, proponents of the quantitative methods state that this paradigm is more workable and appropriate for the research in fields of psychology, nursing, and social sciences (Berg & Lune, 2012, p. 5; Boudah, 2010, p. 76). The numerical data associated with the quantitative research is clear and representative.
Thus, to receive the objective results and findings, proponents of the quantitative methodology offer to use experiments and studies where the results are calculated with statistical methods (Sale et al., 2002, p. 45). However, Patton, as a proponent of the qualitative paradigm, proposes the counterargument while stating that “numbers do not protect against bias; they merely disguise it” (Patton, 2001, p. 574).
In this case, the users of quantitative methods remain to be confused because “numbers convey a sense of precision and accuracy even if the measurements that yielded the numbers are relatively unreliable, invalid, and meaningless” (Patton, 2001, p. 573). Following the ideas proposed by Gelo, Braakmann, and Benetka, it is possible to state that there is a “fundamental issue which has been often ignored within quantitative research: the issue of the ontology and epistemology of variables” (Gelo, Braakmann, & Benetka, 2008, p. 267).
Variables presented in quantitative measures often include the qualitative information in them because there is often a focus on the relationship between variables that is observed at the level of both quantitative and qualitative data (Gelo et al., 2008, p. 268; Sale et al., 2002, p. 45).
From this perspective, the discussion of the quantitative methodology as more credible because of the focus on numbers seems to be unsupported with the practice of scientists. In this context, it is impossible to choose the most appropriate or effective methodology because it is necessary to refer to the purpose of the research rather than to the presence or absence of numerical data in results.
The most actively used methodology in the scientific community
While discussing the credibility of qualitative and quantitative methodologies, researchers often notes that the quantitative paradigm is more appropriate because it is frequently used in the scientific community. According to Gelo, Braakmann, and Benetka, quantitative approaches prevail in the scientific world; and focusing on the field of psychology, investigators note that “quantitative approaches have always dominated mainstream psychological research” (Gelo et al., 2008, p. 268).
However, the vision of Gelo and the group of researchers is discussed as irrelevant by Bryman because the focus on the qualitative research and personal experiences is the basis for psychology (Bryman, 2007, p. 9). The more convincing argument against the prevalence of quantitative methods is proposed by Boudah and Patton, who state that the qualitative paradigm is more actively discussed in the field of social sciences when it is necessary to make conclusions based on observations or interviews (Boudah, 2010, p. 77; Patton, 2001, p. 580).
Furthermore, those quantitative and qualitative paradigms followed in the modern scientific research, especially with the focus on the field of psychology and social sciences, should be discussed as mixed because researchers are inclined to combine methods to receive more detailed results.
Creation of one integrated inquiry
Many researchers agree to stop debates on the effectiveness of qualitative and quantitative methodologies with creating an integrated inquiry that could address the needs of proponents of both perspectives (Boudah, 2010, p. 77; Bryman, 2007, p. 9). The main question formulated as a result of prolonged debates on the appropriateness of qualitative and quantitative paradigms is “how to combine the strengths of each in a multimethods approach to research and evaluation” (Patton, 2001, p. 574).
The researcher continues his discussion of the necessity to propose a new approach to research while stating that it is necessary to focus on “more balance and a better understanding of the situations for which various methods are most appropriate as well as grounded experience in how to combine methods” (Patton, 2001, p. 586).
While being developed, this mixed approach can be discussed as effective to be utilized in different areas of knowledge and practice because many issues are too complex to be explored only in the context of one paradigm, and these complex questions require the discussion of data “from a large number of perspectives” (Sale et al., 2002, p. 46).
In this context, the development of the integrated inquiry is the most effective solution in order to end the debates on the effectiveness of qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Both methodologies can be discussed as helpful to present objective and credible results, and the researcher benefits while combining the approaches.
Debates on the effectiveness of quantitative and qualitative methodologies are the characteristic feature of the scientific world. In spite of the fact that strengths and weaknesses of both paradigms can be clearly identified, there is an opinion that the quantitative methodology is more appropriate to be used in the research process because it provides the objective numerical data.
However, the proponents of the qualitative methodology argue that such statements are groundless because the qualitative paradigm also has many strong points, and it is actively used by researchers. Having evaluated the visions and opinions of supporters of different paradigms, it is possible to state that the modern debate is rather unfounded.
From this point, it is almost impossible to determine the paradigm that can be discussed as most credible in the situation when researchers are inclined to focus on combining methods belonging to different paradigms. Today, the debate on the problem is based on the idea of developing a paradigm that could combine the features of quantitative and qualitative methodologies in one credible methodology.
Berg, B. L., & Lune, H. (2012). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences. New York, NY: Pearson Education Inc.
Boudah, D. (2010). Conducting educational research: Guide to completing a major project. New York, NY: SAGE Publishing.
Bryman, A. (2007). Barriers to integrating quantitative and qualitative research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1(1), 8-22.
Gelo, O., Braakmann, D., & Benetka, G. (2008). Quantitative and qualitative research: Beyond the debate. Integrative Psychological & Behavioral Science, 42(3), 266-290.
Patton, M. Q. (2001). Qualitative research & evaluation methods. New York, NY: SAGE Publications.
Sale, J., Lohfeld, L., & Brazil, K. (2002). Revisiting the quantitative-qualitative debate: Implications for mixed-methods research. Quality & Quantity, 36(1), 43–53.